Thursday, August 28, 2014

One Fine Selection No. 16

Another one from Bear Hands.  These guys are pretty rad, and the song "Giants" from their new album seems to be getting a lot of attention.  The groove factor knob broke off with this one.  I can't get enough of that bridge!  Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Good Ole Nostalgia of 90's Rock

The 90's rock scene might well have been the last true "era" in music we'll ever see.  It was the time of some of the most iconic songs certainly in rock, and possibly across all genres of music.  Songs by Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, Jane's Addiction, Stone Temple Pilots, Foo Fighters....need I go on?

These days, there's no prevailing genre of music, probably largely due to the internet.  But also thanks to the internet, we can compile a list of all the great iconic songs of that era.  When mainstream music still had some integrity, and when special effects just weren't quite there yet.  So let's get to it.  Here's the Townhouse homage to that great time in music history.

Finally, this one from the turn of the millennium

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Afternoon with Baths

Thursday, August 21, 2014

One Fine Selection No. 15

This is a special fine selection for me.  It's "Harvard Hoagie" from my buddy Justin Chandler's project, Substitute Sandwiches.  I don't think I've ever really heard anything quite like it.  The whole album, Sub. Sandwiches Tape can be downloaded for free on Bandcamp.  That means it's more than worth checking out.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Townhouse Interviews: Justin Amundrud of Waken

The second interview here at the Townhouse!  Waken is a synthpop worship band based in Florida. Their debut EP, Endless Light, is a very big breath of fresh air for worship music. Let me repeat, very refreshing. Hopefully other artists will take note. Justin Amundrud (keyboard and vocals) is an old pal, and was kind enough to stop by and answer some questions. Enjoy!

Evan Jones Let's cut to the chase, good Christian music is pretty scarce. Most of it sounds like all the other mainstream crap that's out there, except I think Christian music is automatically at a bigger disadvantage because there's an inherent limitation there.  It's usually pretty boring.  Do you guys sense the need for Christian music that doesn't compromise the joy of good music just because your message is different than secular bands?

Justin Amundrud Definitely!  Growing up in the church I always felt like "Christian music" was this one thing, this one sound.  And while I have absolutely nothing against the music by churches like Hillsong, Elevation, or Bethel (some of the most powerful songs I've ever heard have came out of these churches), I get the feeling that smaller churches or other Christian musicians feel this pressure on them to sound one way as if it's the only way to glorify God, which simply isn't true.  As a worldwide church, we are a pretty diverse group of people! And I think that worship music, or songs glorifying to God should express that. It excites me to see worship bands/arists like John Mark McMillan, Young Oceans, Kings Kaleidoscope, and Citizens & Saints produce fresh music for the church, and it's part of what inspired this project!

EJ There's a big Christian hardcore scene these days (The Chariot, Underoath, The Devil Wears Prada, etc.).  There doesn't seem to be a big electronic Christian scene, at least in the way you guys do it. Your music is innovative by any standard, so can you tell me a little bit about influences? Inspirations?  Things to say about other words that start with I?

JA I see it as a developing genre in Christian music.  There are great bands like Kye Kye making quality music and developing a following, however nothing directly in the genre of praise & worship, and that's what we want to do.  When we were producing Endless Light we were trying to channel the sounds of groups like Tycho, M83 and Washed Out into our own blend of indie-synthpop-worship music.  But I'd say that since then we've definitely broadened our scope sonically.  For the new songs I think we've drawn influence more from groups like Mount Kimbie, Gold Panda, and James Blake.  So a little more groove/beat oriented, which we're really excited about.

EJ I can totally see those influences in there.  Very cool.  As I previously mentioned, I think Christian music automatically suffers lyrically because there's definitely some limitations it has.  Strict worship music does, anyway. The recent Townhouse series about Orwell made the point that orthodoxy limits creativity. Political or religious.  Waken's sound, though, is extremely fresh, and certainly doesn't suffer.  But is there ever a struggle to write lyrics that are up to par with your sound?

JA Yeah I think that is a constant struggle we come up against.  However our first priority isn't necessarily to find what hasn't been said yet, but rather to simply write what God has put on our hearts for our local church and in our own personal walks.  And if that is by some awesome fresh lyrical imagery, awesome!

EJ I think that's a good mission.  Can't go wrong.  Now let's move from the philosophy, and get technical. What's the songwriting process for you guys?

JA Our songwriting process changes all the time.  With the tracks we're working on now, I'll usually come to David Gurr (Guitarist/Songwriter) with a beat or short musical loop in Ableton, and from there we just see what happens.  I think the coolest part about this approach is that its given us is a chance to break free of the Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge format of most worship music that you hear these days, while also giving us a chance to really meditate on the lyrics we are writing and take a song piece by piece.

EJ It's nice to see a focus on making innovations on the music front of worship music.  God likes good music too!  Since you play electronic music, what's the difference with playing live as opposed to being in the studio?  When you play live, do you favor the organic nature of a live sound, or do you try to stay true to the polished nature of electronic music?

JA It's definitely a challenge to replicate the music live.  It would be easy to just play along to everything in backing tracks/loops, but the music loses a certain energy when you do that.  So what we've found that works is modifying the arrangements and parts to fill up more space, and/or taking parts or sounds that could be tracked and play them on a Launchpad or Sampler.  Brings back some of the live energy and gives us more to do.  Also, having plenty of synths onstage helps!  With the new material we're being a lot more mindful of live performance and trying to incorporate things that we've experimented with into the actual tracks, which I think is great for the songs as a whole.

EJ There's definitely a great sense of life on a record when there's experimentation allowed, instead of such a straight-forward mechanized approach.  The human element is always important.  What are you hopes and dreams as a band?

JA To reach the young people of this generation with fresh and connectable worship music. And to inspire others to use their God-given talents in a new and creative way.

EJ Is there a favorite band activity?

JA Sending ugly selfies to each other and then creating memes, our drummer Stephen is a meme artist.

EJ Nice.  So here's a personal question.  When you guys make it to the big big time, do you worry you're going to have to change your last name for the sake of simplicity?  Amundrud is slightly complicated.  On the other hand, it could work to your advantage.

JA Haha no, I don't think that will be a problem!

EJ So what's in the works for you guys?  

JA We're currently finishing up songs to begin pre-production in the next couple of months.  We're hoping to have a single or two drop either late this year of early 2015 before we release anything else.  And we should have more details about live dates soon.

EJ Can't wait.  I'm sure there are great things to come.  Thanks for stopping by, Mars is a long way from Florida.

JA Haha!  It certainly is.  Great chatting with you.

Waken's debut EP, Endless Light, is available on iTunes and Soundcloud.  Be sure to check it out, it won't disappoint. And pay attention to these guys, they're doing great things for the Lord.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mainstream Tyranny Part 4

"It doesn't matter how bad the entertainment is from the tyrant's point of view.  In fact, the worse the better."

John Atkins, George Orwell, 1954

With this series, we've (hopefully) established a train of logic illustrating the harm that authoritative government does to intellect.  No one illustrated this more clearly than Orwell in 1984.  Except maybe North Korea in real life. Or the Soviets, or Castro's Cuba, or Nazi Germany.  Come to think of it, every instance of government domination leads to the demise of the exercise of intellect in that society.  Orwell knew that orthodoxy was the enemy of creativity. Atkins illustrates this in clearly in his book:

"The literary great of modern times have been almost exclusively free intellects: Proust, Joyce, Lawrence, Hemingway.  How many people during the last three hundred years, asks Orwell, have been at once good novelists and good Catholics?" 

So what does all this have to do with music?  The cultural state (i.e. music, and all other forms of entertainment) of a society reflects its political one, as culture exists under the sphere of politics.  Under a tyrannical rule, free intellect is a threat to power. Creativity is a result of free intellect.  Free intellect must be eliminated if those with authority wish to keep it.  And when free intellect is eliminated, creativity is eliminated with it.

All this is not to say that our mainstream entertainment is truly that of an oppressive government.  Yet.  But mainstream entertainment is made to be as easy to digest as possible, so as to reach as many people, as efficiently as possible.  There is a blatant lack of any attempt at creativity.  Sounds, plots, ideas, themes, generic lyrics, and catchy generic hooks are all recycled again and again in movies, music, books, and television shows with few exceptions.  And this trend is accepted across the vast majority of society.  All this a symptom, I believe, of growing tyranny coupled with what Orwell would describe as the acceptance of efficiency, which opens the door to, and is a sinister and dangerous by product of tyranny.

But as the acceptance of bigger and bigger government becomes the norm, and skepticism and intellectual honesty becomes the exception, we will see our cultural situation continue to suffer.  Eventually, the only accepted, and indeed permitted, entertainment will be that which sings praises to our glorious leaders and their political philosophy, and when that happens, it'll be too late.  

The bright side?  There's still a vast amount of creativity that exists, across the spectrum of creative disciplines, which indicates that it's not too late.  You just have to work a little harder to find it.  But before we indeed forget altogether, let's be reminded what freedom sounds like, along with one last thought from Atkins' book:

"Orwell was perfectly well aware that intellectual liberty did not harmonize very well with social, technical, and political efficiency.  You paid for liberty with a measure of chaos."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Embark, Embrace. Enemies

Since the last few posts, with the exception of the interview, have been sort of heavy, I thought it was time to lighten the mood a bit.  So here's Embark, Embrace from Enemies. It's their third LP and in my opinion, their strongest to date.  The addition of sparse lyrics adds the texture needed to keep their sound fresh in the midst of the other primarily instrumental post-rock bands like Battles, And So I Watch You From Afar, Adebisi Shank, and others. Embark is a great listen both for fans of the genre, and anybody who's in the mood for some plain old good music.  Enjoy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Townhouse Interviews: Robert Smith of Traindodge

    Supernatural Disasters, Traindodge's 6th LP

Rob Smith is the drummer for Traindodge and Riddle of Steel.  Traindodge is one of my favorite bands. They at once keep the spirit of 90's alt rock alive and well while simultaneously pushing the envelope of their sound, for a combination that makes them one of the unique and refreshing rock bands of our day.  He was kind enough to answer a few questions for the first interview here at the Townhouse. You might say it's a milestone.  As a fan, it was an honor he agreed, so without further ado, here's the inaugural Townhouse interview with Robert Smith of Traindodge. Enjoy!

Evan Jones First things first, let's hear about the gear...what's your setup?

Robert Smith Pretty basic. 4 piece drum kit (kick, snare, rack tom, floor tom), hi-hats & 2 ride cymbals. Drums are Ludwig up until about 2008 (everything before ‘I Am Forever’), and C & C after.

EJ Practice routine?

RS Nonexistent, sadly. The only time I play drums is at band practice or a show. I will spend around 10-15 minutes before a show stretching and doing a really basic warmup.  I’m positive I could benefit from a regular practice routine, but with 2 kids and a bunch of other interests, there’s just not enough hours in the day.

EJ What kind of stuff are you listening to lately?

RS Tons of stuff, as always. A few newer things off the top of my head: Trans Am “X”, Mac Demarco “Salad Days”, School Of Language “Old Fears”, "Cuatro Hombres” by Tilts. And lots of older stuff too: Pat Metheny, Family, Steely Dan. Ask me next week, and this could be 100% different.

EJ Nice, maybe some future Townhouse posts in there.  I believe there's always a struggle in any discipline of art to balance truth to craft with “making it”, and there's always the allure of fame.  I remember reading an interview with Allen Epley from Shiner, a band that's important to Traindodge, where he talked about the realization that Shiner would never be big, so they “just kept movin' along” (Traindodge reference).  I'm sure you fight those same psychological battles, so what's the balance for you guys? Is Traindodge a screw the critics band?

RS We actually don’t struggle with any of that stuff.  We've always just made the record we wanted to make, and then we move on.  As long as all of us in the band like what we’re doing, that’s all that matters to us.  We've never made a living off this, so it’s always been a creative endeavor first and foremost.  It’s really fun and satisfying - I don’t think a band as small as ours keeps doing this for 18 years unless you REALLY love doing it, and as long as that’s the case, we’ll continue to do it.

EJ That's interesting, and actually very refreshing to hear.  I think there's also a battle between old and new work always raging, but it sounds like with you guys, maybe not.  How hard does Traindodge fight the battle between staying true to your original aesthetic and embracing the inevitable progression as a band? Your last few albums are pretty different from your first few.

RS We always try to make each record different from the last, but to us, no matter how big a stylistic change we think we’re making, it always ends up sounding like us.  We certainly don’t think about things in terms of staying true to anything we've done.  Most of our favorite bands change over time, sometimes dramatically, and we love that.  And we've heard firsthand from fans of ours who love that too.  No matter how much someone likes a particular record of ours, I can’t think of anything more boring or unsatisfying than trying to make that record again.  And no matter how much someone doesn't like a change we've made, that’s cool too, but we’re not going to let that dictate what we do.

EJ Let's talk Truth.  The Truth seems to me to be a very important album for Traindodge. I'd say it's where you made a conscious shift toward your current sound, i.e. the heavy presence of electronics, more simplified song structures, a regard for the epic over the intricate, etc.  Would you say that's accurate?

RS Partly accurate, yes.  It’s definitely where the keyboards became more prominent.  I’d say there’s still a mix of simpler stuff and more complex stuff there.  It's strange, you’re not the only one who thinks it's a significant record for us, but for me personally, it just seems like another one of our records - a step forward from the one before it, and a stepping stone to the next one. 

EJ It's a curious album, super ambitious to say the least.  Not only is it a 20 song double album, those songs ain't short!  A few of my favorite Traindodge songs come from that album.  What's it about and what were you guys trying to accomplish with it?  Do you consider it a successful album?

RS We had accumulated a bunch of ideas before we made that record, and hadn't had the time to shape them into songs.  And we had just added a 2nd guitarist who also had a bunch of ideas.  So, when we finally set aside time to put the songs together, we realized we had a ton of stuff.  And we really liked the idea of having all that variety on one record, so it wasn't hard to talk ourselves into a double album.  What’s it about? Lyrically, I’m not the person to ask.  There are a few musical things we used to try to tie it all together, but I’d stop way short of saying it had a concept or anything.  I guess I've never considered if it was a “success".  It sold about what our other records sold back then.  I like it.  I don’t think it’s our best record, but I know people who think it is.  How’s that for a boring answer?

EJ Very enlightening answer, actually!  Ever any worries about being characterized as an artist or band by one album, and being judged in context to it, now having focused on one of your past albums?  I believe that's also a worry for many artists.

RS Nope.  Again, we’ve never worried about any of this stuff. We just focus on what we like and what we can control, and move on.

EJ Traindodge is fearless!  I think that's awesome.  Now let's get technical.  When there's a new Traindodge song in the works, what is Robert Smith's creative process generally like?

RS It depends on how the song is written.  Sometimes we write individually and bring songs into the band, other times we write all together in a room, and sometimes it’s a combination of both.  If we’re all in a room together, it’s all about listening to what the other guys are doing and keying into what’s most interesting about it.  If it’s something more or less complete that someone has brought in, then it’s more about learning your part and then finding ways to make it your own so the song has everyone’s “stamp” on it.

EJ What fuels your drumming?  Anything other than other music or drummers?  Maybe shotgun blasts, tearing up a punching bag, thunderstorms, other powerful things?  Those all came to mind when I thought of your drumming.

RS Ha! Nah, just music.  Listening to music and figuring out what you can do on the drums that’s best for the song.

EJ Is there a favorite section or fill you like to play from a Traindodge song?  Maybe a favorite song?

RS Hmm…I think we have better songs than these, but they’re really fun to play drums on: “Raining Room”, “United Skeletons”, “Brass-Eyed”.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some.

EJ You play the drums hard. 

RS I do. It’s way more fun that way. 

EJ Agreed.  Any special abilities/talents you care to share besides being able to play keyboard and drums simultaneously?  That's a pretty big one right there.

RS None at all.  And the keyboard/drums thing may look impressive, but it’s really not tough to pull off.

EJ Finally, what's next for Traindodge?

RS We just started writing new stuff a few weeks ago.  Ross Lewis has been playing guitar with us for a few years now, but this is the first time we’ve written with him, so we’re all excited about that.  With that in mind, we’re doing a bit more writing in the room, all together, than we have on the last few records (which were primarily written individually). And as always, we’re thinking of how we can make this one different from the last.  It’s a bit too early to tell where it’s headed, though.

EJ Can't wait to hear what you guys come up with.  Thanks for stopping by!

RS Of course!

Be sure to check out Traindodge's latest LP Supernatural Disasters on iTunes or Bandcamp (as well as all their other releases), and also check out Rob's other project, Riddle of Steel.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mainstream Tyranny Part 3

"The fact is that certain themes cannot be celebrated in literature, and tyranny is one of them." John Atkins, George Orwell, 1954

The type of authoritative society Orwell warned of makes it impossible for intellectual liberty to exist.  It requires a certain discipline that inhibits creative thought.  The book notes that disciplines that are in the business of efficiency fare well in such a society, because discipline breeds efficiency.  But authority breeds discipline, and authority, discipline, and efficiency are the enemy of creativity.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mainstream Tyranny Part 2

Orwell recognized how important intellectual liberty was in a society.  And intellectual liberty can only survive as long as objective truth is upheld.  In one of Orwell's essays for Tribune, titled Freedom of the Park, Orwell wrote of the implications for abandoning truth:

"The law is no protection.  Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temperament of the country...The decline in the desire for intellectual liberty has not been so sharp as I would have predicted six years ago, at the start of the war, but still there has been a decline."

In the chapter that is the focus of these posts, the author writes, "Totalitarianism demands a continuous alteration of the past.  Friends of totalitarianism claim that as all history is inevitably biased and inaccurate, we might as well accept one bias as another.  If absolute truth is impossible we might as well accept expedience as a guide."

In 1984, the ruling party of Oceania, Ingsoc, continuously rewrote history, recognizing it as necessary to maintain the intellectual edge over the people, and to create the perception that history is always on their side.  Even though Winston, who wrote the history, recognized that each day he was writing a new history, the requirement to burn the history of yesterday made it impossible to prove that was was printed today wasn't truth.  An attempt to argue that the current history was false could not be proved as there was no evidence to the contrary.  Rewriting history is only possible so long as objective truth does not exist. And without truth intellect cannot survive, as there is no foundation to support it.  The result of such a society Orwell believed was either "unredeemed dullness, or neurosis."  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mainstream Tyranny Part 1

I'm going to attempt to write a (work)week long series of posts analyzing a chapter from a book I'm reading about George Orwell, and its importance in contemporary society.  You might be wondering what George Orwell has to do with music.  It's quite a lot actually.

First some context.  The book is simply called George Orwell written by John Atkins. Published in 1954, it's a literary and biographical study of Orwell, and like Orwell's work, it's quite prophetic and I believe very very important.  The chapter is called "The Assault on Liberty".  The posts will feature key quotes from the chapter, my thoughts about them, and at the end of the week I'll explain what it all has to do with music, and what it might all mean for society at large.  So let's dive in.

The quotes:
"[Orwell] realized the crux of modern politics is liberty.  The old English doctrine that liberty was more important than equality was challenged by the Marxists.  Orwell noticed, however, that the equality established by a totalitarian regime did not last very long, and the people realized too late that they had traded their liberty and received nothing in return.  Therefore, liberty must be retained at all costs, and the fight for equality should take place on an entirely different ground."

"Orwell's contribution to modern political thought was the reintroduction of the despised value which used to be called Truth.  The moderns said truth was variable and relative, and even spoke of 'proletarian truth'. Orwell said that was rubbish.  A thing was either true or not true and any attempt to evade this self-evident proposition was dishonest."

Although Orwell called himself a socialist, he possessed and valued intellectual honesty in a way that virtually no modern-day left-wing intellectuals do.  Orwell clearly recognized the vast importance of liberty in a society, and the danger of eliminating objective truth from it.  I would submit, and I think Orwell might have agreed, that undermining objective truth is the first necessary step towards getting rid of liberty.  By eliminating the idea of objective truth, which exists outside of human control, those in power can establish themselves as the truth-makers, and thus, a supreme power. The Marxists wrote the books on destroying objective truth, and liberty, and Orwell was not fond of the Marxists. Objective truth is less popular a philosophy today than it was when these passages were written.
Stay tuned to find out how this relates to music.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up. Oceansize

It's a rainy Sunday evening and Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up from Oceansize is perfect for a rainy Sunday evening.  It's their final album before they broke up in 2010, and because of that, this album takes on a completely new significance.  I think there is a quote from The Dark Knight that went something like this: you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villian.  If it had to end for Oceansize, this was the album to end with.  So set aside some time, and listen; you won't be disappointed (correct use of semi colon? who knows).  Enjoy.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

One Fine Selection No. 14

This week is "Jaded" from Open Hand.  One of my favorite songs from early high school days. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


A quick Google search for "heaviest songs ever recorded" will yield decent results, but I have yet to find one that really cuts it.  So, as they say, if you want something done right do it yourself.  So to cut the confusion, and get a foundation for why the other lists don't cut it, let's define heavy.

Heavy doesn't hide behind 15 minute guitar solos, mach 5 double bass, or singing about scooping brains out. Those are mere gimmicks.  Heavy is heaviest when it comes and goes before you know what hit you, allowing some time to linger before you listen again.  Like a punch in the face.  
Heavy can't be too polished.  Hair bands aren't heavy, and neither is a spinning drum platform.  No, heavy is simple, brutal, and crude.  A heavy song should feel like a rat rod, and sound like one.  
Heavy isn't a 50 section 17/5ths epic.  Simplicity is key, and if there are odd time signatures or other complexities, as there are in some heavy songs, they shouldn't distract from the overall heaviness.  
Heavy isn't vocals so distorted that you can't tell the difference between the voice and the guitar.  Or that it's even a human singing.  Vocals are heaviest with enough humanity to empathize with what's being sung and who's doing the singing.  
Finally and most importantly, heavy has no rules.  

So without further ado, here's the Townhouse list of the heaviest songs around (probably not all of them, but it's not a bad place to start).  Hang on to your hats.