David Hasselhoff, in the video for "True Survivor", does the splits in front of a fiery explosion and sings.

Nothing Matters Now Except for David Hasselhoff’s “True Survivor”

Get ready for the music event of the year. The video for “True Survivor” is David Hasselhoff’s greatest gift to humanity.

(Spoiler alert!) The description reads like a Stefon sketch from SNL. “This video has everything. Hockey masks, monochrome computer screens, Conan the Barbarian’s girlfriend. That German guy from Baywatch.”

Seriously, I haven’t even scratched the surface yet.

Just watch it. You’re welcome, readers. And danke — DANKE — Mr. The Hoff.

#Rethink Thursday: The Beatles, “Please Please Me”

THIS IS PART OF AN ONGOING SERIES CALLED RETHINK THURSDAY, IN WHICH I REVISIT ALBUMS THAT I REMEMBER EITHER LOVING OR HATING, TO SEE IF TIME AND EXPERIENCE HAVE CHANGED MY OPINION. OR HECK, MAYBE THE DIFFERENCE IS JUST THE DAY THAT I’M LISTENING. AS I LISTEN I REVIEW THE ALBUM, TRACK BY TRACK PLUS OVERALL COMMENTARY, AND YOU GET TO WRITE THE FCC AND TELL THEM NET NEUTRALITY’S OK EXCEPT NO ONE CAN READ ANYTHING ONLINE EXCEPT MY BLOG.


There are two kinds of people in this world: early-Beatles people, and late-Beatles people. I am a late-Beatles person.

Or at least I think I am. When I was a kid my dad owned The Beatles’ two best-of collections – the red one and the blue one (red: 1962-‘66; blue: 1967-‘69). Both were big 2-disc sets with like 13 tracks on each disc, and I remember thinking it was every song the Fab Four had recorded. (Spoiler alert: They recorded over 20 studio albums, so it wasn’t.)

Cover photos of two Beatles collections: 1962-1966, and 1967-1969.

You can’t love them both. It’s not allowed.

I always went straight for that blue set. The red-set stuff – the straight-ahead tunes struck me as canned, standard, worn out. More Stone Age than modern music. Most of the red tracks were released before the Beatles’ studio-is-the-instrument experimentations, and the setup of drums-bass-guitar-guitar felt too played-out for me to really connect to. Sure, the band kept that core arrangement till the end, but by the time they were making blue-set stuff (Sgt. Pepper and later) it was layer upon layer of anything else anyone could imagine.

The early Beatles recordings just sounded so… boring.

And I never got into them. I never cared. My friend Alan and his sister Lauren were real early-Beatles fanatics. Anytime I brought up the band they’d rattle off a dozen or so songs I’d never heard of, and I’d nod my head politely and wish I hadn’t said anything.

Then I’d see film of these circa-1964 mod girls screaming and tearing their hair out and I’d think, “Is that what 60s kids did to show someone they were falling asleep from boredom?”

So anyway, enough preamble. Tonight I’m sitting down with

The.

Album.

Please Please Me is the debut release that launched the most famous band ever to walk the planet. The Beatles’ first two singles had already sold like mad in the UK, and Parlophone needed to get a full album out to capitalize on the insanity. So the band recorded what I’m about to listen to, and it was released in the UK in 1963, and the rest is history.

Running from preteen mobs. Ed Sullivan. Shea Stadium. India. Rooftop. Yoko Ono. Seven years and seven bajillion dollars and an entire cultural revolution later, it was all over.

So we’ll take a look at the beginning. Before we start, two quick notes.

First: Because the Beatles’ albums aren’t available on Spotify (and because I never cared enough to own this one before tonight), I had to buy Please Please Me on iTunes. (Thanks Steve Jobs!) That also means you can’t stream it and listen along — you’ll have to find another way to hear it.

Second: This sucker has fourteen songs in about 33 minutes, averaging about 2:30 per track. There are several that don’t even hit two minutes. So I don’t have a lot of time to write about each track, but that’s ok: fewer words from me makes your life less painful. Go ahead and celebrate.

Ok let’s listen.


What I think I’ll say when it’s over:

There was more energy in that than I remember, but I still think those early-Beatle people are tripping acid. (Which is ironic.)

Track 1 – “I Saw Her Standing There”: One of the problems I’ve had with bands’ recordings is that they don’t capture the energy of their live performance. Everything sounds stale, rehearsed, lifeless. Not here. Not at all. Even the lead-in count has life in it.

2 – “Misery”: I wish I had more context about what recordings sounded like in late 1962 and early 1963, because I wonder if that intro would have sounded unique at the time. The piano fillers — the descending, skipping line as well as the one-note fill — are what give this track any stand-out power.

3 – “Anna (Go to Him)”: Pretty sure I saw on Wikipedia that this one isn’t a Lennon/McCartney product. I’m not surprised. Run of the mill. Nice — but run of the mill. Tightly played though. Take for example the legato/staccato contrast in the B section. Well thought out! I also read that this album was literally made from the band’s live show, like they didn’t really have anything else. I can tell how much those live shows made this a tight recording.

4 – “Chains”: The vocals releases aren’t perfectly together, and that gives the whole thing some fresh energy. Twelve-bar blues and a B section. Boring to my ears, but the boys pull it off with energy. Talk about a hokey concept for a song though. She’s got chains around me that you can’t see. Guess what kind they are… they’re chains of love! Got you, guys!!

5 – “Boys”: Energy. Energy! Oh yeah!! This is John singing, right? He’s not the best singer, but he throws himself fully into it, and that’s all I need. The drums are so perfect throughout this track, especially during the breakdown/intro sections to new verses. Another twelve-bar blues. No surprise there. (Just looked — this is Ringo singing. Awesome.) (I fully expect some Beatles fan to harpoon me in the comments for ignorant moments like that.)

6 – “Ask Me Why”: Meh. Tracks like this have never been my scene. Too mushy or something. Reminds me of Paul Anka, full of talent but super stuffy. By the way, one time I heard a bunch of Beatles vocal tracks with no instruments, and they often sounded like genuinely bad singers; this track could have been included in that collection. And yet it works ok.

7 – “Please Please Me”: Uptempo eighth notes in the bass are killing it!! And when they go unison with the guitar, I bet that was just magic live. I can see Paul and George(?) locking eyes and grinning ear to ear every time they hit those lines. Be sure to scroll down to listen to a really great cover of this one.

8 – “Love Me Do”: What a way to start the B side of the album. Love that the guy singing the low harmonies in the chorus, then takes the melody on the hook. Harmonica solo on the second B section’s super nice. The hokey bass guitar-crash guitar hit coming out of that section HAD to be Paul’s idea.

9 – “P.S. I Love You”: If this ends in a cha-cha-cha I’m gonna be upset. I dig the out-of-key chord change right before the hook. (Does it go up a whole step from the tonic, or down? Or something else? I’m have a hard time hearing today.) Ok track, not great. Didn’t end in a cha-cha-cha! Thank you George Martin!

10 – “Baby It’s You”: I completely love how free these lead vocals sound. That’s all I have to say about this otherwise-standard song.

11 – “Do You Want to Know a Secret?”: This reminds me of hearing two buddies of mine talking about how to pick up girls. Apparently it’s a good move to tell a girl that what she’s about to hear is a secret. Intimacy and stuff, I guess. Sounds manipulative and low to me. But hey George sounds nice on lead vocals.

12 – “A Taste of Honey”: Too-doot-n-doo to you too, sir! I’d rather hear The Kingston Trio do this one. Oh hey pickerty third!

13 – “There’s a Place”: Ok finally let’s breathe some life back into this album! Cool stops and breakdowns here, very Beatlesesque if that’s a word. The B section rocks — this has got to be a Lennon/McCartney. Checking, and… yep! Classic John and Paul. The more cerebral elements of the lyrics

14 – “Twist and Shout”: I mean, let’s just finish it with the perfect pop song shall we? Apparently John had a cold when they recorded the album, so this one was held off till last because George Martin was afraid the vocals would shred Lennon’s vocal cords. I can hear the saliva spraying onto the mic from back by his jaws. It’s awesome. And I love the slide up from the blue note every time John finishes a vocal line.

What I’m saying now that it’s done:

I’m half-and-half on this. There’s a reason we remember the songs we remember from this album, and there’s a reason you forget the rest along with so much early-60s pop. (Yes, I know today’s no different.) And the ratio is about one-to-one on this album, for me. It sounds like the band really believed in some of the tracks they were recording for their debut, and the rest they just did their best on. I don’t know, maybe the best-sounding, most energetic ones tended to be recorded early on in their marathon session. Or maybe they really are better songs. Every band deals with this, I’m sure — and so did the Beatles. To be honest, the best part about listening to this album all the way through is that despite its status as unquestioned hit and an unmitigated legend, it’s not perfect. That’s a lesson worth remembering when I’m making my own music. (Some of which I plan to post here, on this very blog, very soon.)

Bonus final note: You really should listen to this cover of “Please Please Me” by Wyckham Porteous. Yes that’s his name, and yes this track is fantastic.

Still image from the "Big Girls Cry" music video by Sia, featuring dancer Maddie Ziegler

Missed Connections: Sia’s “Big Girls Cry” Won’t Let Your Eyes Go

Somehow, I missed the release of Sia‘s latest music video. By a week. This one is for “Big Girls Cry”, from the exceptional album 1000 Forms of Fear.

Don’t worry, I’m posting it now.

Like the Australian singer’s previous two videos, “Big Girls Cry” features child dancer Maddie Ziegler performing choreography that is at once disturbing, deeply moving, and spellbinding. Though simpler, this video may be more disturbing than the videos for “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” (also featuring Shia LaBoeuf).

I’d like to hear what you think — be sure to leave a comment below, and follow the blog for more great music (including some of my own, soon.)


“Big Girls Cry”:


“Chandelier”:


“Elastic Heart”:

#RethinkThursday: A Tribe Called Quest, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm”

THIS IS PART OF AN ONGOING SERIES CALLED RETHINK THURSDAY, IN WHICH I REVISIT ALBUMS THAT I REMEMBER EITHER LOVING OR HATING, TO SEE IF TIME AND EXPERIENCE HAVE CHANGED MY OPINION. OR HECK, MAYBE THE DIFFERENCE IS JUST THE DAY THAT I’M LISTENING. AS I LISTEN I REVIEW THE ALBUM, TRACK BY TRACK PLUS OVERALL COMMENTARY, AND YOU GET TO BEG KIM KARDASHIAN TO TWEET THE LINK TO ALL HER FOLLOWERS.


Disclaimer one (of three): I don’t believe I’ll ever put out anything with a longer title than today’s post.

Disclaimer two: I’m not a hip hop guy. That’s true. I’m telling you that right up front. I grew up in a small town in southern Indiana, about as far from hip hop culture as an American kid can get. I was raised on a regular diet of sweet corn and John Mellencamp. Mom painted watercolors and took me to piano lessons. The closest thing we had to the pain of the streets was when our dog, Poppet, would run away.

But that didn’t make me unaware of hip hop, nor completely uneducated. I remember with a mix of awe and nostalgia the energy, humor, and gravitas of the music that came surging out of (especially) New York City at the dawn of the 1990s.

Some 25 years before, myriad movements had risen to give black people their voice. By 1990 the children of those movements — literally born from those activists, I imagine — had grown up with a more fully-fledged sense of empowerment and expression than perhaps any person of color, at any time, in the United States of America. There was a sense, at least to my young eyes, that we might be at the dawn of an artistic renaissance for a population too long silenced in this country.

A new urban aesthetic was overtaking mass media. It was bright, colorful, loud, and proud.

And this was before the mid-90s when a rap sub-genre, dubbed “gangsta”, came along to glorify a different kind of black voice, and began its own kinds of stereotypes — stereotypes that thrive still today. This was a time that cried for continued change, but seemed to call for it from a cosmic place inside that looked for salvation in something spiritual instead of a growing collection of dollars, cars, guns, and women.

For me, no track has embodied the freshness and elation of that cultural moment than “Can I Kick It?”, which appeared on A Tribe Called Quest‘s debut album in 1990. The album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, was never on my bookshelves at home. Not by any means. In fact, I don’t think I knew the title until a few years ago. But as long as I can remember, it seems there’s been a three-chord bass harmony cycling through my head — the song’s intro, sampled from Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”:

Now, I haven’t listened to that track today; I’m keeping my appetite unspoiled for when I listen to the whole album in a bit. But you can hear it, can’t you? There’s joy in that track, and self-assurance. Maybe a sense of wide-open possibilities.

But I don’t recall loving everything about this album. There were stories and sentiments that I recall being expressed sophomorically, and tracks that felt self-indulgent in their length. Even in “Can I Kick It?”, I cringe a little at the organ sample’s clash against the rest of the track. Why? I ask myself. There had to be other options.

So I’m back, after several years of not listening to People’s Instinctive Travels…, to see if I can make sense of any of that stuff I didn’t like. Let’s dive in together.

Final disclaimer: I seem to recall some explicit stuff on some of these tracks, while others are totally, fully innocent. Like funnily innocent. So just listen with some caution.


What I think I’ll say when it’s over:

Nope. Still don’t get some of their choices. But MAN, those four guys put together beats that still pop today.

Track 1 – “Push It Along”: A baby’s cry and a lot of psychedelic sounds. This isn’t your grandfather’s hip hop. Actually it might be, but it’s a lot cooler than yours. Sorry kids. Anyway, how much thought to artists put into the symbolism in these sounds? Is this the birth of a new urban movement? Then that bass, that guitar… I guess these guys didn’t like being called “jazz rap” but they sampled some real cool cats, yeah cool, dig it. Two verses and two choruses later, how about a saxophone solo? Hang on I’m gonna go google the album because I’m pretty sure there’s a list of samples used on the album. … Ok I have Wikipedia loading in another tab but I had to come back because about 5:00 into this track, just when you think it’s over, a fade-in of a totally new feel (what’s THIS sample??), and back to some psychedelic effects, some echoes and some reverse-reverb. I’m listening with headphones right now — normally I listen on speakers to fill the room — and the stereo on this last section is much appreciated.

2 – “Luck of Lucien”: WHEN WILL THE SMOOTHNESS END. I hope the rhymes match how cool this is. … Yup they do. I love the high hat (or is that a really sharp snare?) on the backbeat. WHOA MORE STEREO IN FULL EFFECT. I didn’t even remember there were any French elements on this album at all, so there’s a ton of nice little surprises hidden in here. Ok let’s talk samples. Here’s the list of samples, courtesy of Wikipedia. The Marseillaise that leads into this track is a sample from “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles. And they sampled it themselves. Huh.

3 – “After Hours”: No idea what this song is about, I’m on Wikipedia too much. I heard apple juice. This is some kind of story and I haven’t followed it at all, but the beat is killing it hard so I’m just gonna let that be my focus right now. Do you hear the reverb on the backbeat? Put on some headphones — it goes for days. More scratching on this track than I’d normally be into but such was the life of a 90s DJ. WHOA WAS THAT FIVE SECONDS OF METAPSYCHEDELIA? Awesome. I love that they put that in there.

4 – “Footprints”: FLANGE THAT SAMPLE LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW. Pretty cool that I can’t keep my ears at peace while that tone lasts, but then when the kick drum drops I don’t even remember that it’s there. Reference to the UNLV Rebels helps this track feel like a real time capsule. I’m a hand percussion hater normally, but they fit really well in the breakdown at about 2:30. And now I’m bored and going back to that samples list. This ascending-horn sample is so uncomfortable on top of everything else that’s going. And is this final stomping rhythm sampled from The Wall?

5 – “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo”: I remember hating this song. This time around I like the beat. The hook still sucks. And I get bored by stories, even if the rhymes are cool here and there. (Ugh, “I had the enchiladas and I ate ’em.” Yuck. And I don’t mean the food.) This appears to be the story of a man who wants to spend a ton of gas money so he can go back and get the condoms that are in his wallet, instead of buying replacements at a local store. It is still a low point on the album.

6 – “Pubic Enemy”: That doesn’t say “public”. A candid track about sexuality and venereal disease. This public service announcement brought to you by the Tribe.

7 – “Bonita Applebaum”: I remember this one being pretty overtly sexual too. Loving the electric piano — not sure where that got sampled from. And I’d forgotten that string sample (is that a sitar?) that The Fugees used in “Killing Me Softly”. Ooh! And I just discovered whosampled.com. (Here at the end it does get crazy sexual. And then more psychedelic chorus work. I love that that keeps getting reintroduced.)

8 – “Can I Kick It?”: The classic. The quintessential. Listening to it now, this is the first time I’ve ever heard the falsetto “Yes you can!” in the right channel. Seriously, put on some headphones and turn it up and listen to the Muppet in your right year. Ok let’s talk a little bit about Lou Reed because I can’t get enough of this bass line from “Walk on the Wild Side”. It’s playful, it’s simple, it’s confident, it’s melodic, it’s laid back and easy. It’s for all those reasons that I haven’t been able to escape it for more than probably a week for my entire life. What’s that glass-breaking sample? And who’s Mr. Dinkins, and why do we want him to be the mayor? And did I get his name right? I’m too busy to think about these things. On to the next track.

9 – “Youthful Expression”: Actually I’m still talking about that last track. Several months ago I went to a party held by a bunch of 20-year-olds, and I knew I liked the musical taste of a couple of them. But when Kesha gave way to “Can I Kick It?”, my respect went deep. “Body’s healthy, mind is wealthy.” See what I’m saying about positivity ruling the day in this era of hip hop? I love that. Even when change is demanded, it’s done in good humor: “No banana, I ain’t a primate.” Not scientifically true, but the point is made. We are listening to A Tribe Called Quest declare themselves representatives and leaders of a movement, and the music is confident enough to get us to believe in them.

10 – “Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)”: Best title on the album. “It’s a new decade”, the first line in the song, continues to stress ATCQ’s place in what could have been a real movement. I’m still kind of mad at Snoop Dogg, Warren G, that whole school — maybe things would be better for race relations in the country if positivity had carried the lyrical day, instead of line after line about violent crime.

11 – “Mr. Muhammad”: NO BUT REALLY WHEN DOES THE SMOOTH END. It must be its only special kind of genius to hear such a minuscule piece of a recording and say “Let’s just repeat those two counts, over and over — trust me, it’s going to sound like genius.” This track’s got quality; too bad it’s stuck on the back half of the album, where it becomes forgettable filler. It deserves better.

12 – “Ham ‘n’ Eggs”: Silliness, and why not? It’s a hip hop song about the benefits of vegetarianism. They rhyme “yummy” and “tummy”. Like I said, I’m not a hip hop guy, but I don’t see Kanye taking a enough of a break from his ego to rap about asparagus. I can see these guys dancing and swaying and clapping in the studio, just giddy with how ridiculous this track is, even as they believe in it from the bottoms of their hearts.

13 – “Go Ahead in the Rain”: Just as I was getting a little tired near the end of the album, here comes that guitar. Wikipedia says Hendrix got sampled for this one, but I think it was the rain at the beginning, not the 70s scratch guitar. Ok I’m back to a little tired, and I think the production is a little tired too by now. I would have liked to see the same level of creativity go into this last stretch of the album as we saw in the first two-thirds or so.

14 – “Description of a Fool”: The beat’s catchy, and it’s put to GOOD use: we’re finishing off the album with a statement on masculinity and chauvinism in the city. Compare that with record after record that have come out since in rap and hip hop, full of womanizing and me-first. This is yet another testament that A Tribe Called Quest were doing something right, and I wish they’d done it longer.

What I’m saying now that it’s done:

I can’t think of more than a couple moments when I thought this album’s production choices were too weird. But for some reason I’m left with the feeling that the back half of the album just doesn’t match up to the front. Which is weird: “Description of a Fool” makes for a genuinely strong ending, and you know I love “Rhythm” and “Ham ‘n’ Eggs”. I guess I just wanted more aggressive creativity throughout this set. (I’ve always felt that way about The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, too.) But looking over the tracks, The only low points I can genuinely point to are “Mr. Muhammad”, which really isn’t bad, and “Go Ahead in the Rain.” In any case, speaking in specifics, I really respect the decision to — frequently — keep listeners on their toes by just ending tracks and jumping straight to the next one, with practically no silence between them. That’s good, and something I wouldn’t mind incorporating in my own recordings. The rhymes here are generally less early-80s hokey than I remember them being, and the feel is even more laid back than I’d recalled. This is a good album, guys, and worth repeated listenings (almost) all the way through.

Passion Pit Release “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)”

Passion Pit have a new album, Kindred, due out on April 21. They’ve shared a couple tracks from the album now, and a new one landed today over at NPR Music.

Judging from the tracks, 2015 finds Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos feeling a lot like Arcade Fire‘s Win Butler: nostalgic about childhood and full of ambivalence and misgivings.

You’ve probably heard “Lifted Up (1985)” here and there around town. If not, check it out along with the less-dancey “Where the Sky Hangs” below. “Where the Sky Hangs” is more like adorable, animated cover art than a music video.

Be careful with “Lifted Up (1985)” though — the video description warns viewers with epilepsy that it can cause seizures.

Cover Artwork for Go, an Album by Icelandic Musician Jónsi

#RethinkThursday: Jónsi’s Solo Album “Go”, Five Years Old This Week

This is part of an ongoing series called Rethink Thursday, in which I revisit albums that I remember either loving or hating, to see if time and experience have changed my opinion. Or heck, maybe the difference is just the day that I’m listening. As I listen I review the album, track by track plus overall commentary, and you get to share that via social media with everyone you’ve ever met.


This week’s review is very different.

See, last week I did the unthinkable: for Rethink Thursday I pushed play on the entire My World 2.0 album by Justin Bieber. And a friend of mine, whose music taste I respect deeply, gave me something of a backhanded compliment on Facebook.

“I applaud your stamina,” he said, “to stoop so low and listen, nay, re-listen, to this pornography with a perfectly open mind.”

Well then.

Actually, I agree with him. And the truth is, for every Rethink Thursday I’ve selected music that really does rub me the wrong way. Aaaand I’ve sometimes picked music that’s purely mercenary and without any artistic merit. Also without any demonstration of talent. Because snark is easy and funny, and it’s easy to snark on stuff that sucks.

Not so today. In April of 2010 — five years ago, a month after Bieber’s album — Sigur Rós‘ frontman Jónsi released a solo album called Go. I saw press about the release on NPR Music and decided to check it out.

View of Zion National Park from Canyon Overlook Trail

I once listened to this album with my brother while we drove through this. flickr: zionnps

It quickly became my favorite album of that year. It turned into such a go-to (Go-to, get it?) that when my brother and drove through breathtaking Zion National Park that year to meet our sister, I insisted that we listen to this album and nothing else. He obliged, and we shared an experience we both remember as truly sublime.

When Jónsi announced a nearby concert later that same year, I made sure to get tickets. It was worth every penny. If you’d like to see really crappy footage of his amazing show, I took this video and this video.

So what made Go so special to me? What drew me in and kept me? I don’t want to spoil the surprises if you haven’t listened to it yet, but in Go I heard a pure artist experimenting with every analog sound he could find in order to create music that’s every bit as kinetic, and sometimes frenetic, as the electronic dance music that was becoming ever more ubiquitous at the time he was creating. There was a joy in this music that I had been hard pressed to find anywhere else. It was a joy that to me felt almost ecstatic, in the realest sense of the word.

I remember latching on to that. But it’s been a long time. I’m going to go into this listening fully looking for things to pick apart and dislike. But I also hope I feel that original joy again. Feel free to listen along:


What I think I’ll say when it’s over:

Maybe I won’t say anything. Maybe I’ll be in tears.

Track 1 – “Go Do”: I had forgotten two things about this, that I remember right off the bat. First, he didn’t just use analog sounds and play with them to make music that could resemble electronic music, he sampled a whole spectrum of musical sounds and cut them up with a modern EDM approach, and then built a whole fleshy animal around this cyborg. It makes for a technique that’s lush and endlessly engaging. Second, when the kick drum hits, it hits SO HARD. As the track progresses, though, I remember thinking that either Jónsi didn’t set out to make pop dance music, or he’s not very good at making it. There are too many breakdowns; the track meanders and goes too long for radio or club play. This is an analog-electronic dance-inspired composition… something.

2 – “Animal Arithmetic”: Ecstatic. I keep thinking about the word ecstatic. I keep thinking about how my brother reacted while we played these first couple tracks and looked out the windshield at Zion’s dramatic peaks, one after the other. “Wow,” we both said. And this isn’t just ecstasy. It’s an overjoyed romp through the joyful side of our modern-day absurdities. Jónsi’s found a way to look at the stresses and messes of daily life and find the sincere bliss in it all. Jeez, I didn’t think I’d draw any Jónsi-Sisyphus analogies today.

3 – “Tornado”: The contrast between the direct opening tracks and this rhythmically difficult, subdued piano part almost brings tears to my eyes. I feel totally lost, have no idea where the time signature is, until that kick drum comes in. Jónsi’s falsetto soars as always. The track plods along unnoticeably, albeit beautifully, until the instrumentation breaks down almost fully and we’re left we’re a straight-up soliloquy from Jónsi, in rare all-English. Then an instrumental re-entry, a climax, and a final breakdown. This ends up being a heart-wrenching confessional.

4 – “Boy Lilikoi”: Pretty, pretty, pretty. Dreamy, dreamy, dreamy. But never one I’ve loved. I see the late, low light of a spring day dancing through green leaves, and little else. Wait… wait I FORGOT we go kinetic again in this one! And that snare-ornamented breakdown-to-quick-build was breathtaking. Literally I forgot to breathe for a second. Did I mention that at the live Jónsi show all the drums and percussion were played manually, on real instruments? Think about that and listen to those percussion parts. Listen to that high hat. The drummer was spectacular — and, by show’s end — very sweaty. Holy crud this song just keeps toying with me. I keep thinking it’s gonna go one direction, and then it ebbs, then flows again. And the drums! You guys the drums! The high hat and the tom! “Your eyyyyes… your eyyyyes…” I think I just found a new favorite track on this album. I just never realized how wonderful this one is.

5 – “Sinking Friendships”: Oh gosh, speaking of breathtaking. WHO ELSE USES SILENCE AS AN INSTRUMENT LIKE JÓNSI DOES HERE? That’s one example of how EDM influenced this album, except I keep thinking he’s taking all those producers and showing them that their toys are his big-boy tools. I keep thinking I’m going to find a real let-down on this album. I keep waiting for it. And sure, there are moments when I would have changed the length of a section here or there, but other than that I can’t find anything. The arrangements are literally, literally flawless. And now that I’ve written that, we come to the end of the track and he proves me right again with the full-circle sung chords again.

6 – “Kolniður”: I’m listening to this track and still raving from the last one. Okay back to the present. “Kolniður” has a special place in my heart thanks to the animation that played as a backdrop to Jónsi’s live show, portraying hand-drawn wild animals of three kinds, at night: grazing deer, stalking wolves, and an owl observing the scene. I’m getting chills thinking about how the story unfolds. (Nope, wait, here come the tears. I feel like the girl from that eHarmony cat video. Sorry.) I’ll try to find a good video of the animation to post here — my own video, linked in the section above, doesn’t do it justice.

7 – “Around Us”: (How did the engineer get that piano to sound like ice?) I keep thinking this is the song called “Grow Till Tall” because he sings those very words in this one. But nope that’s next. The hits in this song (hit? drop? can orchestral EDM have a drop?) are the track’s strongest feature. At this point in the album, I’ve gotten a bit too used to the four-on-the-floor kick drum — I could use some sound sorbet to cleanse my palette — so overall sound on this track doesn’t feel special until we break into 7/4 time, then 6/4, near the end. But the arrangements are still nothing short of masterful. Still inspiring.

8 – “Grow Till Tall”: I wonder how Jónsi writes this kind of stuff. Is he sitting at a piano? With a guitar? without any clean attacks or rhythms it can feel like the melody meanders so much. Does he hear all these sounds as he sings it to himself in the shower? In any case, he apparently has at least two visions for this song. This one stays quite pretty throughout, very tonic and well within the boundaries my Western-theory ear expects. Live, the animation and lights worked together to create a powerful storm effect (lightening, leaves blowing by ever faster), and the music became much more chaotic. You can see video of that live version by following the second video link in the first half of this post.

9 – “Hengilás”: Another slower one to end the album, and I’m worried the energy won’t last. The electronic face has left us completely, and instead of kineticism Jónsi finishes with simplicity. The phonetics and melody of his exposed singing are beautiful, and I’m left wondering if this is Icelandic or Hopelandic, Jónsi’s own created language. I love hearing the breathing of the players in the background here. Just one more reminder that this is a living, organic album. Just one more testament to the whole thing’s sincerity. Oh, and there we go — when the lyrics end we’re left with just Jónsi’s voice as another instrument, flying high above the rest in the arrangement. The coda has imperfect intonation, and it ends on the V instead of the I, and yet I still feel like I’m home, right where I need to be.

What I’m saying now that it’s done:

I’m not in tears now, but for a moment during this listening I was. There are several words I had a hard time avoiding today: ecstasy, kinetic, organic. I remember feeling those words on my tongue every other time I’ve listened to this album, and today is no different.

But I’ll add one more today: gratitude. The hours of difficult work that went into this whole collection are so apparent, as is the care Jónsi put into every moment and every note. With some artists that hard work can, in the finished product, come across as pained. Painstaking, we say. But not here. Here, on Go, the sound doesn’t strike me as painstaking. It strikes me as fully, deeply pleasurable. For him to give that to me, it feels like a gift.

I’m going to put this album on repeat for the next month. I’m inspired every time I listen to it.

Leave a comment below, follow the blog, and remember to come back for more next #RethinkThursday.

Fictionist Touring with Neon Trees – Plus Free Music Download

Protip: The free stuff’s in the third paragraph. Drink it in, you lucky music lover.


My favorite band-everyone-needs-to-know, Fictionist, just wrapped up a bunch of SXSW performances, and now they’ve announced that they’re touring this July with Neon Trees. They’ll be playing the East Coast dates of Neon Trees’ Intimate Night Out tour.

Like Neon Trees, Fictionist formed in Provo, Utah. They signed with Atlantic Records a few years back, then wouldn’t buckle under Atlantic’s pressure to make their sound more like Of Monsters and Men etc. The excellent self-titled album they released late last year (cover above) has been described as “the MGMT update of Peter Gabriel”.

About that free music: You can get a free download of their song “Not Over You” on their official website. (I’m on their email list, and they totally don’t spam.) Be sure to check it out because the track’s super good. Those guys are so nice to us little people.

Here’s the official tour announcement Fictionist made on Instagram:

And check out the video for Lock & Key, featuring a very sad robot: