Easy Living Easy Listening by Jonny Steiner

Posted: June 8, 2008 by Maximum Mike in The Rocking Chair Blog
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With summer just beginning, and the prospect of lazy days stretching endlessly in front of us, we need a soundtrack that reflects this relaxed state. All the Rock is great, and as festival season wears on fans will have their fill of Heavy Metal and Rock N Roll. The summer is when everyone is on tour; when you find yourself worn out from mosh-pits and headbanging, I will provide some musical suggestions and guidelines to get you through some of the main summer events. I remember a few years ago going to the Warped Tour with my friends. I am not a big Punk fan, but I do appreciate bits and pieces here and there. I was going to see 311 only to find that they were not performing in Cleveland, which really upset me. Bad Religion and the Vandals were there though so that was cool. It was hot and water, as you can imagine, was grossly overpriced and people were just using sinks in the bathroom to fill whatever receptacles they had. One of the funniest moments of the day came when Pennywise finished their set. Rollins Band, a Hardcore Punk act fronted by the always entertaining Henry Rollins, was slated to go on next. All my friends wisely informed me that I needed to get out of the mosh pit because Rollins Band fans were a bunch of fatigue/army boot wearing lunatics. The band went up, the militia went wild and we watched from the stands, only to realize that our boy Josh was still in the fray. When we finally found him he had been stomped pretty bad, but was feeling good. It was on the ride home that we truly appreciated the come down from the day’s overwhelming Punk faire by listening to some good old Motown.
One of the main events in the summer schedule is the barbeque. Usually spent with family or friends the music serves more as a background to the conversations and general hanging out. This is not to say that music is not an essential piece of the barbeque atmosphere. It is a standard blend of Funk music and Classic Rock, that when mixed with a sprinkle of Bob Marley sets the tone perfectly. The main reason is that these tunes are familiar enough that people can just digest them with ease as the party wears on. If mixed well, however, your party can have an interesting dynamic. Sure everyone loves the Beatles (at least they should), but if you place “Twist and Shout” appropriately within the mix of songs people will get out of their seats and start grooving to the music. The barbeque is about familiarity and friendship, and so the music should create an atmosphere to reflect that.
Another of Summers’ pleasures is the trip to the beach, and the time spent alone with your headphones, reading or catching some rays. My favorite music for this time is anything with a lush dreamy sound. Certainly any music with a beautiful flow that mirrors the ebb and flow of the tide sets the mood. However, when on the beach there is time to enjoy an album to its fullest, and not rush through your music shuffling at will. One wonderful album is “Beach Samba” by Astrud Gilberto. A smooth-voiced Jazz singer from Brazil, Astrud’s sound is soft Bossa Nova that drifts almost to Pop. Bossa Nova is a Brazilian style of music that combines Latin beats with Jazz sounds, and was very popular in the 60s. The true gem of this recording is the lush relaxed music orchestrated artfully by Ron Carter (Bass for Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, among others) and Toots Thielemans (guitar and harmonica). Another band, Everything But the Girl, got their start as a Jazz/Pop act only to find success in the thin line between Pop and Techno. Their 1996 release “Walking Wounded” took the themes of Trip-Hop, and other styles of experimental Electronica, and placed them in a tight concise Pop framework. (Trip-Hop was a name given to a style of Electronic music that incorporates down-tempo beats with Soul and Funk sounds.) Though more than a decade old, the music still sounds fresh and bright, and the beats provide a perfect kick for the beach. For my final summer beach album, I recommend a lovely album by the British singer/songwriter Rachel Goswell. Her debut “Waves are Universal” is a laid back British Folk album that contains elements of Alternative and Country.
The final event we will be touching on is the ever present road trip. When driving with friends the similar rules as the barbeque apply, although the musical choice is the driver’s prerogative. Just don’t try to give a serious listen to anything with people in the car. It is when alone that the road trip takes on a personal quality that is perfect for a more challenging listen. I have made the solo trip from my hometown Cleveland (Ohio) to New York many times when I was in University. Each time I would stock up on music that would get me through the almost 8 hour drive. A classic album all around, “Ritual de lo Habitual” by Jane’s Addiction starts at a fevered pitch with “Stop!”. From there the album builds in energy until the ten minute epic “Three Days”, a sort of Alternative nod to Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”. In following Hard Rock’s Heavy Metal conclusion, Iced Earth’s “The Dark Saga” is a concept album loosely based on Todd MacFarlaine’s famous comic book “Spawn.” The tempo is a bit slower than usual but the band is as heavy as ever, banging out amazing tracks like “The Hunter” and “I Died for You.” Finally, a stunning listen from start to finish and a perfect soundtrack for the road is “In Absentia” by The Porcupine Tree. Led by Steven Wilson, who is well known for his Blackfield project with Aviv Gefen, The Porcupine Tree is a Progressive Rock group from the U.K. The album is one of the most accessible of their career and still spans the musical gamut, from Heavy Metal, to Pop, to dreamy cuts that are almost indefinable. All around, this album keeps the listener interested with its wide range which makes it perfect for the often unchanging, steady drone of the U.S. Highway system.
Most people who know me know that I am a huge fan of Electronic Music in all its forms. There are many albums by myriad acts that fit excellently into these categories, but I try my best to keep column this as Rock oriented as I can. Michael once remarked that he thought it was funny how I always manage a few Electronic references each week. I cannot help but support that which I am passionate about, and as the summer heat bears down upon me my emotions begin to ignite. I hope that my musical choices can help you do the same.
What I am listening to: Aaliyah – Self Titled
Produced by Timbaland before his handiwork was seen on every production in the land, Aaliyah’s best album was also her swan song. It is a terrific blend of R&B and Soul that showed Aaliyah maturing into a more adult artist before her life was tragically cut short.

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