Tag Archives: singing

#FridayFinds: Music Memoirs, Dollar Bin Discoveries, Lip Syncing to Styx, Saxy Tunes, and Getting it Right on the First Take

photos courtesy (clockwise L to R): consequenceofsound.net, robsheffield.com, liveandbreathing.com, nbc.com
photos courtesy (clockwise L to R): consequenceofsound.net, robsheffield.com, liveandbreathing.com, nbc.com

Friday! Weekend! And the ides of May are nigh. My goodness. How time doth move.

It’s been a good week. Lots of action and activity in all the right areas, particularly in the area of personal/professional growth in music adventure and experience. Solid stuff all around.

And here for you now are five of the things that have added that extra dash of excellent these last few days.

1. Rob Sheffield’s Book – Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke

I picked up this fun little read over Christmas and heartily enjoyed it from the get go, but it wasn’t until just last night that I was able to find the time to finish it. Ah time… thou art a flighty and fickle mistress.

For those familiar with Sheffield’s other work, this book will offer a welcome and decidedly more hopeful conclusion to his previous stories of love and loss and the music that brought him to adulthood (Talking to Girls About Duran Duranand got him through the tragic, untimely end of his first marriage (Love Is a Mix Tape).

That said, the book isn’t off limits or full of anything that would make it difficult to understand for those not familiar with those stories, and Sheffield’s musings on music, karaoke, and life in general are honest and sincere and thus effortlessly universal.

For Sheffield, music is a labor of love in and of itself. He’s self-deprecating and humble about his own shortcomings as a performance artist (how many different ways can you tell people you’re not the most on-key singer? There’s at least 20, judging by the number of times it comes up in the book) and has an unabashed admiration for anyone who puts themselves in the limelight. The karaokes lifers, the career session musicians, the up-and-coming musical prodigies and wunderkinds– the David Bowies, Neil Diamonds, and everyone in between.

But it’s not all karaoke and musical jargon either. There’s really something in here for everyone. From the awkward 20something to the purportedly less awkward 30something, and from the new husband learning the ropes to the old professional romantic– and certainly the shower singer and the closet musical mastermind– everyone can find something to identify with in this collection of vignettes.

2. Discovering the Untold Pleasures of the Dollar Used Vinyl Bin

So I may have mentioned that I recently inherited a lovely little record player. It’s amazing, and I’m still very much in that “new father with newborn babe” stage wherein I take extensive precautions to ensure proper handling of turntable, records, and all related paraphernalia that the listening experience entails. With great power come great responsibility, after all.

But of course, with great responsibility comes great temptation to stock up on whatever things you don’t have but think you might need to have the best possible experience. Record brushes and cleaning fluid, plastic covers for each individual record sleeve, and a whole new arsenal of albums to play loud and proud.

Anyone who’s considered themselves an enthusiast in anything can tell you, having a hobby is expensive. Comic books, photography, stamps even– shout out to the quiet, the proud, the esteemed few stamp collectors still among us– every endeavor comes with quite a costly price tag if you really want to get serious.

Which is why the dollar bin at your friendly, neighborhood record store is all the more dangerous. One moment you’re leafing through the sea of titles thinking nothing of it, and the next you’re on your way out the door with half your day’s pay in the friendly, neighborhood record store’s till. But at least you got that Gordon Lightfoot album you never knew you always wanted, right?

Jokes aside, there’s generally a lot of decent items among the stacks. You just have to be willing to dig. In my first two visits, I spent just under $30 on seven albums that would have, at their original list price, probably gone for $100 all told (estimate adjusted for inflation, naturally).

P.S. If you’re looking for the perfect birthday gift for that special music blogger in your life, consider getting him (or her… what do I know… June 10, people) a handful of dollar bin delights. What better way to expand one’s musical horizons. Thoughtful and fun too.

3. Tonight Show Lip Sync Showdown between Jimmy Fallon and Emma Stone

Though I’m overall on the fence about The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, the man and his staff definitely have one thing down: a fantastic assortment of musical segments. They’ve done barbershop quartet renditions of popular hip hop tunes and spot-on impersonations of everyone from Neil Young to Bruce Springsteen to Tom Petty. And pretty much every Jimmy Fallon / Justin Timberlake collaboration you can find from the show is both uproariously enjoyable and musically inclined. Excellent stuff all around.

This isn’t the first lip sync battle that he’s done either. It started with an energetic face-off against Joseph Gordon Levitt while he was still at the 12:35 Late Night spot and then continued with a moderately silly one against Paul Rudd, but this one is the best thus far, particularly in the area of visual accuracy in lip sync lyric delivery.

Honestly it’s over at the end of the first round when Ms. Stone delivers a stupendously articulated rendition of Blues Traveler’s other hit from their 1994 breakout album Four– “Hook.” I think John Popper would approve.

4. Getting Saxy with the Saxyderms

Last weekend I went out with some friends to see the spring concert of a Tufts University-based saxophone ensemble called the Saxyderms (the Tufts mascot is an elephant, they play saxophones… Saxyderms…. get it? good). I’d seen them once before while on a mid-summer’s afternoon stroll through the Boston Common, and they were fantastic. Plus it turns out that my friend Jason is not only a Tufts grad but also a member of the band himself. Surprise, surprise. The guy’s got some chops.

With all the rock, roll, and other fun sounds out there on the airwaves today, it’s always nice to remember that music doesn’t need words, a raucous, romping guitar line, or even a cowbell beat to be enjoyable (though the cowbell doesn’t hurt). And these guys and gals prove it.

The program was a lovely mix of chorale pieces, jazz hits, and even one or two pop covers. All were beautifully arranged and delivered, but my hands down favorite of the afternoon was their rendition of the Dizzy Gillespie tune “A Night in Tunisia.”

And speaking of sexy saxes and pop music, check out this little mash up of great rock songs that feature that lovely sound. I’m hard pressed to think of any recent hits that really showcase that sound, but now I’m going to keep my ears dutifully peeled for it.

5. Bring the Band to Your Living Room: Live and Breathing Sessions

These days there are a lot of ways to find out about new music on the internet. And just about every day it feels like there’s a new YouTube channel devoted to enterprising young videographers looking to capture your favorite or soon-to-be-favorite bands in a new way with crazy camera angles, exotic locations, and all matter of color and light filters.

Enter Live and Breathing. They showcase well-known and up-and-coming bands, recorded with a few cameras, yes, but done all in one take, and without too much crazy camera mishegas or ridiculous, over-wrought lighting. They put the emphasis on capturing the essence of the performance, placing the premium on the musicians and their craft, not suped up production.

I learned about a lot of cool groups from their videos like The Wood Brothers and St. Paul and the Broken Bones (listen to those guys now). It’s also how I solidified my obsession with The Lone Bellow and Lake Street Dive. Check out their stuff today, and make yourself a little country/blues/folk-rock-americana in-house concert playlist this weekend. And enjoy!

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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.

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!

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.