The Raconteurs – “Together”

Year: 2006

Album: Broken Boy Soldiers

This album was released ten years ago this May, which makes me feel old because I can remember my mom driving me to my hometown Barnes & Noble and buying this CD the week it came out because I really liked “Steady, As She Goes.”

And for an entire year I just listened to “Steady, As She Goes” and didn’t bother with the rest of the album, because I was 13 and figured that’s all I needed to hear – the one song I already liked.

I’ve come back to this record recently and I’m surprised by how good it’s held up. Some days I even like it more than most White Stripes albums.

“Together” is my favorite track off an album full of several great tracks that never got too much radio play, which is both a blessing and a curse of having a massive hit. Way to go Jack.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Exclusive Interview with Peter Oren, A Folk Singer With A Twist

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Photo by Alex Doane

Very few 23-year-old folk singers are ever compared to Bill Callahan, but Peter Oren is not like most folk singers.

With a calming, deep voice that reminds me of Callahan but matched by more observant and direct lyrics, Oren follows in the footsteps of the politically minded protest folk singer-songwriters who came before him (Dylan in his Greenwich days, Phil Ochs, etc) while making his own way with his atmospheric singing and songwriting. Unlike most folk performers these days, whom would rather be Marcus Mumford than Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger, Oren actually has something to say and a powerful voice to say it, and that makes this young singer-songwriter someone to look out for.

I had the chance to talk with Peter about his songwriting and of the many people and places that have inspired his music and lookout on life. Below is our conversation:

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Does songwriting for you have a particular structure (lyrics first then music or vice versa) or do you find that songs come out of nowhere and the lyrics and music come together at the same time?

“I definitely don’t have a formula for songwriting. I have a pocket-sized notebook and pen on me at (almost) all times to catch whatever thoughts or phrases come my way. Musical phrases come on their own as well, and I collect those with my phone’s recording device.

Sometimes everything comes at once. Sometimes I mix and match, or begin and leave it open for a while. I try to keep the idea/ lyrics at the forefront of whatever song I’m writing. I slip up on occasion and write a song that doesn’t really mean anything to me, but usually lyrics are the top priority. I think a clever or powerful line can make all the difference in a song.”

 Some of the best moments of songwriting are those first few times you play your new song and it sounds amazing and it’s the greatest song ever written and you’re going to change the world with your new, totally unique song.

But when you step away from the music and try to go back to it to fix a section or to record it, it’s easy to only look at all the things wrong with the song – the lyrics are bad, it’s a bland chord progression, this song sounds too much like this song, etc. How do you keep that songwriting mentality strong? It’s easy to forget that songwriting is actually hard work.

“I feel it’s important to let everything out of your system, whether it’s good or bad songwriting, and deal with figuring out what’s good after. I’m sure every excellent songwriter has dozens of bad songs they’ve written and forgotten about. The trick is to trust yourself fully as an artist and always go with what your passion is.

I’ve got bits and pieces of over a hundred songs floating around here and there, but not many are likely to hear any of it. The good stuff floats to the top, whether it’s because you know it’s good and love to play it (even before anyone’s heard it yet) or because you play it for others and most everyone agrees it’s a keeper.”

Jack White has this idea of creativity and inspiration that he works best by figuratively putting himself in a box and trying to come up with songs when he’s forced to only use certain instruments or record something in a very short timeframe. Do you agree or disagree that setting some sort of restriction can enhance creativity?

“There’s definitely something to be said for Jack White’s approach. Whether it’s writing or improvising on stage, Need can force creativity out of people. However, I feel that Need that arises organically (often internally) can be more fruitful and artistically valuable than Need created artificially.

For example, I have (on at least one occasion) written something that helped release me from a period of depression and gain perspective. This feels more artistically fulfilling to me than coming up with a new guitar riff because the tape is rolling or because a crowd is watching. I also have a tendency to quit or leave town without a concrete plan, and I take pride in this because it’s under such circumstances that one enters the unknown and has to deal with it.

So if you’re asking me if I find it better to do something than sit and wait, I say yes, do something. But I prefer to align such efforts with real Need rather than artificial need because I’d rather hear a song written by someone with an existential crisis than a song written under pressure just because that artist felt it was time to put out a new record. Hope that makes sense.”

Who are your literary (or just non-musical) heroes and how do they influence the way you write your songs?

“Wendell Berry and Scott Russell Sanders. Ross Gay is a local favorite. Peter Gelderloos is a really talented anarchist writer who always seems to give me a new and powerful take on the world today. He is super eloquent and thought-provoking.  Hermann Hesse for Beneath the Wheel and Siddhartha. Hemingway, Albert Camus, and William Faulkner for various reasons. Vonnegut is incredible. David Berman is both a songwriter and a poet I love. Aldous Huxely for Brave New World in particular. Kerouac.

These writers have all influenced my world view in various ways. Some, such as Berman, Hemingway, and Faulkner all influenced my style as a writer whether by encouraging simple, declarative sentences (Hemingway), using run-on stream-of-consciousness, big-picture existential passages (Faulkner), or maneuvering abstract metaphors and descriptions that seem to add up to feelings more than ideas (Berman).”

Do you remember the first song you wrote and what inspired you to write it?

“I think the first song I wrote was actually “Try Hell,” which is online at swales.bandcamp.com. I adjusted parts of the lyrics between writing it at 18 and recording it at 21, but it’s basically all there. I was caught up with (and still am) a feeling of nausea and absurdity which stemmed from being born into a day and age where we burn fossil fuels despite the fact we are changing the climate, grow vast fields of soy and corn in a monoculture, and remain rooted in institutional religions, where we look for answers.

Obviously the “we” in the previous sentence is loose. The chorus in that song, “If you think it’s hot here, try hell,” was borrowed from a church sign in Paoli when my friends and I passed through in the summer after our senior year. It was a hot day. My friend Nick Greven spotted it and suggested I put it in the song I was writing that night around the campfire. It fit the theme perfectly.”

It’s easy to throw a Bob Dylan comparison at you, but what other major musical influences are in your life? Your music reminds me a lot of Bill Callahan in the way that you approach singing and writing, and I’m sure people want to hear about other good folk artists.

“Yeah yeah Bob Dylan. Hell of a songwriter. Bill Callahan is definitely the bomb, you’re spot on there–I’m definitely a big fan. As far as older stuff goes, I love Townes Van Zandt, Nick Drake, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Blaze Foley, Arthur Russell, and John Prine. Artists making music now who I love include Bonnie Prince Billy, AA Bondy, and Blake Mills.”

 What is your secret music guilty pleasure? Like, are you a closet Spice Girls fan or do you have every single Shakira bootleg? Don’t be ashamed!

“Die Antwoord? Does that count? “Drunk in Love” by Beyonce?”

Who is an artist who you wish more people knew about?

“The Weather Station. Tamara Lindeman writes super beautiful songs. They’re simple and elegant–delicate and personal.”

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Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Headphone Nation’s Year In Review: 2014

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What better way to end 2014 than to give out some superlatives? As with any sort of end-of-year review, these awards reflect my personal taste and shouldn’t be taken as the final say on the year. Really my hope is that you’ll check out some new music that that you’d otherwise miss.

Also, make sure to click on the album cover for a link to a song off that album.

Alright, let’s begin.

 

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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There Is A Song By The White Stripes That Directly Steals From Citizen Kane

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In the song “The Union Forever”, off my favorite White Stripes album White Blood Cells, the lyrics are almost entirely taken from certain lines from the classic movie Citizen Kane, which was directed by and starring one of Jack White’s beloved heroes Orson Welles.

The verses contain a few lines that are either directly taken from the movie or reflect certain aspects of Welles’s character (C.F.K. = Charles Foster Kane), but the lines in the bridge, in which Jack is speaking with no guitar, is directly taken from a scene in the movie.

First watch the original scene from the movie.

Now watch the video for the song below and pay attention at 1:54 when White starts his monologue. Sound familiar?

Moral of the story? If you want to be like Jack White, study Orson Welles. Also check out Citizen Kane if you haven’t already – it’s a great movie that has surprisingly aged well.

 

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Four Things I Didn’t Expect To Happen In 2014 (From Someone Who Missed It All)

Five months is a long time to be away. Without a working cellphone or laptop, I was blissfully out of touch with the world of music save the few english music magazines I managed to find. Our reliance on the Internet for most of our news is bittersweet; it’s bitter because it feels like at times you either have too much information or none of it at all, but it’s sweet because I can google all the news and music that I missed.

Last year was great for music because it seemed that every popular artist in the world decided to release music all at once (My Bloody Valentine released an album for goodness sakes). Most albums in 2013 were a lot of fun to talk about (how many arguments have you heard or partaken in for or against Yeezus?), but a lot of those albums I rarely go back to and listen for pure enjoyment.

It seems that, for me at least, 2014 has been more about quality than quantity. The War On Drugs made their best album, The Hold Steady are still alive, a few of my other favorites released music (Sharon Van Etten, Cloud Nothings, Beck, The Men) and I’ve become acquainted with Real Estate, Parquet Courts, How To Dress Well, St. Vincent, and other musicians I knew about before but whom all have converted me into true fans this year. This year has been the year of rookies, redemptions, and breakthroughs, and I think this year, more than other years, we’ve all discovered a few new favorite bands.

Of course this could also mean that 2014 is, if nothing else, just more in tune with my personal taste, the taste of a 21-year-old Midwest music lover who has to rely on the Internet for most of his music. The following are just a few particular things that I’ve noticed about the music that I missed in 2014. Many of these things won’t seem like a big deal to you. Maybe because you’ve seen this year slowly unfold and none of this seems sudden, or maybe you just disagree with me. But it’s fun to write about the halfway point of 2014 with a different perspective. Plus, I need to do a “halfway through 2014” post anyways, so here we go!

 

1. Guitar Rock Music Is Alive And Well

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Just to clarify — great guitar music, in all of its wonderful and diverse forms, has never died. There will always be great music made with Fender guitars plugged into Marshall amps with the occasional tremolo and delay pedals. But in 2014, more than most recent years, it seems that guitar music is not only getting by but actually thriving among popular music.

Whether it’s 90’s nostalgia (Cloud Nothings), Alex Chilton approved classic rock (The Men), Paul Westerberg approved melodic punk (Against Me!), 70’s New York City cool punk (Parquet Courts and Thee Oh Sees), or metal that Foo Fighters fans would like (Mastodon), every type of guitar player had an album to like in 2014.

 

And I don’t know if I can categorize the excellent new The War On Drugs album Lost In The Dream. The band’s previous album, the also excellent Slave Ambient, was a unique marriage of Tom Petty Americana with hints of dreamy guitars that aren’t quite shoegazing but just as pretty, and Lost In The Dream is just an overall improvement of that sound.

 

As of now, my favorite album of 2014 is Real Estate’s Atlas. In addition to having some of the best lyrics of the year, it’s also a great guitar album in the sense that any person just learning guitar can learn all these songs fairly easily, which makes the point that you don’t have to be a virtuoso to make excellent music.

 

All of a sudden, a guitar band doesn’t feel retro, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Also, because I love The Hold Steady, I really think the new album got a lot of undeserved panning.  Teeth Dreams, for all its flaws, is worth another listen.

 

2. No One Seems To Like Jack White Anymore

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Speaking of guitars, I was excited to come home and check out Lazaretto, the newest album from one of rock music’s most dependable crusaders, until I began reading all the mixed reviews on the album which then led to a widespread analysis on White’s legacy (Steven Hyden’s Grantland article is especially good concerning this).

The mixed reviews, along with some interesting interviews in which White attacked The Black Keys and other nice people, made me less thrilled to call myself a Jack White fan. I’ve always liked the idea of Jack White — a musician who takes inspiration from the past and tries to make it new in a way that tributes to the old ways while moving forward. But when I went back to all my White Stripes albums, I realized that most of these albums are, well, just ok. Yes, I know Elephant is a classic album and “Seven Nation Army” is an anthem of a generation and “Ball And Biscuit” is the sound of a guitar having sex, but the rest of the album? This is one of the few times where I 100% agree with a Pitchfork review. As for White’s many side projects — The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, etc — each band has, at the very most, a handful of great songs that’ll remind you how much you miss The White Stripes.

I’ve listened to Lazaretto a couple of times and I agree with many of the reviews that I’ve read — it’s a more high-maintenance Blunderbuss with a few truly great songs hidden among mostly ok to good songs, much like every album Jack White has made after White Blood Cells.

But with all that said, Jack White is still, and will probably always be, the go to guitar champion for much of our generation. I still say that I’m a fan (De Stijl and White Blood Cells still sound great). Plus, in the end, White might have the last laugh.

 

3. 2014 Pop Music — The Ultimate Hangover Year

2013 was one of the greatest years for music in terms of how many popular and established bands released new music. 2014 didn’t have a chance from the start, and halfway through the year that still stands to be true.

The only major bands I know that everyone knows and loves (or at lest loves to hate) that released music this year was Coldplay and The Black Keys, and those albums are less than stellar. Lana Del Rey and Jack White are also more established names in popular music (for very different reasons), but I wouldn’t consider them in the realm of David Bowie, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West popular, all of whom released new music last year. EDM and electronic pop still seems to be the dominate genre of throwaway hits on the radio, but it feels like the genre is losing momentum, especially after this and this.

There’s still plenty of time for pop music to figure something out, but until then it seems that the only man putting pop music on his back is…

 

4. Pharrell Williams Is Still Ruling The World

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When I left the states, everyone was still listening to “Get Lucky” every single day. Now it’s “Happy”, another product from the man who pretty much had the best year in 2013. Yes, most of you passionately hate this song by now, but this was the only universal hit that I seemed to missed. Also, G I R L is not a bad album, and I say that because I assume no one else has listened to the album after hearing “Happy” so much.

 

So so far so good for 2014. With the recent news of a new Ryan Adams album later this year, I’m already giddy to think of what my end-of-year best lists will consist of. Below you’ll find a Spotify playlist of my favorite songs of 2014 so far. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot more great music in 2014, so let me know if there’s anything else I need to hear!

 

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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My Reactions To The Grammys (As Told By Pictures)

I was going to write a long piece on the 2013 Grammys, but I figured that showing pictures of my reactions would suffice.

Here are some visuals for my reactions to some of the night’s bigger revelations.

 

When my female friend asked me why Justin Beiber was not nominated for a Grammy.

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Whenever LL Cool J mentioned anything about Twitter.

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Anytime Taylor Swift was on TV

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When I realized Wiz Khalifa was actually asked to perform at the Grammys.

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When the Black Keys played with Dr. John.

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When Gotye beat out Fiona Apple, Bjork, M83, and Tom Waits for a Grammy.

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When Jack White performed.

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When Frank Ocean performed.

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When Mumford & Sons won the Album of the Year Grammy.

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When I realized that My Bloody Valentine was not asked to perform at the Grammys.

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When I realized that most of my friends don’t actually watch the Grammys.

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When I read all the funny tweets making fun of the Grammys.

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Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Jack White On Inspiration And Work Ethic

A great short video of one of my favorite guitarist Jack White on finding inspiration, especially when there seems to be none to be found. The clip is from the White Stripes documentary Under Great White Northern Lights, which I have yet to see!

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Mid-Year Review Part 2: My Favorite Songs Of 2012 (So Far)

Pump out the jams people! Below are my 20 favorite songs of 2012 (so far) with a Spotify link at the bottom to all the songs.

Enjoy!

Sharon Van Etten – “Joke or a Lie”

Bruce Springsteen – “Wrecking Ball”

Lambchop – “Gone Tomorrow”

The Men – “Candy”

M. Ward – “Clean Slate”

Rufus Wainwright – “Sometimes You Need”

The Dig – “I Already Forgot Everything You Said”

Glen Hansard – “You Will Become”

Fiona Apple – “Valentine”

The Henry Clay People – “EveryBandWeEverLoved”

Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”

Sonny And The Sunsets – “Pretend You Love Me”

Beachwood Sparks – “Forget The Song”

Keaton Henson – “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are”

River City Extension – “Slander”

Cloud Nothings – “Stay Useless”

King Tuff – “Wild Desire”

Jack White – “Sixteen Saltines”

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros – “Man On Fire”

Frank Ocean – “Sweet Life”

And of course, here’s a Spotify mix of my favorite songs of 2012 so far.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Mid-Year Review Part 1: My Favorite Albums of 2012 (So Far)

Well it’s halfway through 2012 and there have been some great releases this year so far. All the albums we thought were going to be great (Lana Del Rey, The Shins) fizzled out. So it was up to the underdogs to step up and make 2012 a surprisingly great year for music.

Here are my favorite albums of 2012 so far.

Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

The 90s guitar revival is still alive and well (at least in the indie world). Cloud Nothings’s breakthrough hit is so far the best guitar rock album of 2012.

 

The Men – Open Your Heart

The Foo Fighters ain’t gonna last forever, and when they go The Men will take their place as the kings of hard rock…well, I mean as long as they make great albums like Open Your Heart.

 

Jack White – Blunderbuss

Mr. White’s debut solo album is already considered a classic, and I would have to agree. The album blends all of White’s favorite styles into an organic mix of what we can now call that signature Jack White sound.

 

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

The Boss literally does not have to make any more music for the rest of his life, and yet he and the E Street Band are still chugging along. Wrecking Ball is a genuinely great album that actually may catch you off guard with how folky it sounds. With songs addressing the Occupy Wall Street movement, this is an album for a specific era of American history.

 

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

How I stumbled across this album I’ll never remember, but I’m so glad I found it. Etten’s voice can scare the hell out of you and also break your heart, all at the same time. She’s even better live.

 

John Mayer – Born and Raised

I was surprised with how little buzz John Mayer’s fifth album got, but it doesn’t really matter – the music will stand the test of time. Mayer’s country-rock influences come across naturally and combines well with his pop smarts. Be prepared for this being his last album that he’ll ever sing on due to issues with his throat.

 

River City Extension – Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger

This album is still very fresh in my memory, but I can tell you now this album will be one of my favorites by this year’s end. A beautiful mix of alt-country and noise rock with lyrics as good as the harmonies. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, this is the album for you.

 

The Henry Clay People – Twenty-Five For The Rest Of Our Lives

This album clocks in just under 28 minutes, but you’ll be too busy banging your head to notice. This album is fast and furious, yet it’s melodic and sweet. Imagine if Big Star were more of a punk band.

 

Frank Ocean – Channel Ocean

The story of the year goes along with the album which I assume will top every music publication’s list as the best album of 2012. This isn’t so much a rap record as it is a soulful and beautiful portrait of an artist as a young man. There were times I thought I was listening to Stevie Wonder, and that’s a huge complement.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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Extra! Extra!: The Most Epic Monday In A Long Time

Today I woke up to a handful of great music news, all of which I’m gonna share with y’all. So let’s get right to it!

Here’s the new video for Jack White’s “Freedom at 21”, one of the better tracks off of Blunderbuss.

 

Here’s “Oh Love”, the first single off the first album in the upcoming Green Day album trilogy.

 

Here’s No Doubt’s first single “Settle Down” from Push and Shove, their first album in over a decade.

 

And finally, Mumford & Son’s new album has a release date, a track list, and an album cover! Click here to see them all.

 

Oh, and Ben Folds Five announce their reunion album The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind. To see more info, including the track list and tour dates, click here.

 

Happy Monday people, and as always thank you to Consequence of Sound for the music news.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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