Abby and I took a trip to Las Vegas over fall break to see U2. I’m not a fan of the spectacle of Vegas, so we opted for the spectacle of nature. We stayed at an Airbnb with goats in the yard, which kind of set the vibe for this wacky Vegas trip.
Today U2 released a four-album collection of remakes of their classic songs. It’s called Songs of Surrender, following the recent releases Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.
So yeah, they reimagined classic songs (worried yet?). Most of them are calmer or quieter, stripped back to acoustic guitar or piano. In some cases Bono has tweaked the lyrics (he’s often said songs are unfinished and these versions are more of what he intended).
My early takes on these things often change, but here’s my initial reaction:
- Classics: It’s interesting to hear U2 revisit some of their classics and offer a different take. It’s why some live versions are often better than the original recording. But most of these are classics for a reason. “Pride,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Beautiful Day”? You’re not improving on those songs.
- Old songs: Perhaps the greatest opportunity here is to revisit some old songs and give them a fresh sound. “40” is a good example, sounding a little less jubilant and more contemplative with Bono’s aging vocals. There are a few other older songs, but they didn’t grab me right away. I’m surprised there are so many more classics.
- New songs: Some of U2’s latest albums have been their worst. So this is a good chance to rework some of those so-so takes. And here we have a few successes. “Lights of Home” and “The Little Things That Give You Away” sound good. “Song for Someone” also sticks out, thought not sure it needed a retread.
- Bigger changes: “Bad” and “Walk On (Ukraine)” are songs where I noticed more significant lyric changes. I don’t know if it’s better (time will tell), but it’s interesting. (“Walk On,” specifically, was rewritten to shift away from Aung San Suu Kyi and focus on Volodymyr Zelensky.)
I don’t know if U2 did anything here that’s going to blow anyone away. I’m not sure if they’re going to have any new singles (does they still do singles?) or get the kids interested in an old rock band’s quieter take on their old songs.
And I’m guessing that’s not the goal. This feels like a project for the fans. Or maybe themselves (I can’t image fans were clamoring for this). It reminds me of the album Double Take from the Christian rock band Petra that came out in 2000. It’s maybe interesting to fans, but unnecessary.
What do you do as an aging rock star? U2 has been reinventing themselves for 30 years, and this might be acceptance that they’re getting old. It’s about the opposite of the rock ‘n roll geezer weirdness of “Get On Your Boots” (“sexy boots!”). This album, paired with their Las Vegas residency, seems to indicate a new chapter. A quieter, stripped down, semi-retired chapter.
As much as I love U2, I have to admit it’s disappointing. But I also have to concede their recent albums are far from their best work. They have some great moments here and there, but a lot of it just doesn’t connect.
It’s not fair. A bad U2 song would be a hit for anyone else. I’ll likely play this album a lot because there’s something just good about U2, even when they’re stripped down or not at their best. And what can you expect? Not every album can be Joshua Tree.
I just keep hoping for a Johnny Cash-like late chapter in U2’s career. We’re not there yet.
(This LA Times interview with Bono and the Edge gets at some of these critiques.)
It’s the time of year when we rehash the year with lists, so here’s my year in music. It’s courtesy of Spotify Unwrapped again, which is still a goofy, app-only, mess of a user interface. But oh well, the basics are there.
I listened to 47,914 minutes of music (more than 91% of users), accounting for 5,964 songs, 2,691 different artists, and 83 different genres. (Here are last year’s stats for the sake of comparison.) I play music while I work, often tuning the music out if I’m really focused, so that’s why I have such ridiculous stats.
Supposedly my top five genres are indie pop, pop, stomp and holler, rock, and alt z (what is alt z?).
- “Hot & Heavy” by Lucy Dacus (41 times)
- “Holiday (Green Day)” by Half Past Two
- “Glowing Review” by Maisie Peters
- “Love Me More” by Mitski
- “The Story of Us” by Taylor Swift
I’m always looking for a good ear worm, so here are some highlights from my top 100 songs:
- “The Last Great Sweetheart of the Grand Electric Rodeo” by Sarah and the Safe Word
- “Cannonball” by Avril Lavigne
- “My World” by Koren Grace
- “Who Are You” by Diet Cig
- “Growing Up” by The Linda Lindas
- “Raise Up” by Semler
- “Got Away” by Kady Rain
- “Under You” by Charly Bliss
- “F*****g Up What Matters” by Tegan and Sara
- “Road to Paradise” by TAT
- “Rehab” by People Planet
- “Full Metal Black” by The Royal They
- “Irrelevant” by P!nk
- “Gay Kids” by Rachel Kurtz
- “Scotty Doesn’t Know” by Maddie Ross
My Top 5 Artists:
- U2 – I listened to 2,236 minutes of their music. That puts me in the top 0.1% of their listeners. No real surprise there.
- Five Iron Frenzy – I listened to a lot of Five Iron leading up to their Denver show, so no big surprise there either.
- Maisie Peters – She’s one of my favorite new discoveries this year.
- Taylor Swift – I don’t even think I listened to her new album that much, so it’s probably older stuff.
- Tegan and Sara – Between their new album and the debut of their High School TV show (which is 1990s retro wonderful), I’ve had them on repeat.
Last year my top 3 were Five Iron, U2, and Taylor Swift, so I guess things haven’t changed much?
So Spotify does this clever thing where they look at your listening stats and spit out a bunch of fun data. Unfortunately, they do it in this goofy app experience that’s pretty awful. But I pulled out the fun bits…
I listened to 43,344 minutes of music (more than 90% of users), accounting for 2,358 different artists, and 166 different genres.
Supposedly my top five genres are indie pop, ska, stomp and holler, bubble grunge, permanent wave. (I don’t know what half those words mean.)Continue reading Spotify Wrapped: My Year in Music
What a crap week. It’s bad enough dealing with a pandemic and all the stress and worry that entails. Then police violence and the murder of George Floyd. Then tear gas and more violence and more death and Minneapolis burning. I don’t have the words.
(Speaking of words, people like to quote Martin Luther King Jr. about non-violence, but he also spoke about riots. Some context on those comments is especially helpful.)
Since I don’t have words, two songs come to mind this week.
Let the People Be Free
The first is a protest song by Jayanthi Kyle called “Hand in Hand.” It was written in 2014 and, because of course, the lyrics are still quite relevant:
The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
But while my sister ain’t equal & my brother can’t breathe
Hand and hand with my family, we will fill these streets …
I can’t breathe
Lay down your weapons and your badges and listen to me
Jayanthi is also in a chorus group called Give Get Sistet that’s pretty amazing. Nobody is doing performances right now, cuz pandemic, but they’d be an ideal group to bring in right now.
The other song I thought of was Ben Kyle’s “Minneapolis.” The lyrics aren’t nearly as applicable, but the mournful “Oh, Minneapolis” captures about how it felt this morning to see images of the city smoldering.
I saw you and Saint Paul kiss
Neath the moonlight in a Mississippi mist
Never saw a thing as beautiful as this
Rain down, purple rain (I wanna hear the sound)
I wanna feel the royal rain on me
I wanna feel the holy water running like a holy stream
I wanna be baptized in the city in the Mississippi
The new U2 album, Songs of Experience, came out today. For the last several U2 albums, I’ve blogged my impressions as I listen to the album for the very first time.
It’s a silly thing to do because I’m not very good at writing about music. But I like capturing my first impressions and then coming back later to laugh at my first take.
So here we go…
- Love Is All We Have Left – Weird slow intro. The reverb vocals are even weirder. Sets a unique tone for the album, thought not sure I like it.
- Lights of Home – Sonic shift from that opener. Seems to have a different feel from what I expect from a U2 song. I like the chorus better than the verses. “Free yourself to be yourself” bridge with the piano is interesting.
- You’re the Best Thing About Me – This is kind of a weird pop-rocker hybrid. Initially it struck me as so-so, but it’s growing on me. (This came out early as the first single, so hearing it again now with the album, it feels more familiar and I’m definitely liking it more.) “I’m the kind of trouble that you enjoy.”
- Get Out Of Your Own Way – The intro music feels so U2. The intro vocals are a little weird and breathy… ah, there’s Bono. The breathy part of the “Get out of your own way” in the chorus is kind of weird… and that’s a mouthful.. but the rest of the chorus is great. I like the repeats. “Nothing’s stopping you except what’s inside, I could help you but it’s your fight.” Hearing this again (it was released early), I like the rhythm in the verses. This feels like a quiet favorite.
- American Soul – The beginning of this does not sound like U2 at all. That guitar sounds a little more U2, but it’s different. I like it. The chorus sounds like another U2 song, I can’t place which one though.
- Summer of Love – This is slower and somehow more melodic. I liked the bridge, I was waiting for some soaring vocals but we barely got those. Meh.
- Red Flag Day – Seems like a very different album rhythmically, and I don’t mean drums and base but the rhythm of the vocals. This one feels catchy.
- The Showman (Little More Better) – Nice: “Singers cry about everything.” This reminds me of a song I hear on the radio and think, “That’s dumb, I don’t like it.” Some phrasing or the way they sing something seems annoying. But they keep playing it, and I start to like it. I don’t get that feeling often from a U2 song, but this song is totally it.
- The Little Things That Give You Away – This is the slow verse U2 song that’s itching to turn into an anthem on the chorus. We get hints on the first chorus, we’ll see if it picks up as it goes. The bridge sounds familiar (like another U2 song I can’t place). Now it’s picking up. I’m curious to see how this one holds up to repeat listens.
- Landlady – This song really didn’t catch my attention, until the last minute or so. That part felt catchy. Otherwise meh.
- The Blackout – The beginning sounds like several different old U2 songs (again, I can’t place them). Love the bass. I love these driving rockers. Second verse, is this about Trump? Seems like this one will be better live.
- Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way – Sometimes it’s just interesting to hear U2 make music. They’re trying to do new things, not just cranking out more U2-sounding songs. That doesn’t always work. This song feels like that kind of experimentation. Parts of it work, parts of it don’t. Parts of it feel familiar, parts of it feel unique.
- 13 (There Is a Light) – Is this our quiet album closer? The chorus is super familiar—where have I heard this before? Is this a reprise of another song? Oh there, it is, “A Song for Someone” from the last album. Interesting choice there—I’ll need to compare these versions.
It’s always hard to judge a new album after hearing it for the first time. Am I liking it just because it’s U2? Is it initially catchy but won’t last?
I think it’s fair to say U2’s last several albums haven’t been major hits. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb seems like the last one I thought, yeah, I like that. No Line On the Horizon still feels kind of fuzzy in my mind (what are the hit songs? None? “Moment of Surrender” and “Magnificent” are my favorites, but probably not hits). Songs of Innocence likewise felt short on hits (though “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” got radio play and is probably my favorite).
Songs of Experience feels lacking in a signature single. I like “The Blackout,” but other songs feel like they’ll need to grow on me.
Twin Cities band Romantica has officially released their new album, Shadowlands, after a five-year hiatus and a one-year delay. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s worth the wait.
Last year the band crowd-funded their new project and recorded it in a barn south of the Twin Cities. One of the rewards was a pre-Valentine’s Day show that I gushed about.
While the new album was done, and lucky backers like myself got copies, it never quite released publicly. Turns out the album landed a record deal and an official release, which happened last week. Now you can listen to the album on Spotify or Apple Music and buy a copy on iTunes or Amazon.
And you should buy a copy. It’s good. Continue reading I Love the Shadowlands Record by Romantica and You Should Too
Holy Week began yesterday morning with the waving of the palms. We stood outside our church on the corner of Ford Parkway and Macalester, savoring the little bit of sun that offered warmth against the bitter Minnesota cold. It may have been the first day of spring, but it was still in the 30s. We waved our palms to sing Hosanna, to fight back the cold, to celebrate the march toward Easter.
So with that backdrop I offer an Easter music list.
I’m always making mix CDs for my wife, and as I started another list for her, I realized I was collecting a lot of gospel songs. Most of my mixes are pretty random, so I decided to lean into the theme.
The result is a collection of music that speaks to faith and spirituality and hope and the gospel. I’m well beyond saying this is “Christian” music, but it is a collection of hymns, psalms and laments, tinged with that old-time gospel sound.
- “Little Light” by The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers
- “What Wondrous Love Is This? by Chelsea Moon & The Franz Brothers
- “Not Enough” by Caedmon’s Call
- “Here it Comes” by Romantica
- “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word” by The Welcome Wagon
- “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash
- “Purpose (live)” by Cloud Cult
- “Hand in Hand” by Jayanthi Kyle
- “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Rattle & Hum movie version)” by U2
- “Be Thou My Vision” by Ginny Owens
- “All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons & Daughters
- “The Transfiguration” by Sufjan Stevens
- “Lamb of God, Have Mercy” by Gospel Machine
- “People of God” by Gungor
- “Poor Man’s Son” by Noah Gundersen
- “This Little Light” by Mavis Staples
- “This No More” by The Vespers
- “Amazing Grace (featuring The Lily of the Valley Gospel Choir)” by Justin McRoberts
- “40 (live)” by U2
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, I took Abby to a barn 50 miles south of the Cities for a pre-release concert by Romantica. It was a little bit magic.
After being on hiatus for about five years, they crowd-funded their new album, Shadowlands. One of the rewards was this exclusive pre-release show in the barn where they recorded the album. I couldn’t resist.
I’ve been a fan of Romantica since long before their debut album turned me into a fawning fan boy. The new material is great: atmospheric and soulful, dripping with depth and beauty. I haven’t seen the band play in a long time (they have been on hiatus), so this was the first time I saw the addition of Jayanthi Kyle on backing vocals (yes, she’s frontman Ben Kyle’s sister-in-law). Wow. I love the depth she adds. (And bonus: I was already a fan of her work, I just didn’t know it. She wrote the Black Lives Matter protest song, “Hand in Hand.”)
The show started with the mournful/hopeful “Harder to Hear,” which resonates with the doubt, depression and yearning of this season. Here’s a poorly filmed snippet:
Another stand out track is “Here It Comes,” which Jayanthi described as her favorite. Talk about soulful and yearning. Ben said the song came to him on the last day of recording, a gift. “Cecil Ingram Conor” is another barn-burner, though I’m not sure my crummy video does it justice (Ben’s solo living room performance might be a better taste).
So many other good tracks, but that’s a start. (And the letterpress packaging design is beautiful. Worth getting a physical copy.)
Braving the Minnesota tundra to discover tender music with the woman I love is like a tonic for my soul.
A few months back I borrowed Addie Zierman’s post style and shared music I’ve been listening to lately. I keep meaning to do it again and put it off, so today I thought I’d share a smorgasbord of stuff I’m excited about lately: crowd-funded comic book projects, music, books, picture books, an event and a little self promotion about what I’ve been doing.
Comic Books to Support
The lack of diversity in, well, just about everything, is a common theme these days. That’s why I track the diversity in my reading and actively work to diversify my life (it’s slow going).
I think an important part of that is supporting diversity. Vote with your dollars. Today I came across two opportunities to do just that:
- Black – What if only black people had super powers? That’s the premise of this comic book being funded on Kickstarter. The creators came to that question after thinking about the outsider nature of comic book super heroes vs. how people of color often feel like outsiders. The difference is most people of color can’t just take off the cape, as it were, and be “normal.” The project is nearly funded already (which is encouraging).
- Tuskegee Heirs – The history of the Tuskegee Airman meets Voltron. This just sounds like a fun adventure story. Plus, it’s already blown passed the $10,000 goal, with over $45,000 so far.