Category Archives: Guest Posts

An Adventure in Esoterica – Part 2 – A Terrible Fate

m with cat
What do recording studios have in common with the Internet? Both are full of cats. (This is my friend “m” in studio, about to tell me what to do)

By Adam Schloss

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends! When last I left you all, I had been invited to partake in a grand experiment, one which has since been completed. Follow me, then, as I lead you on an epic journey filled with hopeful beginnings, crippling frustration, shameless overuse of Internet memes, some cool equipment, and a final victory.

Okay, maybe I’ve oversold things just a little bit…

First things first — I knew that the song had been written, at least instrumentally. Little did I know that I was in for a surprise:

m: You know “M”? He’s been ultra busy and hasn’t had time to write lyrics

m: You wouldn’t want to give it a shot, would you?

Well, obviously. It isn’t like I’ve never written lyrics before. (note: I have never written lyrics before.)

m: Awesome!

m: The song is a weird one, it’s the mini boss and dungeon boss battle music’s from Majora’s Mask

Huh. Guess how many times I’ve played Majora’s Mask.

No, that’s too high. Try lower. Lower. Lower still… wait, who guessed 0? You’re right!

Bad Poker Face

So to recap, I had just agreed to write lyrics for a song based on a game which I didn’t know. Awesome.

I decided to start with vocal melodies. I figured that would be the easiest part of the whole process, since I’ve learned how to supplement one melody with another, particularly in the context of the progressive metal genre. I intentionally did not say “harmonize” to describe the process, since that isn’t really what I was doing here.

At any rate, following a few hours of quality time in front of the piano of my childhood home, I had more or less written a vocal melody I was satisfied with. I recorded myself humming it along with the existing instrumental track, and sent it back to m and M. Great, progress! Now it was time for lyrics.

… and several weeks passed with no progress.

I have no idea

Finally, after about a month, M saved me from myself and sent me some lyrics she had written, far superior to anything I could have ever hoped to come up with:

A sky awash in color,

rumbling in the ground.

“Doom is crashing towards us”

go the whispers through the town.

Who alive can save us,

can fight the host of swords—

the undead in their towers

rousing thirsty hordes?

Master of all faces,

lord of many masks….

He whose heart is true

walks the giants’ path.

Ancient powers, gather,

sleepers in the earth,

now the need is dire.

Prove to us your worth.

To be honest, I’m actually glad that m and M ended up writing lyrics instead of me, since it was their song and I was just singing on it. My first experiment in writing lyrics will simply have to wait for another time, perhaps when the intended topic is one with which I have more experience.

Several tweaks to the lyrics later, we were finally ready to record my vocals. One Sunday, I moseyed on over to m and M’s apartment, where we partook of Chipotle and discussed exactly what they were looking for in my vocals. After I was satisfied with what they wanted, we all piled into M’s VW and headed up to Frederick — where the studio is — blasting Circus Maximus the whole way.

Upon arrival at the studio — actually just someone’s house, where a bedroom and closet had been converted for use as a sound engineering station and vocal recording booth — I walked into said closet, closed the door, and didn’t come out for the better part of an hour. Over the course of that time, I sang through the song a few lines at a time, refining portions as necessary, until my vocal contribution was complete. They also had me contribute some harmonies, and even some growls, much to my surprise!

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the song turned out, although the one quibble I have is that I might have preferred the vocals to be more prominent in the mix. That being said, my vocals were intended to add another layer to an existing song, rather than serve as a centerpiece — so in that regard, they serve very well.

Oh, right… I guess you want to hear the result, don’t you? Here it is: A Terrible Fate! (it starts instrumental, then my vocals come in around 2:30)

Adam Schloss is a late twenty-something Washington-area native and erstwhile Pittsburgh enthusiast. He studied physics in college and works in the software industry. In his free time, he can most often be found gallivanting about the DC area, singing karaoke, playing pub trivia, watching hockey, and occasionally performing air guitar in public.

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Monday Mixtape – Songs I Was Caught Singing (and Dancing to) at Work

working 9 to 5
workin’ 9 to 5.

By Cynthia Almansi

Like so many people, music is what gets me through the day at work. It helps me set the tone and pace for my workflow, and it is crucial for drowning out the sounds of a busy office when high levels of concentration are required. There’s just one thing (I don’t want to call it a problem since it really isn’t): I often can’t help dancing along. Truly, I am infamous for instinctually finding a dance move to match just about any rhythmic sound. Let me remind you, this is happening at my desk. I also lip-sync and, occasionally, even sing out loud by mistake. (That’s okay if you do too, Buzzfeed says it’s good for you!)

This is only a selection of songs that frequently populate my playlist and have the added appeal of triggering my happy feet syndrome.

1. Dirty Projectors – Stillness in the Move

Although this list really isn’t in any particular order, this is the unbeatable No. 1 of the bunch. A while back I caught myself merrily swinging on my chair and silently singing along to this song, making passionate facial expressions every time the lead singer would raise her voice and totally making up the words because I never paid enough attention to the lyrics— all while still managing to pump out eloquent, thoughtful emails. At one point I swung far to the left and found my company’s CEO standing over me. On any given day this man would be stoic and pensive like a wise, old sage. Yet there he was, actually chuckling at the sight of me being utterly ridiculous. This will forever be one of my fondest office memories.

2. Wild Belle – Keep You

I cannot explain what it is about this song that makes me involuntarily howl like a Chihuahua singing the blues but it just does. My voice comes out in a grave bass at first, “Same song, again and again, you wrong me twice and I keep coming back.” Then my neck begins to twist to one side and then the other like a swan’s. By the time the chorus hits— “why can’t I keep you, keep you…”— I’ve managed to produce a high-pitched tone that I am normally absolutely incapable of producing. There is something in the lyrical longing and stylistic weave of this song that I find intensely overpowering.

3. Devendra Banhart – Quédate Luna

This one starts out in an ultra mellow atmosphere. The mild vibrato, yes, instantly makes me sing and I recline as the anticipation builds up in my upper back. Then the heartbeat— or as some might call it, percussion— picks up and my shoulders begin to make waves in the air. Devendra implores the Moon to stay and provide him with answers. By the time the Moon is done enumerating the reasons why she is too old to stick around, I’m completely ensnared by the languid flow of the tune.

4. Foals – Olympic Airways

This one strikes a stark contrast to all the sinuosity experienced within the last three songs. The strong, persistent beat makes me bounce and bob my head like any stereotypical concert goer, I suppose. Oh well. I quite like the escapist yet non-definitive aspiration of this song. The metaphor of an aviary in particular, a place where winged creatures can pretend to be free while remaining within the boundaries of the human construct we call civilization. Back in high school, Sylvia Plath taught me everything I needed to know about communicating in riddles and this is a bad habit I have so far failed to kick.

5. Stromae – Alors On Danse

Last but not least, “Alors On Danse” is incredibly literal and I absolutely love it for this very reason. Dancing and singing might not fix your troubles but it certainly will help you get by. Becoming completely entranced by a club song is an exceptionally common occurrence for me, and anyone who frequents my workspace has at least caught me moving and grooving a few times to Stromae. Can’t say I sing much with this one but, hey, I’ll always take an invitation to dance—“so let’s dance!”

Photo by asndra

Cynthia Almansi is a communications professional with a passion for all of the arts. She is an avid and eclectic consumer of music who enjoys discovering new and old sounds and attending live shows. Look her up on Twitter (@timesofpeace) to say hi!

Monday Mixtape: Digging Out of the Post-Valentine’s Day Blues

josh feldman: arts writer, photographer, dreamy dreamboat

By Josh Feldman

Seeing as February is wrapping up this week I started feeling nostalgic about this year’s V-day. Hopefully by now you’ve binged out on all the food and drowned your sorrows away. To help all y’all who are still down in the dumps I have made a little mixtape for your broken souls and shattered hearts. Enjoy! And remember: if you eat a whole box of candy’s yourself while listening to this I’ll give you some of my extra Weight Watcher Points.

Josh is a writer/photographer based in the nation’s capital. He is an arts professional both day and night, but you may also see him with a camera in hand as a professional event photographer (he just happens to be the handsome young devil in the photo above as well). In his spare time he enjoys collecting records, making semi-vegan food, and playing guitar in his band project, THE UNNOTICED TRUTH. Feel free to follow him via twitter or instagram @jazzyfeldzle.

New Music Tuesday: Arctic Monkeys – AM

arctic-monkeys-am-album-artwork

By Andrew Burk

I’m terrible at being an adult. I consider myself an intelligent, (arguably) capable human being, but when it comes to adulthood, I’ve never found the knack. Taxes? Rent? Responsibility? What are these things? When did they start impacting my life? Is this what we dreamed about as children? Is this what we aspired to? Certainly not, but these are the things that the world expects of us, and whether we like it or not, everyone has to grow up sometime.

My very best friend (in this life or any other) asked me to write this guest blog over a week ago, and now I sit here writing, hours before I promised to deliver it, days of X-Box, booze, and karaoke echoing behind me. I’ve clung to adolescence with an iron grip, but now it’s time to let go, at least for a moment, and embrace the responsibility I’ve been handed. It’s time to grow up.

If a feckless degenerate such as me is capable of such growth, what sort of growth can a band of degenerates accomplish? Can a bunch of rowdy young men – banded together out of a mutual desire to get drunk, get loud, and play some music – transform themselves into mature artists? What about the music? Does music mature in the same way that people do?

The answer to all of these questions is yes, at least if Arctic Monkeys have anything to say about it. For those precious few of you who are unfamiliar with them, Arctic Monkeys are a four man Brit-rock band whose debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was released in 2006 amidst a whirlwind of both critical and commercial success. Within weeks, it had usurped the position of highest selling album in British history, immediately establishing the band as superstars in their home country. Although they failed to sell as many copies in the U.S., the band made a name for themselves here nevertheless.

Musically and lyrically, the album was an ode to the decadence, belligerence, lustfulness, and false sense of ennui that one only truly possesses in his/her early 20s. Its first single , “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor,” exemplifies the desperate, manic, and often one-sided nature of sexual diplomacy amongst the twentysomething set, guitars flaring in machine gun bursts and fast, wild crescendos, mirroring the frantic desire of the vocals. On the next track, “Fake Tales Of San Francisco,” the narrator scoffs at the “weekend rockstars” playing at the clubs, dismissing them immediately as phonies pretending to be interesting despite a lack of talent, his disdain dripping from every word.

Throughout the album, on songs like “Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured,” “From the Ritz to the Rubble,” and even the modestly paced “Riot Van,” the band paints a picture of an excessive club lifestyle, and the potential consequences thereof, as all the while sharp punk guitar riffs and even sharper drum beats sound recklessly at a pace that will undoubtedly cause your heart to beat a little faster. Though undoubtedly well-crafted, one is left with a clear sense of the irresponsibility of its protagonists.

Seven years and four albums later, Arctic Monkeys have brought us AM, released last September, and this new album shows the kind of growth, both personal and artistic, that I now seek to find in my own life. Having proven themselves as royalty in the British rock scene, one would expect the band to further embrace the decadent, hard partying club life that they seemed so fond of at the dawn of their success, but this is not the case. Deceptively silly song titles like “No. 1 Party Anthem” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” hide songs that are full of regret and disappointment at the very same lifestyle that they had lauded earlier in their career, and the slow, soulful “Mad Sounds” wistfully recalls the wild nights and poor choices of the past in words that would be equally suited to the lips of an older performer. “One For The Road” and “Fireside” express a longing to correct the damage caused by the ill behavior of the narrator’s younger self.

Gone is the lustful womanizer of “Dancefloor,” replaced here by a desire for a real connection that permeates songs like “Arabella,” “I Wanna Be Yours,” and “Do I Wanna Know?,” the album’s first single. Gone, too, are the quick, angry beats and guitar lines that infused their first album with the energy of rebellious youth, replaced by a slower, heavier, bass-lined sound that echoes the new album’s change in temperament. Overall, AM shows a level of maturity that Arctic Monkeys were incapable of in the early history of the band.

As a young man trying his best to grow into a proper adult, I can admit that I identify strongly with the themes of AM, and as a lover of good music, I appreciate and enjoy the band’s shift to a more adult sound. It should come as no surprise, then, that I recommend this album to anyone who hasn’t already bought it, especially if you’re a fan of the sort of modern British rock that Arctic Monkeys have come to dominate. They have truly grown as musicians and individuals, and I, for one, expect great endeavors in their future. As for my own future, time will tell.

Arctic Monkeys – AM
Domino, 2013
Rating: A
Listen Now: “I Wanna Be Yours”, “No. 1 Party Anthem”, “Arabella”, “Mad Sounds”

Andrew Patrick Burk is a mysterious vagabond who doesn’t do any blogging of his own and doesn’t have a website, but enjoys music and can often be found performing in District Karaoke, DC’s only competitive karaoke league. Anyone interested in finding out more can visit their website at www.districtkaraoke.com or by visiting their Facebook page. And to those readers living in NYC, please check out their sister league Gotham City Karaoke at www.gckaraokeleague.com.

Throwback Thursday: An Adventure in Esoterica – An Introduction and An Unexpected Opportunity

these friggin guys...
Here’s your throwback. L to R: author of this entry, creator of this blog, and mutual friend Daniel… Bowie? (c. 2003)

By Adam Schloss

My name is Adam, and I mostly listen to progressive metal.

Now, if you’re reading this blog, chances are good that you don’t really know what that means. While I suppose you could review Wikipedia’s page on the (sub-) genre, allow me to offer my own description as well:

The genre has sometimes been called “thinking man’s metal” due to its complex song structures and lyrical tendency towards elaborate storytelling, similar to progressive rock in its early-1970s heyday (think of Yes, early Genesis, or Emerson, Lake and Palmer in their prime). Its practitioners tend to be highly skilled and technically gifted; in fact, some of the most prominent musicians in prog metal have studied at institutions such as Juilliard or the Berklee College of Music.

Unfortunately, this combination leads to a set of pervasive stereotypes. The average prog metal song lasts far longer than the typical pop/rock song, sometimes stretching well over 10 minutes in length. It features lots of instrumental noodling, often without readily apparent purpose (or just to show off). Its lyrics (if it has any) tend to be cheesier than a pile of loaded nachos. I, for one, appreciate the noodling, and rarely listen to music for the lyrics – although that has never stopped me from singing along anyway.

Oh, right – I should probably also mention that I’ve done some organized (for lack of a better term) singing on and off over the last decade or so. Lately, that has been as a member of District Karaoke, which is a subject for a completely different post – but I digress.

It’s in this context that I received an interesting message last week from a friend of mine, a fellow prog metal aficionado – who also plays in a few local bands, including keyboards and bass for Cassandra Syndrome:

m: hey Adam, would you want to be a guest vocalist on one of our songs?

Whoa.

Well, of course I would! (So I told him that.) But what would I be singing? More importantly, would I like to sound more like Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, on The Drapery Falls…

… or Kevin Moore of OSI, on The Escape Artist…

… or Darroh Sudderth of Fair to Midland, on Rikki Tikki Tavi…

… or maybe I could even belt out something like James LaBrie of Dream Theater, on Innocence Faded?

While I could try to emulate any (or none) of these singers, that last one is definitely not happening, considering my low vocal range. And while I’ve tried to growl along with songs that have low growls, the results have been lacking. I anticipate that I’ll sound most like a less-scratchy Kevin Moore, though if I really show off the low end of my range, it’ll sound more like the male vocalist of Diablo Swing Orchestra (this one gets really weird – you have been warned). Regardless, I certainly won’t be making any final decisions until I’ve heard the song as it is.

Here’s what I know so far: I’ll be singing for Master Sword, a Zelda tribute band. To the extent that I’ve listened to video game music, it has never had vocals included, so I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I imagine that I’ll most likely end up singing of Link’s epic battles against Ganondorf, kicking chickens, finding the triforce, or maybe the fact that it isn’t safe to go alone. No matter what the whole thing sounds like, I look forward to sharing the results with you!

Until then, here’s a video of me singing Renegade by Styx in karaoke. No, that isn’t a real guitar.

Adam Schloss is a late twenty-something Washington-area native and erstwhile Pittsburgh enthusiast. He studied physics in college and works in the software industry. In his free time, he can most often be found gallivanting about the DC area, singing karaoke, playing pub trivia, watching hockey, and occasionally performing air guitar in public.