Sunday, May 2, 2010


I've moved this blog to a new location, as Word Press has more features and control options than blogger does. You can find a blog about common things at My schedule is still Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, with today's blog in the works. I hope you enjoy the new location and layout, bigger and better things are in store.

Thanks for your continued readership and/or bookmarking, it means quite a bit to know that others enjoy my hobby as much as I do.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Unplugging": Transitioning from Electric to Acoustic as a band.

I’ve long hated electric musicians, mostly because it’s easy to sound alright without having any real ability. Entire genres are built on this, letting people that have little talent get rich because of their distortion pedals. It’s a cheap trick that anyone can do if they know how to form a power chord (fifth). I don’t say this for jealousy, or as a groundbreaking rally for change. I was taught how to play guitar classically in high school, and now can play nearly any style I really want with the exceptions of Country and Jazz. For me, the way to measure a musician or a whole band is to see how they transition between electric and acoustic.

This is not true for all musicians – some can do things with electric instruments that simply cannot be done with acoustic. I’d name a few, but they don’t really matter all that much for this argument. What matters are the artists that can handle their instruments and songs well… plugged and otherwise. I’ve excluded certain acts from this list because they’re no-brainers (Goo Goo Dolls are a perfect example, since they’re mostly acoustic anyway).

That’s a lot of intro. Enjoy it.

A Perfect Circle

A Perfect Circle was one of my favorite bands as a teenager, and they’ve stuck with me as I grew older. On the albums they have a few acoustic driven songs, but very few that really grab the listener are unplugged. Instead, they’ve got a very good acoustic set of songs that can be easily found online, all of which are mature and breathtaking.

They matter on this list because they’ve done more than just take the same songs and swap instruments. “The Hollow” was completely rewritten and arranged for the new instrumentation, including less conventional drums and piano along with acoustic guitar and bass. This arrangement stays current through most of the acoustic versions available, including “Weak and Powerless,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “3 Libras.” They all take on a nearly mystic feeling. They are all distinct from and as powerful (if not more so) than the original album recordings.

Coheed and Cambria

It’s no secret that I’m a fan boy for Coheed, but I think this isn’t without reason. I’ve mentioned some of their acoustic work in previous posts. It’s important enough for this to be redundant.

Like A Perfect Circle, they’ve completely re-arranged various songs to transition better into the world of the unplugged. “A Favor House Atlantic” and “Here We Are Juggernaut” are fantastic examples of songs that are far more powerful on steel strings than they could be on nickel. Coheed and Cambria have a much more expansive body of acoustic songs than most other bands on this list. Most aren’t all that special unplugged, but the ones that are particularly grab the listener in a chokehold without letting them up to breathe until the song’s finished. “Favor House” was streamlined to reduce the monotonous crunch of the palm muted power chord chug and boil it down to a raked open progression with feeling. “Juggernaut” most notably now has an airy guitar line… written in a major key, rather than a minor key. It’s slower, and less driving. The track is much more relaxing for it.

Many songs need little work to sound acceptable acoustic, “Welcome Home” is already very well structured for unplugging outside of some effects in the solos. The listener hardly notices they’re even missing. “From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness” sounds just as happy and uplifting acoustic as it does in the album’s recording, with the only needless addition being an octaver on the vocals. This withstanding, the whole piece is lovely. “Blood Red Summer” and “The Running Free” have little changed about them, yet both are somehow better acoustic than they were originally. Maybe this is why I’m such an avid fan.


Godsmack’s first album is one of my favorite hard rock albums of all time. Then they released the second album, and things fell apart for my opinion of them. After another bad album, they decided to release an acoustic album and saved themselves.

Like all other bands on this list, they arrange songs that were previously electric for a new life, and like all other bands on this list, the new versions are usually better than the originals. A notable difference is that two new songs were written solely for acoustic instrumentation, “Touché” and “Voices,” if memory serves. Both are worth the album purchase.

Not everything is so fantastic unplugged, “Keep Away” feels like it was only included because of it’s popularity as the original single. The new arrangement of “Awake” (now entitled “Asleep”) is soulless and monotonous. It’s an inspired attempt, and on principle it’s a nice twist to leave only the bones of the song that convinced so many hundreds of thousands of people to buy the second album. It just doesn’t work very well. Despite all this, they’re still talented enough to stand on this list alongside the other juggernauts.

Rise Against

A neo-punk band can rock out with nylon and steel strings? For serious?


They don’t have all that many songs acoustic, but there are enough to make them noteworthy. Besides already acoustic songs (“Swing Life Away” and “Hero of War”) they’ve done “Prayer of the Refugee,” “Ready to Fall,” “Re-Education Through Labor” and many others acoustic. Stripping down the screaming and strummy chord progressions shows well written, hooky, powerful songs that have pop sensibilities without sacrificing meaningful significance. They aren’t generally all that different from the originals besides the change in vocal tone and naked strings, but that’s enough to make it notable.

Stone Temple Pilots

There are a lot of things that contribute to STP’s placement on this list. Most notably is Scott Weiland in his prime, when he could still control his voice and do nearly anything he really wanted. Didn’t matter that he was a fledgling drug addict, all that mattered was his considerable vocal ability. Everything else for the acoustic recordings was perfect as well: Simple percussion, straight-forward guitar, and nearly unchanged bass. That’s all it really took to make some of the best songs in the grunge era even better.

Most notable are “Big Empty,” “Plush,” and “Sourgirl.” With the exception of “Sourgirl,” nearly every song available unplugged were from the earlier career, with the later being the last real single before the band fell apart (and from what I understand, recently reunited or some silly nonsense). I wish they’d kept up with the acoustic material, they could’ve done so much more.

Honorable Mentions

Pearl Jam – They have some fantastic songs acoustic, but none really surpass the originals in terms of improvements or arrangements. “Black” is the only one that really stands out.
Lacuna Coil – Lacuna Coil probably should’ve been included above just for Christina Scabia’s ability alone, and how nice her voice sounds with acoustic guitars. The problems come from the other singer, who really sounds quite terrible. While the guitarists aren’t bad unplugged, they and Christina alone cannot make the songs sound as good as they do when distortion covers the other guy’s voice. However, “Heaven’s a Lie” is quite awesome unplugged.
Staind – They don’t do anything all that special with their music acoustic, and honestly get kind of boring as they go. The one important note is that they cover songs quite well. “Nothing Else Matters” and “Black” are both lovely. Also, “Epiphany” was already acoustic, but it sounds so nice unplugged. This is probably just Aaron Lewis’ voice being so lovely.
Ill Niño – I really wanted to put this band on the list, but they’ve got a few problems. They’ve only got two unplugged songs (and “How Can I Live?” is fantastic acoustic). The singer also can’t seem to control his voice, which is a huge problem. If he had vocal lessons and they wrote more acoustic, then I’m sure I’d love them more.
No Doubt – Not gonna lie, I was never much a fan of No Doubt. I knew a few songs from them, but nothing ever really grabbed me. Unplugged, they’re a cubic shit-ton more interesting, but they don’t really feel like they’re doing all that much to the music. I enjoy them more this way, but they don’t quite rub musically as a band should when they transition between an amp and a sound hole. I think I do enjoy them more now though, for what it’s worth.


This is just how it works in my taste, you don’t have to agree. Maybe you want to count an act like Pink Floyd, who mostly wrote in acoustic. I love them too, but there’s no transition to really look at. Maybe you want to look at the Paige and Plant acoustic thing they did a few years ago. It was cool, but really fucking weird. Doesn’t work very well acoustic without the aid of an entire orchestra. Doesn’t make the mark for me.

End of today’s rant.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Filling in the blanks.

It is right now five minutes to twenty-two. My eyes sting, my neck is sore, and I am very drained. The balls of my feet are peeling. I want to write something stream of consciousness, but I know I can't right now. A free-flowing thought exercise is easy when you're a touch typist with your eyes closed, but it's much more difficult when that touch typist is tired. I know that I'll have to spell check this while thing, and it will annoy me.

I should keep typing despite typos, but I have a habit of going back to correct my errors as I type them. I've not done it at all this line. I'm very proud of that. I'll hate it later on.

I don't plan on typing very long tonight, it was a very draining day. I suspect that I'll be finished by 22:05 by the time I'm done editing. This room is very warm. That was delicious pasta. Sweat is gathering on my brow like protesters waiting for someone to rile them up. I hope no riots ensue. That was an odd analogy. I'll leave it. It seems fun and edgy, vaguely politically charged. I've been making political jokes all day. I hate politics, I hate them so much. Especially local.

I should go back to playing guitar when I finish typing this. I'm too tired for it to sound like any of the songs I know, but it's a nice way to cap off a tedious evening. I should practice piano for class, but I don't think I have the energy for it. I must make sure I do practice in the morning regardless of what else I do.

When I played yesterday for the class I successfully butchered songs that I know inside and out. Two songs that I've spent a good chunk of time playing in my house just wouldn't come out of my fingers when I sat at the old Grand. It's embarrassing to fail in front of your peers when you know that you shouldn't. Normally I don't really get embarrassed. Normally I'm quick on y feet and can easily smooth over any lumps in the frosting of public performance's cake. Yesterday I jabbed my finger down and scooped out the inside of the pastry to smear on the wall and call art with my terrible performance.

It's 22:06. I'm a minute over my writing exercise. Blast. At the very least, I know I can force myself to write when I don't really feel like it. Just like high school.

My wrist is itchy where a friend's dog jumped on me. I don't think she can control her energy (most dogs, children, and people I know can't), but she was very affectionate. The scratches are nearly faded except for that itch.

Itchy itchy itchy. When I think about an itch, other parts get it too. Now my thumb itches. How does a thumb itch? I don't know. And my knee, and now my left calf.

I should stop.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We are the Sultans

The street was empty at 11:20 PM, an oddity for a four lane boulevard. It cut through the mostly residential area like a rotten log caught against a riverbed. Formerly green curbs were spotted with refuse from car windows. A McDonald's bag at the stop light, a toddler's car seat next to the freshly poured foundations. A dirt encrusted condom in front of a church. This filth pales to the beauty of the sky, but even that's choked with light pollution.

A man garbed entirely in black paced down the right side of the road, passing houses that should've been more splendid. His side of the street was lined entirely with fences, breaking only for intersections. He could tell the demographics of each family as he walked past by the fences and what could be spied through. A tall white PVC fence with perfectly trimmed grass - the upper middle class family with Mexican lawn care. The chipped brown wooden fence enclosing old Fisher-Price mock houses - the family that suffered when the stock market thought it was best to cower in a corner. The man didn't even bother looking into the chain-links anymore, they depressed him.

His pace was uneven and varied with each song his headphones delivered. He observed that he was shifting more weight to his left side and had been for years, but never noticed until today. He didn't like this fact, but his disdain wouldn't change it. It wouldn't undo his fall down a ladder five years prior working retail, in which he broke his ankle and never bothered to get it looked at. He set it reasonably well himself, but without the aid of medical coverage he couldn't even verify it's status now. He pretended it didn't bother him. The most pressing matter was the letter in his back pocket telling him that he couldn't graduate for another year. It pressed like an iron.

"Sultans of Swing" came on. His mood shifted to bittersweet and his pace slowed. Nothing around him mattered besides finding a reason to smile. He couldn't think about the future now, his plan for the year had just been smashed in it's knees before it could run away with him. Without the degree, there was no chance of finding a job. No job, no apartment. Nothing. For months that had made him smile when he needed to, now it would only twist his lungs.

He raised the volume and sang to himself. Maybe he'd be like Harry. Harry doesn't mind if he never makes the scene. He can play the honky-tonk like anything. Maybe he'd be a musician instead. He could take an old dreadnought guitar and play at public parks for rent. He could get big like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, even if neither of them could sing and Springsteen's only saving grace was the help from his friends. It couldn't be that hard.

He knew this was a lie. They were exceptions, not rules. Most street musicians died hungry and alone. Most of the time they spent their final days pushing shopping carts full of empty beer cans they picked out areas like this. He knew it was no option, but the thought of playing guitar until he couldn't anymore brought the faintest smirk to his face. That was enough to get him home and into bed.

"Thank you, goodnight. Now it's time to go home."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On Demagogy.

"Demagogue" has a bitter taste to it by definition, but it doesn't have to be this way. Wikipedia lists four in their article about the word, and none are positive examples. Merriam-Webster has two definitions. The first echoes the Wikipedia page, but the second seems more fitting. "A leader championing the cause of the common people in ancient times," seems closer to my belief. The roots roughly translate to "lead people."

A demagogue is someone with the ability to empathize with people and convince them that something needs to be done. Demagogy is what public speakers mostly wish they could accomplish, and what the successful ones do achieve. It's a skill that's half learned, half inherent. It's a tool for leadership, like philosophy and psychology. In many cases, it's incorporated into this ability when cemented with diction and passion. Maybe that's why all the people listed on the page are such terrible human beings.

I learned the word from a game a few years back (your vocabulary increases exponentially when you play text-heavy games, it's amazing), it was a character class for some terrible table top platform. Upon hearing the ability, I jumped on it. The ability to sway minds and hearts with words is not only powerful, but I'd been learning it since early on in scouting. It was something I'd used in the past to save lives, organize people, and spare people from bodily harm. It's something wonderful that should be more common amongst people in leadership positions.

Demagogy isn't a key to limitless power, nor is it a promise of being able to change the world in a huge way. In some famous cases - Barack Obama most recently - it does. In most cases it's an underdeveloped ability that doesn't catch on most that can make use of it.

It isn't always used to positive effect. The most famous demagogue in history is Adolf Hitler, a violent madman responsible for unfathomable death. He never used force to get to power, he only used words. He believed what he was saying, and he knew how to and which strings to tug to convince his audience that he was telling the truth. When you tell a lie often enough, you start to forget the truth. After a long enough time, there is no more truth for you. People do this all the time, but most people don't have the ability to change minds. This is why it is so potentially dangerous. A demagogue could be anyone.

To the previous example, Barack Obama has a similar ability that gets used to a more positive effect so far. His skill is more learned than genuine, but the skill is still there. The speeches aren't particularly powerful, but the choice of diction is clear and concise. He chooses concepts that are important enough for his audience to hold on to, and tells them the things that he wants them to hear and know. While there are other clauses to most of what he says, he doesn't present them in the same way. No demagogue ever does. They must gather the consent to do what they plan to do, then execute it after. All politicians do this, but most aren't honest or genuine. These are two very important traits in any leader, and for an effective positive demagogue they are the most important traits one can have. There are other outside factors that relate to his presidency, but most have nothing to do with the ability to lead.

This can only exist if there is honesty in the world, because honesty is key. You must be trusted, and be able to trust yourself. You must not lie. You must be able to tell what you believe without fear of judgment for it, because you will be judged. You will be torn apart and criticized. You will not be well received by everyone, but the people that do will welcome you warmly. If you lie, people will know.

This can only exist if there is genuine care for the well being of the people you care about. You will not get anywhere if you're lying and working solely towards personal gain. You don't do it for money or fame, you do it to ensure that the lives of others will be enriched.

In my relatively short life so far, I've been in leadership roles many times. I've worked to help students, scouts, and a number of other young organizations that need voices. I care enough about my peers - even the ones I don't like - to fight for them. That's what a demagogue does, they do what they believe is right. The only thing more important than doing what is right is making sure that what you believe actually is.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's not Hippyism.

The little things in life make me happy, things that other people would otherwise shrug at. A friend of mine works at a GameStop, and his branch was throwing out all the excess lanyards they had. As such, I now have an old Bionic Commando lanyard to hold my school ID from while on campus and at work. I didn't even know there was a game by that title until now. Then again, a google search tells me that it goes for $15 new on PS3, which suggests that I shouldn't know about it. The lanyard makes daily tasks far easier than life without it. I am quite satisfied with this surprise accidental gift.

Earlier while doing sound for an outdoor event on campus, I was thanked for doing sound by one of the speakers. I've been thanked in the past, but never genuinely, and rarely during the event itself. In this case a Vietnam Vet thanked me for making a peace-rally doable, even though I was there mostly for the sake of my job. The appreciation was thick in his voice, and it made me happy to know my work was appreciated. I know it is in most cases, even when it's unsaid. It's just nice to hear. Same way that "I love you," still means a lot in a relationship, even after four years with someone.

The small details are what matters in life, at least for me. Probably you too, even if you don't realize it. Everyone focuses too much on what they think will advance them in society, or what will pay the best, or what will get them the most action with the other sex. They don't realize that no matter how much of a status/money/pussy/dick they get, they won't be happy unless they appreciate the daily things for being daily. Why should I care that you're a raving lunatic over losing a game? I just like the detail that was put into the pieces. Why does it matter that a relationship ended? The flowers are in bloom, and you weren't working anyway.

I appreciate life as best I can, and if everyone else did the same, life would be as beautiful as it potentially could be.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Year of the Black Rainbow Review

A few months back I wrote a blog about my expectations for this album, and I nailed it on the head. Now you're getting a song by song fan review.

All Coheed albums have an introduction track. Of them, only "The Reaping" from No World For Tomorrow has had lyrics. It's better this way, the ambient atmosphere building to the opening track always helps build suspense for the overall album. Out of them all, "One" is possibly the worst. It's mostly ambient noise, without much melody to stand on it's own. For each of the other four albums, there is something you can hum about the leads. This one just makes you feel empty. That was the point, story wise, but it doesn't even qualify as a song this time around.

The Broken
Like all other albums in their discography, the pattern continues with a powerful, crowd arousing anthem. "The Broken" is straight forward and heavy, and the unofficial first single. It's the current lead song for concerts, and one of my favorites ever so far. If you had to listen to only one song from this album, it should be "World of Lines." If two, then "The Broken" should be your next number.

Guns of Summer
What's that? We need to show off what the new drummer is capable of? Okay! Guns of Summer has the most ballsy drum line out of any Coheed song so far. While the drums are fucking awesome, the rest of the song is rather... ininspiring. It shows well what they're capable of, but it's not really a very well written song. The chorus is open and free, which contrasts greatly with the insanity in the verses. I'll probably listen to this one less than the others. It seems like it'd be a nice chase scene, or something else with high tension.

Here We Are Juggernaut
Hey, it's a single. It took weeks/months(?) to grow on me, but "Juggernaut" has become one of my favorites of the singles. Initially I loved how diverse and bottom heavy it was, and how uplifting the chorus was, and the bridge, and just about each part individually. I hated how they came together. Maybe it's just weird compositional bridging, or the shift between major and minor. That could explain why the acoustic version is entirely in major, and is one of the best versions of any song they've ever wrote. The album version is good, but it takes time to sink in.

Each album has one of these. The light, usually sappy songs with an airy substance recur, and each is more coherent than the last. "IRO-Bot" was bizarre, "Light and the Glass" was a power-ballad, "Wake Up" was a guilt-trip in major, and "Mother Superior" was too amazing for it's own good. This song has a lot to compete against. It has the benefit of Chris Penne's heavy drum influence to keep it going with an industrial feel, and the dirty guitars playing such a light, melodic piece add an interesting twist to a straight forward song. I like the album version better than the acoustic floating around online. "Far" gets a thumbs up.

This Shattered Symphony
This song is a little too busy for me, and once it's done trying to straighten out it's ADD, I'll be more than happy to review it. I suspect it's a major part of the storyline, but it's nearly my least favorite song on the album. It's heavy, and I suppose the writing isn't terrible, but it sounds too much like it's trying too hard.

World of Lines
I've been dying for this song since they used the instrumental as a background for a studio demo video. It's got a driving tempo and rhythm, a hook-heavy chorus, and verses that don't bore me. It doesn't try to overdo itself, and in the end it's my favorite song on the album (followed closely by "The Broken" and "Far.") You should listen to this one. Even if you don't like Coheed, or progressive rock, or oxygen. This one's good for everyone.

Made Out of Nothing
When the album was first put up on MySpace for all to hear, I felt like this song was the start of a heavy decline in the album. Now that I've heard it more, I really don't mind "Made Out of Nothing" as much. It's still very slow, very long, and not really all that interesting, but it's not bad. It makes a fantastic background sound while doing homework/cleaning/yardwork/etc, and it's got some minor hooks in it too. It'll get stuck in your head, you'll hate yourself for it, and then you'll listen to it again. It's not a bad thing, embrace it. Then go listen to the first half again.

Pearl of the Stars
Surprise! There's a second ballad. This one fits the pattern a little better, but has a Pink Floyd like breakdown/solo 3/5 into the song. I don't like this song very much though. It's disheartening: I love Pink Floyd, I love Coheed and Cambria. I should adore this song and need new pants after hearing. It might be the writing prospective though, lyrically the chorus is terrible. You NEVER rhyme "you" with "you." It's so full of cheese that it might as well give you arterial clogging. It should've/could've been better, but Claudio stepped on his own toes for this one. It's a nice song acoustic too, by the way. Strange flip-flop there. Really, if you start listening at the third minute, you can get straight to the best part of the song. The solo is one of the highlights of the album, but the rest of the song wouldn't ever let you know.

In the Flame of Error
The Pink Floyd theme carries over with the arrangement of this song, but it's quickly shot down. The song is complicated, and can't seem to make up its mind for what it wants to do. Some instances are Iron Maiden tribute, the chorus is driving and powerful, but the weird lapses in and out of "The Wall" era Floyd kind of hurts the vibe. There's also a weird vocal progression that jars with the melody of the song. I don't think I'd ever want to hear this one live. That makes me very, very sad to say. Quite the flaming error guys.

When Skeletons Live
A friend of mine that enjoyed the early leak of the album (he owns the hard copy now, don't worry) kept ranting about how much he loves this song. I gotta say, it's got some really cool guitar work going on. The structure of it doesn't catch me like I really hoped it would though. I can see why he liked it - and I imagine if I listen to it more it might stick with me in the same way too - but I don't think I'm sold on it. Besides that, I hate colloquialisms, and the chorus is built on one. Urgh.

The Black Rainbow
The theme for the past few albums has been a slow, heavy, moody, big finish. "The Light and the Glass," "The Final Cut," and "On the Brink" all set a precedent for "The Black Rainbow," one that's hard to meet. In this regard, it disappoints. It does not stand up to any of the others in the way it should. It's a pretty good jam, and a decent way to end the album, but it lacks the same balls the album started with. Rather than a slow, exploratory piece, it should've been more bombastic. It's very much an atmospheric piece that amplifies the chunk of story it represents, but it's too fucking long to stand as a song. I'm disappointed by this ending.

Songs loved: 4/11 [Broken, Juggernaut, Far, World]
Songs enjoyed: 4/11 [Guns, Nothing, Pearl, Skeletons]
Songs hated: 1/11 [Error]

I am indifferent to "One" (not counting towards the song mark), "Shattered Symphony," and "Black Rainbow." "Shattered Symphony" isn't a wonderful song, but I don't feel ripped off that it's taking up space on the album (as Flaming Error makes me feel right now). "Black Rainbow" isn't bad in itself, but it seems limited in it's use for me.

It's worth buying, but it's very different from most other Coheed albums. If you're a fan of progressive/metal/industrial things, then this album might rub you just right. I'm satisfied with it, but it's only with the promise of other amazing acoustic versions of the songs. "Here We Are Juggernaut"'s acoustic is one of their best unplugged pieces to date (the acoustic versions of "A Favor House Atlantic" and "The Light and the Glass" being it's competition). This also doesn't count the demos and bonus songs in different versions. I'll get to them eventually.