Random Ramble: The Bargain Bin

January 9, 2012 Leave a comment

For Christmas, my dad gave me a $25 gift-card to a local record store chain, Rasputin Music. Dad apparently tends to forget that letting me loose in a place like Rasputin with a gift-card is equivalent to letting a bull loose in a china shop. I, like many others out there, can spend hours in a place like Rasputin. It’s especially bad when given money that is specifically for spending there. Because Rasputin has something that sets it apart from all but a handful of similarly independent record stores: a massive and ridiculously low-priced bargain CD section.

The act of going to a record store is a lost concept to a lot of people in this digital age. Everything you could ever want is floating out there on the interwebs somewhere. Hell, I admit that as I write this blog about CDs I’m listening to a playlist on Spotify (which I gladly pay for, because it’s amazing). However there is something about browsing through the $3-or-less bins that can encourage you to pick up something you might not remember to listen to online.

For example: with that $25 gift-card from my dad, I was able to pick up 17 records after a two-hour session browsing the “Buy 3, Get 1 Free” clearance bins and the $0.50 closeout bins (and I still have $3 to spare on that gift-card!). Of those 17 albums, only two of them were by bands from which I owned other material. The other 15 were records by bands that I had heard of, and either had meant to check out or kept forgetting about. Some were older bands whose catalogs are mostly out of print, others were newer bands that I was surprised to find their records in the cheapskate areas already. A few were things that had been accidentally overlooked in my attempts to absorb as much music as I possibly can. All of it was music I was excited find and even more excited to hear.

If you have a record store in your area that carries used CDs or vinyl, I’d highly recommend making monthly pilgrimages to rummage through and see if anything strikes your fancy. It’s a great way to both support local businesses (especially in a time when so many record stores are closing their doors) and to support your own hopefully insatiable thirst for new music.

…and if you’re curious, here’s what I picked up with that gift-card:
Audio Karate – Lady Melody
Better Luck Next Time – Start from Scratch
Broadway Calls – Good Views, Bad News
CIV – Thirteen Day Getaway
Daggermouth – Stallone
Dredg – El Cielo
Earth Crisis – Gomorrah’s Season Ends
Hot Rod Circuit – Sorry About Tomorrow
Hot Water Music – Caution
Millencolin – No Cigar
No Motiv – And The Sadness Prevails
Quicksand – Manic Compression
Slick Shoes – Rusty
Stabbing Westward – Darkest Days
Strife – Angermeans
This Providence – Who Are You Now?
Warzone/Cause For Alarm – split EP


Most Listened To Music of 2011

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Allow me to be honest for a second:
I haven’t had nearly time over the past few weeks to sit down and really pick out my “end-of-year” list. After thinking about the topic a little bit, I also realized how difficult picking those lists would be in a year when so much good music came out. However I wanted to do something to give some credit to the records and songs that came out this year that I loved.

So here are my most listened to albums and artists of 2011, with a couple of my favorite songs thrown in for good measure.

12 Most Listened To Albums Released in 2011
(in alphabetical order)

Bayside – Killing Time
Chevelle – Hats Off to the Bull
Close to Home – Never Back Down
The Beach Boys – The Smile Sessions
The Dear & Departed – Every Waking Moment
Jack’s Mannequin – People and Things
New Found Glory – Radiosurgery
Runner Runner – Runner Runner
Simple Plan – Get Your Heart On
There For Tomorrow – The Verge
This Time Next Year – Drop Out of Life
Yellowcard – When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes

12 Most Listened To Albums Not Released in 2011
(in alphabetical order)

Anberlin – Dark is the Way, Light is a Place
Autopilot Off – Make a Sound
The Dear & Departed – Something Quite Peculiar
The Gin Blossoms – The Millennium Collection: The Best Of Gin Blossoms
Good Charlotte – Good Charlotte
Jack’s Mannequin – The Glass Passenger
Keith Urban – Defying Gravity
Lostprophets – Start Something
Love And Theft – World Wide Open
Over It – Step Outside Yourself
Promise of Redemption – When The Flowers Bloom
Valencia – Dancing With a Ghost

12 Most Listened To Arists of 2011
(in order)

The Beatles
The Monkees
Runner Runner
Good Charlotte
Over It
Jack’s Mannequin
Keith Urban
Promise of Redemption
New Found Glory
Autopilot Off

Favorite Songs of 2011
(in no order)

The Dear & Departed – “Time Travel”
Love and Theft – “Angel Eyes”
New Found Glory – “I’m Not the One”
This Time Next Year – “Drop Out of Life”
Luke Bryan – “Country Girl (shake it for me)”
Simple Plan – “Can’t Keep My Hands Off You”
Panic! at the Disco – “The Ballad of Mona Lisa”
Yellowcard – “With You Around”
Jack’s Mannequin – “My Racing Thoughts”
Trivium – “Built to Fall”
Chevelle – “Face to the Floor”
The Beach Boys – “Surf’s Up” (I know the song was originally released in 1967, but the version on The Smile Sessions is incredible)
There For Tomorrow – “Nowhere Blvd.”
Every Avenue – “No One But You”
Runner Runner – “Falling”
Kelly Clarkson – “Mr. Know It All”

….here’s to even more great music in 2012!

Random Ramble: Farewell to a Favorite

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Valencia at Warped Tour 2009 - Marysville, CA

As anyone with some emotional investment in music knows, it always sucks when a good band breaks up. It’s always so much harder though when the band is one of your personal favorites. Last night, one of my personal favorites, Valencia, played their “farewell (for now)” show in Philadelphia.

Valencia was one of those bands that came into my life during a difficult time. A band who’s music was one of the key things to help me through that time. A group of guys who created something that captured my heart, with me knowing and fully understanding that they weren’t about to let it go.

Though they were never the massive success that a lot of people (including myself) believed they should be, they made great music. They had a sound that was all their own, yet avoided repeating themselves. From the raw sound of This Could be a Possibility, to the pop-punk perfection that was We All Need a Reason to Believe, to the darker and somewhat experimental Dancing with a Ghost, and all the space between (sorry, bad pun, couldn’t help it), their whole catalog was solid. Valencia’s lyrics always held weight in a genre that at one point had a tendency to be flooded with fluff. You could tell upon listening to their records that vocalist Shane Henderson meant everything he said, and the music created by guitarist Brendan Walter, bassist George Ciukurescu, former guitarist JD Perry, current drummer Dan Pawlovich, and former drummer Maxim Soria (R.I.P.) backed up every word he wrote. The music has feeling, and an energy to it that is hard to find. It’s simply great music.

Seeing Valencia live was always something special to me. Living in California, any chance to see favorite bands that are based out of the East Coast is something I don’t take for granted. With Valencia it went beyond that. There was something about them that held a certain magic. Maybe it was my connection to the songs, maybe it was their connection with the fans, or simply their connection with each other. Each show was different, full of energy, and at risk of over-using the word, special. The members of Valencia laid it all on the line every show, putting everything out there and giving everything they had to the crowd whether they were headlining, opening, or stuck in the middle of a festival bill. I always felt a certain type of happiness after one of their sets, the kind that comes with a great concert experience. Emotionally drained in the best way, smiling from ear to ear and glad I was able to be a part of it all.

On top of all of that, the members of Valencia are genuinely good people. Very gracious, funny, easy to approach and talk to, and unbelievably appreciative of every opportunity, every show, and every fan. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to talk with them all so many times.

I know that they’re saying this is “farewell for now”, and that they’ll be back some day. I am definitely looking forward to whatever ventures/projects they explore next. However, I can’t help having a feeling of finality about the whole thing, and a sadness that there won’t be another tour to look ahead to or any new music from them as a unit any time soon. To say I’m simply going to miss Valencia would probably be an understatement. Yet they’re leaving behind an incredible catalog, one that I know I’m going to continue to spin on a regular basis and will still turn to during hard times. At the end of the day, I couldn’t ask for anything more from such a great band.

Days Late on the Holidays

December 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Apologies for posting this a few days later than anticipated, but the holidays are like that: you never know what can happen and that’s a good thing.

I admittedly didn’t listen to a lot of new holiday music in 2011, something that’s rather unusual for me. That’s one of the things I look forward to every year. I just didn’t have the free time to really listen too much of anything this season between work and school, unfortunately.

However, there were a couple of Christmas releases in 2011 that I did enjoy quite a bit.

Peter Munters – “Every Christmas”
Peter Munters has always had one of my favorite voices. His soaring vocals always lent so much depth to the music of Over It, and while not at the forefront of current band Runner Runner the harmonies he provides tend to be highlights. So his release of a solo Christmas song piqued my interest.

“Every Christmas” is a great piece of pop-rock. Relatively up-tempo acoustic guitars and a great beat drive the song, reminding me a tiny bit of Jimmy Eat World’s cover of “Last Christmas”. The lyrics touch on winter and holiday staples in the unique way you’d expect if you’re familiar with his output. It’s music with a very warm feel to it – the type of song that should leave you with a smile on your face after hearing it. There was admittedly a small issue upon my first listen with how heavily treated the vocals on the first verse sounded, which is something a voice as strong as his is doesn’t need. But after repeated listens that became first an afterthought, and then a complete non-issue since the track is so strong overall.

I would highly recommend heading over to his bandcamp page and picking this one up.

Artist vs. Poet – The Naughty or Nice EP
There were multiple reasons for me to be wary of this EP. For starters, this is the first full taste of the new Artist vs. Poet lineup (aside from some covers on YouTube and a couple of singles). Also, they tackled a couple of my personal favorites on this release. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of expectations for it. I ended up pleasantly surprised.

The EP starts with a cover of ‘Nsync’s now-standard “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”. I make no secret of the fact that the record that song came from, 1998’s Home for Christmas, is my favorite holiday release. So I was quite pleased upon hearing that it’s a fairly straight-forward cover of the song. It’s very well done, and I found myself happily singing and bobbing along after awhile. And while vocalist/guitarist Joe Kirkland, guitarist/vocalist Dylan Stevens, and bassist Jason Dean aren’t Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, or Joey Fatone (or Lance Bass or Chris Kirkpatrick now that you mention it), they’re able to more-than-suitably make their voices work with the track.

Another one of my favorite songs (this time, one of my all-time favorites), Ben Folds Five’s “Brick”, also gets a fairly true-to-the-original treatment and much to my relief it’s also very good. AvP also throws listeners a curveball by giving Blink 182 classic “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” a beautiful acoustic treatment. While the lyrics sound a little strange in such a melodic setting (if you’re familiar with the song, you know why), it’s actually one of the highlights of this EP for me. The final cover, holiday standard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is a very tight a cappella, showcasing harmonies that reminded me of fellow pop-rock group Marianas Trench. That is definitely a good thing.

The two original songs on the record, “Airplanes and Candy Canes” and ‘bonus track’ “Never Enough” both show a lot of promise for what these guys have in store, and also show that despite the lineup changes they haven’t lost a step. Both are solid slices of pop-rock, showcasing well the chemistry the three of them have and the songwriting abilities lying in there. If you’ve enjoyed anything this band has released in the past, “Airplanes and Candy Canes” and “Never Enough” should be enough to reassure you that you will enjoy what they do in the future.

Best of all, this EP is available for FREE! right here. Therefore there is no excuse to not listen to it for yourself and form your own opinion of it.

Recommendation: Valencia

May 26, 2011 Leave a comment

video: “Losing Sleep”

When a band alters their sound, the results tend to be a mixed bag in the minds of the fans. Either they get it, and love it, or they don’t. Such is the case for Valencia’s third album, Dancing with a Ghost. A definite departure from their established pop-punk sound, the band executed their new sound so well that most long-time fans of the band embraced the record without hesitation.

Valencia is a band that prides themselves on doing their best to do it their own way. They write the songs they want to write and try to record them in the way they want them to sound. That may not have gone over so well with Columbia, the label that released their previous work We All Need a Reason to Believe in 2008. But back with I-Surrender Records (who released 2005’s This Could Be a Possibility), the band was given the creative freedom to make the record they wanted to make. They let their musical growth, both as musicians and as fans, shine through on DWAG, and the result is a dark, yet still ultimately positive and cohesive album.

Songs like “Dancing with a Ghost” and “Losing Sleep” (see the video for the song above) bring upbeat melodies and powerhouse choruses, while the somber “Somewhere I Belong” is a song you know could be a tear-jerker during the band’s live shows. The record has a great flow, and an overall vibe through-out (something that seems to be more and more rare as the mainstream moves back towards the single format).

Dancing with a Ghost was my favorite record of 2010. It’s one of the few records that have come out in the past year that captured my attention, and didn’t leave my stereo for weeks after its release. Whether you prefer pop-punk, pop, or anything else under the sun, I think it’s an album well worth investing in.

Random Ramble: Moments of Happiness

May 17, 2011 1 comment

As I was thinking about how I was going to re-launch this site here, one of the things I was thinking about was why I had wanted to start it in the first place. That at its core is a pretty easy question to answer: I started it because I love music. Fair enough, right? Music makes me happy.

That last sentence put me on an entirely different train of thought. I started thinking about the little musical things that make me happy. Not the things that put a smile in my thoughts or a tiny one on my lips. The “so happy I’m tearing up” moments. The things that reaffirm to me every time how powerful music really is. The more I thought about it, the more I came up with. And I decided as I followed that train of thought, that it would be a great topic for my first entry back.

Here’s a list of a few of the things I came up with while my mind was wandering:

  • When one of your favorite bands releases a song from an upcoming record.

    When you hear that one of your favorite bands, or even just a band that released one of your favorite albums the year prior is going into the studio, there are two different emotions you could feel: excitement, or unabashed dread that it won’t live up to their previous output. You read (or watch) their studio blogs, check their Facebook and Twitter for updates, and await some hint as to the results of the sessions with bated breath. Finally, the band throws you a bone. You sit and listen to that first song, not sure what you’re going to hear. A major departure? A song that sounds recycled from the last album? An absolute disaster?

    If the song meets, or even exceeds, your expectations, there is an amazing feeling of relief and joy that follows that first listen. There’s a huge smile on your face because you know, from that first song, that the record will be incredible.

  • Finally seeing one of your favorite songs performed live.

    Maybe it’s your first time seeing the artist who wrote/recorded it. Or maybe it’s an artist you’ve seen a bunch of times but they’ve never played that one song. Whichever the case may be, that moment when the band is onstage and they either introduce that song or just go headlong into it is always the highlight of a show. There’s always a brief moment of disbelief that they’re actually playing the song. Then, unbridled happiness at finally getting to sing those words and feel that melody along with the band onstage.

    A personal anecdote: after two years of trying and failing, I finally got a chance to see country duo Love And Theft this past February. It was an acoustic show at a dive bar up in Folsom, CA, and prior to their set they had to walk out to soundcheck to a room full of people due to the venue’s setup. Just the two of them, their guitars, and a friend of theirs playing mandolin, fiddle and singing harmony. Their song “Runaway” fell into this category, a song I’d been waiting to hear live since their record came out in 2009. They sang the chorus a cappella during that soundcheck. The harmonies that define their sound and that song were absolutely flawless. I nearly cried. That night, they ended their set with “Runaway”, and finally hearing them play it and how amazing it sounded made me the happiest I’d been in months.

  • Finding an out-of-print or rare record you’ve been looking for.

    This may be a partially lost experience, now that such items are becoming easily available online. There is definitely excitement in finding rare b-sides and hard to find tracks online, for sure. But the experience of going to a record store and browsing through the racks, and stumbling upon a disc that you had begun to convince yourself you’d never be able to own is something that’s hard to describe. Giddiness and disbelief that you actually found it. Excitement and anticipation to get it home (or throw it in your car stereo), crank it up, and take it in.

  • Hearing a high-note or guitar solo (or other moment) performed flawlessly live.

    There are those moments in certain songs that give you chills or fill you with feelings. Sometimes it’s something done by the vocalist, sometimes it’s a guitar solo, a crescendo, a breakdown, etcetera. When you’re at the show and the band starts playing a song that contains one of those moments, you start anticipating it. Hoping they actually attempt it. And when that moment comes and the band pulls it off perfectly: goosebumps.

There are more that I could list. Discovering a “new favorite band”, for example. Hearing a band you love on the radio for the first time (or seeing their video on Fuse). And I’m not even going into other things related to live shows and things of the sort.

These might be things that only “super-fans” experience. The fans to absorb every note on albums they love. Go to every show their favorite bands play. People who have a sincere passion for music, and not just the casual fan. But I’d like to hope that’s not the case. I’d like to think that these are things that anyone who loves music can feel. Moments of happiness for every music fan.

May 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Just a quick note to say that I’m alive.

I haven’t had a lot of time to write since I started this blog. But I’m ready to give this another shot.

Fingers crossed, here goes nothing!