Culture 17

“Magic Box” by the Laurie Berkner Band. Laurie Berkner was doing her thing when my child was the right age. Steph actually took Marnie to a Laurie Berkner concert back in the day. At home, we had a Laurie Berkner DVD that saw a lot of play. Laurie Berkner is an amazing performer with incredible energy, and her music is rocky, delightfully kid-like, without being saccharine and without dumbing it down. At the center of everything, it’s a woman singing while accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. What’s not to like? I mean, Suzanne Vega, right? The Indigo Girls? C’mon. But this is for kids, and my child loved it dearly. I just showed them the video and they went on a big nostalgia trip, one that was welcome and pleasant. This is “Magic Box”, which is fairly indicative of Berkner’s work. I hope you listen and enjoy.

Reduced Music Listening

I recently had to reduce the amount of time I spent listening to music. I used to listen to music literally all the time. Not literally all the time. How to put it? During waking hours, it was far more likely that music would be playing than not. Several months after making that reduction in listening frequency, it’s nice to have finally gotten used to not having music on.

I had a similar experience when I stopped listening to music in the car. That was maybe eight years ago. There was an adjustment period that was a bit uncomfortable. Without music, everything just seems so boring. I adjusted quicker to driving without music than I did blogging or whatever without music. Because when you’re driving, there’s always shit to hear. The bumps in the road, wind, precipitation, engine noise, turn signal clicks, resonant bridges, sirens — it’s all varied, all the time. Less variety on the freeway, but still enough to keep you from losing your mind. The sounds aren’t foot-tappable like music, but they are interesting in their way. And driving without music is statistically safer. Plus if you drive without music, you don’t have to fuck around with CD’s or plugging your phone in the car or whatever. I actually prefer driving without music now, which is something I never thought would be the case.

What’s your favorite road sound? The sound of going under a bridge during a rainstorm, the abrupt pause and resumption of rain, and the relative silence between, a “silence” that is full of noise and bridge echo and tire hiss. I’m fond of that one. That’s not a noise so much as a riff. Road riff!

Best Snare Album

For my money, the best snare album (that is, an album whose songs have great-sounding snare drums) is Brushfire Fairytales by Jack Johnson. I swear to god, the snare hits on that album, on average, are about eighteen feet deep. Heavy snares. Crisp snares. Ringing snares. Exultant snares. It’s my favorite album from a snare perspective. Two songs on this album appear in my Top 5 Snare Hit Songs post. Head over there for more snare goodness.

My advice is to find yourself a copy of Brushfire Fairytales and listen to the snares. C’mon, when’s the last time you did something nice for yourself?

Inviolate by Steve Vai

Man, Inviolate by Steve Vai is so bloody good. I’m gonna write a little review about it at some point.

In 1990, Passion & Warfare came out. It was Steve Vai’s best work. That remained true until January 28th, 2022, when Inviolate came out and became Steve Vai’s new best work. Steve’s been making great songs right along, of course, but there hasn’t been an album that’s as good or as cohesive as Passion & Warfare — until now. Of course, this is all just my opinion. I find Inviolate to be better. The songs are more musical. The guitar work, as you’d expect, is technically stunning, but Vai’s playing has matured and developed a distinct voice that is quite expressive, even when blasting 32nd notes at 800bpm. (An exaggeration for comedic effect.) So the guitar work overall is more organic and tasty on Inviolate than on any of its predecessors. This is the most radio-friendly, accessible, yet still elaborately cool Steve Vai stuff ever.

Highlights. Highlight the first: the first three tracks (“Teeth of the Hydra”, “Zeus In Chains”, “Little Pretty”) are DYNAMITE. Well worth the price of admission. The rest of the album is really solid, with a few exceptional bits sprinkled into six tracks of good solid songs.

Highlight the second: “Knappsack”, a song played without the right hand. It’s all hammer-ons and pull-offs. A clever idea well executed.

Highlight the third: from a production standpoint, this is far and away the best-sounding Steve Vai I’ve heard. In the past I’ve found his production kinda hokey, and there are moments on Inviolate that are a bit Vai-y, but for the most part this album sounds competently produced. It sounds good. His tone is exquisite on this album. He switched from Carvin Vai Legacy amps to these preamp modules that somebody makes. I can’t remember the name of the company. I guess I could find out. <zang> Synergy Amplification. Vai’s got a signature green preamp module with them. It’s two channels, clean and lead. Specifically, Vai’s clean and Vai’s lead sounds. It’s tube, this preamp module, but it might also be partially digital, I don’t know. Maybe not. And I believe that’s where he gets the majority of his sounds for this album. It sounds great. And if you want to take the sound home with you, you can drop $400 and they’ll give you a Vai preamp module of your very own.

I’m so pleased that Vai finally surpassed Passion & Warfare. But is there anything here for folks who aren’t into guitar wankery? I actually think so. There’s some real cool music here. Some of the sounds here are deliciously tasty, groovy, and bizarre. Instrumental rock with a side of face-melting guitar work. A minimum of weird Vai stuff. Listen to the album Flex-Able by Steve Vai and you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say, “Weird Vai stuff”. It’s usually fun, but it diminishes the dignity of the proceedings. This is very best number one Steve Vai album. You don’t want to put “Little Green Men” on that album. You just don’t. The silliness decreased in Passion & Warfare and in subsequent releases. In Inviolate, it’s nonexistent. Just good songs. Fun songs. Powerful songs. Groovy songs. Happy songs. It’s all there.

Check out the album on the playlist above. I mean, like, if you wanna. And then buy it, also if you wanna. It comes out on vinyl on March 18; I preordered. I also bought the mp3s from Amazon. I can’t wait to hear it on vinyl. That guitar is gonna sound amazing.

Playlist: Alphabet Mix 1

Yesterday I did the Blistering Love Songs mix. I’m afraid I’ve caught the bug. I don’t know how many more mixes I’m going to do, but for right now, here’s another one.

Inspired by my experience with the previous mix, this is a new series I’m calling the Alphabet Mixes. Again, I don’t know how many of these I’ll do, but I’m planning ahead and calling it a series. An alphabet mix is 26 songs, whose artists’ names go in alphabetical order from A to Z.

So here’s Alphabet Mix 1.

“Lost” by Adam Schmitt
“In My Dreams” by Big Audio Dynamite
“I Wish, I Wish” by Cat Stevens
“I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” by Daryl Hall & John Oates
“Dance Commander” by Electric Six
“Jezebel” by Frankie Laine
“Cars” by Gary Numan
“Diggin’ In” by Harold Faltermeyer
“Closer To Fine” by Indigo Girls
“Bubble Toes” by Jack Johnson
“Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina & The Waves
“You Broke My Heart” by Lavender Diamond
“Mississippi Queen” by Mountain
“On A Plain” by Nirvana
“No More Tears” by Ozzy Osbourne
“House Of Love” by Page & Plant
“You Can’t Quit Me Baby” by Queens Of The Stone Age
“Fuck Shit Stack” by Reggie Watts
“Garden Grove” by Sublime
“The Statue Got Me High” by They Might Be Giants
“It’s My Turn To Fly” by The Urge
“Color Me Once” by Violent Femmes
“The Seeker” by The Who
“The Train” by King’s X
“How Can I Be Sure” by The Young Rascals
“Jesus Just Left Chicago” by ZZ Top

Couple notes. King’s X is totally cheating for the X spot. But the thing is, I own no music whose artist starts with X. None. I thought King’s X made a nice compromise. Also, In the Y spot, you’ve got a Rascals song. But when this song was originally released in 1967, they were known as the Young Rascals.

Playlist: Blistering Love Songs

I just created a playlist on YouTube. It’s called “Blistering Love Songs” and it’s got blistering love songs in it. How I did it was, I made a pass through my regular listening playlist, ticking off all the songs I thought could be blistering love songs. Ended up with a list of 52 songs. That’s from a playlist with 2,261 songs. Then I went through that list and picked out the really primo dynamite blistering love songs. Ended up with 19 tracks, and I left them in the order that I added them to the playlist, which happens to be alphabetical by artist. See the list below.

So what is a blistering love song? Generally speaking, it’s a song that talks directly to a lover, and has intense imagery and/or music. It is understood that the lover is going to go with the singer of the song, and they’ll probably have hot sex if they are so inclined. Love songs that are intense musically, lyrically, or both. Love songs that aren’t about lost love or a love being sought. The songwriter loves a person, the person loves the songwriter, right now, and it’s deeply felt. That is a blistering love song.

Now, not all the songs on the list follow this format exactly, but that’s the basic premise for the mix.

Here’s the playlist on YouTube.

And here’s a list of the songs if you don’t want to listen and don’t want to fuck with YouTube:

“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” by The Beatles
“Jolene” by Cake
“Low” by Cracker
“Light My Fire” by The Doors
“Hole Hearted” by Extreme
“Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright
“Crazy On You” by Heart
“Need You Tonight” by INXS
“The Sensual World” by Kate Bush
“Fields of Joy” by Lenny Kravitz
“So Alive” by Love and Rockets
“You Look Like Rain” by Morphine
“Get Down Make Love” by Nine Inch Nails
“The Look” by Roxette
“Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” by Sophie B. Hawkins
“Wicked Garden” by Stone Temple Pilots
“Thunderpussy” by Thunderpussy
“Lake Fever” by The Tragically Hip
“Hawkmoon 269” by U2

“Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale” by a-ha | Song of the Day

My favorite song from a-ha’s debut, Hunting High and Low (1985), has jumped around a lot over the years. At different times, my favorite song has been “Take On Me”, “Train of Thought”, “Hunting High and Low”, and “The Blue Sky”. Right now my favorite is “Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale”. What can I say? That first side is dynamite. So in honor of it being my favorite song on the album lately, here it is. If you listen to it, I’d love to know what you think about it.


“Me and Susie, we’re just celebrating the joys of sleeping in.”

— Cowboy Junkies, “Oregon Hill”

What I want to know is, how exactly are they celebrating? The way I see it, there’s two options. Either they’re sleeping, or they’re fucking. I’m sure it says something about you, whichever one you pick. For my part, I pick sleeping. That’s what I assumed the first time I heard the song, and consequently it just seems like the right answer. Who knows what the songwriter intended.

Listening to Music

When you’re listening to music, do you like to know what causes all the sounds you’re listening to? Or do you prefer the mystery of not knowing how the sounds are being made?

Personally, I’m kind of a hybrid. I like to know a lot of the different sources of sounds use in music production, but then I graciously accept those sounds whose origins I cannot determine. Gives the whole thing a little bit of mystery. I like music.

So which one are you? Do you prefer to know what’s making the sounds that are hitting your ears, or do you prefer to not know? Or do you not think about it at all? I’m very curious.