Category Archives: Music

Friday favorites: Folk Rock

My good friend Drew sent me a song suggestion in Spotify today: “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers. It was an excellent selection for today—folk music like that makes me happy. So, in honor of thinking of happy things, here’s my quickly thrown-together playlist of folksy alternative fabulousity. [That’s not a real word, but I do not apologize.]


My choice artists with folksy feeling songs include Neko Case, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, The Format, Neutral Milk Hotel, Patty Griffin, The Lumineers, Wild Child, Flowers for Judith (article coming soon on them, promise!), the Killers, and Relient K.

Not all of them are “folk rock” per se—I felt like I should include the Killers’ “A Dustland Fairytale” on basis of its heart rather than sound (and that it makes a good name for the playlist). BUT if I’ve missed an essential song, add it! It’s a collaborative playlist for that very reason.


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Motion City Soundtrack: stop and Go

I’ve been putting off this post for awhile. You see, I love Motion City Soundtrack; I think they have a song or twelve for every feeling. Motion City is very near the top of my “see-in-concert” wish list. But I’m just not impressed with their latest album, Go.

It’s not that I dislike it; it simply doesn’t hold my interest. The Motion City charm is there, and there are a few gems on the album—I doubt any of them would replace my old favorites, though. Go is missing something. Or maybe I’m missing something. Could be both.

Let’s start with what I like. The first single, “True Romance,” is a keeper. It makes me want to sing along, and, with classic Motion City ease, shows wit in its lyrics. All of the songs have clever bits in the lyrics, really; that’s one thing I love about this band. I also love Justin Pierre’s distinctive voice. The voice suits the band’s style very well. But back to the album.

My second pick off the new album is “Bad Ideas.” It’s very honest and has qualities of many of my other favorite Motion City songs. Besides, I relate pretty well to the words; I’m a warehouse of bad ideas myself. Other songs I like include “Floating Down the River,” “Bottom Feeder,” and “Circuits and Wires.” I also fancy “Box Elder,” but I’m not really sure why. I have trouble listening to the song without skipping to the next sometime in the middle.

I feel neutral towards their other single, “Timelines.” It’s not a bad song, but I’m indifferent. I wouldn’t care less about it if it was about the Facebook feature of the same name—it can’t quite catch my interest. I have that problem with most of the other songs on the album, too. I don’t have much to say on them because they didn’t say much to me, which is why I dragged my feet on this post in the first place. Overall, it’s my least favorite album of theirs, but you could argue that it takes time for some albums to sink in. We’ll see.

If you’re planning on buying a Motion City album, pick a different one, but if you’re a long-time fan of the band, you won’t be too disappointed. It’s just not my kind of album, so don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself.

On a side note, their cover of this Trampled by Turtles song is fantastic.

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Owl City meets Carly Rae Jepsen: What pop music should be

A little boy playing in the sand

Davey at the beach where I wrote this post. Not only was our time good at the beach, “Good Time” is Davey-approved.

Carly Rae Jepsen’s song “Call Me Maybe” is the best song in pop music right now. Don’t argue with me on this; it’s exactly what a pop song should be. Catchy, easy-to-learn lyrics that are incredibly fun to sing along with… It’s the perfect feel-good song. Owl City does pop well, too; in fact, he’s been one of my favorite artists for a few years now. Since “Fireflies” first hit the iTunes free single of the week and later tore up the radio, Owl City/Adam Young had mass happiness appeal. (Yes, “Fireflies” wasn’t his first or even best song, but it’s the song that put Owl City on the map for most people.) This is why “Good Time,” his new single with Jepsen, is a very good idea.

The fact that it’s a duet makes the song so much better. All parties need at least two people, right? But in all seriousness, this so-called “happy accident” (Young in an interview with MTV) sounds like a well-orchestrated masterpiece to me.

“Good Time” has an almost “California Gurls” or “Last Friday Night” feeling to it, but without all the trashy glam that accompanies the average Katy Perry song. It could easily become the next 13-year-olds’ pool party anthem or “that one song” that gets played at every dance, but I don’t mean that as a bad thing. A good pop song should have a “please overplay me” quality, but I beg you to please not ruin this song for me. It’s fast enough to dance to and simple enough to sing along; better yet, the lyrics aren’t cringeworthy in the least. No worries about letting your little sister jam along with you because “Good Time” proves that fun doesn’t have to be inappropriate.

I recently fell in love with Owl City’s last full album, All Things Bright and Beautiful (2011), but now I can’t wait to hear more from his next album, The Midsummer Station this August. If it’s anything like this single, it’ll be a really good time.

P.S. – Take some time to vote for “Good Time” (or vote for any of the other talented artists) on the About to Pop list this week.

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Friday Favorites: Electric Light Orchestra

It was 1995. In preparation for our long drive to Disney World, my daddy let me pick one song to be our “vacation” song. My choice? “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO. It’s always been a favorite of mine, even at the age of four.

As I’ve grown up, my love for Electric Light Orchestra has only increased. There are so many wonderful songs, and their style is such a wonderfully unique sound. I love it—I love the strings and the combination of voices and Jeff Lynne’s lead vocals. Many of their songs have a happy undertone, and nearly all of them bring back good memories.

Only lately have I noticed how my love of ELO has influenced some of the newer artists I love, whether because they were influenced by the band as well or that their sound is reminiscent of it. I know that Fun. was definitely influenced by ELO, as you can hear very clearly in their first album, Aim and Ignite. Ra Ra Riot also gives off an ELO-esque feel with their violin-rock. But perhaps most shockingly, I realized last week that even one of the best songs by another of my favorite bands, Jack’s Mannequin, has a strong tie to “Mr. Blue Sky.” “Dark Blue” is like the modern remake of the song, somehow, with different words and different sounds but such a similar feel. I approve.

Bonus: Lily Allen’s cover of “Mr. Blue Sky” is really good as well. I have it on my computer, but I can’t remember how I found it and it’s not available on Spotify. If you have a few moments to spare, though, you should definitely look it up. All I really found was this mash-up of the two on Youtube.

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Shuffled Wisdom: Move Me by Shaun Groves

I listen to music in waves. First I’ll want nothing but my iPod, and then I’ll want completely new music and demand only the radio. I’ll listen to only my playlists on Spotify, and then I’ll listen to only newly created playlists through We Are Hunted or MoodAgent or any of the other awesome Spotify apps.

The Sirius satellite radio transmitter in my car

I listen to a lot of satellite radio in my car; more about that in a later post.

This week, I’m doing a little of both—new music at home, but old music while driving. In other words, I put my iPod on shuffle in the car and allowed it to dig up some of my older songs—songs I don’t listen to much these days but used to love enough to keep their place on my iPod. Sometimes, I end up skipping through fifty songs before I find something I can tolerate (it depends on my mood while listening, really.), but sometimes I strike gold. A song will provide exactly the kind of thing I needed to hear at the moment, speaking wisdom into my life or providing comfort or happiness or good memories.

Yesterday, the song was “Move Me” by Shaun Groves. You may not know the song at all, seeing as it was only on the radio in 2001 and really didn’t go much farther than the occasional play on K-Love. But it was one of my favorite songs that year—uplifting and catchy and not overplayed or cliché in my 10-year-old self’s opinion. Give it a listen below.

It really hit home for me with some of the things I’ve been dealing with lately. It’s a sort of prayer that I could definitely use, a perspective I need to better understand, especially with this line. “Use bitter and sweet/to move my frozen feet/far beyond all that holds me down.”

That’s my challenge, for me, but for you if you want as well. Let yourself be moved. Moved by music, moved by God, moved past what is keeping you at this place, no matter how comfortable this place you’ve been holding onto so tightly might have once seemed. Move.

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Perfecting the mixed tape

Summer is a great time for playlists, soundtracks, mixed tapes or mixtapes…whichever name you prefer. But a quality mix does not just happen by accident; you can’t just haphazardly throw together tracks you like. Making a good mixed tape is an art, so don’t waste your CDs on some random assortment of songs, no matter how good the songs may be. If you want to give a friend random songs, use Dropbox—it’s much more convenient and has less chance of you wasting precious CD space with songs they already have. But If you want to share a mixed tape with them, read on.

First, consider your audience. Who is this playlist for and why are you making it for them? Are you pulling together songs to help cheer up a friend who has gone through some hard times lately, or are you choosing tracks to pump up your teammates at practice? Maybe you want to make a best friend or special someone feel extra appreciated through song. Whatever the reason, keep this purpose in mind as you choose songs. You want your mixed tape to have a flow or to tell a story.

Next, pick the songs! Go through your iTunes library and pull out any songs that could work and put them in a playlist. You have to start somewhere, so start broad and then narrow down your song choice from there. Listen to the songs as you make your decision, and remove the songs that definitely won’t work. When you have narrowed down this list some, you’re ready for the next step in the mixed tape: establishing song order.

Pay attention to song order. While all of the songs you have chosen may convey whatever feeling you were going for, not all songs will flow together as well. Some songs may clash if they’re played consecutively but will still work wonderfully on the same album as long as you have the proper songs between them. Try to group similar sounds, tempos and lyrics together first, and then work to place these different sounds in a cohesive order. Think of how the sounds can work together to tell a story, moving from happy to sad to happy again, or from slow tempoed to more fast-paced songs. You have enough sense about music to pick these songs, so you should be able to tell which songs don’t go very well together (and therefore avoid putting those together).

Choose your songs again. Sometimes you have to let songs go at this stage. Maybe two songs have too similar feelings and you need to cut one, or maybe you just can’t place the song in the current lineup you created. In either case, it may be a good idea to take a break from the project and come back to it later—take a few hours or even days to step back and then give it another listen. You may also find you are lacking a song or two that you hadn’t pulled out from your initial iTunes browsing. Putting a little more thought into your mix will allow for a more meaningful end result.

More hints:

  • Be sure to give the playlist a final listen before pulling out that CD to burn. You don’t want to waste any CD-Rs because the playlist wasn’t exactly how you wanted it. When you’re finished, test out the burned disc for playback as well.
  • With that in mind, also check the playlist running time. If you’re making a mixed tape, be sure that the total length of your playlist is shorter than what one CD will hold. If you’re wanting to use multiple CDs, then it doesn’t matter as much, but still keep length in mind.
  • Don’t forget to name your creation, but be careful what you choose. “The Awesome List” might be a little pretentious, while some really long title filled with inside jokes may only work in some situations. Or maybe you should just go with “My mix.” It’s up to you, really.
  • Decorate the case/CD before you give it to them. Writing up a track list would also be a nice touch.

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Friday Favorites: A Lesson in Romantics

This week’s Friday Favorites is a little different. Instead of focusing on a band, I’m going even more specific: a favorite album—Mayday Parade‘s A Lesson in Romantics.

A Lesson in Romantics is a masterpiece. Let me break it down for you.

This album takes you through the whole range of emotions a relationship can bring, and it articulates these feelings so honestly. It’s like catharsis and indulgence and hope all rolled into 47 minutes of hard-hitting alt rock. Part of Mayday Parade’s style that I’ve especially appreciated, besides all the passion and emotions, is how the lyrics often reference singing or songwriting, but not in a cheesy, SexyBack sort of way. The songs are also well-done, in that the music and the lyrics are both written and performed well. It’s top-notch stuff.

The album itself has a sort of flow or narrative in the song order. The dreamy focus of the opening track, “Jamie All Over,” sets you up for the angry heartbreak of the next couple of tracks (“Black Cat” and “When I Get Home, You’re So Dead”). It’s not until “Jersey” that Derek Sanders and company let on just how much vulnerability there is behind the anger, but there’s no holding back by the time you hit “Miserable at Best” two tracks later.

But before every thought and tear is laid bare to a girl named Katie, the past is dealt with in “If You Wanted a Song Written About You, All You Had to Do Is Ask.” He’s burning letters and turning over pictures and addressing hurt and anger in a less attacking manner than the previous songs, and by the time “Miserable at Best” begins, you’re rooting for the guy. Which is a good place to be, considering the next song covers moving forward, conveniently titled “Walk on Water or Drown.”

All of this builds into “I’d Hate to Be You When People Find Out What This Song Is About,” which is a song about, well,  how difficult things can be, among other topics such as being “tongue-tied and terrified.”

Even so, “Take This To Heart” is probably my favorite song on the album (with “If You Wanted A Song…” as a close second). It’s full of uncertainty and hope and longing, and I love it. It also sets things up nicely for “Champagne’s for Celebrating (I’ll Have A Martini)” and all its “what ifs” and regret.

While I really enjoy “You Be the Anchor That Keeps My Feet on the Ground, I’ll Be the Wings That Keep Your Heart in the Clouds,” I had not seen the full title for months after listening to this album because it would not fit on my iPhone display. That’s the only complaint I have about the album, really—it took me awhile to learn all of the song titles.

Of course, I like the sometimes vague and probably unnecessarily lengthy song titles in their own merit because, to me at least, it feels like a throwback to one of my favorite albums in high school. That’s right, Panic! At the Disco’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat OutBut that’s another article for another time (Perhaps a time to dance? Fine, I’ll stop with the not-so-clever jokes).

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