2012 Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck

People have asked me over the years, "why does a nice atheist Jewish boy like you love Christmas music so much?"  To that I have several answers, but here's 3:
1)  About 60% of all holiday music [Editor's note: percentage not determined via any remotely scientific method] is different versions of the same song.  I love cover songs for the way that a good cover can bring out what is unique about a band's sound.  So it's not a big leap that I would really love hearing a bunch of different bands/composers/etc. all try their hands at the same handful of songs.
2)  If you're going to imply that a Jew can't love Christmas music, you should probably tell that to the Jews who wrote many of the Christmas songs that are so famous today.
3)  Most of these songs are not about Christmas.  Seriously, why do the goyim get a monopoly on riding in a one-horse sleigh?  Or letting it snow?  Or walking through a winter wonderland?  Or date-raping your girlfriend when it's cold outside?
So I guess my point is, music is music, and good music is where you find it.  And this music is good.
What are you listening to his holiday season?  Tell me in the comments, and have a happy pagan December holiday!


Friday Playlist, Monday Edition: Menomena Is Great

I saw Portland OR's Menomena in concert last week, and they were incredible.  It was my 4th time seeing them live (in order, at the Rock and Roll Hotel in DC, the Black Cat in DC, Webster Hall in NYC, and last week at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC), and they never fail to put on a great show.  The encore could have been a bit stronger last week, but that's nitpicking.  They even pulled up a fan from the crowd who was dancing like a maniac to every song (it was clear this guy knew every drum hit, every change, every note) and let him dance up on stage with them during a song.  Pretty cool.

Despite losing a member shortly after the release of their last album (Brent Knopf left to focus full-time on the awesome Ramona Falls), Menomena went on to write and record "Moms" (which you can stream here), their first as a duo instead of a trio.  The album is dark and personal and really good and you should buy it.

Menomena at the Bowery Ballroom 10/11/12
I've been meaning to put together a Menomena playlist for a while now, and last week's concert finally gave me the nudge I needed.  Enjoy!


Just the FLACs, Please.

2 bands I like are releasing new albums shortly:  Brooklyn's Yeasayer and Portland's Menomena.  This is awesome.  In fact, it's so awesome that I went off to go and pre-order both albums.  "It's 2012," I thought to myself, "surely each band will offer me a lossless audio download option for their new albums.  Won't that be nice?"

And then cold, hard reality set in.  Menomena offers a cool t-shirt, a vinyl pressing, and a CD.  That's it.  Yeasayer offers a big deluxe bundle, a CD + a couple MP3s, an LP + a couple MP3s, and an even bigger deluxe bundle.  Neither of them offers a download-only option.  Neither of them is selling through Bandcamp or a similar service.  Neither of them, in short, is catering to me or others like me who truly want to support bands they love, but are not interested in paying an extra $3.60 (for example) for shipping and handling.

And so, bands, I implore you: please give me a download-only, lossless-audio option for your albums!  I will download them.  I will not share them illegally.  I will even promote them on my blog to all 5 of my readers.  Pretty please?  

My plaintive cry to this effect was retweeted by Menomena themselves, and subsequently by many others - telling me I'm not the only one who feels this way.  So maybe, one day soon, things will change. In the meantime, you can check out an awesome track from the new Menomena album here, and you can stream the entirety of the new Yeasayer album here, thanks to the good folks at NPR Music.


Monday Playlist: Another Rainy Day

Raindrops on Vine Maple by flickr user Chris R Roberts
It's a beautiful rainy summer day here as I type this, so I figured it was a perfect time to add a new entry to my series of rainy day playlists.

I don't usually go for so many songs about rain, as opposed to songs that just feel right on a rainy day, but that's just how my brain was working today.

Rainy days are my absolute favorite kind of days (well, I guess I'd put them behind snowy days, but those are so rare I can't count on them), and I've been lucky to have a lot of them so far this summer.  They are also, of course, perfect scotch weather.


A couple notes on these, no need to detail every song:
  • I debated putting on Tom Waits's "Rain Dogs" instead, but I think this song fits better with a rainy day.
  • "Raining in Brooklyn" is by me - I wrote it last year as part of FAWM.  It was the last song I wrote, and I did it on my birthday as a gift to myself.  I love it, but it's not 100% done...so think of it more as a sketch than a full song.
  • I don't know if this is my favorite version of Phish's "Divided Sky," but it is a nicely mastered version because it's from an official release.  My favorite might be the first one I heard in person, at Merriweather Post Pavilion (truly a terrible place) at my first Phish show ever (I think) in 1999.


Friday Playlist: Baby's First Playlist

My ridiculously cute daughter
My wife and I recently had a baby girl (Alison, pictured above sporting a stylish baby towel).  Parenting, of course, has its challenges, but it also has its joys - and a big one for me these days has been sharing music with my daughter.  Music is a primary way that I communicate with the world (hence this blog), and my communications with her have been no exception.  When I'm not singing her improvised lyrics to lullabies (or making up new songs entirely), I've been playing her different songs from my library and noting her reaction to various things.  For example, Metallica seemed to make her gassy.  She liked Aimee Mann, but only the early stuff.  And she absolutely loves Spiritualized.

So I've compiled her very first playlist, comprising some of her favorites for chillout time, dance time, and sleepytime.  I hope you enjoy it as much as she does.

PS A friend of mine gave me the gift of 3 albums from Rockabye Baby, namely lullaby versions of songs by Queen, Radiohead, and Led Zeppelin.  Those are all awesome, and have the added bonus of lulling me to sleep, but I prefer to save those as secret weapons when I'm trying to conk her out, as opposed to just putting on music for her to chill to or dance with me to, etc.

  1. Spiritualized - Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (Original Version)
    I first played this for Alison when she was only a few days old.  She had just finished eating and was in what baby experts call the "quiet alert state."  So I figured it would be a perfect time to play her some tunes.  I asked my wife what she thought a baby would like, and she said "Spiritualized?"  I said yes.  This is the original version of this song which includes lyrics from Elvis's "Can't Help Falling In Love" (the Presley estate made the band remove that portion of the song from this album's original release).  The lyrics to the whole thing are pretty perfect to sing to a new baby.  This is probably Alison's favorite song thus far (and one of my favorites, too).
  2. Thievery Corporation - From Creation
    She wasn't too taken with other Thievery Corporation songs, but she really seemed to click with this one.  By "click," I mean she got quiet and stopped fussing and seemed to chill out a bit.  I assume she likes these guys because, like her parents, they're from DC.
  3. K'naan - Fatima
    This song is actually kind of a downer, lyrically (it's about a young girl who was murdered, I think), but Alison really seemed to enjoy the rhythm, particularly in the chorus.  [Editor's note: I'm saying things like "seemed to," "appeared to," etc. a lot because when I asked her what she thought of all these songs, she gave me no answer, so I'm having to go on educated guesses here.]
  4. Cat Power - Living Proof
    This is my favorite Cat Power song.  Alison definitely seemed to enjoy it, but I don't know if it was genuine or if she was just trying to please me because she knows it's my favorite.  Either way, she enjoyed being gently swayed in my arms to this song.  Who wouldn't?  Babies are supposed to like simple, repetitive melodies, and this one definitely fits the bill.
  5. Yellow Ostrich - Mary
    She seemed pretty relaxed during this song, which seems to be about the singer's friend who's on drugs.  Alison overlooked the content and just focused on the soothing background, which definitely chilled her out.
  6. The Snake The Cross The Crown - Cakewalk
    Alison definitely identified with this song's ethos of "I just want to do the things that I feel like doing, and I want to be rewarded for same."  Basically a baby's mantra.
  7. The Beatles - Flying
    I've been told that when I was a wee tot, almost nothing would soothe my jangled nerves as much as when my parents would put the big headphones on me and throw on either a Beatles record or something classical.  Alison has a lot more Beatles to go (and classical, for that matter) but she seemed to take to this track - not a bad start.
  8. Phish - Horn
    I first played her "Bouncing Around The Room" which I thought she'd love, but I guess it was a little too simplistic, even for her. But she loved "Horn," especially the intro/chorus. She says she's psyched to hear Trey's solos on some live versions when she's a little older.
  9. Self - Uno Song
    I don't know a lot of Self songs after Subliminal Plastic Motives, but this one came up on shuffle the other week and she really dug dancing along to it.  And by "dancing" I mean "me waving her around in my arms."  Tapping out the beat on her back also seemed to help her burp, so hey - bonus.
  10. Her Space Holiday - Sleepy California
    Despite this song being about the slow death of the singer's estrangement from his mother and the painful death of his grandmother, Alison really seemed to enjoy it.  She can be kind of dark that way.  Or she was sleepy, it's hard to tell sometimes.
  11. The Postal Service - The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
    Another song that appeals to Alison because of her DC heritage.  Also because it's slow and soft and beautiful and has a cool beat.  And she likes when I sing along to it.
  12. Jane's Addiction - Stop!
    The first time I played this for her, I bounced her up and down vigorously along with the music - taking her up really high on the downbeats, particularly during the intro and chorus.  My wife thought I was going to scramble Alison's brains, but Alison seemed genuinely happy.  And it's hard to tell if a baby's brains are scrambled anyway, they don't do all that much higher-level thinking at this phase.
  13. U2 - Trip Through Your Wires
    U2 was another Amanda suggestion, and so far Alison has enjoyed most of what she heard.  This song seemed to be her favorite, meaning she fell asleep during it.  Right now her TTS (time to sleep) is a pretty indicator of how pleased she is with life overall.  Alison also seems to love "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" but I'm not a huge fan of that song, so it didn't make the list.
  14. Grateful Dead - Box of Rain
    I think Amanda suggested this album, too, and Alison seemed to love every track, so I picked this one because it's awesome. And she just fell asleep to it while I was writing this, so that's one in the "plus" column.
  15. Radiohead - 4 Minute Warning
    I mentioned above the lullaby version of Radiohead CD a friend gave us - it got me thinking about Radiohead songs in general, and I had an inkling that this song might be lullaby-esque enough in its current state to work on a baby.  And I was right.  I ended up playing this about 10 times in a row one night as she gently drifted off to sleep in my arms.  [Editor's note: the fact that she woke up crying 10 minutes later has nothing to do with this song, that's apparently just how babies are sometimes.]
What do you think?  For those of you without kids, what would you put on a baby playlist?  If you have kids, what have you put on a baby playlist?  What worked?  What didn't?  Tell me in the comments.


Friday Playlist: Monday Edition - Spring!

Ah, Spring.  82-degree highs, pollen counts so high your head feels like it's going to burst open, and a gnawing sense of dread at what meteorological horrors are no doubt slouching towards us right now, waiting until the first day of Summer to unfurl their hot, leathery wings and bathe us all in a fiery hell of humidity.  April really is the cruelest month, except for all of Summer and probably most of October until the next freak Halloween-eve snowstorm.

Sounds like a great day to escape this man-made climate-based disaster by enjoying my new Friday Monday Playlist. Enjoy!

  1. Imperial Teen - The Hibernates
    The new Imperial Teen album "Feel The Sound" is an ear candy-laden pop excursion, full of tight songwriting and undeniable beats.  Go ahead, deny them.  I dare you.  See?  Best thing Roddy Bottum's been involved with since "Angel Dust."
  2. Damien Jurado - Life Away From The Garden
    Sad troubadour and only-guitarist-I've-ever-seen-to-perform-one-of-his-guitar-solos-a-cappella-while-clapping Damien Jurado has released a beautiful, lush, trippy album that manages to both depart from and yet wonderfully deepen his signature sound.  So check it out.
  3. M83 - Midnight City
    OK, maybe last year's "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" didn't need to be 2 full discs, but Pitchfork gave it a 9.1, so what do I know?  It's got pretty much everything you'd want in an M83 album: retro synths, catchy hooks, and a weird little girl narrating some story about frogs or something.
  4. Miike Snow - Vase
    Most people who know me know I've been going on and on about Miike Snow to anyone who'll listen for years now.  And finally the rest of the world has wised up.  Their new album "Happy To You" isn't a radical departure from their previous album, and that's just fine.  More ear candy, please. Oh, and be sure to check out their set from Coachella this past weekend, it's the bomb.
  5. The Water - DeSelby
    My friend Mat produced this Baltimore-based instrumental indie band at his very own Mobtown Studios, because he's awesome.  This track from 2012's "Scandals and Animals" is a slow builder, but give it time and you will definitely be rewarded.
  6. Cloud Nothings - Fall In
    Cloud Nothings' latest album "Attack on Memory" veers between intense pop and angry post-punk, but it's never stale or boring.  And the dude knows how to yell but make it sound cool, so there's that.
  7. Free Energy - Bang Pop
    I heard about these guys because they were on the lineup at this year's SXSW, and if you like inoffensive pop/rock albums produced by former LCD Soundsystem frontmen, you'll love "Stuck on Nothing."
  8. Alice Russell - Crazy
    Another artist I learned about thanks to SXSW, Alice Russell to me is everything that Adele seems to be to everyone else, except not overblown and overproduced and full of crap.  Her cover of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy just blows me away.  She also recently put out an album with Quantic which is pretty great.
  9. Dr. Dog - Over Here, Over There
    I've been a Dr. Dog fan for years, so I was really excited to get to see them play at Stubbs this year at SXSW.  The show was great, and their new material sounded really good.  Their new album could have really benefited from an editor, but that's nitpicking at a band who really seems to be having a good time making good music.
  10. Miike Snow - Bavarian #1 (Say You Will)
    Yes, I am addicted to Miike Snow.  Deal with it.
What did you think?  What are you listening to during these beautiful days of Spring?  Tell me in the comments.


Back To My (Heavy Metal) Roots

FAWM is in full effect (that's February Album Writing Month, for the uninitiated), and I have been hard at work....on a million other things going on in my life this month.  As such, my musical output has been at a vastly reduced level from where I would like it to be.

However, my vast network of musical collaborators have had much more focused months, and I've been lucky enough to receive several invitations to write lyrics & melodies and sing vocal tracks on other people's songs.  Thank you, collaborators!

Even more fortunately, the majority of these songs have been in the greatest musical genre known to man:  Heavy Metal.  I was a huge metalhead starting in around 8th grade and continuing pretty much through the end of high school, with occasional bouts in my adult life (you can't ever really shake the metal bug once it bites you with its gleaming steel mandibles, etc.).  I count myself as a very lucky man to have such talented friends and collaborators that I'm able to make the dreams of my 15-year-old self come true, namely, by singing lead vocals on 2 bitching metal tracks.

Presented here for your enjoyment:

Formal Commitment To Satan
Music, Production, Concept: John "Das Binky" Argentiero
Lyrics, Vocals:  Jordan Hirsch
Lyrics posted at FAWM.org

To quote John:  "This is a song about selling your soul to the devil, but it really gets into the details."

Your Disease
Music, Production, Growling: Peter "Sapient" Watkinson
Lyrics, Vocals:  Jordan Hirsch
Lyrics posted at FAWM.org

This is a song that gets written when the songwriter and everyone he knows has been battling a nasty cold for weeks.

Truly, I am blessed by Satan (who else?) to have musical collaborators who can shred so hard.
Rock on.


An Album Worth Buying

Do people still pay money for music?  I know the prevailing opinion these days is that they don't, but I'd like to make a case for bucking that trend.  And that case is:  my amazingly talented friend John has made an album.  And you should buy it, not only to support a great independent artist, but also because I sing 3 tracks on it!

John and I have been musical collaborators for almost 20 years now, and I couldn't be prouder to get to sing 3 of his wonderful songs.  This album is truly a labor of love, and I'm proud to be a part of it.  You can hear my tracks below (I also sing backup vocals on some other songs on the album, and I play keys on "My Country," to which I also contributed some lyrics).  If you like what you hear, please support John and go buy the album.  You'll be glad you did.


MTV, Here I Come

I've posted here before about my good friend and musical collaborator John "Das Binky" Argentiero.  Well, John's releasing his first album later this month, and he was kind enough to invite me to sing lead vocals on three of the tracks (and backup on a couple others).  The first "single" he's "releasing" (not entirely sure those terms still apply in this modern age, but still) is called "My Country Tis Of Me", and I think it's a pretty good one.  John wrote it for FAWM 2010 and I contributed a small portion of the lyrics.  I also play keyboard on this one and sing all the vocals.  John's on guitar, bass, drum machine, and nearly everything else (the talented Nancy Rost is on accordion), plus he recorded the whole thing at home.  I think that's pretty impressive.

Anyway, he asked me to participate in the video for this new hit single, and you can see the results below.  It's an homage to the Great American Couch Potato (including sweatpants!).  And yes, that is my real universal remote making a cameo in the video.  Enjoy, and be sure to check out the Das Binky site and buy the album when it drops on January 26!  (You can sign up on the web site to get an email reminder.  Do it, musicians love email signups.)