Loud Minded: The magnetism of timeless music
William Schmitt on struggling to live in the moment
Everyone’s selling something and everybody is a collector. From the brands on your threads to the caps on your heads, you carry a bit of your past whenever you step on the scene. Potential job interviewees are taught to sell themselves. If they’re successful, they’re quickly put to work as salesmen of some product.
Besides selling myself, I “sell” music. I wear clothing with Wu-Tang logos and eulogies to deceased hip-hoppers. I plaster my walls and empty brain space with posters of musical icons and pages of lyrics, drum patterns and chord progressions. I pester the other patrons of The Shack with a playlist whenever I spy an empty space near the Wurlitzer.
I struggled with pop music for most of my life and faced jeers of “hipster” — and worse. I am drawn to music that brings me into the present moment and will do so in the years to come. I appreciate one-hit wonders and dance crazes for the energy they bring, but they do not inspire me to become a better man. The “Harlem Shake” has its place in history with the Macarena and the Charleston. All three have been remarkably successful, but none among them make me feel. When I listen to Jimi Hendrix’s “One Rainy Wish” or Phish’s Farmhouse, I get a beautiful sense of nostalgia coupled with an acute sense of what it means to be alive. If liking music that always makes me feel peaceful and good makes me a hipster, then I am a fucking hipster and proud of it.
I want to leave a trail of music wherever I go. If I were truly dedicated, I would burn dozens of CDs and scatter them in my wake to be found and consumed by hungry ears. People have asked me if I dream of writing for magazines like Spin or Rolling Stone or XXL. Yes! I want the prestige and clout that comes with working for publications of influential ilk, so people will listen to what I have to say. The most difficult part of this dream is reflecting and challenging my ego to ascertain whether my motives are based in truly wanting to spread word of good music as opposed to writing for a major magazine for the paycheck and bragging rights.
I want to give these albums a chance because although each was released in the last five years, I think they will eventually be mentioned in the same sentence with words like “classic” and “all-time." They’re all freely available through Spotify, so you have few excuses.
Portugal. The Man — Censored Colors (2008)
P.TM is John Gourley’s vehicle for his brand of Alaskan rock, which I suppose would make the group the musical equivalent of a brightly painted snowmobile. Gourley does the bulk of the singing in a plaintive tenor tone, and he’ll take you on a journey as he searches for answers and meaning. Many of the songs on Censored Colors sound as if they were produced by fusing sadness, indignation and hope. Gourley doesn’t wallow in self-pity so much as acknowledge his straits and moving on. In addition, the songs are all excellent in terms of dynamics and composition, especially “And I,” “Salt,” “New Orleans” and “1989”.
Lushlife – Plateau Vision (2012)
Lushlife is the performance name of Raj Haldar, a Philadelphian with hip-hop aspirations and training in jazz drumming and classical piano. He draws from an immense pool of inspirations from Duke Ellington to The Roots. Plateau Vision has a woozy, psychedelic vibe that hypnotizes the listener. The vast spectrum of samples and cultural allusions might come off as a history lesson if it weren’t for the free-flowing funk that swings the atmosphere of the album back and forth. Eventually the album finds its center as the soundtrack at a nightclub with dancing replaced by thinking. If you don’t want to commit a full hour, check out “The Romance of the Telescope”, “Gymnopedie 1.2” or “$takk Cheddar Galore, Alwin Dias".
eLZhi – The Preface (2008)
eLZhi has been rapping for about 15 years but has only now scratched the surface of broad approval. That this man hasn’t swam in the mainstream is a testament to his bulky, multisyllabic verses and the nature of his work, which caters to those with analytical inclinations. If you nerd out on big words in rap songs, you will love this album. Some of his best wordsmithery occurs in “Brag Swag,” “Colors,” “Transitional Joint” and “Motown 25,” which features Royce da 5’9".
Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean (2011)
Even I must admit that there is more to music than hip-hop. On the other hand, there is folk music. I’m not as enamored with Mumford & Sons as the general public (although I do like a few of their songs) partially because folk music is so alien to me that it’s difficult for me to understand it. But this album doesn’t grab. It tenderly embraces. “Tree By The River” showcases a different energy than any of the other albums as Sam Beam croons his melodies. Two songs that really stuck with me are “Rabbit Will Run” and “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me".
A Quick Note
On March 5, Legacy Recordings will release People, Hell & Angels, which is the latest in a series of posthumous Jimi Hendrix albums. These 12 songs were meant to make up the bulk of his planned follow-up to Electric Ladyland. The speed of our lives makes it nearly impossible for one to experience a timely death, but I’m sure I’ll find a little agreement when I say that Hendrix died way too soon. Here’s hoping that People, Hell & Angels will be more along the lines of Life After Death than Pac’s Life.
Thank you for reading.