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2013: The Year in Random Thoughts & Obsessions

Hi everyone & Happy New Year! I just got back from the Christmas holidays where I tried (mostly in vain) to stay offline as much as possible.

Newborn elephant seal at sunset. Did you know the seagull will eat the mom's remaining placenta? Nature, nothing wasted.

Newborn elephant seal at sunset. Did you know seagulls will eat mama seal’s placenta? Nature, nothing wasted.

Damn all those vacation rentals and their easy Wi-fi 🙂 But it was good to get away – we drove down the California coast, saw some nature and lots of seals, sea lions, otters and stars, absolutely amazing stars at night.

And even though I’d made a California playlist for the drive, we ended up listening to the radio most of the time. Which pretty much meant classic rock and modern pop. So my kids now know who CCR is, and I know that Avicii is like, one guy from Sweden. We also watched the New Year’s Eve countdown shows, in which Miley Cyrus threw down the entertainment gauntlet by fondling a female dwarf in gold lame. Let’s see Lady Gaga top that!

So herewith is my second installment of the Year in Review, in no particular order, heavy on strong female voices. Hoorah!

Tessanne Chin’s version of ‘I Have Nothing’ on The Voice reaffirmed my belief in the power of a pop song. Whitney would be proud. Tessanne, you are golden.

Bieber & his moustache. You can do it, sweetheart – Movember is only ten months away!

Timberlake sings that he wants a girl to be “my mirror, my mirror staring back at me”. I say, “I’ve got no time for a raging narcissist, JT. I’m moving on.”

Critics’ Darling that’s actually kinda boring: Vampire Weekend.

Criminally Underappreciated: Neko Case.

Unexpectedly awesome in concert: Belle & Sebastian, Dirty Projectors.

Robin Thicke is that Dad with the hands that you had to watch out for when you were a babysitter.

What do Kanye West and Woody Allen have in common? They’ve both lost touch with the real world.

If you want to hear something cool, check out Lo-Fang’s single, ‘#88’. Debut album out soon.

Atoms for Peace is Pepsi to Radiohead’s Coke. You drink it anyway, but only because they’re out of Coke.

Pharrell Williams’ sweet, disarming face totally hides his pervy nature.

Whoever chose the Eddie Vedder/Pearl Jam songs for the TV show Castle is the MOST AWESOME PERSON EVER.

The best singer-songwriters today aren’t American or even Canadian. They’re Brits: Laura Marling and Jake Bugg.

One of my favorite things about 2013 was listening to Miranda Lambert and Pistol Annies.

Super duo: Edie Brickell & Steve Martin.

There was more fresh, original music coming out of country and alt-country than the alternative/rock scene. Discuss.

Eminem is now 40. Can an angry rapper age gracefully? This could be interesting.

All hail the return of the king – David Bowie – and the art of the music video:

One day I’m going to listen to that Arcade Fire double album all the way through. But probably not ’til EO goes off to college.

The sad thing about Miley Cyrus is that she made us forget what a great voice she has.

New NCIS-LL Cool J crossover hit: ‘Grandmama Said Knock You Out’.

I know I’m supposed to say Breaking Bad, but what I really like are Arsenal games and Castle.

Still the coolest person in the room: Aimee Mann on Twitter.

The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street. Please can we stop with the all-soundtrack ADHD movie? It smacks of artistic desperation and well, laziness.

Embrace the cliché: 2013 was the Year of our Lorde. That is all.

Wait. Yet. It’s still Beyonce’s world. We’re just living in it. #texasproud

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Monday Morning Music – Little Foot Long Foot

I’m ignoring the laundry hanging out back, the dog hair all over the floor and the dishes in the sink for something far more important – music!

So Amy Adams is currently attached to the long-gestating Janis Joplin film, ‘Get It While You Can’, and of course there are various threads circulating about her casting: good, bad, indifferent? I think Adams is great but I’d love to see a young newcomer in the role, remembering that Janis’ best years were when she was only 24-25 years old. In fact I’ve got a possible candidate right here in lead singer and guitarist, Joan, from the band Little Foot Long Foot.

Here are five reasons why you’ll enjoy this band:

1. Joan’s got a BIG voice and she’s not afraid to use it. Can only imagine what they must be like in concert, but ‘fricking awesome’ comes to mind.

2. They list Sleater-Kinney, Black Keys and Neko Case as influences. In fact, they wrote a song about Neko Case, which sounds great, even though I have no idea what it’s about. I’m not going to list the title here because I think EO has started reading this. Check out their website if you want to know.

3. They called their last album, Oh, Hell.

4. They’re Canadian, and when you think about Canadian music (Bieber, Dion, Twain, B. Adams), you’ve got to give LFLF props for creating so much more than just sucky pop music. Aim high.

5. Their latest video looks straight out of The Midnight Special:

Check ’em out.

Happy Rock Dads’ Day!

Father’s Day is this Sunday, so in honor of rock Dads everywhere I thought I’d talk to some actual musician Dads and get their take on music and parenting. I sent them some questions and was amused, surprised and most of all honored by their heartfelt answers. My guests are from all over the world, but briefly I’d like to welcome:

San Saba County, a gem of a band from Austin. That's Tyler second from right.

Tyler lives in Austin, but hails from Moscow, Idaho. He plays bass and sings for a band called San Saba County. I’d call them a very Texas band; they use the term: post-alt-country. You can check them out on their MySpace page. Tyler’s daughter, Evie, is almost two, and she’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. Tyler’s married to my good pal, Christie, whom I’ve mentioned before as one of my main music-loving resources.

Click here for San Saba County’s website.

Kevin lives in Hong Kong, but is originally from the U.S. His son, Jonah, will be three years old in July. By day, Kevin works as Asia Business Editor for CNN.com International and at night he plays bass in a couple of local bands, including Transnoodle. He describes their music as “original ska, punk, funk, Russian folk music “. For proof, you can check them out on YouTube:

and

Kevin also plays with the trio New Tonic Press, featuring singer-songwriter Sue Shearman. You can listen to New Tonic Press at:

And last but not least is Bill, my brother, who lives in Paris and has twin boys – Felix and Louis – aged eight. Bill works a very white-collar job as a management consultant but also plays guitar in a cover band called The Outliers. He’s as fanatical about music as I am. And he’ll be pleased to know that after many years, I finally have a keen appreciation for Paul Simon.

That's my brother on the right. Kind of a continental T-Bone Burnett, n'est pas?

There were so many interesting and honest answers to my questions that I’m going to post this in two installments. So read on for Part I of my Q&A with some way cool RockDads:

Do you have any specific memories of what music your parents listened to?

Tyler: There are three bands that stand out from my childhood and they all were mostly played on a cassette boombox on the beach during our summer camping trips: ZZ Top, Huey Lewis and The News and John “Cougar” Mellencamp. My parents were always music listeners but not music lovers and I would never say they had a taste of their own. It was always whatever was American Top 40. They divorced when I was around seven, and I remember soon after the divorce my dad buying me John Cougar’s “Scarecrow” album. He looked me in the eye, handed me the cassette and said, “Listen to this, son,” as if it held the answers of the world. I’ll admit that I have tapped my foot to one or two of the ‘Coug’s’ songs.

Kevin: My parents were teenagers on the wrong side of the 50s — Dad listened to classical and Perry Como, Mom liked easy listening, so the radio was often tuned to muzak. That changed for me when John Lennon died when I was 12 and suddenly all the stations were playing The Beatles: I had heard every song before in lame elevator form, but never actually heard them do it. I listened to the Beatles non-stop for a full year. My dad and I connected more on music in high school when I studied music and he was surprised to hear Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” on my stereo.

Bill: I have many, many memories of Dad’s music: Herb Alpert’s “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” and the other Tijuana Brass LP with the airplane are primal memories because of the A&M Records logo. Dad was keen on the 50’s-60’s white jazz guys like Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, Stan Getz and the funky instrumental space age bachelor pad records he had. Later, when I began playing saxophone and got serious about jazz, he would bring home bargain records of these guys that he remembered from his college days. He got me Dave Brubeck’s Greatest Hits (with Dave in the world’s greatest horn-rimmed glasses), which has been a very important record to me. He got me an obscure Bud Shank record that I played to death. All sorts of curious things. He also got me my first Charlie Parker record (a Verve collection), which opened up a world that has been absolutely fundamental to who I am.

What’s funny is that I don’t recall him listening to many of these albums in his free time. I don’t know that he really connected to this music in the way you and I have connected to our music. My memory is of TV at home and talk radio in the car.

Who are the top three artists you want your children to know/listen to?

Kevin: Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane — great composers (though John and Jimi were also virtuosos). Listening to them at 18 is different than listening to them at 42, but somehow the music grows with you. It’s music we could listen to together.

Bill: I am very, very proud that Louis and Felix have a) responded so well to music I love and b) have surprised me by exercising their own judgment on what makes their bedroom playlist. They are huge Beatles fans and love “Help!”, “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver”. They could stop there and I would feel my work is done. But Lo! and Behold! they have jumped on my copy of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Greatest Hits Vol. 1”, my Buddy Holly collection, Lemonheads “It’s a Shame about Ray”, REM “Green” and all sorts of things. They are only eight years old but they already have their own tastes and their own agendas in terms of why they listen to music. Louis is very rhythm-oriented, likes to dance and wants a physical rush from his music. He instantly connected to the opening riff in The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. Felix also likes a good hook, but is more sentimental and lyric driven. He is the frustrated romantic who needs another to sing his heart. He’ll be living with The Beatles all his life and will no doubt be passionate for bands that “stand for something” — a U2 or REM ten years from now.

So, to answer your question, here is the list:
1) The Beatles — check
2) American R&B and Blues — they’re deep into Motown already and I am optimistic that this will lead to blues and the rest of that wonderful world of black music that I believe is their best anchor to American culture.
3) Miles Davis, specifically “Kind of Blue”.

Tyler: In a perfect world, my little girl will like every band that I push onto her. I do know that this will never be the case. I would hope that she could at least respect bands like Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Neko Case for their classic guitar and vocal-driven song craft.

Performing in bands can offer all kinds of temptations that go hand-in-hand with a late-night lifestyle. Would you encourage your child to pursue rock-n-roll? Why or why not?

Kevin: I’ve gone down that road and did a U-turn. I quit drinking a week before I learned I was going to be a father. For me, the partying part of music just became boring, depressing and dangerous. Still spend time in bars, but it’s Coke (Coca-Cola, that is) for me now. If my son picks up the guitar I’m sure I’ll worry, then remind myself what I was doing when I was his age. Then worry even more.

But I met my wife by playing music — she asked me out after seeing me at a gig. So in a way, Jonah owes his existence to my nightlife pursuits. I suppose I’ll need to give him room to make his own mistakes. I mean, really — do I have a choice? But if he falls into that trap, at least I’m better equipped now to help him get back.

Tyler: If you’re referring to drinking, smoking and the like, I cannot condone it but I know what kids will do. I’m still a kid myself. But playing music is much more than getting loaded and banging on an instrument. It’s the one constant in my life that I will always love and never quit so if my kid can have a focus like that in her life I will never stand in her way.

Bill: I would encourage them to pursue rock-n-roll. Drugs scare me, but they will pass that gauntlet no matter what. What’s important is that they have something meaningful and enriching to their self-esteem. Plus, it may help them get girls to a degree that I could only dream of as an adolescent.

Stay tuned for Part II where we hear the Rock Dads talk about their favorite lullaby’s, how listening to music will be different for their kids, and what they would do if their son brought home the 18-year old incarnation of Chrissie Hynde.

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One hopes this isn’t a dead lizard

Funny thing recommending music to people. It’s quite personal – almost revealing – and you never quite know what reaction you’ll get. Sometimes I feel I’m the family dog retrieving your slippers and newspaper, and you’re pleased at the gifts I’ve delivered. Sometimes, however, I sense I’m the family cat, who’s just deposited a freshly-killed lizard at your feet.

Both are offered out of affection, though not necessarily welcomed as such.

But I still rave and recommend and burn disks for people in the optimistic hope that they’ll be as jazzed as I am by Neko Case, Animal Collective, Matthew Sweet, Elbow and all the other cool artists who regularly rock my world.

Yesterday I completed ignored my New Year’s vow to economize and blew a small bundle at HMV on new music. What am I, still in college? Tiger Mother would have my ass! Somehow I don’t think I can get away with feeding my kids instant noodles and hot dogs for the rest of the month. Can I?

I’m still working through my purchases – catching up with late 2010 releases like Rufus Wainwright, Massive Attack and Jonsi – but the best of the bunch so far is the debut album from a British singer-songwriter called Rumer. (You can check out several of her songs at http://www.rumer.co.uk/)

Can I rave here for just a second? Rumer is sublime pop. The songwriting and arrangements are this close to transcendent. Take one part jazz vocalist, throw in some California confessional, a smidgen of seductive chanteuse and a hefty dose of seventies pop and you have Seasons of my Soul.

The Guardian has likened her voice to Karen Carpenter but absolutely do not let that put you off giving her a listen. I first heard Rumer on kcrw.com (where else?) with the song ‘Aretha’ (yes, after the Queen of Soul), and it was just a perfect jazz-pop number. I had to go back and check kcrw’s tracklist – who is this chick? Her voice is warm and familiar, like something you heard coming out of your Mom’s stereo. She’s not over produced or trying too hard, and I’m thinking that’s because she’s British, not American. She’s Diana Krall without the burden of being Diana Krall, you know what I’m saying?

The tracks ‘Come To Me High’ (what an awesome title) and ‘Slow’ groove so slowly and seductively that you’ll be lighting candles, opening a Sauv Blanc and breaking out the negligee. Trust me ladies. Don’t make the mistake I did of listening to this when your hubby has just gone out of town, unless you happen to have something in the battery-operated department stashed away (note to self – update shopping list).

Rumer has been around the music business for a good decade without a recording contract. Because of that, I think, she’s had time to learn songwriting and figure out who she wants to be. The songs are personal, well-crafted and seemingly unaffected by the whims of today’s music. Retro sounds without the irony or Glee gloss.

The only question mark is her cover of Bread’s ‘Goodbye Girl’. Hey, I like a good ‘70s movie song as much as the next guy (that means you Tootsie and Arthur) but this was just a little too cloying and didn’t gel with the rest of her highly intimate tracks.

She’s worked with Burt Bacharach, Elton John and Leon Russell. She’s been nominated for two Brit Awards. She’s currently on tour in the UK (please come to Hong Kong!), so I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot about her this year. Enjoy!

Due to a substantial increase in my readership, I've been able to hire two assistants. They don't bring me dead lizards however.