In which I ponder the album form and how it applies to The Mobius Project

You know, I’ve been sitting on about 8 or 10 songs for a while now, waiting for the right time and collaborative musicians to record them with in order to create an “album” of sorts.  I don’t have the money or time really to go at it all professional style, but I’ve had success enough with GarageBand and other home recording techniques that I’d be pleased to have an album’s worth of material simply recorded out of my living room or home practice space.  I’m not really in it for the glory, just to see my own projects come to fruition.  And now it’s time to start making decisions, because the Mobius Project is now together and ready to move forward with that material, or will be very soon anyway.  But the more I ponder this and explore what other bands have done, especially indie bands, I think I just need to record what I have as singles or small collections, and only put together an album if I have an ALBUM in the capitalized sense of the word.  And I don’t necessarily mean high concept, like Tommy from The Who or The Wall from Floyd, although I’m certainly open to that.  I just mean a collection of songs that was meant to be together from the start, and in which the length and format are utilized rather than a collection of singles or the modern pop format.  One influenced the next, or the collection was written all at once and represents a time period, or there is an underlying concept to all the songs (like MCR’s Welcome to the Black Parade).  I was especially influenced to make this decision while exploring the online radio website www.thesixtyone.com (which I highly recommend to anyone interested in exploring music…PS – you can use me (cuvintu) as a reference if you decide to sign up).  I found an amazing band called the Manchester Orchestra, and as I was reading their bio I was struck with how intentional the process of coming to each of their albums was.  I was reminded of how sad I feel about the breaking up of the album form due to the digital age, although I don’t mind people enjoying single songs or bands writing a song to be self-contained.  It’s an odd and opposing set of feelings.  I really feel that the album is coming full circle again.  Back in the days of Motown and Frank Sinatra, one or two songs were beautifully produced and made the main focus of an album, while the rest were b-sides, covers, and filler.  Now we’re getting back to that in a big way, because bands and artists only expect their big single or two to sell, and then they’re on to the next album.  It’s a slap-dash way to operate in my mind.  I believe if you’re going to focus on writing songs as self-contained units and not really focus on the album format, then you should do that for each song…it’s a more artistically and intellectually honest way to operate than to throw some filler at people for the sake of having 10 songs on your album.  But for me personally I don’t want to put together a collection of individual songs that large because, for me, once you start a continuum of songs in a row you begin a statement.  I think the 3-song EP or the single is a much better format for modern pop movement or songs that are little self-contained experiences.  I don’t understand why the Modern Pop Machine doesn’t just drop the 10-song disc and release EPs or singles.  They’d be cheaper to produce and you could get profit from each disc bought, therefor generating a lot more money.  ‘Cause we all know that the majority of their decisions are designed to fleece the fans of any given artist, and little else.  But I digress.  I think The Mobius Project will probably record our current material as singles or 3-song EP’s, and write albums as ALBUMS rather than slapping our set together as a collection for album purposes.  It would be interesting to release 4 or 5 song mini-albums in which 2 or 3 together make a statement, like a book trillogy but in musical format.  Hmmm…put that on the idea list with the visual essays.

Visual Essays…and other thoughts

I’ve become a bit of a podcast junkie lately due to the fact that I love the amount of information I can have delivered to me by subscribing to podcasts that are centered on topics I’m interested in, and the fact that I’ve always been a huge fan of spoken word formats (like audiobooks…what can I say?  I like being read to).  Well, one of the podcasts that I’ve been subscribed to in recent weeks is the CD Baby DIY Musician podcast.  Now, I’m really not trying to just plug the cast, but if you’re a beginning musician, or even an established musician who’s been doing it the do-it-yourself route, this podcast is completely aimed at you and I highly recommend it.  The sheer amount of useful information presented by CD Baby in this program is kind of overwhelming.  I should know.  I found them around the time episode 52 or 53 was being published and I went back and started listening from episode 1.  I’m this close to being caught up to episode 55, the most recent one.  Listening to this program has changed my view on my entire fledgling music career.

Most importantly, what it has showed me is that I don’t need to be sitting on my hands or just stockpiling acoustic demos while I’m waiting for that all important event of my co-writer and band mate to move to Maui.  As I’ve said before, all of my current collaborators are spread across these great United States, and I’m on isolated Maui in the Hawaiian islands.  There’s very little rock scene here on Maui, so I was a little disappointed at first.  As a friend of mine who’s part of the scene said when I asked him where I could get a good rock show here, “How far can you swim?”  I’m sort of charged up about it for now though, because it means there may be an untapped market.  We could be pioneers.  Another friend I have who gigs around the island regularly told me that there are venues who may be flexible enough to get gigs and build a following from, so I feel it can be done.  But I’ve been waiting for my band mate to get work and move out here so that we could attack it together.  We’ve been writing songs over distance for the time being, and as anyone knows who’s every tried to write collaborative songs over distance…it’s slow arduous work that doesn’t take the greatest advantage of everyone’s talents.   So not much has happened in recent months since I arrived here.

But, enter CD Baby’s podcast.  I’ve been inspired by many of their suggestions to go to shows with no ulterior motive just to get plugged in to the happenings and the community.  I’ve also been persisting in working on new material so that when said drummer arrives we can work on polishing and getting our name out rather than just beginning the writing process.  Simple as they sound, these were major revelations for me in terms of feeling like I’m moving forward with my music.

The other thing I’ve realized is that we don’t have to be lacking in creative motion just because of the distance.  We don’t have to wait for our chance to put ourselves out there just because we’re in different zip codes.  We both bring very different artistic skills to the table.  I am a visual artist, writer, and musician, my band mate is a visual artist, writer, screenwriter, film maker, and musician.  These creative talents (and others that we have) are collecting dust as we wait for our chance to collaborate…but that’s stupid.  There is an artist/musician who calls herself I am Jen who creates her own music at home, creates her own music videos as carriers of her sound, and then designs her own cd cases by hand before she distributes them for orders.  This is amazing to me!  She does all of this by internet from her house…no touring, no shows, just hard work at home.  The Mobius Project could certainly be in full collaborative mode despite our distance if we were truly persistent enough.

So at last I come to the Visual Essays.  We’ve waded through a lot of other thoughts to get here, but we’re here.  We are beginning a project together, with an eye toward possibly being together in Maui by this summer, but if not we shall release it/them anyway.  The idea is something akin to a music video, but a hybrid between that and a short (short-short) film.  The idea is to create a visual essay that is put to music, but the music comes from the deconstruction of the traditional “song” out of it’s verse-chorus-verse-chorus format, possibly dropping and/or changing lyrics and vocal voicings, and having it twist and flow with the video, which was originally inspired by the music.  A symbyotic, back-and-forth relationship in the creation process that will hopefully end in a very cohesive project.  What are the essays going to be on?  That depends on a couple of things including what the original song was about, what we’re thinking at the time, how long it takes one to develop, etc…  It’s still very early in the process, but we’re pretty excited about it.

My new favorite chemical…The Black Parade

The age of the MP3 has been heralded as the downfall of the album as an art form. Used prominently by bands like Pink Floyd, The Who, and many others, the album in it’s entirety as a complete statement has suffered a fracturing as music lovers have been able to buy singles more easily online in recent times. It has even changed the way that record companies do business now as some bands are signed for just one or two songs at first, with more to come if those few singles sell well. But, as with the doom-sayers that are forced out of the woodwork with every new advance in everything, those who bemoan this need to be taken with a grain of salt…the death of the album may have been greatly exaggerated.

I suspect that the more successful bands who are so artistically inclined have been freed up to consider the album format more fully as that is no longer the norm. And, since it is no longer standard practice, since we have almost in fact returned to the days of Sinatra and Motown where albums were one or two singles carefully crafted and then filled out with covers or songs slapped together to fill space, when a band utilizes that format well it stands out all the more.

I recently (I apologize for being behind, but it was given to me) listened to My Chemical Romance’s October 2006 release The Black Parade, and I believe that this album stands alone in recent music as a phenomenal work. In my humble opinion, this album is artistically and musically a work of inspired genius from the opening of the first track to the end of the hidden track.

A large part of the drawing power the album holds can be attributed to the fact that the band’s frontman, Gerrard Way, is developing into one of the best impassioned singers of the current commercial musical scene. What Issac Brock does for Modest Mouse and Axel Rose did for Guns and Roses, Way does for MCR and his talents are on full display on The Black Parade. Way’s best track is quite possibly “Mama”, the album’s eclectic and large scale ninth track, but he also lets loose in “House of Wolves” and his vocal and emotional range are prevalent throughout the album.

Instrumentally, MCR take risks throughout that pay dividends in both technical aspects and song structure. Bob Bryar’s drums throughout are a high point of the album. Anyone who pays attention to the back beat in the music will want to give this album a listen. Bryar ventures away from the traditional rock beats in a lot of places on the album to make the drums stand up as a fronting instrument, while at the same time working well with Mikey Way’s bass lines to hold the songs together. Although, I must say, I found it difficult to point out a place in the album where the bass really stood out (or was even specifically audible). The guitars are well done as Ray Toro and Frank Iero have not only strayed from traditional riff-rock, but have dared to channel some of their guitar heroes to bring the songs to a level above a lot of current radio rock singles. In several sections the distorted guitar has the well-produced sheen of modern rock and stadiums rather than the dirtier sound associated with the nostalgic concept of “rock and roll” (this is especially noticeable in the fifth track “Welcome to the Black Parade”), but this does not detract from the songs as the band seemed to be channeling acts like Queen, Pink Floyd, and other stadium sized acts.

Coming from a band that has been disputably labeled “emo” (a dubious label to apply to any band these days given the connotations it has developed) this album shows a giant leap forward from their last album, which was pretty damn good in it’s own right, and shows us that the power of the album is still out there to be seized by those who have the will. It also makes My Chemical Romance a band worth following to see just what they’ll do next.

Best Track(s): Mama, Teenagers, Famous Last Words

My Chemical Romance official website

My Chemical Romance on Wikipedia

A creativity memoir more than just it’s title

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson

I recently finished, for the second time, Stephen King’s memoir of the craft of writing, titled On Writing. I was struck with very similar feelings to those felt after my first reading of the book (which is significant in and of itself). While reading any book on the specifics of writing sounds like a dry prospect (Elements of Style anyone?) this book reads more like a manual on the creative process. As someone who went to art school, I spent years being hammered with ways to facilitate the creative process. Stephen King does a better job in the pages of this book of addressing that process than the majority of my four college years. While he speaks through the guise of the writing process his musing on his own thoughts and methods of working make a great reference source for anyone attempting to access that side of themselves. He also uses this book to tell us more about himself and his life leading up to his success as a writer. Personally I had a greater appreciation for his material after reading this book, and I refer back to it in my own creative attempts as well.

Some of the specifics of the craft and process that he addresses are work space, accessing your own creativity and style, suggestions on mechanics, suggestions on seeking publication and representation, as well as personal tales of his life as an author.

On Writing cover

I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is an author (professional or personal), artist (professional or personal), musician (professional or personal), or even just a fan of King’s work. It is also worth the extra search and time to seek out the audio version, as King reads the book himself and his pursuasive ideas come through all the clearer from the author’s own mouth.

Did Robert Smithson’s vision include an oil rig?

The New York Times reported today that the very same lake that contains Robert Smithson‘s 1970 work of land art, entitled Spiral Jetty, is at the center of a debate right now because of plans to allow for the drilling of oil a visible five miles from the site of the art piece.  This issue ranges across art, economics, environmentalism, and politics.  Personally, while I would hate to see an oil rig set up near this artwork, I think the sadder issue here is one that is akin to the debate over opening up the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve for oil drilling…we are Big Oil’s bitches…all of us.  Maybe we just tend toward dependency as a race, maybe there really isn’t any choice at the moment, maybe I’m missing something, but our dependency on this one non-renewable resource as a necessity of life is ridiculous.  We fill our SUV’s with it, we rely on it to connect us with time and space, we resist admitting the changing climate happening around us for it, we constantly risk doing the un-doable to suckle at the tit of this one naturally occurring liquid.  For pete’s sake, you’d think our bodies needed it to function the same way they need water.  Drilling in ANWAR, damaging the environment near Spiral Jetty…these are un-fixable crimes.  Do you know how long it takes the frozen environment in Alaska to recover from damage?  Try taking a big gouge out of a piece of ice, putting it in your freezer, and coming back to it later.  Did the gouge heal?  Obviously not.  The ground is the same way in the northern parts of Alaska.  There are few natural processes healing the land up there when it is damaged.  To open the Great Salt Lake up for drilling will damage the landscape there in such a way that will take generations to heal, thereby changing the aesthetic of Spiral Jetty.  Should we care about the “aesthetic experience” of some piece of artwork that just happens to be out in nature?  Some people might not care, it’s true. There are those that believe that the economy and business should be our primary concerns, and that our natural resources are here for exploitation.  I only wish I could find someway to understand that shortsighted point of view.  I see no justification for believing that it’s okay to slash and burn our planet now for financial profit with no consideration for future generations.

And then there’s the art piece of it.  Didn’t Smithson look for places where industry and natural environment overlapped for his works anyway?  Even if he did, you have to consider that he still was creating an experience in a particular land setting.  To change the setting after the artist has left moves the art away from the artist’s intentions.  Are we actually destroying Spiral Jetty to drill for oil in the existing environment around it?  Look, honestly, if you don’t understand art from a philosophical, spiritual, or simply personal standpoint, you won’t understand what you’re doing to the piece by setting up an industrial oil rig nearby.  All too often in this world we make compromises in these small, peaceful, and soul-cleansing corners of life that accompany the arts.  We do this in the name of pragmatics and business.  Somewhere, sometime, someone has to hold the line and say, “Not this one.  You can’t have this one.”

 currently reading:

Who Let the Dogs In? by Molly Ivins

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

currently listening to:

Wincing the Night Away by The Shins

Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…But Three Do by Reliant K

The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot