Since this column marks the series finale of Amplified Observations, I thought I would have some fun and divulge my favorite lyrics. But before getting to that, I have to say that writing this column and receiving feedback on it over the last four years has made the whole endeavor worthwhile, and I’m thankful to everyone who has read it once in a while. With Amplified Observations concluded, perhaps I’ll start a blog or something to continue writing about music...maybe after the summer, at least. I’d like to thank my editors Xander Zellner, Kaitlyn McGarvey and Chuck Greenlee for fixing each of the columns up over the years. It was cool to have this creative space. I’m grateful and I hope you enjoy the final act.
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Learning how to play guitar — the multiple scales, the esoteric chords and the endless fingerpicking — takes a great deal of practice to perfect or even just get to sound good.
Amplified Observations: Bob Dylan recedes into the confundity of desire in the Western-like narrative 'Isis'
Desire, Bob Dylan’s 1976 follow-up to Blood on the Track, is best remembered for the 10-minute protest song “Hurricane” and the Mexican-tinged “Romance in Durango,” but the album’s second song, “Isis,” is among one of Dylan’s strongest narratives, creating images that rival Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone.
Looking at mountains from a distance is like looking at a movie poster outside a cinema. The size, shape and colors are evident, but the substance of mountains and foothills will not reveal itself without direct interaction — without going inside.
Yo La Tengo’s latest record is titled There’s A Riot Going On — but its music and tone suggest otherwise. It more resemble a peaceful protest.
Certain musical approaches facilitate hyper-personal songwriting. Folk artists craft tragic autobiographical tales; pop musicians convey public and private breakups. But nothing matches hip-hop artists when it comes to self-referential lyrics.
Amplified Observations: Kamasi Washington gives new life to Debussy’s 'Clair de Lune' on his 2015 opus
Lately I’ve been trying to become more familiar with classical music. After all, classical music is the direct predecessor to most modern music — and I like Yes — so it feels obligatory in my position.
Amplified Observations: Blind Willie Johnson wrote the most depressing song ever; you know which one
Many styles of music strive to be the most depressing. Black metal bands, outlaw country singers and Future have all vied over embodying the most anguished and downtrodden personas. But no amount artistic masking or crafted intent can rival the depression that stems from a hard life of poverty, prejudice and prayer.
Amplified Observations: Special bond formed by driver and CDs in the center console will outlast the format
In recent news, Best Buy and Target both announced their stores will generally no longer sell CDs, pushing the future of the shiny, spherical format nearer to its inevitable day of reckoning.
Amplified Observations: If a band sounds like a government agency or entity, it probably makes great ambient music
Making the transition from working on one project to another is fun for no one. I posit that now, after most of my creativity has already been spent on an essay and I’m running on fumes toward the next deadline.
Music plays two interlocking roles in horror films. Low-pitched drones and haunting piano keys loom in the dark corners of creaky, old houses before a swell builds, then cuts, then shrieks in a bloodcurdling crescendo. That’s the sonic formula for most modern horror, but it’s not the best or only method to stiffen the arm hairs of viewers.
Amplified Observations: Controversial band names great for picking up traction, terrible for the long run
Executing a high profile name change can present a big risk to any creative person. After an artist has worked so long to get recognized, adopting a new, possibly less controversial persona, might feel like returning to square one of accruing publicity and listeners.
I think it might have been Isaac Newton or possibly Rene Descartes who once theorized that if a band forms, then eventually it must break up regardless of style or level of success. But, despite the inevitable split, the sonic energy and momentum already formed is not destroyed but merely transfers on.
Albums that you want to see on a year-end top 10 list are usually ones that stand out among the noise even from the first full listen. This year gave rise to many releases worthy of commendation, but this list includes artists who not only conveyed a concept or feeling through their work but simultaneously exceeded at it. There are no top 10 lists without a scent of personal music taste, but for this list I tried to pick albums that were as inventive as satisfying. And they’re also ordered, because I had to raise the stakes.
Country has always been intertwined with Christianity, which serves as one of its foundations. But unlike contemporary Christian music that tends to preach to a niche market, country music took a more digestible and gospel-influenced approach that skewed more Evangelical than Catholic.
Amplified Observations: Topical references in rap songs pay off in the short-run, often falter in the long-run
Tweets and rap lyrics aren’t that different. Both are concise, sometimes witty statements and both have an equal chance at aging poorly.
Amplified Observations: An ebb tide of Tension and release gives The Righteous Brothers unchained re-playability
I haven’t seen the film Ghost yet and I don’t know if I ever will. I came to learn of The Righteous Brothers through a different video that didn’t include a spectral Patrick Swayze.
Bob Dylan, in a moment of scant vocal clarity, started to sing the fourth verse of his 1997 song “Love Sick.”
Whether art informs culture or culture informs art, the two intertwine when one steps on the foot of the other. And in the months following the 2016 election, there’s been a lot of informing going on, but not without insights.
Undoubtedly, you’ve found yourself in the circumstances of someone asserting a band’s lyrics — something out there and unexpected like AC/DC — are pure poetry.