On Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto

Mylo Xyloto.

Coldplay’s fifth studio album (or sixth, if you count Prospekt’s March as an album, which I do) came out two weeks ago, but due to Amazon being a bunch of raving maroons, I didn’t have it until about five days ago, making Mylo Xyloto the first Coldplay album since Parachutes that I didn’t have on day one.

Over the summer, Coldplay released the first single from MX — “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall.” I was indifferent to the song, frankly. I liked the B-sides that came with it more; “Major Minus” was more like what I wanted, and “Moving to Mars” was sublimely lovely. I might even go so far as to say that “Moving to Mars” is one of the ten best things the band’s recorded.

Ironically, “Moving to Mars” made me feel far better about Mylo Xyloto than “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” did; if the band felt like they could leave a track like “Moving to Mars” off the album, then Mylo Xyloto must be something special indeed.

Then Coldplay had to take away any goodwill I was beginning to feel by releasing the video for “Paradise.” Something about the video was just… off-putting.

I suppose I should state for the record that I generally don’t “get” videos. I’m used to experiencing music as music. Adding a visual component as a framework for understanding music or imparting the meaning of music doesn’t make sense to me.

Suffice it to say, I had a low opinion of “Paradise” because of the video. Thus, when the album finally arrived, it was with some trepidation that I put Mylo Xyloto in the CD player, and I listened to it without much enthusiasm.

And I didn’t like it.

I didn’t get it.

I understand, from reading about the album, that it’s some sort of dystopian rock opera, about two lovers — Mylo and Xyloto — living in an oppressive totalitarian future.

Okay, sure. :)

I gave the album a few more plays, and with each successive play, I liked it a little bit more. This isn’t unusual; I didn’t like Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid the first three or four times that I listened to it; it took hearing “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” just so to unlock the album for me.

Now I love Mylo Xyloto. The album’s a grower. I love the sound of the album. “Paradise” now makes me happy when I hear it, “Charlie Brown” (which has nothing at all to do with Charles Schulz, as far as I can tell) is amazing, and then that leads into the gentle and lovely ballad “Us Against the World.” Even “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” which I was indifferent to, resonates with me. The second half of the album doesn’t stand out to me in quite the same way, it’s not quite as memorable, though “U.F.O.” is a moving love song and the track that features Rihanna, “Princess of China,” is solidly enjoyable. And the final track, “Up With the Birds,” is strangely haunting.

Mylo Xyloto marks a return to the form of X&Y after the art-house pretentions of Viva La Vida. It may not reach the heights of A Rush of Blood to the Head and I may rank it fifth out of Coldplay’s six albums (counting Prospekt’s), but it’s still a very good album and a damn fine piece of work.

I quite like Mylo Xyloto, even if its rock opera-esque storyline has totally passed me by. :h2g2:

On Songs by Queen That I Like

Was it yesterday that would have been Freddie Mercury’s sixty-fifth birthday? Or the day before? I thought I saw something about it on NPR’s website in the last two or three days. Sometime over the weekend, surely.

You can tell how much I care. I actually had to Google to see how to spell “Freddie” properly; I thought it had a Y in it.

The truth is, I don’t like Queen, so Freddie Mercury’s birthday isn’t any sort of deal for me.

I can’t tell you why I don’t like Queen’s music. It comes on the radio, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” (which I utterly despise), and I change the channel. It’s automatic. It’s entirely possible, because my experience of Queen is largely restricted to FM radio, that I’m missing something important, like a deep album cut that explains why Queen is an important band. It’s a possibility.

Still, given what I’ve heard, Queen’s music just doesn’t click with me. I don’t know why.

With one exception.

“Under Pressure,” by Queen and David Bowie.

I like that song.

But I like it because of Bowie. And Grosse Point Blank. Not because of Queen.


On Completing the 30 Day Song Challenge

A little more than a month ago, I began posting to Facebook and Twitter responses to the 30 Day Song Challenge.

As I mentioned at the start of it, some friends of mine at work had been doing the challenge, one sent me the link to the “rules,” and I started answering the various questions. Most people would, I think, answer these on the spur of the moment, looking up the day’s question and then answering it. I, however, decided to answer all thirty and then start posting my answers to the various social media sites. On the one hand, it let me think through some of the answers. On the other hand, it gave me ready content throughout the month — and don’t underestimate the utility of ready content. ;)

Let’s review the answers. I’m going to link to YouTube videos rather than embedding thirty videos. And for some of the songs I may explicate or annotate.

Let It BeDay 1 — Your favorite song
The Beatles, “Let It Be

Little surprise to anyone, I think. I love the message of the song — “When all the broken hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer — Let it be.” I love the sound of the song, particularly the album version with it’s absolutely blistering George Harrison guitar solo. The version of the song I’ve linked to here is the version from the Let It Be film, which differs in some respects from the single and album versions of the song.

Day 2 — Your least favorite song
Band Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Ah, yes, “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” I’ve complained about this song before, and I won’t recapitulate most of my arguments. I hate this song so much! The song had a good intent, yet its message is reprehensible. “Tonight, thank god it’s them, instead of you,” indeed. Ugh!

Day 3 — A song that makes you happy
The Leisure Society, “Something

Confession time. I’m merely “meh” on The Beatles’ version of “Something.” It’s a well-written song, but I don’t think it’s George Harrison’s best Beatles song (that honor goes to either “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” or “Here Comes the Sun”), and I don’t think the band really handles the song right. Yet, for all my ambivalence about the Beatles version, I utterly adore The Leisure Society’s cover of it. I love the ukulele, I love the strings and the flute, I love everything about the song, and just listening to it makes me stupidly happy. Heresy to say this, I know, but this is a rare case where the cover transcends the original.

Day 4 — A song that makes you sad
Collective Soul, “Run

This song actually could have gone with day 5, “a song that reminds you of someone,” because this song does remind me of someone quite strongly. In particular, it reminds me of my best friend, who died a few years ago. He loved this song. Listening to it now hurts.

Day 5 — A song that reminds you of someone
Oasis, “Don’t Look Back in Anger

The interesting thing about doing the 30 Day Song Challenge was in discovering the music videos to all of these songs. No song surprised me with its video as much as this song. On a related note to this song and the first, last year I discovered a mash of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by DJ Y Alias JY — “Don’t Let It Be Anger.”

Day 6 — A song that reminds you of somewhere
Eisley, “Telescope Eyes

This song reminds me of where I first heard it — in the Barnes & Noble at Crabtree, in early February, about a week before Eisley’s first album, Room Noises, came out.

I had some alternate choices for this song, including Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” and Liz Phair’s “Why Can’t I?

Day 7 — A song that reminds you of a certain event
Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris

Day 8 — A song that you know all the words to
Tom Petty, “Free Fallin’

One advantage to answering the 30 Day Challenge for myself before posting was that it let me figure out if a song fit better in a different category than I first thought. I might easily have used “Free Fallin'” as the answer to day 6, “a song that reminds you of somewhere,” because this song reminds me of my senior year in high school.

Day 9 — A song that you can dance to
New Order, “True Faith

Another option here was Information Society’s “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy),” which is the best New Wave song ever based on Star Trek.

Day 10 — A song that makes you fall asleep
Keane, “Somewhere Only We Know

I didn’t outright hate this song until I watched the video for it while researching this list. I thought the song was just sonically dull, but the video is so much worse than that.

Day 11 — A song from your favorite band
Elbow, “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver

For some explanation behind this song, check out my blog post on my top ten Elbow songs. As an alternate choice, I considered “Fugitive Motel,” because it was the song that made me notice the band, but it was “Tower Crane” that made me love The Seldom Seen Kid. Which I listened to at work this morning while writing, by the way.

Day 12 — A song from a band you hate
Franz Ferdinand, “Take Me Out

“Hate” is a bit strong. I don’t hate Franz Ferdinand. I just don’t get them. Friends have recommended them to me since their first album, especially those who know I’m into Scotpop. (The album I’m grooving to right now? Admiral Fallow‘s Boots Met My Face. Where are they from? Scotland. Another band I’m liking right now? Aerials Up. Where are they from? Scotland.) Franz Ferdinand just doesn’t connect with me. I don’t like the songs, I don’t like the sound. We don’t mix.

Day 13 — A song that is a guilty pleasure
Avril Lavigne, “My Happy Ending

I’ve mentioned my appreciation for Avril Lavigne before. I considered swapping this song and the next, except that many people do know that I like Lavinge’s music, but few people know I like the next singer’s music.

Day 14 — A song that no one would expect you to love
Kelly Clarkson, “Behind These Hazel Eyes

Other than a few of the Beatles nights over the past seasons, I’ve never watched American Idol, and I couldn’t tell you a damned thing about any of the previous winners. But when I worked at EB Games, some of Clarkson’s music played regularly on the store muzak, and I found her songs catchy and her voice strong.

Day 15 — A song that describes you
The Traveling Wilburys, “Handle With Care

Day 16 — A song that you used to love but now hate
Snow Patrol, “Chasing Cars

Had this question been “A song from a band you used to love but now hate,” I still would have answered with Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.”

I used to love Snow Patrol. I used to love this song. But then, in the autumn of 2006 this song was everywhere, and in the summer of 2007 I heard “Signal Fire,” the song Snow Patrol wrote for Spider-Man 3, and I realized that I was done with Snow Patrol. The band had descended into self-pastiche.

Day 17 — A song that you hear often on the radio
Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know

With the “fuck” backmasked, obviously. I think this is one of the songs Morissette wrote about Dave “Uncle Joey” Coulier, but I’m not entirely sure.

Day 18 — A song that you wish you heard on the radio
Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U

I wish I heard Sinead O’Connor on the radio in general.

Day 19 — A song from your favorite album
The Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Linus and Lucy

Surely this song was going to turn up somewhere;)

Day 20 — A song that you listen to when you’re angry
John Williams, “The Imperial March

When I get angry, I give into power the Dark Side of the Force. :h2g2:

Day 21 — A song that you listen to when you’re happy
The Cure, “Friday I’m In Love

Another song whose video completely surprised me. I utterly love this song.

Day 22 — A song that you listen to when you’re sad
Roy Orbison, “Crying

Roy Orbison. Nothing more needs to be said.

I had an alternative choice for this song, which I’ll keep to myself. When I get sad, I tend to wallow in sad songs, and the alternate choice is utterly heartrending.

Day 23 — A song that you want to play at your wedding
John Lennon, “Grow Old With Me

Day 24 — A song that you want to play at your funeral
The Beatles, “In My Life

If you think about this song as a final message from me to my loved ones, this song makes perfect sense. I think. :)

Day 25 — A song that makes you laugh
Animaniacs, “The Presidents

There are funnier Animaniacs songs, true, but I just like this one more.

Day 26 — A song that you can play on an instrument
Requiem for a Tower

So, there I was, in Raleigh for Christmas, when it began to snow. And snow. And snow some more. It snowed so much that it knocked my sister’s satellite dish out five minutes before Doctor Who‘s “A Christmas Carol.” Stranded and unable to leave — which forced me to skip work for one day simply because I was several states away — I started playing with my niece’s toys, one of which was a Fisher-Price xylophone. I’m not sure why I experimented with it, but after about an hour, I’d learned to play the really memorable part of this on the xylophone.

Day 27 — A song that you wish you could play
Jake Shimabukuro, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps

This is the last Beatles-related song in my 30 Day Song Challenge, and it’s a ukulele cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that impresses me every time I hear it/watch it.

I’ve long been impressed with While My Guitar Gently Weeps. For some thoughts on this song and its relationship to the I Ching, because George Harrison was really into the I Ching when he wrote it, you might be interested in this blog post that I posted two years to the day before I answered Day 27.

No, George Harrison, the universe isn’t random. I couldn’t have planned synchronicity like that if I’d tried.

Day 28 — A song that makes you feel guilty
Chris Isaak, “Wicked Game

I mentioned on Facebook when I posted this that I’m not entirely sure why this song makes me feel guilty. There’s something about it that hits an emotional spot I don’t quite understand or even recognize.

Day 29 — A song from your childhood
Kermit the Frog, “The Rainbow Connection

There were two other options here. The Spider-Man animated series song or the song that goes with Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

Day 30 — your favorite song at this time last year
Beach House, “Zebra

Beach House‘s Teen Dream may be the best album I heard last year. It was certainly the song I listened to nigh obsessively in spring 2010. “Zebra” leads off the album. Victoria Legrand has an absolutely amazing voice, and Alex Scally instrumentation is seriously compelling.

That’s it. That’s my thirty songs.

Now to watch some Monty Python… :cheers:

On the 30 Day Song Challenge

At work, some of my colleagues have done this, the Facebook 30 Day Song Challenge. Basically, it’s a list of 30 topics, one per day, and a person taking the challenge is supposed to post a song that answers the day’s question. One coworker suggested that I should do it, so I grabbed the list of 30 questions, then off and on started answering the questions for myself, with the goal being that, once I had all thirty answers, then I would start posting them.

It’s an interesting list of questions:

day 01 – your favorite song
day 02 – your least favorite song
day 03 – a song that makes you happy
day 04 – a song that makes you sad
day 05 – a song that reminds you of someone
day 06 – a song that reminds you of somewhere
day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event
day 08 – a song that you know all the words to
day 09 – a song that you can dance to
day 10 – a song that makes you fall asleep
day 11 – a song from your favorite band
day 12 – a song from a band you hate
day 13 – a song that is a guilty pleasure
day 14 – a song that no one would expect you to love
day 15 – a song that describes you
day 16 – a song that you used to love but now hate
day 17 – a song that you hear often on the radio
day 18 – a song that you wish you heard on the radio
day 19 – a song from your favorite album
day 20 – a song that you listen to when you’re angry
day 21 – a song that you listen to when you’re happy
day 22 – a song that you listen to when you’re sad
day 23 – a song that you want to play at your wedding
day 24 – a song that you want to play at your funeral
day 25 – a song that makes you laugh
day 26 – a song that you can play on an instrument
day 27 – a song that you wish you could play
day 28 – a song that makes you feel guilty
day 29 – a song from your childhood
day 30 – your favorite song at this time last year

About two-thirds of this was easy to answer. One third wasn’t. And I suspect that the things that had me stumped would surprise people. Those who know me would find some expected choices, but there’s also several surprises.

The interesting thing for me came in looking up the songs on YouTube. By and large, music videos have passed me by. I grew up in rural America, and I didn’t have cable, so MTV and VH1 were largely unfamiliar to me. When I think of a song, I think of the tune and the lyrics, and I rarely think of a visual for it. Discovering the official videos for some of the 30 songs was an eye-opening experience. One song that I’ve always liked has an utterly baffling video.

Starting today, then, I’m going to start posting the answers to these on both Facebook and Twitter, using the #30DaySong hashtag for the latter.

Then, once it’s all done, in mid-May, I’ll post the full list of thirty songs and perhaps explicate some of the thinking behind certain choices.


On This Week’s Scottish Musical Discovery

Every few months, I’ll discover a new and interesting band on Vic Galloway’s Scotland Introducing podcast for the BBC. While the main point of interest this week for me was two live tracks by The Seventeenth Century from Ally McCrae’s BBC Introducing in Scotland show, the podcast kicked off with a track from Aerials Up, “All Your Mother’s Daughters.”

“All Your Mother’s Daughters” had a catchy sound; on Twitter I called it “ top-notch musical awesomeness.” Sonically, the song reminded me somewhat of Arcade Fire’s first album. The band’s website had a few more tracks to sample, as did their SoundCloud page, and they have a free single to download.

Checking my RSS feed reader, I can see that I’ve heard their music before on the Scotland Introducing podcast; I’ll have to check my archives of the show for the May 21st and June 25th podcasts, though those tracks may be ones the band has streaming on the website.

As I mentioned, there’s a certain similarity to Arcade Fire in the sound of Aerials Up; there’s a similar instrumentation, a similar mixture of male and female voices. But I also hear a certain Barenaked Ladies influence on tracks like the “Stay Awake” single or the “I AM” demo, the sardonic quality that BNL brings to their work that can’t help but bring a smile to the face.

I’m really quite impressed by what I’ve heard. They’re really quite talented, and they sound like they “mesh” well together. Hopefully, Aerials Up will have a long career and they’ll put out an album or three or five. :)

On Musical Covers Better than the Original

Over the weekend, I acquired an inexpensive 8-gig USB flash drive. Its intended purpose? To become a portable music repository; I could put some of my music collection on the flash drive, and then listen to my library at home or at the office from the portable drive, instead of clogging up hard drives or lugging around CDs.

I have a lot of music, it turns out. And not much of it at all is in a computer friendly form… :-/

Yesterday afternoon, I moved some Radiohead off my hard drive and onto the flash drive. The thought that I don’t listen to Radiohead enough flitted through my mind; oh, I absolutely love “Harry Patch (In Memory Of),” I love OK Computer and Hail to the Thief, and I really like In Rainbows, too. But the rest just goes, well… unlistened. (Especially Radiohead’s B-sides. They’re a great albums band, but their B-sides are generally forgettable.)

What’s odd about some of Radiohead’s albums going unlistened by me is that I’m quite taken by “Creep” from Pablo Honey. But not as Thom Yorke sings it, no.

No, it has to be Sad Kermit for me. Sad Kermit’s “Creep” is a thing of exquisite beauty.

That’s the way it is, sometimes. A band records a song, but someone else’s cover is just… better. Maybe it’s more familiar. Maybe it’s just more in tune with your personality, your outlook on life. Maybe, like Sad Kermit, it just touches on a really twisted and sarcastic take on life. ;)

I don’t know what makes a good cover. The best covers, in my opinion, bring something new to the song. Just doing a rote replay of someone else’s tune isn’t enough. The musician needs to make it his own. Elbow’s cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” is a perfect example; they take Lennon’s song and they make it an Elbow song, with layers and doom and fatalism, and it’s perfect. John Lennon’s cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” on Rock ‘n’ Roll works because Lennon sells the song as another lovestruck paean to Yoko Ono.

My favorite version of “Stairway to Heaven” is a cover. (So is Robert Plant’s, by the way — he loves “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island.”) I love the Beatnix’s Beatle-esque take on that Zeppelin staple; I’m not that taken with the song (or Led Zeppelin, for that matter), but I admire the demented ability to turn that ponderous bit of nonsense into a 1962-esque British Invasion song. :)

Like millions, when I think of The Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout,” it’s not The Isley Brothers I think of. No, it’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Beatles that come to mind.

While I love Badfinger (and they’re a band that should have been bigger than they were, but they were either cursed and/or unlucky), their version of “Without You” is just okay, but Harry Nillson kicks it into the stratosphere.

The Byrds managed to make listenable (and enjoyable) a number of Bob Dylan songs. Most people point to “Mr. Tambourine Man” as the prime example, and it is a very good cover, but I think their work on “My Back Pages” or “This Wheel’s On Fire” far surpasses Dylan’s originals.

As much as I love Smokey Robinson’s original version of “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” I vastly prefer both The Beatles and Zooey Deschanel’s versions of the song (on With the Beatles and She & Him’s Volume One, respectively).

I don’t know that The Leisure Society’s cover of George Harrison’s “Something” is better than The Beatles’ original, but it’s certainly one of the happiest songs I’ve ever heard, and it’s a lovely piece of work in its own right.

And, of course, anything Sad Kermit touches is automatically gold. ;)

Not an exhaustive list by any means, but yes, it is entirely possible for a cover to be better than the original. Who knows? Maybe I’ll listen to some covers right now… just because I can! :h2g2:

On The Music That Cheers Me Up

I listen to music. I listen to music a lot. Music makes the work day go faster. Music makes the words flow. Music lets me shut out the world and just write. At the office, I put on the headphones. At home, I crank up the stereo. And I just go. It's how I roll.

My musical tastes, as I mentioned a few days ago, tend to be Scottish and Anglophiliac. There are some American bands and musicians I listen to — Carbon Leaf, Tom Petty — and I'm even as passionate about them as I would be of, say, Travis (a Scottish band). But, there's a textural difference because American music and everything else. Maybe I'm in a musical rut, but it's a rut that makes me productive and makes me feel good, so Scotto-Anglophilia isn't such a band thing to be. :)

Like many writers, I have certain music I listen to in order to help put my mind in certain emotional spaces. Some writers base their music choices, especially if they're listening to film soundtracks and scores, on the emotional feel of the song; if it's a pulse-pounding orchestral movement, this would fit best at getting into an action sequence. My choices are a little more practical; they're largely keyed to memories. Maybe it's a song I listened to at a happy time in my life, and I'm trying to get back to that moment — or rather, how I felt at that moment. Maybe it's a song I associate with a dead friend, and I'll avoid it at all costs because the song summons unwelcome memories.

When I feel down, what music do I listen to to feel "good"? It's a good question. I don't know, and I'm not sure that my last.fm profile is any sort of help.

The bands at the top of my personal charts are all mainstays at I return to time and again. Elbow. The Beatles. Carbon Leaf. Oasis. The Leisure Society. Coldplay. I could see someone saying that half of those are good for making one's self feel depressed. My old boss at EB Games, for instance, thought that Coldplay was downright "depressing" to listen to. (I won't share his opinion of Norah Jones. Let's just say that we had an… interesting store inventory that one time.)

The top songs aren't entirely helpful, either. The Leisure Society's cover of George Harrison's "Something" is a downright joyful song, and listening to it does make me happy. Elbow's "The Stops" at number two, though, is not any sort of joyful song; it's a song Guy Garvey wrote about a traumatic break-up. Number three, James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" is an unfortunate artifact of linking iTunes to last.fm; iTunes kept track of how many times a song was played, and I didn't listen to much music, except for the occasional single track I'd buy, through iTunes, saving my musical needs for Windows Media Player or WinAmp. In short, I haven't listened to this song in at least a year, if not two. Number four is in the same boat. Number five, Carbon Leaf's "Tip Toe," isn't joyful, either; it's another break-up song, and I happen to have it on three different custom Carbon Leaf playlists that I'll sometimes listen to at work, hence its higher-than-usual number of plays. After this is Trans Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Canon," some more Leisure Society, some more Elbow, even Radiohead's "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" (a starkly moving song based on the experiences of a World War I veteran in the trenches of France). In general, looking at the list, I see depressing stuff. Certainly nothing that cheers me up when I'm feeling down.

So, what do I listen to when I'm feeling down?

I am really fond of Christmas music. Especially off-beat Christmas music. I like Beatle-esque Christmas music (and have three albums of such). Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics always brings a smile to my face. As offensive as the song is, I can't help but be amused by "Do They Know It's Christmas?", the charity song that raised money for starving people in sub-Saharan Africa. I especially like Celtic Christmas music, just instrumentals, with panpipes and harps and things of that nature. In spite of my heathen-ness Christmas music just makes me happy. Even if it's overtly religious, I'll listen to it. I enjoy Christmas music, and I'll gladly listen to it year 'round.

Sometimes, I need nonsense to feel better, and in moments like that I'll turn to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band or its spiritual descendent, The Rutles. Even though he can be a little ponderous at times, George Harrison's post-Beatles catalog is often quite fun to listen to; Brainwashed is an absolutely lovely and tremendously joyous album, in spite of its composition in the shadow of Harrison's own impending death. Duran Duran's Greatest is another good choice, as is the 80s New Wave Party Mix CD I picked up on the cheap at Target a few years ago. And Oasis usually makes me feel good, too.

Absolute worst case scenario? Well, there's my guilty pleasure listen, which I won't share. But what I will share is jazz. I have a couple of jazz public radio station streams on my computer desktop, and jazz is my ultimate feel-good last resort.

"There are always possibilities," to quote Admiral Kirk quoting Spock, and I have possibilities when I need cheer-me-up music. It's not a coherent playlist, but when I need a pick-me-up, there are musical styles I can turn to.

Maybe I'll turn to Carbon Leaf's new Christmas album next. ;)

On The Scottish Enlightenment’s “St. Thomas”

St. ThomasA year and a half ago, I began listening to the BBC’s Scotland Introducing Podcast, a fifteen minute survey of the latest and greatest from some of Scotland’s best unsigned bands. Every Friday morning, I look for the link in my RSS reader, and I’ve discovered some very good music this way, bands like Washington Irving, Y’All Is Fantasy Island, and The Seventeenth Century.

In the spring, I want to say around April, Scotland Introducing host Vic Galloway played a song by The Scottish Enlightenment — “All Homemade Things.” It was from the Pascal EP, then either immediately forthcoming or just released, a gentle song, guitars and drums, about the passing away of time. I loved the song immediately, listened to that particular episode of Scotland Introducing a few times, then bought the CD direct from Scotland’s Armellodie Records. The CD, when it arrived, truly was a homemade thing, coming in a little booklet, tied off with a piece of twine to hold it closed. Pascal was a collection of songs that didn’t make the cut for a forthcoming album, and if songs like “All Homemade Things” and “If You Would Just Try a Bit Harder” didn’t “make the cut” I could only imagine the forthcoming album.

I did some research on the band. I was curious where they had come from. The band’s page on Armellodie’s website, and I found some coverage on a music website that “clicked” with me. I decided, on the strength of Pascal and the things that I’d read, that The Scottish Enlightenment would be a band worth following.

In September, The Scottish Enlightenment released another EP, the Little Sleep EP, again songs that didn’t fit on the forthcoming album St. Thomas. Again, I bought the CD from Scotland. Again, it came as a homemade thing, in a booklet tied off with a piece of twine. Again, an album that couldn’t fit a true gem like “St. Germain Is Thick Tonight” must be incredible.

This week, the band’s full-length debut, St. Thomas, arrives. Much like the album’s namesake, St. Thomas is a pensive album, filled with deep thoughts, dark moments, emotional uncertainty, and catharsis. The songwriting is sharp, the musicianship is assured. The Scottish Enlightenment describe themselves as “ecclesiastical rock,” and there’s a touch of the heavenly to St. Thomas; these songs feel as though the music echoes off the soaring limestone arches of an medieval abbey.

St. Thomas‘s subject matter reminds me of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, but in terms of style I think of The Leisure Society’s The Sleeper. Just as The Sleeper was the album discovery that, in many ways, defined 2009 for me, St. Thomas and The Scottish Enlightment are certain to be my standard for 2010. Standout tracks for me are “Earth Angel/With Sticks in Crypt,” “First Will Be Last,” “The Soft Place,” and the penultimate track “My Bible Is,” an unexpected track which builds to a justly deserved emotional catharsis.

I’ve streamed the album enough times on the Bandcamp page for St. Thomas, and I’ll place an order later this week for the CD. It’s an amazing album, and I cannot wait to own a copy for myself, put the CD in the Beetle’s stereo and be immersed in its cavernous, echoing, haunting music.

Banish the doubts that St. Thomas himself had, sample some of the tracks online for yourself and prepare yourself to be impressed. The Scottish Enlightenment will be a band to watch, of that I have no doubt. :h2g2:

· The Scottish Enlightnment website
· The Scottish Enlightnment on Facebook
· The Scottish Enlightnment on Twitter

On Baseball’s National Anthem

I get e-mails from the History Channel. I must have signed up for their newletter at some point in the past, but I couldn’t say when that was. Normally, I just delete them, unless the subject line looks interesting. And yesterday, I got a very interesting one. To me, anyway.

“Forgotten Baseball Poet Receives Star Treatment”

Surely it wasn’t “Casey at the Bat,” and while I wrote about “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” a few weeks ago that poem is of interest really only to :cubs: fans.

This e-mail? Well… I’ll let it speak for itself (text courtesy of the History Channel):

Baseball’s National Anthem

Everybody knows (or should know) “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. But what about the guy who wrote it?

Jack Norworth was a vaudeville-era songwriter and performer who was inspired to write his epic by a sign touting “ballgame today” he could see from his New York City subway car. “Ballgame” alone should have garnered him a spot in the Songwriters Hall of Fame — in 1908, it was the second most popular song at ballparks, following only the national anthem — but he also knocked a little ditty titled “Shine On, Harvest Moon” that pretty well sealed the deal.

Ironically, Norworth’s grave sits within spittin’ distance (that’s OK, this is baseball) of Angels Stadium in Anaheim’s Melrose Abbey Memorial Park. Largely ignored over the years, this past July — in conjunction with the All-Star Game being played there — fans cleaned up his gravesite and installed a 5-foot granite monument to the tunesmith.

Oscar November Tango Hotel Echo Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Mike Echo Mike Echo

Bravo Echo Charlie Alpha Uniform Sierra Echo India Tango India Sierra Tango Oscar Oscar Echo Alpha Romeo Lima Yankee Alpha November Delta India Charlie Alpha November November Oscar Tango Tango Hotel India November Kilo

India Foxtrot Yankee Oscar Uniform Charlie Alpha November Uniform November Delta Echo Romeo Sierra Tango Alpha November Delta Tango Hotel India Sierra, Charlie Oscar Papa Yankee Alpha November Delta Papa Alpha Sierra Tango Echo India Tango Tango Oscar Yankee Oscar Uniform Romeo Lima India Victor Echo Juliet Oscar Uniform Romeo November Alpha Lima

Alpha Sierra Foxtrot Oscar Romeo Mike Yankee Sierra Echo Lima Foxtrot

Yankee Echo Sierra Tango Echo Romeo Delta Alpha Yankee India Hotel Echo Alpha Romeo Delta Tango Hotel Echo Charlie Oscar Oscar Lima Echo Sierra Tango Sierra Oscar November Golf India Tango Whiskey Alpha Sierra Lima India Kilo Echo X-Ray Kilo Charlie Delta Alpha Sierra Tango Hotel Oscar Uniform Golf Hotel Sierra Echo Tango Tango Oscar Mike Uniform Sierra India Charlie

India Tango Whiskey Alpha Sierra Foxtrot Uniform November November Yankee Alpha November Delta India Tango Whiskey Alpha Sierra Sierra Mike Alpha Romeo Tango Alpha November Delta India Quebec Uniform India Tango Echo Lima India Kilo Echo Delta India Tango Alpha Lima Oscar Tango

India Tango Whiskey Alpha Sierra Alpha Bravo Oscar Uniform Tango Tango Hotel Echo Uniform November India Victor Echo Romeo Sierra Echo Alpha November Delta Oscar Uniform Romeo Papa Lima Alpha Charlie Echo India November India Tango Delta Oscar November Echo India November Alpha Romeo Alpha Tango Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie Hotel Alpha Romeo Mike India November Golf Sierra Oscar Romeo Tango Oscar Foxtrot Whiskey Alpha Yankee

Sierra Uniform Romeo Papa Romeo India Sierra India November Golf Lima Yankee India Tango Charlie Alpha Mike Echo Oscar November Alpha Charlie Hotel Romeo India Sierra Tango Mike Alpha Sierra Alpha Lima Bravo Uniform Mike Bravo Uniform Tango Tango Hotel Echo Romeo Echo Whiskey Alpha Sierra November Oscar Tango Hotel India November Golf Foxtrot Echo Sierra Tango India Victor Echo Alpha Bravo Oscar Uniform Tango India Tango

India Tango Whiskey Alpha Sierra Hotel Oscar Whiskey Echo Victor Echo Romeo Sierra Charlie Oscar Tango Tango India Sierra Hotel

India Tango Whiskey Alpha Sierra Tango Hotel Echo Kilo India November Delta Oscar Foxtrot Sierra Oscar November Golf Tango Hotel Alpha Tango India Whiskey Oscar Uniform Lima Delta India November Charlie Lima Uniform Delta Echo Oscar November Alpha Mike India X-Ray Tango Alpha Papa Echo Alpha Sierra Sierra Uniform Mike India November Golf India Mike Alpha Delta Echo Mike India X-Ray Tango Alpha Papa Echo Sierra

India Tango Whiskey Alpha Sierra Sierra Mike Alpha Romeo Tango Alpha November Delta India Lima India Kilo Echo Delta India Tango Alpha November Delta Tango Hotel Alpha Tango India Sierra Alpha Lima Lima Tango Hotel Alpha Tango Mike Alpha Tango Tango Echo Romeo Sierra

Sierra Tango Alpha Yankee Tango Uniform November Echo Delta

ETA: So I’ve basically slashdotted my own damn blog by copying a meme I picked up from Dayton Ward and David Mack. *sigh*

If you’re coming in, via a search engine, because you’ve seen a bunch of words that begin “India Foxtrot Yankee Oscar Uniform Charlie” and you don’t know what they mean, I’m here to let you in on the secret.

The NATO Phonetic Alphabet.

I learned this in high school from Tom Clancy books. It’s used by military personnel to communicate over radio, with the letters of each word replaced by a standardized list of words.

Naturally, I saw the jumble of words that began “India Foxtrot Yankee Oscar Uniform Charlie” and understood it instantly. :cool:

What does the mass of wordage mean? Well, that’s pretty easy.

What I posted reads:

Because it is too early and I cannot think

If you can understand this copy and paste it to your LiveJournal

It’s that latter line that’s shown up in lots of places today across the ‘net. Perhaps you saw the second paragraph at the top of this post on LiveJournal. Or maybe you saw the following on Facebook:

India Foxtrot Yankee Oscar Uniform Charlie Alpha November Uniform November Delta Echo Romeo Sierra Tango Alpha November Delta Tango Hotel India Sierra, Charlie Oscar Papa Yankee Alpha November Delta Papa Alpha Sierra Tango Echo Tango Oscar Yankee Oscar Uniform Romeo Sierra Tango Alpha Tango Uniform Sierra

That, by the way, means:

If you can understand this copy and paste to your status

The first line, the “Because it is too early and I cannot think,” was me introducing the meme. And then I decided, “Well, fuck, I’ll write a whole message in the phonetic alphabet.” Because I’m silly like that. :h2g2:

As for myself

Yesterday I heard the coolest song it was like xkcd as though set to music

It was funny and it was smart and I quite liked it a lot

It was about the universe and our place in it done in a rather charming sort of way

Surprisingly it came on a Christmas album but there was nothing festive about it

It was however Scottish

It was the kind of song that I would include on a mixtape assuming I made mixtapes

It was smart and I liked it and that is all that matters

Stay tuned

It is not, all things considered, the most profound of messages. I also thought, briefly, of using a different phonetic alphabet, just to keep people guessing. The Wikipedia article lists the phonetic alphabet used by British soldiers during World War I, in which case “As for myself…” would have read “Ack Esses Freddie Oranges Robert Emma Yorker Esses Edward London Freddie.” And that actually would have confused people. :P

I also didn’t type out the phonetic alphabet. I wrote the message in Microsoft Word, and used some killer search-and-replace routines to do the heavy lifting. Wild card searches are your friends. ;)

The song, by the way, was notA Glorious Dawn,” which I have raved about since I first heard it a few months ago. It wasn’t even really a song, now that I think about it. More like a spoken word piece set to music. Still really cool.


If you’re arriving here, trying to make sense of a mass of words that look like words but make absolutely no sense, hopefully I’ve managed to edify you.

The NATO Phonetic Alphabet. It wants to be your friend.