Favorited ex.fm Songs

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"A sip or a spoonful won't do. No I want it all."

I've recently been watching a lot of the TV show Veronica Mars on Netflix instant stream. I was skeptical when I started, but enough friends recommended it to me that I thought I should give it a shot, and I'm glad I did. However, Netflix recently said they'd be taking it off instant stream by July 1, so it has caused me to really ramp up my watching to try to squeeze all 3 seasons of the show in before they take it down. Well I just finished episode 8 of season 3, and could not have been more pleased at their choice of song at the end, "Poison Cup" by M. Ward.

Yesterday's long rambling post had "Chinese Translation" as the song at the end because I think it is M. Ward's most accessible song, it is one of only 2 of his with an official video, and it's just a really good song as well. With that said, if I had to choose a favorite by him it would be "Poison Cup" (although there are several others in the running).

I don't really feel like writing a long post tonight, so without further ado here's "Poison Cup" by M. Ward, and I'm back to trying to finish up Veronica Mars (only 12 episodes to go!):

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why M. Ward is the Greatest Musical Artist Ever

Because I said so. Really, that’s why. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling myself any more of an authority on music than anyone else. I just think that music is such a personal and subjective thing. Who can really say why people are drawn to certain artists or say that they are wrong for that. The Beatles vs. Stones argument has waged on for years likely due to this. Both were great artists and both connected with a whole lot of people, so I’m sure for many, either one was the greatest artist of all-time, and those people wouldn't be wrong. Does the fact that so many people think The Beatles are the greatest ever make it more true than if just one person thinks some obscure basement band is? I don’t think so. I can give reasons for why I love M. Ward, like his raspy voice, his brilliant guitar playing, his lyrics, the fact that he never seems fully comfortable in the spotlight, the area he's from, and on and on, but I don't think any of that would really get to why he's my favorite because I could come up with similar reasons I like other artists too.

This approach is somewhat strange to me since so much of my life is based on a belief in objective truth, hard evidence, and supporting facts. It's why I majored in Statistics and Philosophy as an undergrad. Both disciplines allowed you to sift through the noise in the world to actually make sense of it. But art in all of its many forms doesn’t feel this way to me. Lost is my favorite TV show of all-time. I agree that other shows had better acting, better writing, better special effects, more resolution when they finished, and so on. But that doesn’t change that my experience with the show was better than with any other show (although Arrested Development is likely close). I can see the flaws that other people point out, but they aren’t that important to me. The show engaged me in a way that no other show has done, and that is what’s important to me. It made me think beyond just the hour I was watching. It had me going back to re-watch old episodes and old seasons. It got me to research topics in the show, to read books that were name dropped, to dig deeper into the names and mythology that were used.

When I was an undergrad at UW-Madison, I took a class called African American Music History (or something to that effect). To this day, I think it is my favorite class I’ve taken at any level. A large part of this is due to the professor that taught the course. I can’t remember how he phrased it exactly, or the exact context, but one day he kinda stopped what we were doing, and you could tell he had something he really wanted to share. The take-away was him strongly encouraging us to never dismiss something out of hand. The particular focus here, as I recall, was pop music or hip hop or other forms that people dismiss as unimportant, or just bad. His point was that if somebody likes the music (which with Top 40 hits is clearly the case), there has to be something of value there. Maybe the musician doesn’t write their own lyrics, or play their own instruments, or their voice is auto-tuned to be almost unrecognizable, but people like it, and there is a reason for that. There is something of worth there, maybe with the actual artist whose name is on the song, maybe something the people behind the scenes in the studio are doing, or who knows what else. The point is, just saying “I hate Lady Gaga, her music is terrible, how could anybody listen to it?” is a little disingenuous if you actually think about it. Clearly a lot of people really like Lady Gaga and there must be a reason. You personally may not enjoy listening to it, but that doesn’t mean that it has no worth.

This particular speech of the professor, whose name I forgot (but thanks to Google is Alexander Shashko), is probably the one thing that has stuck with me more than anything else in my years of education. Maybe it’s an aside to the original post, but I think it’s important. There’s just too much negativity in the world. Bon Iver released their new album recently, and it has received some rave reviews. As is so often the case, there is backlash against it then. Reading comments to one review, there were several people who wanted to talk about how boring the music was and how they didn’t see how people could listen to it. They wanted to let everyone know how pretentious Justin Vernon is with his lyrics. I wonder why that’s the case. Why can’t some people like Bon Iver, and if you personally don’t, that’s fine? You shouldn’t need to tell people that they shouldn’t either. Music isn't logical. There is no way to prove an artist is good or bad and that others need to agree.

This post started about M. Ward, so let me share one of my (many) favorite songs of his below:

I’ve avoided writing about M. Ward for a long time because I knew that the eventual post to do it would run too long. Here I am, 700 some words in and I haven’t even really talked about him. I planned on going into all sorts of details about just how much I like him, giving plenty of reasons, listing songs and albums and other projects he has been involved in, but that’s fine that I didn't get to it. Some other day I’ll get around to it, but for now I wanted to get this little rant off my chest, and let everyone know that M. Ward is the greatest musical artist of all-time. So are a lot of other musicians. I’d love to hear who they are in the comments.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Road Trip Music

Often times I put off writing new posts because I realize that I will make them take too long by writing too much, so I want to wait til I have more time. The post about music listened to on our road trip is one that fits the bill and has been put off for a couple weeks now. So, rather than risk not getting around to it, here's a short little recap of the albums that filled our ears during our 6+ days on the road.

From Burlington to St. Louis:

Valencia - This Could Be A Possibility
Dustin Kensrue (from Karl's iPod, so I'm not sure what album)
Brand New - Deja Entendu
Brand New - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

Karl and I have a very specific overlap in our musical tastes, specifically in the pop punk/ska area (along with some similar stand-up comedy that we fit in over the trip). I usually tend more towards indie folk/indie rock type artists and Karl towards more heavier rock type music, but we focused more on the overlap that will tend to be the underlying theme of most entries on here.

Driving around St. Louis:

A Best of Bob Dylan mix that I made (and apparently tricked Karl into putting up with)

St. Louis to Cincinnati:

Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere in the Between
The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
Mike Birbiglia - My Secret Public Journal
Motion City Soundtrack - My Dinosaur Life
Sugarcult - Start Static
Sum 41 - All Killer No Filler
Louis CK - Hilarious
Coheed & Cambria - Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Vol. 1

Cincinnati to Indianapolis:

The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
Flight of the Conchords - Miscellaneous songs
Flipsyde - Flipsyde (old school Twin Cities ska!)
Houston Calls - A Collection of Short Stories

Indianapolis to Madison:

Senses Fail - Let It Enfold You
Taking Back Sunday - Tell All Your Friends
Taking Back Sunday - Where You Want to Be
Streetlight Manifesto - Everything Goes Numb
Blink 182 - Blink-182
Lucky Boys Confusion - Commitment

The Taking Back Sunday double entry was mostly just due to neither of us paying attention when the first album ended.

Madison to Iowa City (after dropping off Karl):

M. Ward - Post-War
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt
Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight

If you're familiar with the artists, you can see a distinct shift in music after I dropped Karl off. I enjoyed the music up to that point, but was itching to get back to what I listen to more often, so the rest of my drive home consisted of listening to four of my favorite albums ever (that if I ever do a top albums post will come up again) along with some of the Twins game that was on at the time.

And to actually give anyone who takes the time to read this something to listen to, here's a cover of Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" done by Streetlight Manifesto. I don't have the CD in front of me, but I remember in the liner notes Tomas Kalnoky, the lead singer of Streetlight Manifesto, said that when he first heard "Such Great Heights" he immediately thought he wanted to hear his horn section try to play the intro.

Here's the original song too (which is by The Postal Service, not Iron & Wine!) for good measure:


Friday, June 10, 2011

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

I still plan on doing a post about music from my trip, but I wanted to write this one first.

Bon Iver is releasing their second full length album on June 21. I've been anticipating this one ever since I became aware of their (his?) first album, which is easily one of my five favorite albums ever. Just the other day it was made available to stream in its entirety. I've only listened to it once so far (due to our internet being out at home for over 24 hours), but I can tell you that I think I'm going to love it. I've been worried about what this album may sound like. Not because I don't think Justin Vernon has it in him to make another absolutely beautiful album like his first, but just because the bar was set so high. A Bon Iver EP came out in 2009 which was good, but not great. Since the release of "For Emma, Forever Ago" in 2008, Justin Vernon has done anything but rest on the success of the album. He has collaborated with just about everyone it seems, sometimes in major roles (like on the Anais Mitchell album or in his collaborations with Volcano Choir and Gayngs) or sometimes just offering up that heavenly falsetto voice to vocals for a track or two like on Kanye West's "Lost In the World" (which samples "Woods" from Bon Iver's Blood Bank EP and may actually improve the original).

With all that said, it was unclear where this new album would take Bon Iver. I'm not really ready to say too much about it yet, but it is definitely not a flop by any stretch of the imagination. Give it a listen and decide for yourself how you feel.

I'm weird about music in a lot of ways. I love making lists, thinking about favorites, and doing all of this stuff that is completely unnecessary. In the past, when I've thought about who my favorite artists are, Bon Iver has been up there, but I was always wary to actually add them to the list (in my head) since they had only released one full length album. Justin Vernon did perform in what may be my favorite concert I've ever attended when he sang with his old high school's jazz band in Eau Claire, Wisconsin to raise money for their trip to a music competition, but I have always had it in my head that an artist can't really be a true favorite of mine until I've seen they can replicate my love for their music with a second (or third, fourth, etc.) record. The Tallest Man On Earth and Frightened Rabbit were two artists that I felt the same about until they released my two favorite albums of 2010 after really strong albums before that. Between everything Justin Vernon has done and the release of this new record, I'll feel pretty confident in the future adding him to that list (which I may address on this blog at some point).

Anyhow, here's a widget (such a great word) to stream the new album:

Also, here is a link from Pitchfork to download the track "Calgary". Get it. You won't regret it!


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Road Trip Days 6 and 7

On Saturday, we left Cincinnati and headed to Indianapolis for our last baseball game, a AAA game between the Indianapolis Indians and the Syracuse Chiefs. The drive was rather uneventful and we just killed time in the hotel room before the game (due to the excessive heat and desire to not spend money).

We headed downtown a bit early and made sure to load up on sunscreen before heading into the 95° heat. We explored the stadium a little bit, and I came away pretty impressed. It was actually the first AAA game I had attended (all of my previous minor league games were Low A ones). The stadium was the biggest of the minor league parks that we attended, which was to be expected in the biggest city and at the highest level of play. Not too much stuck out during the game. It was cool seeing some former big leaguers like Gregor Blanco and Jesus Flores playing (I'm easily impressed). The game also featured a return of the Zooperstars. The characters were different, but the act was mostly the same. This time Roger Clamens ate the umpire (who had suddenly been added to the 3 normal umps usually on the field somehow...) instead of Mackerel Jordan eating the bat boy in Dayton.

The real excitement started though when the temperature seemed to drop about 20 degrees all of a sudden and the wind started to pick up. While the cooler temperature was nice (and made me feel ridiculous about being so concerned with the sunscreen), it was also pretty obvious that we were going to get some rain. It held off for a while, but they announced in the 5th or 6th inning that thunderstorms were on their way, and sure enough in the 7th it started to come down pretty hard. Karl and I figured we would wait out the rain since we had nowhere else to be. Over an hour into the delay, the rain was still coming down, and we overheard an usher tell a man and his two children that the game was called off and that they had to leave the stadium. The phrasing sounded a little weird to me, but I figured we had better head out. After the family left, the usher saw us looking back and explained that the guy wanted to leave, so he convinced her to lie to the children. For shame... Anyhow, we kept playing Words With Friend, which was our preferred method for passing the time. About 20 or 30 minutes later, another usher informed us that the game actually was being canceled, and then reiterated that he wasn't joking this time. On the way back to the car, we saw two horse drawn carriages hanging out at a gas station. I worried for the sake of the horses that the owners may not understand that that form of transportation did not require fuel.

Since Karl's car broke down on the way to Iowa City, we had to swing through Madison on the way back to Iowa City to drop him off, so we hit the road around 8 on Sunday morning. Due to hitting almost no traffic driving through Chicago and no other real holdups, we actually made great time and got Karl back to Madison around 1 and me back to Iowa City before 5. (Karl's car troubles aside) The trip was a big success and may have set the standard for road trips to come. Without much baseball in Iowa, it'll have to tide me over for a while now that I'm back.

My song for the final road trip recap post is "One Fast Move Or I'm Gone" by Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar. Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service fame) and Jay Farrar (from the bands Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt) teamed up to record a record with lyrics based on the novel "Big Sur" by Jack Keroac. The whole album is a pretty good on the road album, and this song in particular seems to do the trick. Enjoy!

(The audio was cutting out a bit for me. I'm not sure if that's my computer or the file)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Road Trip Days 4 and 5

I'm home from the road trip now, but I'll still recap the last few days (2 here with one more post recapping our stop in Indianapolis). Thursday morning we hit the road fairly early to drive from St. Louis to Cincinnati. This drive was much more uneventful than the one from Burlington to St. Louis was. We got to our hotel in Cincy around 4 and decided to settle in for a bit before heading to that night's ball game in Dayton.

Dayton is the 4th different Midwest League ballpark (Beloit, Cedar Rapids, and Burlington being the others) I have been to, and it by far the biggest of the bunch. Beloit and Burlington's ballparks both hold around 3,000 people, and Cedar Rapids' holds around 5,000. Meanwhile, Fifth Third Field in Dayton holds 8,200 and has sold out every game for 9 straight seasons. It just blows those stadiums out of the water size-wise. I love seeing games in tiny, intimate ballparks like Beloit and Burlington, but this was a pretty cool experience too. Going into the game, Karl and I weren't aware of the size or sell-out streak, which makes the fact that we lucked into first row seats behind home plate rather fortuitous for us. As we walked up to the ticket window, some guy was handing the ticket vendor two tickets, which must have been returned or something, so for $15 we were seated in just about the best seats in the house. The picture to the right was taken with my phone from our seats.

For this game, we actually got a chance to see the Dayton Dragons face the Beloit Snappers (the Twins Low A team). Unfortunately, while in the past, I've gotten to see some better prospects at Snappers games, the current roster doesn't feature much in terms of up and comers. Dayton's team featured one intriguing player though. I have no idea if he is considered much of a prospect, but a guy named Billy Hamilton has just blazing speed. In the first inning, he singled and the guy next to me made an offhanded remark about how the Snappers may as well just give him third base. He quickly stole second and scored on a double, so I glanced down at his stats. The guy has 45 steals in only 54 games. Second in the entire league is 25. That is just mind blowing. What is even crazier is that he just isn't on base that often. His OBP is below .300, and he has only 46 hits on the year, so he is basically stealing every time he gets on. Later in the game he showed off his speed by absolutely flying around the bases for a triple on a ball in the gap. I have no idea if his bat will be enough for him to move up the ranks of the minors, but I have seen very few people with speed even close to what he had.

The real main event of the game had to be the Zooperstars though. You can get lost in the game and forget that it is the minors sometimes, but between innings, they make sure that you are well aware. The Zooperstars are a group of inflatable animals based on puns using player's (or other famous people's) names. To the left is a photo of Derek Cheetah, Ichiroach Suzuki, and Dennis Frogman (clever, right?). Throughout the game, they would come out and dance or do mini little skit type things, often spraying someone in the crowd with silly string when they were done. The main event was clearly when Mackerel Jordan dropped a ball in front of the ball boy, who proceeded to toss it a couple feet. The process was repeated before the ball boy faked a deep throw and kept the ball. Mackerel Jordan, clearly irritated ran up and ate the ball boy. After several shoes, a hat, and even a shirt were burped out, the ball boy came flying out of Mackerel Jordan's mouth in only his boxers and socks. Clearly embarrassed, he went sprinting off the field, and everyone cheered (I went back and forth on how to talk about the Zooperstars and figured straight-forward, hard-hitting, reporting of the facts was the best approach).

Friday we decided to do a more relaxed day. However, we still fit in one of the highlights of the trip by a stop at Skyline Chili for lunch (I like food too much). Last year when we were in Cleveland, we stopped at a Skyline Chili, but I know that Cincy is known for their chili, so it seemed only right that we check it out while there, and it did not disappoint. They serve the chili over a bed of spaghetti noodles with onions and beans. I have no idea what spicing they use in the chili, but it is different from what I've used to and quite delicious. I was prepared to eat my next 2-3 more meals there, but unfortunately that was our only stop.

That night, we headed to Great American Ballpark (the most humble ballpark in the country) to catch the Reds play the Dodgers. We arrived early to see the Dodgers take BP and explore the park a bit. Unless I'm forgetting some, I think this is my 10th MLB ballpark (counting the now-defunct Metrodome). It would probably rank somewhere near the middle of the pack for me. The park is situated right on the Ohio River, which makes for a nice view when walking around the concourses. The concession stands have some kinda cool, sorta retro signs, which add a nice touch, and the ballpark itself feels pretty small and intimate. From where we were sitting (left field bleachers), we didn't have a view of a jumbotron (they could take a tip from the Twins and throw a smaller one up in right field), and the scenery from inside the park (as opposed to out on the concourses) wasn't anything too special, but all in all it was a nice park for a reasonable price. The fans around us left a lot to be desired, constantly walking down the aisles during pitches and arguing over who was supposed to be in what seat (way more often than should be necessary), but I'll chalk that up to just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My song for this post is "In Ohio On Some Steps" by Limbeck, a pretty wonderful and catchy alt-country band from California.

Find more LIMBECK songs at Myspace Music

Kudos to anyone who made it through this whole post, as it turned into quite a lengthy one. I'll have one more post recapping our stop in Indianapolis and possibly some of the drive back (hopefully posted tomorrow), as well as one recapping the music of our trip (since this is a music blog and all). Feel free to chime in in the comments section as it is always appreciated!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Road Trip Days 2 and 3

We spent days 2 and 3 in St. Louis. Tuesday Morning, after heading to the local St. Louis Bread Company (aka Panera) and researching cheap things to do in St. Louis, we decided a trip to the zoo was in order. The zoo in general was pretty nice (especially for a free zoo), but the highlight was absolutely the penguin house. It was a climate-controlled building that must have had close to 100 penguins (of several types), many of which were within reach (which meant really testing my self restraint to not just reach out and pick one up).

After the zoo, we headed to Busch Stadium a bit early to walk around and catch batting practice. We ended up with seats in the left field bleachers and spent some time watching the Giants take BP, and marveling at Brian Wilson’s beard as he jogged in the outfield. Chris Carpenter gave new meaning to the phrase “laboring” as he seemed to take several minutes between every pitch, leading to a rather slow and plodding game. However, the weather was great and it was a beautiful night for some baseball.

Wednesday entailed more free entertainment during the day. We checked out the Missouri History Museum in the afternoon. There was a several room big exhibit on Charles Lindbergh that was really interesting. The rest of the museum didn’t really hold my interest, but the Lindbergh part was more than worth the cost of admission. We had some time to kill before the game, so we headed to a coffee shop that we had visited the day before and killed some time on our computers. At about 5:45, the guy working informed us that they had actually closed at 5:00 but we weren’t in the way, so he had let us just hang out. At this point, I was appreciative of the nice gesture and enjoying the fact that sometimes people just do something nice. However, coffee shop guy was just the warm-up act of nice St. Louisans.

We arrived at Busch stadium, and while we were waiting in line to pick up tickets for the night’s game, a guy walking by approached us to ask if we were looking for 2 tickets and proceeded to just give us 2 extras that he had. Apparently he was a season ticket holder and had a couple extras, so we ended up sitting in $43 seats for free. The game again featured gorgeous weather, but this time we had the added bonus of getting to watch Tim Lincecum pitch. From our seats on the third base side of the diamond, we had a great view at his delivery and both Karl and I relished seeing Lincecum face Pujols 3 times, an uncommon site to AL viewers. The game went to extras, and we ended up leaving before the end (so as not to keep my grandma up too late waiting for us). Just minutes after we left the park, a bank of lights went out leading to a 15 or so minute delay, so our timing leaving was probably good.

Choosing a song to accompany this post wasn't easy. I had several possibilities, but I'm going to go with one to honor a player with one of the laziest nicknames (that is still kind of awesome) in baseball, Ryan "The Riot" Theriot. He picked up 3 hits between the 2 games we saw. I was hoping he would get a walk-off hit or something to make his contributions more notable, but he refused to cooperate. Anyhow, here is a live performance of "Take Me To The Riot" by Stars. Enjoy!

This morning, we hit the road on our way to Cincinnati. I’ll recap that part of the trip tomorrow or Saturday most likely.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Road Trip Day 1

The end of the school year meant a severe lack of posting due to other commitments, but I was hoping to pick it up over the summer. However, I've kept pretty busy at the start of the summer too. Currently, I'm in the midst of a week or so long road trip, so I'll attempt to get a post or two up by making this a music blog / travel recap for the next few days.

This marks the second year in a row that my friend Karl and I have taken a baseball themed road trip. Last year, we went to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates play at the wonderful PNC Park (which reminds me of one of my favorite Onion articles ever) and then looped back to Cleveland to see the Indians take on the Twins. This year, we decided to try to mix in some minor league ball games as well.

Our trip started from Iowa City, and we drove about an hour to Burlington, Iowa to see the Burlington Bees take on the Quad City River Bandits in Midwest League Low A minor league baseball. The game featured $2 tickets and $1 hotdogs, pop, pizza, and popcorn. This is the 3rd Low A stadium I've been to (the others in Beloit, WI and Cedar Rapids, IA), and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. The weather was beautiful, and I have a new favorite minor league player, as Justin Wright for the Quad City team managed to pitch 3.1 innings, retiring every batter he faced and striking out 7 in the process. After the game, a member of the grounds crew went onto the field to take out the bases with a dog in tow. Things like that are why I love minor league baseball. The stop in Burlington was a great start to the trip.

From there, we punched directions to St. Louis into our phones, which led to an interesting drive. The drive from Burlington to St. Louis is about 4 hours, and for the first 2.5 or 3 hours, we were almost exclusively on small roads where we saw more cows, horses, sheep, and goats than people. I don't think we were on any one road for more than about 30 miles, but I think I like the random back roads through small towns drive a lot better than just hopping on a freeway and going. Once we finally got back to major roads, we ended up stopping at a Taco Bell for supper. After spending about $4 on my meal, I realized that between the $1 food at the game and the equally cheap food at Taco Bell, the most expensive thing I purchased all day was my $2.50 brewed coffee before we hit the road in the morning. I don't anticipate being able to spend under $10 a day on the whole trip, but it was a good start.

We arrived in St. Louis at my grandma's house around 8 and proceeded to watch some Criminal Minds. I had never seen the show before, but holy crap was it intense. I don't know how my grandma ever falls asleep after watching shows like that. I was on edge with my heart pounding by the time the episode was done. All in all, the first day was a lot of fun. I'll update with more about the actual time in St. Louis later, but my 30 minutes of allotted internet at this Panera is running out.

Since we spent most of our first day in Iowa, and to tie this into a loose music theme, here's a William Elliott Whitmore song from his forthcoming album (that I just learned about while looking for a song and am now super excited for!). I can't vouch for it cause I don't have headphones with to preview it, but almost everything else he has done is great, so I can't imagine this being any different.

William Elliott Whitmore - Everything Gets Gone by antirecords

Also, to follow along to our travel exploits in (closer to) live time, check out my Twitter @RyneVanK or my posts along with Karl's under the hashtag #roadtriplivetweet