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The Illin' Music Thread

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Author Archives: Mikel

Songs have that uncanny ability to conjure a feeling that you understand completely, but have not yet experienced.

I have listened to Christopher O’Riley’s cover of Radiohead’s “Black Star” for a few years, and have felt a sense of wonder every time.  The way each verse builds like a slow blooming flower, the crashing lower octaves that give way to the piano’s tender upper register, O’Riley’s slight sense of hesitation that echoes the start of new love: it’s really beautiful.

Listening to it now is different.  Not that the emotions that the song expresses are different, but that I now understand them a little better than I used to, or thought I used to.

Songs have that uncanny ability to conjure a feeling that you understand completely, but do not experience until the time is right.


To the Illin’ Music Thread Crew: What does “Black Star” express to you?


OK, admit it.  We’ve all got musical crushes.  Whether you’re a preteen girl who looooves Tyson Ritter or you’re a hipster infatuated with Zooey Deschanel (and thus, jealous of Ben Gibbard), everybody knows some musician that they unabashedly adore.

Well, count me in.

The recipient of my newfound musical crush: Ellie Goulding.  With an album in the works for Polydor Records UK and tour dates supporting the most loved band on this blog: Passion Pit, Ms. Goulding is set to make big waves in the international pop scene.

And when I say pop, I mean good pop.  This is NOT Lady Gaga.  It has brains, soul, and some fantastic production to boot.  I’ve been spinning her single, “Under the Sheets,” all week and each time I listen to it I love it even more. People have grouped her in with other UK electropop acts like Little Boots, La Roux, and Marina & The Diamonds, but compared to them Ms. Goulding is far less pretentious. This girl is the real deal, and to quote a song from a recently purchased album: I have a total crush on her.

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This Must Be the Place,” by the Talking Heads, has got to be one of the most ubiquitously covered songs by modern indie bands.  Perhaps it’s the fact that the song itself is an anomaly: a love song written by the notoriously eccentric David Byrne, a musician who generally avoids the topic in favor of less…”ordinary” lyrics.  That being said, “This Must Be the Place” is a love song as only David Byrne could write it, and it has some amazing lines.

“I feel numb.  Born with a weak heart.  Guess I must be having fun.”

“Home is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this where I’ll be.”

The comments on this song’s page on (a site which I love) are pretty telling about how most people feel about the song. “This must be what finding real love is like,” says one member.  Others even talk about playing it at their wedding.  Dan, Lucas, Alex, and Grant, (the girlfriend ones) can you guys identify with any of the lines in the song?

In a clear example of how musical trends recycle every two decades, the mid 2000s brought a glut of bands that paid major tribute to the Talking Heads and their strangely alluring frontman.  Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Tapes N Tapes are two of the most notable instances of Indie rock groups that have aped Byrne’s inimitable yelp.

In the midst of the post 2000 80s infatuation comes Miles Fisher.  This guy has a ridiculous pedigree which includes the prestigious St. Alban’s Prep School in Washington D.C. and Harvard, where he was a member of the Krokodiloes, the college’s oldest all-male a cappella group.  Not only that, but he is an accomplished actor who looks like a cross between Tom Cruise and Christian Bale.  And he has begun his foray into the musical world with yet another cover of “This Must Be the Place” on his new self-titled EP.

Feel bad about yourself yet?

Surely that is not Fisher’s goal, yet he accomplishes it astonishingly well.  To top it off, he has released a completely awesome video to “This Must Be the Place” in which he does a spot-on Christian Bale impression and imitates some of the most memorable scenes of “American Psycho.”

Besides the video, the song itself is great.  It begins with a single line from the song that Fisher mashes up in a garbled sample that runs beneath the rest of the track.  You can download his whole new EP (which includes “This Must Be the Place”) for free at Amie Street.  Although the whole EP is for download, his original songs can’t really hold a candle to the cover, but that doesn’t really matter when you have one sweet new jam to blast.  Thanks to George from the Meddies for showing me the video!  Check it out below:

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Can you still feel the butterflies?

There was something special about the late nineties.  Maybe it was the impeding approach of the new millennium or the sense that nothing could go wrong in the wake of America’s flourishing economic climate, but whatever it was, the latter half of the decade produced some significant pop culture artifacts.  Although the pieces of late-nineties pop culture that I enjoy are not the most mainstream, I have quite a serious affinity for them.  To name a few: the movies Can’t Hardly Wait, and Idle Hands (both appreciated, but great, and also both coincidentally featuring Seth Green.  Do I notice a pattern here?), and of course, classic emo albums.

In the late nineties, the members of Jimmy Eat World were the poster boys of the genre, and their seminal 1999 release “Clarity” is now considered one of the definitive albums of the modern emo sound.  Although the single from the album, Lucky Denver Mint, was used in the Drew Barrymore Movie “Never Been Kissed,” the CD was a commercial failure and the band was dropped from Capital Records.

As it is with all great recordings, however, the recording soon circulated among listeners through word-of-mouth recommendations and garnered a new substantial fan base for the band.  It also virtually defined the sound for modern emo music.  As a result of the CDs subsequent underground success, Jimmy Eat World was then able to self-finance their third album, “Bleed American,” and the rest has been post-millennial history.

Though the band has gone on to record many other albums, “Clarity” still stands as a testament to the height of their creative powers and ability to combine alternative, electronic, indie, and emo styles together to create a mesmerizing listening experience.  Although I could post up every single track from the album and expound on their greatness, my favorite ones are “Ten” and “For Me This is Heaven“.  Ten has some amazing harmonies make me think of all of the beautiful things in the world wrapped together, and “For Me This is Heaven” has a swirling background that sounds like cold autumn leaves dropping outside of my window.

Also, like PB&J or Abbot & Costello, Autumn and emo music just go together perfectly for me.  Something about the gradual chill creeping into the air, my birthday (today!), and halloween (my favorite holiday) make me want to listen to beautiful songs like these two Jimmy Eat World tracks.  So go outside with these songs on your listening device of choice and marvel at the changing beauty of the world.  As for me, I’m still in awe of my quick exodus from teenage-hood, but there is nothing else that I would rather listen to during the process.

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Grant, after reading your last post and remembering the way that we always drive around the suburbs/city at night blasting music (which is one of my favorite activities,) I couldn’t help but putting up two tracks that I have been absolutely loving recently that would definitely fit into this same category of late night stereo blasting.

The band in question is Banner Pilot, a Minneapolis punk band with members who have deep roots in other pop punk bands from the area.  Minneapolis is noteworthy for my musical taste specifically because it is also the birthplace of another band that I love: The Replacements.  Something about the city just breeds great music, and Banner Pilot is no exception.  The impassioned vocalist yells out meaningful lyrics about being young, confused, and generally not sober with the perfect amount of grit to keep the poppy melodies edgy.  From the very first lines of “Skeleton Key” and “Greenwood,” I knew that I would love this band.  Listen to that guy’s voice!  You may not love it, but you have to agree that it has so much character, it’s astounding.  The lead vocalist has definitely been places, and has things to say about where he has come from and where he is going.

The main thing that distinguishes midwestern punk bands from bands from other parts of the country is the presence and timbre of the bass in the mix.  On every single track of Banner Pilot’s new album, “Collapser,” the bass has enough high end to noticeably stand out in the mix, but enough low end to sound like a chugging freight train that is on its way off the tracks.  Just check out how it thunders below when the entire band comes in during the first verse of “Greenwood.”  The distinctive bass presence has definitely become one of my favorite elements of Banner Pilot’s sound.

Another thing that is noteworthy about the band is that they look just like average guys.  There is no punk rock pretense about these dudes.  They are the real deal.  No spiked hair, no studded belts, and definitely no safety pins.  Banner Pilot sticks true to their music without subscribing to any prefabricated image about what they should look like.  And damn, is their music good.

They also manage to say a lot in some very brief phrases.  My favorite line: “No my dear, nothing much grows ’round here.  We carry our roots with us, a couple of weeds pulled up.” – Skeleton Key.

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No, the title of this blog post is not true, but sometimes it’s just fun to walk around with a sick song blasting through your headphones, rocking contemptuously.  What’s that you say?  Sounds like a typical Say Anything song?  Bingo.

Imagine if Holden Caulfield were to form a punk band and funnel all of his pent up adolescent furor and energy into songs full of stinging invectives and catchy choruses.  Well, Say Anything is that band and Max Bemis, the crazy mastermind behind Say Anything’s mix of punk, emo, and showtunes-style bravado has done it again.  With their upcoming self titled release (the third official full-band release of their catalog not counting Bemis’ old college demos,) Say Anything has blossomed into the type of brazenly cynical, lovingly hateful, and straightforwardly rocking band that I have always wanted to listen to and have grown to regard as one of my all time favorites.

Some brief background on Bemis: An admitted sufferer of bipolar disorder, he had a nervous breakdown during the writing and recording of Say Anything’s first full-band recording, “…Is A Real Boy” and ended up wandering the streets of New York in a daze.  Before a huge tour during the summer of 2005 he had another breakdown which, according to Wikipedia, involved “harassing children, spitting in food at an outdoor cafe, spending a ‘half-hour pouring a bowl of soup onto the floor, one spoonful at a time,’ engaging in a street fight, and finally being admitted to a mental hospital by an off-duty policeman.”

Ever since, Bemis has not had a relapse and seems in prime vitriolic form with the upcoming release of his band’s new self-titled album.  “Say Anything” will drop on November 3rd, and I will be anxiously awaiting its arrival.

For now, here’s the new single, “Hate Everyone.”  A three minute burst of righteous indignation, it careens out of the speakers with an almost superhuman force.  And those lyrics!  Some choice lines:

“Then i grew a few hairs where the sun don’t shine
they packed me in a classroom to count the time
studying the history of men’s minds
chasing tail and committing hate crimes
rich hippie girl with a gas guzzler
forced myself to fall in love with her
she was so strung out she’d swear it never occurred
the honkey king went back on his word

I’m mired in hypocrisy yet i’m still down with JC
I guess that everyone includes me
And that’s why I’m a humanist”

Hahaha I love the humanist line.  Great stuff.  Also, the JC (Jesus Christ) reference is hilarious, as Bemis is Jewish and includes a lot of Jewish jokes and imagery in his songs that most people don’t get.

Finally, the video is just brilliant.  It acts out every teenage fantasy of smashing everything around you in a type of joyful fury:

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It’s not too often that a guitar player comes around who really revolutionizes what can be done on the instrument.  Sure, you can talk about guys like Freddie Green and Hendrix who helped create a new standard for their specific genres, but the truth is that moving beyond the basic picking and strumming patters that most people use on guitar is not an easy feat.  This usually requires the guitar to create an entirely different style of playing that breaks from the traditional way that people approach guitar.

Erik Mongrain is one of those guitarists.  Using a distinctive style he calls “Air Tap,” Mongrain explores the hidden power of the guitar by bringing out natural harmonics all over the fretboard and using a forceful, percussive dual hand style.  Words, of course, can only go so far to explain this man’s amazing technique, so you will just have to listen to “Muse” and “Raindigger” off of his latest album Equilibrium to believe it.

Also, while you’re at it, check out this ridiculous video of a live performance of his:

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