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Best Albums of 2015

One thing I noticed as I reviewed my Best-of list for 2014 was that several of the albums were notably brief. My #1 album from last year (Sleepy Kitty’s Projection Room) clocked in at a tight 37 minutes. This year – not so much. My top 3 albums this year are all over an hour, and my favorite album of 2015 is, well, a bit longer than that. Long winded? Not when what you have to say is so compelling.   Honorable Mention: Jon Benjamin, Well, I Should Have…* – As in, “Well, I should have learned how to play piano.” Comedian and voice-over artist extraordinaire recorded a jazz album featuring himself on piano. No, he does not play piano. Instead, he created an absurd, Andy Kaufman-esque experiment with some legit studio guys lending support. It seems like the shtick would wear thin over a full album, but somehow it remains hilarious.   Essential Listening: “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt. 3”, “It Had to Be You”     17) Wilco, Star Wars – Though not as expansive or experimental as some of their recent output, Wilco returned this year with a surprise (and free!) album featuring A.M.-esque roots-rock. Contributions from more »

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

John’s arrangement of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” will be performed by the Elmhurst College Percussion Ensemble, featuring John on vocals and Wilco’s very own Glenn Kotche on drums! They will also be playing several of Glenn’s original compositions. Thursday, April 16, 2015 8pm Elmhurst College, Hammerschmidt Chapel $10 Admission

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Forever Young: The Shocking Power of Bob Dylan’s Live Vocal Performance

I had been looking forward to this past Friday night ever since my birthday nearly a month ago.  My wife got me a ticket to see the Chicago performance of the Americanarama tour, which is the heavily touted nation-wide tour that features My Morning Jacket, Wilco, and, of course, Bob Dylan.  I had never seen MMJ before, but I own all their studio albums, and I’ve heard they put on an amazing live show.  Wilco is one of my favorite bands, and although I have seen them live, I was excited to get to see them again.  Both groups easily lived up to expectations, and add in a blistering 30-minute opening set by The Richard Thompson Electric Trio, and you already had a memorable evening. As is so often the case, Dylan was another story.  I had also never seen him live, but my path to his music was less direct than it was with the former two.  It took me awhile to open up to his music, but you don’t go through life as my father’s son without at least developing an appreciation for Dylan’s music.  I have come to thoroughly enjoy Dylan, and I certainly have a profound more »

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Two Decades: Differences between 90’s & 00’s rock radio, and what it can teach us about orchestration

Isn’t it weird how pop/rock music from any given decade has such a distinct sound?  Even if I’m hearing a song for the very first time, I can usually guess with reasonable accuracy the year (or, at the very least, the decade) in which it was recorded.  Of course, decades are just arbitrary spans that make it more convenient for us to organize time, but for whatever reason it seems to be a convenient unit for categorizing periods of rock music. Case in point: a couple months back, WXRT (93.1 FM in Chicago) celebrated its 40th year of broadcasting by showcasing a different year from their existence for each of 40 selected days.  Because they only did this for four days out of every week, it worked out conveniently that they would generally feature one year from each decade over a ten-week span. As I would listen daily on my commutes to and from work, I began to get a pretty good sense of what defined each year from within this genre.  In many ways this just reinforced what I had already known.  The 70’s were dominated by the rise in popularity of distortion and sprawling epic rock from the more »

Devil in the Details: 5 great drum songs

There’s something that I absolutely love about the drum set, and I have no idea what it is.  Drums are incapable of carrying even a simple melody, so why am I so drawn to them as an agent of music?  Perhaps it is because a drum set offers so many sonic possibilities in its unique combination of otherwise disparate instruments.  Or maybe the fact that I have virtually no talent for playing them myself elevates them an unattainable status for me. Really, though, it’s because they make music sound so damn good. But what makes a great drum part?  For me, the best rock/pop drummers are not always the ones that will blow you away with their Thor-like virtuosity.  For a drum part to be great, it has to groove.  You do not necessarily have to be able to dance to it, but it certainly helps.  For it to be truly great, a drum part must lend itself to increasing rewards on return listens.  If I am floored by a drummer after hearing them play a song for the first time, that’s great, but I want to have my mind blown even more after the fifth time I listen to more »