Tag: music

Saxophones in Galway

I’m pretty sure saxophones are not traditional Irish instruments, but that didn’t stop the person playing it as I sat with some new friends from Lehigh at a small restaurant outside yesterday. I had arrived in the country at a tiny airport that had more sheep than planes at it at about 8:30 AM local time (that’s about 3:30 AM back in Connecticut where I started my journey) and it was grey. So grey. That grey mixed with the deep greens that covered the landscape as I took the bus about an hour up to Galway was familiar to me. It was the green and grey that I had seen in countless films and TV shows and it was what I expected to see. There were few times in my transatlantic flight that I didn’t see clouds out the window, though we were above them most of the time. In fact, I filmed a pretty cool little video as we broke through the cloud cover taking off from Bradley International Airport on the way to Philly, my pit stop into Ireland. Check it out:

Anyways, back to the saxophone. It provided a nice background to the conversation I was having with my new charges. I’m here to make sure all the study abroad students from Lehigh stay safe and have working appliances in their apartments. That’s about it, after the end of this week. They’ll all be here and settled in and I’ll have about 5 weeks left to just chill out in Galway. In that way, the sax was the perfect accompaniment to my first small meal in Ireland. It sets the mood for what I hope will be a smooth and easy transition time for the students and myself. If we can get in harmony with each other quickly and easily, everything will run like a jazz song and we’ll all be able to experience fun new things.

And hot damn, Ireland is both very familiar and quite strange. Their plugs are so weird looking! There’s no grape jelly at the store (don’t worry, I got raspberry instead). They drive on the wrong side of the road and therefore walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk, too. My impulse to cut to the right if I’m on course to hit another pedestrian will only exacerbate the problem as they go in that direction as well. And I’m still not used to looking in the opposite directions to see if cars are coming as I cross the street. And speaking of streets, Galway is a medieval city and that means that there’s no real rhyme or reason to the way that the streets work. It’s not a hub and spokes as in Paris nor is it a grid like many modern cities. Instead there’s a complex web of streets and I still don’t understand how people navigate them in their cars as the signs are incomprehensible to me so far. I’m still calling everything dollars instead of Euro, but between food shopping last night (after a 2-hour nap) and going to TK Maxx (yes, it’s the same store as TJ Maxx but it has a K instead of a J for what I assume are nefarious reasons) to pick up a towel and washcloth and bath mat, I’m at least settled in a can now take the time to start exploring the city. Tomorrow most of the students will be arriving and it’ll be a busy day of getting them from the bus station up to our apartments, but after that and the next day of getting them to the University where they’ll be doing their work, it’ll be time to start working on my own things.

Which brings me to what you can expect to see on this blog for the next month and a half. I’d guess about twice a week you’ll see stuff like this about my experiences in the city. But I’ll also be doing some academic work to make this trip meaningful. I have full access to the University all the students will be going to, so I’ll be doing some reading and writing about what I read. I want to shore up some of my literary theory knowledgebase, so I’ll be reading some Jameson, some comics theory, and probably some film theory as well depending on what they’ve got at the library here. If you want to see what I’m seeing as I see it, follow me on Instagram and Twitter (this one is a new account, by the way, so follow that one from now on if you’re interested). The best pictures will likely also show up here as well. And I think that’s about it. I’m also going to be on a mission to have fries from as many restaurants and pubs around here as possible. I’ll be sure to let you know which place has the best examples of the form. I’m sure you’re all desperate to know. If you have any questions, leave ‘em here and I’ll address them! I’ll also take recommendations on places to visit if you’ve been here before. For now, so long.

25 Christmas Things: Days 7 and 8 – Die Hard and “Christmas in Hollis”

I’m still not super sure how weekends will go with this project. In the past two days I was pretty busy and didn’t have some posts banked so today you’ll get a dual post plus an extra bonus one tomorrow morning. Stay tuned!

But first it’s Christmas time in Hollis, Queens. Though my mom never cooked chicken and collared greens for Christmas, this song is still super fun to listen to. Run DMC is pretty much the only early rap that I like (commence with the throwing of vegetables) and the humor with which they treat the Christmas holiday really works for me. Towards the end of the song there are some horn blasts between verses that ape classic Christmas songs but the record scratches that accompany them show that the two of these guys (plus Jam Master Jay, of course) know what they’re doing when it comes to melding the Christmas spirit with their own holiday experiences.

And that it’s used as one of the two biggest Christmas-y parts of the best non-Christmas-y Christmas movie doesn’t hurt either. Other than the “Now I have a machine gun, ho ho ho” declaration that John McClane makes halfway through the film, the only real sign that Die Hard is is Christmas movie is Argyle’s music selection on the way to the Nakatomi Plaza, namely “Christmas in Hollis”. Argyle is the super cool limo driver chauffeuring McClane to his reunion with his estranged wife. There’s a bit of holiday reconciliation stuff that weaves its way into the film but mostly it’s just shooting and some Christmas tunes. And that’s what you want sometimes. Ok, often. Ok, most of the time. “Ho ho ho

25 Christmas Things: Day 5 – “Santa Baby”

I first knew Eartha Kitt as Catwoman from the 60’s Batman tv show reruns I would watch after school in 4th or 5th grade. She was pretty alluring, even to young Alex, with the hair and the eyes and the outfit. Not bad. Later, I heard her version of “Santa Baby”, the first to be recorded and fell in love with the sultry but not overly sexy voice she sang one of the most commercial songs of the season with. It’s easy for singers of this song to go too far, to stray into Marilyn Monroe territory with it and lose the dry wit of the whole thing in a sea of barely whispered lyrics. No, she did it just right. She escalates from wanting a sable coat under her Christmas tree to asking her lover to buy her a platinum mine and a duplex before ramping back down to “one little thing, a ring”. And she’s not talking about phone, Santa baby. Before she gets there, though, she also brags about “all the fellas that [she hasn’t] kissed.” I believe it, both that she’s desirable enough to have a bunch of guys lusting after her and that she’d keep them at bay for the sake of the guy she’s with. It’s that little element that gets lost when people like Madonna get a hold of the song and pout their way through it. Don’t even get me started on Michael Bublé (whose Christmas album is generally pretty good) and his dumb version of the holiday classic. Give me Eartha Kitt or give me death!

Top 5 Albums of 2012 (so far)

The year is half over and that means it’s time to check in with how its doing in the media world. First up is the top 5 albums of the first half of the year.

5. Jack White – Blunderbuss

I have, for some reason, not listened to this album very much since it came out a few months ago. I can’t really tell you why. It’s Jack White doing his Jack White thing, which means a lot of different kinds of songs that still somehow manage to sound of a piece. I guess you get pretty good at being yourself when you have a bunch of bands and side-projects going on. I’ve never loved anything White did as much as I love his work as half of The White Stripes, but this album gets pretty close. It’s got some great piano work for a guy known as a guitarist. This is to be expected, I suppose, with the excellence of Get Behind Me Satan, but it was nice to see anyways. Keep it up, Jack.

4. Electric Guest – Mondo

If we’re going to have to wait for a new Gnarls Barkley album it’s not a bad consolation prize to get this little gem. Electro-soul is one of my favorite genres and Asa Taccone (brother of the Lonely Island’s Jorma) is surprisingly quite great at it, even if his appearance wouldn’t suggest it as much as Cee-Lo’s would. It’s poppy and soul-y and the music is solid. It makes you want to dance, but only a little. Fun stuff. Also of note: all but two of the songs on the album are under 4 minutes, the two exceptions being the 5:01 “Awake” and 8:49 “Troubleman”. That’s all.

3. Fun. – Some Nights

I guess I caught this wave just as it was about to crash. Oh well, I still really like the bigness of this album. Its first song has an introduction that seems more like the beginning of a Broadway musical than a first track on an album. The band then goes on to craft large, varying songs of pop bombast. The runaway hit single, “We Are Young,” is one of the lesser songs on the album, and it’s a shame if it is what keeps people away from discovering a great pop band.

2. The Shins – Port of Morrow

After taking some time off and doing his own thing, it would seem like James Mercer was returning to his roots and the band that made him famous. That is, until you see that he’s the only returning member of The Shins for this album. Somehow it still feels a lot like other Shins stuff, a testament to the artistic power Mercer holds. This album came out in the spring, but it feels like a perfect autumn listen, probably because of songs like “September” and “Fall of ’82”. Maybe it’ll move up later in the year as it settles into its own time.

1. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

You’re lucky if you get an album a year where every song works. This is that album. Fantastic folk. It’s not necessarily a happy listen but there’s a certain joy to be taken in such well made music. There’s not an off note as Kristian Matsson expands his sound to include a little electric guitar to go along with his usual acoustic selection. While songs like “Call Me Maybe” dominate the airwaves The Tallest Man on Earth provides a wonderful counterbalance with songs full of meaning and emotion. The obvious comparison to Bob Dylan is obvious for a reason, this guy is really good at writing and performing deep and poetic music.

 

Now you’ve seen my list, what would you put on yours? What did I miss? Share your picks in the comments.

Make Mine Music: 2011 Albums

Yes, it’s getting towards the end of the year. That means it’s time for lists to start coming. O! Those Glorious Lists! But here’s the thing, I don’t have extensive music lists like I do for movies. I can tell you what movies I’ve watch this year and I think I’ve done a pretty ok job keeping up with all the good ones (I’m gonna watch you one of these days, Uncle Boonmee) but I have no idea if I’m doing the same with music. I’m just not as immersed in that as I am with film. So here’s where you come in. I’m gonna give you a collection of the music that I’ve really gotten into this year and you tell me what I’m missing. Drop me a comment with your suggestions. There will be a follow-up post with mini-reviews of your suggestions. Here we go, in alphabetical order!

Adele – 21

I don’t know if there’s a better song this year than Someone Like You. That song is amazing. Adele’s got the powerful vocals I like to see in my soul singers. Anything with that kind of voice is going to catch my attention. And if the songs are as well written as Someone Like You they pretty much can’t do any better.

The Antlers – Burst Apart

Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out is a hell of a song. This band mostly does the somber thing. They’re my placeholder for The National this year, I think. I do like the starkness of this album, and there are some killer guitar parts.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears – Scandalous

Like The Black Keys but funkier. The horns really kick this band into high gear. Won’t you take me to Booty City?

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

I like the sax solo at the end of Beth/Rest, though I seem to be the only one. This year seems to be the year of the sax solo, which is fine by me. Look for two more to pop up later in this list.

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

I was nervous when I heard that this album was going to skew towards the country sound, and it surely does, but it works with the Decemberists writing. Rox in the Box is a kicker.

Foster the People – Torches

I started listening to this album about a week before Pumped Up Kicks took off. The rest of the album is just as good as that song. This is the closest I’ve heard to a successor for Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Pop delight.

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

I listened to this album’s predecessor a bit and it didn’t hook me at all. After loving this album to pieces I went back to see if I was wrong. I wasn’t. There’s just something off about that one that isn’t off about this one. It does the kind of in-vogue americana thing with the surf and all that jazz, and it does it very well.

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Here’s the next sax solo in Big Burned Hand. Iron & Wine have continued to grow his/their sound and this album is really cool. Sax solos!

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

This is my first M83 album and it is glorious. Midnight City is super great. When I heard it on a Victoria’s Secret commercial last week I was impressed but not surprised that it had caught on so quickly. That song is a beast. I’m going to have to keep listening to pick out more excellent songs but it won’t be a chore. SAX SOLO!

Middle Brother – Middle Brother

Indie-folk-rock super-group comprised of the lead singers of Dawes, Deer Tick, and Delta Spirit, this has a good chance of being my album of the year. The three distinct vocal styles work well together and album-closer Million Dollar Bill highlights each of them excellently. Someday is the best song on the album.

The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

Here’s another guy that continues to grow his sound. If you can dig his voice there’s a good chance you’ll love this album. These are some of the best written songs I’ve heard in a long time.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

The only artist I’ve seen in concert multiple times, St. Vincent is just amazing. Cruel is one of the catchiest songs of the year, and the video is totally great, too.

TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

It’s not as good as the previous TVotR album, Dear Science. It is still pretty great, though. Will Do is good stuff.

Wilco – The Whole Love

A bunch of different kinds of songs here. The 7 minute opener is great. A return to some of the more experimental aspects of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

So that’s it. Tell me what I’ve missed. I’ve left of a few albums that I haven’t given full attention to yet, so if you’re recommending something give me a good reason to listen to it. To the comments!