The first time someone asked me if I wanted to be in a band when I grew up, I laughed in their face. My friends had been reluctantly pounding out classical riffs since the days their mothers first held their diapered rears down to piano benches, whereas I was just starting to train my teenage ear to recognize notes that were not in key–a fact that many of the first musicians I played with were quite happy to point out.
That was a long time ago. Long enough ago to finalize my mirth at such an idea. Nope, unlike countless po-mo peers raising their eyebrows behind the coffee bar, guitar picks swinging on a tiny chain around their neck, I never wanted to be a rock star–which was rather fortunate, both for the inevitably-crushed would-be ego and for any hope of a financial future.
Instead, I chose “creative writing.” Yeah, about that…
Delusions of grandeur never deluded aside, I’ve enjoyed playing music with friends for years. Recently, Kirsten and I got the chance to acquire a very simple microphone interface for our computer, thanks to a few photography jobs (email me). It’s been a blast to hang out with some quite talented friends and help lay down a few of their tracks. And Kirsten has more talent in her humming than I do in all of my fingers, years upon years of practicing scales and all–she just grins a little bit when I play out of key. C’est la vie. I guess I’ll keep her around.
So while relatively few people read this site or click on my Facebook links in the grand scheme of things, I’m trying to not let my friends’ work sit dormant on my computer. I’m temporarily rotating a few in-progress demos through Purevolume (any recommendations for a better site to host more than four songs at a time for a very low cost?) In a world saturated by singer-songwriters, this is not too much more than a bunch of friends having fun.
For anyone that enjoys watching the trainwreck that is the contemporary recording industry:
Citigroup (yeah, the bank) has apparently bought the struggling EMI record label, along with its “modest level of debt”…aka, 1.2 billion pounds (yes, as in English currency…as in awfully close to 2 billion US dollars).
And that’s after a “65% reduction” in said level of debt.
I don’t think that needs too much analysis from my end…
Throughout the week, a gentleman named Eric Greene was leading a discussion on the Planet of the Apes movies in the “Flickerings” tent. The place was aptly named. The light was terrible, it was hot in the tent, and the projector sucked–but it was a surprisingly great discussion of “How does popular culture help people wrestle with their deepest conflicts?”
My little brother and I went to go hear Aaron from mewithoutYou speak on whatever topic was on his mind that day (always an unpredictable, but ridiculously honest and interesting conversation). Unfortunately, we got the host of that particular tent instead, who got up and promptly began rambling on in the most defensive way possible about his own ministry and his past endorsement of Aaron. The tent was jam-packed with kids, who all looked very confused as the gent talked about “the responsibility of the stage.” I leaned over to my brother–“I think this is leading up to a disavowal of the band because of the latest album.”
Sure enough, after a ton more rambling for the better part of an hour, someone finally yelled out “is Aaron coming?” whereupon the host became even more defensive and said “I don’t know where he is!” Needless to say, the tension got even more awkward by that point–especially when he asked if anyone else had concerns about mewithoutYou’s last album and proceeded to lead group prayer for them, after saying how much he loved them, of course.
Word of advice. If you’re ever in a situation like that, just start off by saying the speaker isn’t coming–and leave it at that. Defensive manipulation will never help you or anyone else, in the long run.
And especially don’t go into that dreaded tangent about “Satan was a worship leader in heaven.” Sorry, but to the best of my knowledge, that’s a ludicrous argument on every possible level, and completely without any theological backing whatsoever (besides a solitary mistranslated, vague scripture from the King James–but feel free to prove me wrong in the comments).
Up until that point, Cstone had been an incredible model of faith-filled dialogue and tolerance for wrestling with big questions, such as I’ve rarely seen modeled by religious communities. I mean, this is the place that semi-famously welcomed avowed atheist David Bazan back with more or less open arms. Ahh well, maybe it was just the cost of each of the many tents being independently run, more or less–and thankfully, it was the only incident of the kind that I heard about or witnessed.
With an uncomfortable taste still in our mouths, we went back to the Gallery stage (where we spent most of the festival, come to think of it) and listened to some new Nashville talent. Rhona Kelly had a great alt-country voice and we had fun chatting with her when we ran into her later in the day, as well.
Kirsten had fun participating in a songwriting seminar with Jan Krist throughout the week. It paid off–I had fun sneaking in and watching Kirsten entrance a tent full of participants the next day with her song. (As an interesting sidenote, Jan is apparently the mother of one of the members of Blind Pilot).
You never know who might show up to listen along with you…
It was great to hear Brooke Waggoner with a full band this time around (Nate R, eat your heart out). Her live show is (surprisingly?) energetic and the hipsters around us were smiling a mile a minute–definitely catch a show, if you ever can.
In case you were wondering, gentle hipster folk was not necessarily the main draw at the festival, given that there were well over a hundred bands officially playing. Out of curiosity, I checked out some of A Plea for Purging‘s brutal set…and was amused by the scene, as always.
The Almost (the drummer from Underoath‘s main gig, now) on the mainstage–another place we didn’t spend much time. And Cstone was very unique in that the mainstage didn’t feel like the mainstage–very few people seemed to camp out there all week long, with so many other stages constantly pumping out a wide variety of music. Throughout the week I tried to gauge how many people were at the festival–25k? 50k?–but to no avail. They were simply too far spread out.
Yeah, Skillet brought their mainstream crotch-rock ethos and it was ridiculous. And I sort of smiled at the one song I checked out. I mean, there were great balls of fire (whose heat I could feel from the back of the crowd), the guitarists went up and down on elevator platforms, and there was a live, dueling string section. Pre-recorded or not, it’s been a while since I’ve seen that kind of cheese-tastic show.
Getting back to our regularly scheduled program, Kate York lent her jaw-dropping sense of melody to the hymns project of the host of the gallery stage that day, The Wayside. Really, if you don’t check out anyone else, you owe it yourself to take a listen to her deceivingly simple, honey-coated bitter-pill sad songs.
After coming from 98+ degree weather in DC, the cool 80s of Illinois farmland were quite welcome to wake up to. By the end of the week, the organizers were claiming it was the best weather they’ve enjoyed in 25+ years. I was quite willing to take it–especially with so many dirty hippies nearby.
We had to go into Bushnell to find some propane for the stove graciously lent to us. It was the kind of place where the store clerks called down the aisles to ask customers where was the best place for us to go…”You at that festival?” the young lady at the farming supply store five miles outside of town (past two houses, left on the paved road–not the stone one, and then you go around a long curve…) asked me. “Yep. You ever been?” She shook her head, a smile on her face. “Nope.”
The conversations we participated in during the week were, to say the least, thought provoking: “Prophetic Activism” to “Ecoterrorism,” “Understanding the Middle East” to “Songwriting…” We stumbled into this particular talk about “Reimagining Church” during our lunch hour with two crazy guys, Peter and Brad, who overtly express a commitment to social justice and community building in some unusual ways. It ended up being one our favorite discussions.
Speaking of unusual characters, Jim Fitz was an anabaptist farmer who decided to become a peacemaker. As in a human shield. In the midst of military conflict. Needless to say, he had my attention.
Because twenty some stages wasn’t enough…
Shooting some skateboarders doing tricks behind a wire fence…
mewithoutYou was as engrossing as ever, with a great selection from their discography. Aaron was as awkward as ever, but his twitch always comes across as one of humility–and his recent attempts to plumb the works of both the Sufi mystics of his youth and Christian beliefs of today and arrive at some sort of conclusion has my full sympathy. Alas, the next day would show not everyone shared my perspective, in the only truly awkward moment of the week…
The Lost Dogs put on a rollicking good show, full of their Traveling Wilburys -esque sensibilities. All of the members had been on and off the stage the rest of the day, supporting each other’s solo acts. Which was a repeated trend we saw at Cornerstone, one that I’ve never seen at a festival before. Bands/labels/music scenes sort of adopted each stage and just hung out there all day, helping out everyone who came on. It felt almost more like a musical residency, at times, than an agenda-packed festival. And that was a good thing. Anyway, the, umm, rather more mature audience around me was quite appreciative of the Lost Dogs’ (much bantered about) reliance on reading both old and new lyrics from music stands strategically sprinkled around the stage.
The band from my childhood that sealed our decision to come to Cstone was up next–but that’s a post unto itself.
After over fifteen hours of driving, we joined a crowd in the middle of absolutely nowhere in Illinois…
I haven’t been a true Switchfoot fan in quite some time, but I will quickly admit they put on a very solid show. Foreman‘s voice was stronger than I’ve ever heard before from ’em in person.
I’m obviously as guilty of this as the next person, but man! it seemed like every other person had their videocameras outstretched anywhere we went.
Timbre. This lady was EVERYWHERE we went–it seemed as tho each band wanted her on stage with them, from The Chariot, to mewithoutYou, to Brooke Waggoner…during one of the highlights of the night, all of the backing musicians gradually joined Timbre at her harp, plucking strings and continuing to lightly drum the rhythm on the soundboard.
Last year, I was intrigued by her first album when my brother sent it my way. Her live performance far eclipsed anything recorded I’ve heard from her so far. It was a show full of meandering volume swells and the energetic symphonic pop that marks the best of indie music today, carried along by a vocal that transfixed the attention of all the hipsters sitting in the grass around us.
Even if you don’t have a soft spot for soft stuff, “Declaration of Dependence” by Norwegian pop-folk duo Kings of Convenience is an important album. Forget that it’s beautifully minimalistic, that it has enveloping atmospherics, or even that it runs at a comfortably relaxed pace: this record is just plain good music.
I always have trouble describing how great this album is without drawing an analogy to Simon and Garfunkel. You know, the delicate vocals, contagious harmonies, and tasty finger-picking guitar. On top of this, the Kings have done a nice job of spicing things up with the inclusion of the extended string family, adding some violin, bass, and piano here and there to create a unique feel for every song. The percussion section is conspicuously absent, but this doesn’t stop the album from being rhythmic. In fact, there are some surprisingly catchy grooves propelling the otherwise low-key music. This focus on upbeat tempos saves the album from the slump that snags similar efforts. Lyrically, the words are very introspective, a good match to the musical mood.
On top of the obvious merits of the music, the recording quality is top notch: lots of breaths and finger noise capture an aspect of intimacy in the performance.
Overall this album is consistent, relaxing, enjoyable, and easy-listening. 85/100
For the last year or two, indie-rockers have enjoyed a high wave of reverb-drenched 70s nostalgia. I’m no enemy of the trend–I find the quirkiness of Midlake particularly endearing, and I’m hugely sympathetic to the stacked vocal harmonies of Fleet Foxes. One blogger favorite I’ve completely failed to connect with, however, are the Kings of Convenience.
Frequently compared to the legendary Simon and Garfunkel, KoC unfortunately capture all of the former duo’s sugary smoothness and none of their politically-informed wordplay. Instead, on their latest album we’re treated to a bunch of saccharine meditations on relationships.
All too often the songs are structured with rhythms that often bear an uncanny resemblance to up-strum patterns employed by Flight of the Conchords. If only the lyrics had even a bit of the Conchords’ irony–instead, we’re treated to song after song of endearingly heartfelt boy-wants-girl tripe that is undoubtedly meant to be tender and endearing, but is instead just…cute (intimate recording techniques and all). It’s all the confessional, singer-songwriter honesty of Damien Rice or The Swell Season, but with none of the passion.
At their best, KoC sound like a “sensitive” soundtrack to a hipster chick-flick. At their worse, they sound like a band that’d be right at home picking up their instruments for a quiet scene in a thirty-year old Barbara Streisand rom-com. 42/100
…are worth listening to. Yes, sometimes the hype is right. You can find a decent bootleg here, buy ’em, or, of course, check out free.napster.com.
They remind me of a looser, more-reverb drenched Midlake. Which, in my book, is a good thing. This album definitely sounds like it came out in the early seventies and should be spinning on my turntable–which is actually a little eerie.
Although I’m not sold on Bruegel art-work…