an invisible gun to the temple…

Our site ( recently posted a clock counting down to our next album. Technically it will be our first done the right way. But this clock slowly ticks down to the supposed drop date of Tuesday April 2nd 2007 when we expect to have it finished and ready to sell. We figured that we would want the album composed, recorded, mixed and mastered in roughly one year…which is about Feb 2007. We gave ourselves 2 extra months to finalize reproduction and mass copying, packaging\liner notes\artwork etc. So there you have the April deadline.

Seems like a reasonable goal. But in its few days up I have found that this constant clock ticking down really makes me on edge. I feel like I now have an expiration date and that I am now a bit nervous I only have 436 days to get this thing done. I think if I could write all the songs by April, I would be in good shape to record by the summer. But the counter essentially puts an invisible gun to my head making me feel a bit guilty of procrastination when I dont take time to work on this. I can feel the mortality of the project slipping away if i dont write 2 songs by tomorrow. Or the next and so on.

Then maybe this will kick our asses a bit to stop fucking around like we have all these years and make an album we are finally all proud of and sellable. I feel I owe it to myself to make this work after all time and effort I have spent writing, practicing, studying, performing music. This could be great… but now i should quit writing, get back to work so i can make my deadline on this behemouth.

the inner workings between my ears…

i recently started the notion of becoming a better singer\songwriter than i have attempted in the past. this is not an easy task due to my difficulty in hearing lyrics clearly. i can hear the notes, the melodies and phrasing, but the words in those phrases are often just glazed over. in the past few years i have gotten better at this but it takes me a long time to hear what the singer is actually singing. so when i decided to write lyrics, i noticed that despite my well listened and musically competent developed skills, i have no ear for poetic lyrical writing.

so i decided to step it up a notch. i have been scribbling lyrics and phrases i hear, or that come to mind for about 2 years now and though they often get lost in the shuffle, i feel this practice has helped hone my craft a bit. they seem awfully pretentious and obvious…bordering on cliche. but its part of putting in your dues i suppose.

i also have been learning many of my favourite songs…pop songs, folk songs, rock etc… this is with the idea that by imitating their lyrical and melodic phrasings…all while i attempt to sing and play at the same time, this will do nothing but help my own efforts when they arise. in the same ways i studied the past jazz masters’ compositions, improvisational phrases and motifs, their melodies and harmonies…i am attempting to do the same in the language of rock and pop music instead.

i already have 1000s of recordings by most of my favourite artists, but now i am trying to learn and steal and imitate artists like bob dylan, the beach boys, neil young, the beatles, wilco, beck, radiohead, death cab for cutie, coldplay, ryan adams, decemberists, interpol, fiona apple, jon brion, etc etc. its a notable task…but something that i hope to pay off w\ a solid sense of pop song construction. the experiment rolls on…

An unreasonable attempt at a best of list: 2005

I am by no means qualified to make one of these pretentious lists that overpopulate our newspapers, music magazines, websites, blogs, etc and I really could care less except for the fact that I actually do think about this stuff a lot. So do my friends, my co-workers etc. I could hardly say I have listened to everything out there and honestly it seems these selections below are fairly obvious and mainstream choices for those “in the know” (so to speak)… these are just the albums I kept going back to over and over in my car (when i had one) and my ipod…they are the ones that trigger instant moods for me. So here goes… in no particular order

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals — Cold Roses

This guy sure puts out a lot of music…probably too much. I mean 3 albums in one year and the first one was a double album. But I’m loving this guy’s vibe right now. Every album is a sampler platter of distinct types of country music that he tries on for a spot and then like a chameleon changes it up. This album, was in full Grateful Dead mode in the American Beauty\Workingman’s Dead- era, between the guitar work, the singing and so on. It was definitly the one I was going back to the most out of the three.

Morning Jacket — Z

Once again, this was the album that made me pay attention to this band. I dont know if it was the production, the song selection or just me adapting to Jim James’ reverb drenched voice. This album is nearly perfect to me…especially ‘Wordless Chorus’ and ‘Gideon.’ I listened to it this morning in fact.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

This band is becoming huge. And for once I feel like I knew about them early. Had the album and saw them in concert long before their exposure on NPR and NYTimes which is always kinda cool. It will be interesting to see what they put out and when…whether they can put out a good followup, but not do it too quickly or offer a stupid remix like Bloc Party did. Will they live up to the hype…probably not, but hopefully the quality of the band will catch up w\ the quality of the album.

Fiona Apple — Extraordinary Machine (both versions)

I loved it early in February when the leaks came out…it further solidified my love of Apple and producer\composer\singer-songwriter Jon Brion. While the hype and controversey made it more interesting, the music was incredible w\ the arrangements and instrumentations. The new Mike Elizondo-version is good too, though different. The songs hold up the same and sometimes the sound quality and production are better…then the leaked version wasnt the final mixes. The sound textures are great and moody but I often find myself wanting to hear some of the instruments and arrangements of the Brion version…maybe they could make a double album w\ both versions or make a directors cut comprised of both versions.

Broken Social Scene — Broken Social Scene

This album is great and full of energy. The songs are great and I am never sure how many people play in this band. I always appreciate these types of musical collectives that show that the band is bigger than the parts…This album is never schizophrenic like one might think…

Feist — Let it Die

The debut of the sometimes member of Broken Social Scene, Leslie Feist is quite stellar…it has one of my favourite singles on it ‘Mushaboom’. Great sexxy voice and she looks good too.

Sigur Ros — Takk…

This album is so refined and raw and cold and emotional all at the same time. Their albums always remind me of winter and spring…death and life.

Spoon — Gimme Fiction

I think this is another album that made me pay attention to this band more thoroughly. I found myself putting this on while walking home a lot.

Paul McCartney — Chaos and Creation in the Backyard

Is it a return to past form? A step towards the future? Something that looks back positively of regretfully. It seems to be the most romantic and depressing thing McCartney has done since Abbey Road. Nigel Godrich’s production further gains some cred for making Paul relevant again. I listed it b\c expected to hate this album, but actually really like it a lot. Its dark, melancholy and beautiful…especially ‘How Kind of You’ which sounds like it could go on Beck’s Sea Change record.

Sufjan Stevens — Come On Feel the Illinoise

I think this might be my favourite album of the year, hands down. The dense arrangements and layers of instruments: strings, horns, banjos, guitars, choirs and so on into oblivion, are amazing to say the least. There is nothing more I can say about this that no one else hasnt already thought or written. But I put this one on all summer in KC in my car, on my iPod walking around DC, on my computer. I showed it to everyone, and couldnt get enough of this work. I think ‘Chicago’ was my anthem for wanting to move to the city, and ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ was the anthem for lost love. Lyrically and musically this one really caught me offguard and hit me.

Well thats it… here are a few others that i liked alot this year…
White Stripes — Get Behind Me Satan
Flotation Toy Warning — Bluffers Guide to the Flight Deck
New Pornographers — Twin Cinema
Andrew Bird — Mysterious Production of Eggs
Bright Eyes — I’m Wide Awake Its Morning
Bloc Party — Silent Alarm
Franz Ferdinand — You Could Have it So Much Better

i could go on forever so ill stop…notice the lack of jazz here…i think there was very little in the way of new jazz…the Monk\Coltrane At Carnegie Hall was the best jazz record of the year and that was recorded in 1957. Its sad for the state of current jazz that something like this (as great as it is) sounds more immediate and vibrant than anything that came out. Where were the big statements from these guys. There were some solid but slightly underwhelming jazz records: Brad Mehldau Trio- Day is Done; Dave Douglas- Keystone; James Carter\Cyrus Chestnut etc- Gold Sounds (pavement covers).

well thats it…another long post…but i will be done now. no more lists until 2007. huzzah.

Mike’s Favourite Shows of 2005

In no particular order:

My Morning Jacket\ Kathleen Edwards — 930 Club Washington DC

Never really loved MMJ before this fall’s album Z, but the current lineup and use of famed producer John Leckie really made this band finally make an album that didnt try to imitate the live show. But damn, the live show took those perfect nuggets of songs from the album, and blasted them apart: stretching the sections, building tension and utilizing silence and then exploding into full out rock the next second. The opener, Kathleen Edwards was also a great set of Canadian Southern Americana folk rock…she is great…and quite nice in person too.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah \ Black Angels — Black Cat Washington DC

This show took place in early October, just as the hype was beginning to explode about their album. Before they appeared on NPR and the New York Times, before they appeared on most people’s best of 2005 lists, I saw this band w\ my fellow-NPR friend Emily at a sold out show. They stilled showed signs of amateur status here and there, and they could have used some extra songs to fill out the set, but Clap Your Hands…are a quality band and it was cool to see them at their genesis. It will be interesting to see what they do next.

White Stripes\ the Shins\ M. Ward– Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia MD

The opening bands sounded great and distinct but once Jack and Meg hit the stage…it was all about them. Holy crapy…this was an ADD stream of consciousness energy rush through the Stripes’ repertoire. Meg might not be the best drummer, though strangely cute and sexxy when tilting her head and stomping on the bassdrum, but it completly works when Jack is shredding and pouding on the piano. The Shins and M. Ward were great too.

Death Cab for Cutie\ Stars — 930 Club, Washington DC

If you subtract the OC jokes and quips about selling out on a major label, Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla are fantastic musicians, songwriters, producers and actually live performers. I have never seen a rock band so energized by its fantastic fans…though they might be screaming girls, they are the most appreciative group of fans, and this translates when the band performs. The music channels the entire spectrum of emotions and is so beautiful.

Other shows this year I saw worth mentioning

Herbie Hancock\Michael Brecker\Roy Hargrove (Directions in Music) — Gem Theatre, KansasCity MO
the Shins\ Brunettes — Liberty Hall, Lawrence KS
Medeski Martin & Wood — Liberty Hall, Lawrence KS
Medeski Martin & Wood — 930 Club, WashDC
Son Volt\ Fruit Bats — 930 Club, WashDC
The Fiery Furnaces — Black Cat, WashDC
Calexico\Iron & Wine — 930 Club, WashDC
Sinead OConnor\Sly & Robbie — 930 Club, WashDC

Bands I wish I would have seen, but didn’t go for some stupid reason

Sufjan Stevens
Sigur Ros
Broken Social Scene\ Feist
Bright Eyes\Feist\Magic Numbers
New Pornographers
Andrew Bird\ Sam Prekop