Posts Tagged ‘Singer/Songwriter’

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PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love

Monday, November 19, 2012
To Bring You My Love (1995)

To Bring You My Love (1995)

Until a couple months ago, had never listened to PJ Harvey and honestly had no plans to. I gave Let England Shake a listen when it first came out because of the hype, and wasn’t ready for something so experimental.

Since that time two months ago, PJ has really started to grow on me – especially with her 1995 album, To Bring You My Love.

I was completely blown away the first time I listened. For those who are tired of frilly, vapid, girlish pop music that now permeates the music scene, PJ Harvey is the adequate cure. She goes to dark gritty places in her lyrics, and the voice and timbre of the instrumentation perfectly compliments themes of God and Hell and sex and the perverse.

It is clear that I and PJ (may I call her that?) have been strangers for way too long. She easily one of the most talented and versatile songwriters of recent times, and her vocal range, especially the lows, are very impressive. Her singing style is frantic and suffocating, and it works so well on this album and sets her apart from others.

It is easy to see why she is beloved by so many: she has followed her own path and made the music that she wanted to make, convention be damned. So far, of the four albums I’ve listened to this one is my favorite. This is one of those albums that goes deep enough to warrant many listens.

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Sufjan Stevens – Illinois

Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Illinois (2005)

Illinois (2005)

I didn’t give Illinois or Sufjan much of a chance. It had been resting in my iTunes over a year before I got down to listening to it. It took overhearing my friend play it to recognize how amazing it was. This is how I always tend to me with music that’s new to me, for some reason.

Sufjan Stevens is one of the most talented songwriters in music history, ever. His songs are incredibly intricate and complex, yet not overbearingly so – never does he sacrifice a memorable yet unconventional melody for the sake of experimentation. He is a jewel of American music, almost the quintessential American songwriter of our generation. He has done something completely original, something no one else would have thought of. Since then, the master has spawned plenty of imitators.

Sufjan uses unconventional time signatures, chord changes, and melodies, yet as mentioned before, it hardly loses any accessibility. It’s hard to imagine anyone not finding something to like about Sufjan.

Drawing on folk, indie, and perhaps even post-rock and other genres, Sufjan Stevens and Illinoise is some of the most interesting music of the 2000s you’ll hear. I’m tempted to say Sufjan Stevens is un-classifiable. It’s hard to believe that one person could have this much creativity.

Highlights for me are “Jacksonville,” “Chicago,” “Casimir Pulaski Day,” “John Wayne Gacy, Jr,” and “The Predatory Wasp.” I’m leaving out a lot of good songs just so you know.

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Jeff Buckley – Grace

Sunday, February 22, 2009
Grace (1994)

Grace (1994)

Right now I need a break. I’ve been writing a paper that’s due tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m., and I’ve only seriously begun to research it a couple hours ago. I almost have enough quotes and info to begin the paper (about tactics during the First Crusade, in case you’re interested, though you’re probably not).

Right now, I’m listening to Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible for the first time and I’m really digging it. Review material sometime in the next two weeks.

Modest Mouse show coming ever closer – hopefully I’m not let down and they remember to play some of the oldies!

Anyway, I would like to take a look at Grace by Jeff Buckley. If you’re reading this review, then chances are you already know and love Jeff Buckley. His only album, Grace, is hailed by many to be a nineties classic. For good reason – it is a nineties classic, and no knowledge of nineties music is complete without at least listening to Grace at least once, recognizing it’s importance.

Though Grace is Buckley’s only album, he probably influenced more artists than anyone else in the nineties. Matt Bellamy of Muse cites his falsetto to be inspired by Buckley. Thom Yorke of Radiohead made the recording for “Fake Plastic Trees,” possibly Radiohead’s saddest song, after hearing Jeff Buckley live. Chris Cornell was close friends with Buckley, and they gave inpsiration to each other. Many other artists cite Grace as a top 5 desert island album.

Then there are some who say it’s highly overrated – that Jeff Buckley had little songwriting ability and had to cover others’ songs, adding his particular flavor with his legendary voice. Bullocks to that. Buckley’s Grace is chocked full of his great original stuff – “Grace,” “Last Goodbye,” “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over, “Eternal Life,” and “Dream Brother.” Each of these songs stands on its own as Buckely’s genius songcraft.

Probably what Grace is most famous for is Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” This is just one of those songs (when sung by Buckley) where you just have to stop and listen, because you are completely powerless not to. I reamember buying Grace and skipping to this track immediately. After one listen, it was over – I put it on repeat and listened to it over and over for a good two hours.

By the time “Hallelujah” had about 30 plays on my iTunes, I decided to expand to the rest of the album, and each of the songs slowly built their play counts to rival “Hallelujah.”

As you can see, Grace shouldn’t just be listened to because it’s important. It is that, but it’s so much more. It’s amazing music, period. It’s a straight-up rock album for the most part, but the songs are highly complicated, using unconvential chords for pop music while retaining a powerful sense of melody. The lyrics are usually deep and sensitive, and though I’m not a girl, the lyrics to “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” are almost enough to make me swoon.

Songwriting aside, the main trademark of this album is Buckley’s angelic voice (and I don’t say angelic lightly).  It is literally the most beautiful and perfect voice to grace the world of music. It was a shame he died so young.

Grace should be in anyone’s collection. I cannot see anyone not liking this album (even though they’re likely out there).

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Jackson Browne – The Pretender

Monday, January 19, 2009
The Pretender (1976)

The Pretender (1976)

Any man can live a life. But not every man can live.

Am I really living? Am I following my dreams, am I working towards the goals I’ve set for myself? Will I make it? Can I make it? What if I wake up one day when I’m forty and realize this is not what I wanted, that this wasn’t right, that I squandered the one life I had, the one life that is over before I even blink?

All of these questions come flooding into my mind every time I listen to The Pretender

This is yet another album it took me a while to come around to. I was stuck to listening to track eight, “The Pretender,” over and over, so much so that I didn’t fully listen to the whole album until months after I bought it.  

Wow, what a song! I can’t describe how close “The Pretender” is to me. When I first got this album when I was eighteen, I disdained the pretender, that man who gives up on his dreams to live an ordinary life. 

But now I know that chances are that man will be me. I’m still young, but I have to make the most of every day, everyday, to avoid the fate of 99 percent of the world’s population.

Everyone believes in something when they’re young. Their pockets are full of dreams, dreams that will take them all around the world. But then they grow older – not just in years, but in tears. Someone dies. Someone hurts them. They hurt someone else. Pain happens. They come to realize that dreams are just that – dreams. They begin to realize that what they need is money in their pockets, not dreams.  

Then, people really begin to live life: they fall in love, get married,  earn a living, live in suburbia, buy an S.U.V., have spoiled kids, watch movies where fictional characters accomplish their dreams (almost magically) and live happily ever after.

Sometimes, dreams are just too much trouble. People don’t want pain, don’t want to bleed, don’t want to be laughed at and mocked.

The Pretender gets me asking such questions about life. Jackson Browne puts the feelings and thoughts all of us have into words, and is a masterful poet for that reason. 

Partly through The Pretender, I now know that whatever I think I might have in my life, it’s all worth losing for the sake of living a life that’s worth living.

My favorites are “The Fuse,” “Your Bright Baby Blues,”  “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate,” and of course, “The Pretender.”