The Dangers of Comparing Sinatra to Bieber

My friend Holly had an excellent post yesterday about this graphic that has been all over Facebook news feeds lately. By comparing Frank Sinatra to Justin Bieber, the poster essentially gets at something that “us young people” hear all the time. Not only was life better back when the Baby Boomers were growing up, but the music, literature, food, and just about everything else was better too! Ok, that may have been a slight exaggeration, but it’s not far off. There’s something implicit (or explicit depending on how deeply you think about this graphic) that hints that we were better off as a society back then. This same line of thought says that music now-a-days is more shallow than ever.

I couldn’t agree less with these sentiments.

Here’s the thing about music. There has always been good music, if you look for it. And conversely, there has always been terrible music, if you look for it. Comparing the two, throughout any generation, is bound to bring up discrepancies. Take for instance Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Do the Twist” — yep, I’m going there.

Come on let’s twist again,
like we did last summer!
Yeaaah, let’s twist again,
like we did last year!

Do you remember when,
things were really hummin’,
Yeaaaah, let’s twist again,
twistin’ time is here!

Now can you honestly tell me that these lyrics are a far cry from “shake it like a polaroid picture”? It’s the same thing, just translated through to the culture. Which brings me to my main point…

The invention of popular music as a genre fundamentally changed the way we relate to music.

Think about the genres of music. There are some genres that have an element of timelessness to them. Chopin composed music 170 years ago and still has some of the most moving music I’ve ever heard. Genres like jazz, blues, and classical all have an element of timelessness to them. Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” still pack the same punch now that they did back then.

But pop music is different. Pop music is set in a time and a place — which is exactly why there is a category called 80’s music. This is why VH1’s nostalgia pieces work so well. I love the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s use the pop music of the day to bring us back to those times in our lives. And some of these pop pieces have been less than incendiary to say the least. Comparing Frank Sinatra to Justin Bieber is like comparing apples to month-old milk. You just can’t do it.

If you’re going to compare Frank’s lyrics to some modern music, here are 3 songs you could try — all released in the last year. All with great wonderful lyrics (and no, Bon Iver’s “Holocene” does not make an appearance, although it could).

1) “Poison & Wine” by The Civil Wars

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice but I’d still choose you

Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will

2) “Helplessness Blues by The Fleet Foxes

What’s my name, what’s my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
I don’t need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say “sure, take all that you see”
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me

And I don’t, I don’t know who to believe
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see

3) “Someone Like You” by Adele

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it.
I’d hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded
That for me it isn’t over.

Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”

What songs would you add to this list? What are some more recent songs that stir in you?


An Afternoon With the Civil Wars

It should probably be no secret to anyone that I’m a huge fan of The Civil Wars — the wonderful folk/country/bluegrass duo, not the actual war. They’re wonderfully talented and should be listened to by everyone on the face of the earth. Exhibit A is this great half an hour they had as a part of the Lawrence High School Classroom Sessions. The songs are incredible, but the conversations after each of them are worth watching as well. Great talk about the influence of books, movies and other media on the creative process — wonderfully insightful. Check them out!

Which song stuck out to you most? There are all kinds of different bands that come to this class and talk with them about the creative process. All are recommended. Enjoy!


Music Monday: Cities Sampler Edition

Happy Music Monday! I have to say it’s a favorite day of mine when I get to share music I’ve been listening to and loving lately with everyone else. Last week, my friend Adam sent me a copy of the Cities Sampler from my favorite radio station in the whole, entire world — Cities 97 in Minneapolis. Each year, the radio station has a number of different musicians come through for interviews/studio performances in their Studio C. Almost always they are stripped down, acoustic versions of some of the best songs of the year.

The cool thing about the Cities Sampler is that there are not very many of them made. Only about 30,000 copies exist and usually sell out the morning they are released. All of the proceeds from the sales of the CD go to help a variety of charities in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. So it’s great music for a great cause!

The CD hasn’t left my car since I got it. I’ve been listening to it through and through. Some of the versions on the disc have risen to the top few that keep getting played and re-played over and over so I wanted to share them with you. I could literally throw all 20 songs from the disc on here as highlights, but I won’t. Here are my 3 favorites from the disc. Check them out!

“Poison & Wine” by The Civil Wars


“Animal” by Neon Trees


“Someone Like You” by Adele


BONUS: So this song wasn’t on this sampler, but it’s from a previous Studio C performance. This is Colbie Caillat doing an acoustic mashup. The words that she sings are a song I got pretty tired of, the guitar part is from a song I will never get tired of. Check it out!


Any impressions from these songs? If you own Cities Samplers, what are some of your favorite songs from either this one or past versions?


Music Monday Special Edition: Top 10 Albums of 2011

Alright, here it is. After a few solid days of listening to all kinds of albums and trying to narrow down which deserves to go where… I have it. These are, in my opinion, the 10 best albums. Here they are!

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One song from each of these has been loaded onto the What I’m Listening To page at the top of the website. Be sure to check those out as well.

10. Ashes & Fire – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams came back this year doing what he does best — writing great melodies and some pretty haunting lyrics. For anyone who enjoyed his “Heartbreaker” or “Gold” discs, be sure to check this out.

Song to Check Out: “Lucky Now”

9. James Blake – James Blake

I was a little bit late on the James Blake train. But once I started his self-titled disc, it became hard to press stop. It’s a great mix of soul, dubstep, some great bass, and at times a church-ish sounding synthesized organ. Great, great album. Highly recommended. If you enjoyed The Streets, but wanted a little more production behind it, this would be a good album for you.

Song to Check Out: “I Never Learnt to Share”

8. Kiss Each Other Clean – Iron & Wine

I’m always a sucker for Iron & Wine. This year they kicked it up a notch with a more electric sound. Some great melodies and wonderfully smooth vocals translate to another good progression forward for Iron & Wine. If you like Sam Beam’s earlier stuff and have a bit of an open mind, I would highly recommend it.

Song to Check Out: “Tree By the River”

7. Nothing is Wrong – Dawes

I was out at Old Chicago in Uptown with my friend Petter earlier this summer and he told me to check out Dawes, particularly their new album. From then on, it has been a staple in my CD rotation in my car. There’s a Tom Petty/Jackson Browne-ness to some of the songs on this disc. It’s a great recall to the 70’s singer-songwriter pop/folk/rock era.

Song to Check Out: “A Little Bit of Everything”

6. Circuital – My Morning Jacket

In the past, I have been so slow to catch up to the My Morning Jacket train. But on this album, there’s a little bit of everything. Jim James mixes it up from a psychedelic ode to death metal to a couple sweet love songs and always heavy on the jams. Great disc to put in on a country road in the summer — or in a dirt road in Arizona in the winter, as the case may be.

Song to Check Out: “Circuital”

5. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

I forget who it was that told me about The Head and the Heart. But whoever it was, I’m grateful. I’ll always think of the summer of 2011 when I listen to this disc because I wore this CD out. A great blend of harmonies and bluegrassy folk. I’d highly recommend getting this disc if you enjoy good music — particularly in the Avett Brothers/The National/Blind Pilot arena.

Song to Check Out: “Lost In My Mind”

4. Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars

This whole disc also got a lot of play between my CD player and the many copies I’ve burned for my wife, which have been played and played (and played and played). It’s a wonderful album through and through. The way that John Paul White and Joy Williams play off of each other adds so much depth to their songs. Wonderful album and a great live act too. We saw them at the Varsity Theatre in Minneapolis last April. Find them if you can.

Song to Check Out: “Poison & Wine”

3. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – M83

I just recently got in to M83. On Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, we’re taken as listeners to a kind of supersonic place. It’s MGMT-meets-Muse-meets-Cut Copy. It’s an epic trip into what sound and melody can do. If James Blake’s album was the minimalist album of the year, this is the maximalist. There’s things going on everywhere in every song. But it works. And it’s what makes it great.

Song to Check Out: “Midnight City”

2. Watch the Throne – Jay-Z & Kanye West

Admittedly, this was the album I was waiting most of the year for. On the heels of Kanye West’s best album yet, he was going to follow it up by partnering with Jay-Z for an entire album. I wasn’t quite sure what to think on the first few listens. Certain songs stuck out — “No Church in the Wild”,”Ni**as in Paris”, “Otis”, “Who Gon’ Stop Me”, “Made In America”, and “H.A.M.” to name a few. But the disc as a whole didn’t strike me. Then I kept listening. And listened some more. And after a few listens I wasn’t even noticing when the songs changed. And you know that’s a good album when you don’t even think about skipping the next track.

Song to Check Out: “Otis”

1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

This might not come to anyone’s surprise if you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time. I talk about this album — particularly the song “Holocene” — often. It’s the soundtrack for any writing I do. It’s the music I keep in the background any time I can. It’s just an incredible album. I would highly, highly, highly recommend it. There was one night where I listened to “Perth”, “Holocene”, and “Calgary” on repeat for hours until I’m sure Megan was about to scream. But it’s just that good. I could’ve kept listening for hours after that. Check it out. You won’t regret it.

Song to Check Out: “Holocene”

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
King of Limbs – Radiohead
Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
House of Balloons – The Weeknd
Zonoscope – Cut Copy
Middle Brother – Middle Brother
Black Up – Shabazz Palaces
Ceremonials – Florence & The Machine
Take Care – Drake
21 – Adele

So those are my favorite albums of 2011. What are yours? What album could you not stop listening to this year? I’d love to hear them.

Again, be sure to swing by the What I’m Listening To tab on the top of the page to listen to all of the songs that I recommended off each of these albums. And enjoy!


When Great Musicians Do Christmas

So if you’ve been anywhere or done anything in some sort of public arena in the last week, you’ve undoubtedly heard Christmas music. Even with the high today being 77 down here in Arizona, I’m still surrounded by it. Some of it is great, others are simply terrible. (I was going to link to Justin Bieber’s Christmas CD but I refuse to make it easier for anyone to buy it). So today is a special edition of Music Monday Wednesday to celebrate good artists and the Christmas music they produce. A few of these are covers of classic Christmas songs with a couple of originals (not by me, but other bands doing originals). Enjoy!

“O Come O Come Emmanuel” – The Civil Wars

“In the Bleak Midwinter” – The Indigo Girls (there’s a little intro, but if you skip to about 50 seconds in, you’ll still catch all of it.)

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” – Sixpence None the Richer

“Winter Song” – Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson

“Christmas Lights” – Coldplay

“Sister Winter” – Sufjan Stevens

It has come to my attention that I seem to move toward sad, lonely Christmas songs. I assure this isn’t some kind of passive-aggressive, subliminal cry for help. I just think these songs are beautiful.

And ring way more true than anything Justin Bieber could ever create. That’s all I’m going to say on that. I don’t want to get in some online fisticuffs with a 14-year old girl scorn for the Biebs.

Anyways… Hope you enjoyed the Christmas music.

Did you have any favorites? Which ones stuck out to you? What are your favorites that aren’t on this post? Post them and let me know! I’m always in the market for good new music.

Have a great Wednesday!


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