Archive for the ‘Tunes’ Category

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros brought their ensemble folk rock outfit to the Congress Theater Saturday night, headlining the now three-year-old Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival. Although the festival usually tends to host headliners who represent a more straightforward style of Bluegrass or Blues, The Zeros’ Americana intentions were certainly appropriate. Their sound, which is characterized by an epic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality, is filled out by a brigade of keyboards, accordions, guitars (acoustic and electric), two drummers, and two singers. This barrage of sound may seem audacious—or even a bit unnecessary—but the manner in which the instruments are played (accordingly, reserved, tastefully) ensures that The Zeros are all capable and aware of their roles, and that their chemistry is rarely sacrificed for any spotlight show-stealing.

After releasing their debut album Up From Below in July of 2009, The Zeros have toured relentlessly, gaining popularity and honing their skills. They’ve hit festivals, late night TV shows, and several different countries playing the same 13 songs from this debut. As a result, they know the tunes inside and out, and are probably a little bored of them. However, Saturday night’s show bared no sign of boredom, but rather an energetic and amiable band seemingly humble and pleased that these few thousand people were there to view a show that the majority of them have probably seen before.

The Zeros have played Chicago three times in the last year (twice at Lincoln Hall, once for Lollapalooza), each time to a sold out—or in the latter’s case, dense—crowd. Perhaps acknowledging this, perhaps just evolving, The Zeros’ routine set list seemed inspired by a jammier and more unrestricted aesthetic. Their carefree dynamic was accentuated keenly by a handful of newly appointed interludes. These instrumental breaks, which were rife with improvisation and conversational chatter by The Zero’s lead man Alex Ebert (or Mr. Sharpe, although he won’t admit it), were refreshing and lent a modicum of on-stage/off-stage acknowledgement that was lacking in their earlier Chicago shows.

Ebert’s surprisingly-sober stage demeanor was something of a spectacle by itself. His long brown hair, unkempt beard, and long white tunic emphasized his band’s dynamic (you know, the carefree one). And, his shamelessly un-philosophical discourse regarding love and friendship conjured the notion that his Christ-like appearance isn’t much of a coincidence. Sharpe’s (and Ebert’s) purpose is to guide his listeners, to teach them about how to overcome a life filled with regret and despair—a life to which Ebert is no stranger. Songs like “Home” and “Janglin’” oozed with the positivity required to send these types of messages. Their anthemic and memorable melodies encouraged heavy crowd participation and roaring celebration. The chorus of “Home” has an undeniable catchiness that has allowed the song to reach an incredible amount of fame in the last year, and on Saturday, the theatre-wide sing-along portion signified that type of concert-going unity that so many shows only scratch the surface of.


“Black Water” and “Kisses over Babylon,” however, struggled to send that same message. The former’s messy rhythmic patterns and reverb-drowned vocals don’t translate well to the stage. But, guessing by the amount of times The Zeros have performed “Black Water” in the last year, its possible that they have realized its on-stage ineptitude and let it slide anyway. “Kisses over Babylon”’s epic cattle driving beat seemed a bit worn out from the start. And the song’s all-Spanish dialogue seemed more like a vocal exercise than an expression of raw, carefree emotion.

Because of a set length that reached almost 100 minutes, The Zeros were also able to play three new songs. These unnamed tunes fell very much in the cheerfully grand style of Up From Below’s highlights and even featured a song sung entirely by Ebert’s usual back up singer (and former squeeze), Jade Castrinos. Her buoyant smile and star gazing eyes emulated an optimism that summed up perfectly her and her bandmates’ persona. The Zeros’ jovial chemistry in these songs—and for most of their set—ensured the show’s quality, but also helped cap off a night that proved the benefits of a year’s worth of touring.


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Although I don’t listen to it much, I’ve always had an affinity for ambient music. The music’s tranquility and patience is accessible to a lot of different moods, as well as activities. I can write, work, do yoga, or fall asleep to ambient music, without the guilt of having used it as background music. In 1978, ambient pioneer Brian Eno released an album titled Music For Airports. Eno believed that airports are physically  (and conceptually) beautiful things and he wanted to create an album that would soundtrack the experience much better than the “awful” pop music he was used to hearing. Upon releasing this album, Eno established ambient as a legitimate genre, and also made the point that background music doesn’t have to be throwaway muzac.

Many artists have followed in Eno’s footstep’s in the last 30 years or so; some wholeheartedly, and others who have incorporated elements of the ambient style. One artist though, who doesn’t fall into any of those categories, has recently been remixed to sound like seasoned ambient veteran. A few weeks ago, Pop music savior Justin Beiber’s latest single “U Smile”  was remixed by this dude named Nick Pittsinger.

The track was slowed down by 800 percent, and now lasts about 35 minutes. Waves of synthy strings and relentlessly slow chord changes create an ambient, aquatic feeling somewhat akin to the drama and patience of early Sigur Ros. Beiber’s high pitched screech is still audible, but now, at this speed, his long phrases swim around in this ambient ocean like a whale’s mating call. The song (piece?) never really builds, and takes up a lot of listening time, but it works as a soother, and would definitely sound good in an airport. Unfortunately the original probably takes those honors. Listen to Eno.

“U Smile” Remix

Music for Airports – Brian Eno

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Every week or so, I become obsessed with a  song. This reoccurring cycle is usually replenished over the week’s end when I discover or am turned onto something new. This is not to say that my affection for this song only lasts a week, but rather the song just moves from an obsession to a point interest of which I’m completely familiar. I usually watch different videos of these songs on youtube.com (which is a great site for watching videos).

This week I’ve been SESSIED over Creedence Clearwater Revival’s rendition of the Motown classic “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” This swampy and ominous track from CCR’s fifth album Cosmo’s Factory is as haunting as the Marvin Gaye version, only this time with a dynamic 5-minute guitar coda. The sweaty-at-dusk groove of this tune makes me think of a bayou sunset in mid July and John Fogerty’s vocal (and guitar) contributions only add to the song’s dark nature. I’m gonna go listen to it again.

Short Radio Version

Dope Studio Long Take

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