Category Archives: Columns

Amplified Observations: Making an acoustic guitar sound psychedelic is hard, but some artists make it look easy

http://www.thepostathens.com/article/2016/08/psychedelic-guitar-musicians

This week’s column is about to open your third eye. But not in the traditional way.

That’s because it’s about a sleeper genre that never seems to get discussed: acoustic psychedelia. And although that might not be a “documented” genre, it’s at least what I use to identify this specific trend.

Psychedelic music is almost synonymous with trippy guitar effects, echo-chamber-like reverb and wild, oscillating vocals. But pull the plug out of the socket and what are you left with? Surprisingly enough, more than a handful of good tunes.

Psychedelic rock, pop and folk are not limited to Strats and fuzz but can also be achieved effectively using the basics: a guitar, a voice and an enticed imagination.

Around the highwater mark of psychedelia in the late ’60s and early ’70s, several artists released acoustic records chock-full of naturally occurring weirdness and mysticism. Musicians such as Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Simon & Garfunkel, George Harrison, Tim Buckley and others took to a softer side of the substance-fueled sound, focusing on the fantastical and mystical elements underlying much of what had already run its course.

Even Townes Van Zandt, the celebrated country singer, dabbled psychedelic acoustic music with his 1972 cut “Silver Ships of Andilar.” Andilar is almost as mythical of a place as what Neil Young describes in his 1970 song “After the Gold Rush.”

That approach might not seem to be a big deal, but in essence, those musicians attempted to elevate the capability of acoustic instruments to possess an aura of psychedelic wonder. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s an impressive feat.

It was a particularly strange moment when I realized Simon & Garfunkel’s largely acoustic 1968 album Bookends also incorporates psychedelic lyrics and effects. How else could you explain songs such as “Punky’s Dilemma” or “Voices of Old People”? Other songs of theirs such as “The 59th Street Bridge” also illustrate a groovy sonic landscape.

Nowadays, we think of psychedelic rock as sounding garage-y or with more effects than an alien spaceship. However, although absent in the main genre, acoustic psychedelic might have found a home in musical places such as freak folk or psych folk with bands such as Mount Eerie, Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Akron/Family.

But either way, music from the initial wave like Love’s “Alone Again Or” is still easily accessible and as vibrant as ever.

If anything is important in the wider picture here, it’s that an approach like acoustic psychedelia only illustrates the true capabilities of musical creativity and the strange desires of the human spirit.

Amplified Observations: Heatmiser’s earlier version of ‘Christian Brothers’ is superior to Elliott Smith’s acoustic version

http://www.thepostathens.com/article/2016/08/elliott-smith-song-is-superior-in-electric-format

Everybody loves the music Elliott Smith created.

Or, at least they would if they listened to a couple albums, preferably his 1995 self-titled and 1997’s Either/Or. But I digress.

Music like Smith’s is more profound in depth than just chords and notes.

Thoughtful songs are often cooked up in the unconscious part of the mind and materialize from emotion or experience rather than just from the chromatic scale. It then becomes a challenge to the musician to find what timbres and progressions fit best with a song’s meaning and mood.

Simple differences like the amount of watts used on instruments dole a significant impact to the final product. In the limited space of this column, take for example, “Christian Brothers,” a well-crafted, intense cut from Elliott Smith’s excellent 1995 self-titled album.

The title of the song is a reference to a brandy that gives the narrator of the song the courage to confront his father using some fairly strong language — as a warning.

In either version, the songwriting is top notch with both heavy, original lyrics and masterful guitar sequences. But, the more recently released version of the song recorded with Heatmiser, a band Smith fronted, has the advantage of being electric, which better captures the anger and brooding of the song than merely an acoustic Yamaha FG.

The vocals are a bit richer in the electric version, able to compete in the mix, which I like, but some might understandably prefer the ones on the acoustic version. With the wholesome texture, it’s easy to get lost in the feel of the song, with everything balancing out from a full band experience. Unearthed only in 2013, it feels faster and livelier than the acoustic but still as haunting.

For songs that dig deeper than the surface of songwriting, the tiniest changes might steer a tune in a new direction or possibly a new perspective. And recognizing these intricacies makes listening to well-crafted songs that much more rewarding.

But it also raises questions like if the right decision were made for a song, which only makes music that much more of a mysterious sonic void of endless possibilities.

It’s the songwriters who climb their way out of that chaotic void and harness musical precision that are the ones who create the most timeless, unparalleled music. And regardless what version you prefer, surely Elliott Smith stands among those few.

Luke Furman is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. What is your favorite Elliott Smith song? Let Luke know by tweeting him @LukeFurmanLog or emailing him at lf491413@ohio.edu

Amplified Observations: Why do post-rock bands score so many movies?

http://bit.ly/29Wc4f0

Scoring a film is much like capturing it. It takes arrangement and execution.

It’s not an uncommon practice to bolster a film’s visuals with a barrage of orchestral strings and powerful brass. A good film score increases tension and targets emotion, feats that grandiose classical ensembles easily achieve.

But for some directors, violins are not enough. Several famed filmmakers have strayed from the Hans Zimmers and Danny Elfmans of the world in favor of a less conventional sound: post-rock.

Columnist Luke Furman argues how despite going through changes of sound and subjects, folk has retained its original intention and purpose.

Post-rock, a mostly instrumental rock derivative that focuses on creating longer, more complex compositions than traditional rock, works in a similar fashion to classical film scores. Both take time to establish fine-tuned textures, build suspense, convey intensity or triumph and both sound amazingly rich at loud volumes.

One of the most popular post-rock bands, Explosions in the Sky, scored two critically successful Peter Berg films: Friday Night Lights (2004) and Lone Survivor (2013). Berg described the appeal of the band as having “an emotional, tender quality to their music, even when it gets aggressive.” In addition to these, the quartet also crafted soundtracks to Prince Avalanche (2013) starring Paul Rudd and Manglehorn (2014) starring Al Pacino. But they are hardly the only band of this style to cash in on this art form with dual film and soundtrack revenues.

The films Moneyball (2011) and Room (2015) both feature “The Mighty Rio Grande,” an 11 minute wordless ode by Texas post-rock band This Will Destroy YouMoneyball almost uses it to a point of motif. The band also lent its song “Villa Del Refugio” to the Brad Pitt zombie thriller World War Z (2013).

Scottish genre band Mogwai scored Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006) and the French TV show known in America as The Returned. And even further back, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s song “East Hastings” appeared in Danny Boyle’s apocalyptic 28 Days Later in 2003, which might have even set the precedent for the use of post-rock in place of traditional scores.

Boyle told The Guardian he used Godspeed’s album F#A# Infinity as inspiration for the atmosphere of the film, saying “The whole film was cut to Godspeed in my head.”

So whether it’s stirring moodiness or feelings buried underneath layers of reverb, something about post-rock makes for a perfect complement to any tense or meaningful film sequence. It’s what Beethoven or Bach might have made if they had some effects pedals and rolling papers lying around the house.

And ultimately, when two passion-driven art forms like film and post-rock collide, something memorable is bound to emerge in its radiating aftermath.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Can you think of another movie with a great post-rock soundtrack? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at lf491413@ohio.edu.

Amplified Observations: Folk music has changed over the years, but its message stays the same

http://bit.ly/2aiHSi9

Behind all folk, there is a clear message.

Unlike other music styles more focused on aesthetics and instrumentation, folk’s highest goal is to offer stark truths and sharp criticisms about the society in which we all live.

Stemming from the precedents set by traditional folk music, contemporary folk continuously acts as vehicle for social and political commentary since its inception in the late ’50s and early ’60s. And much like its precursor, it is still performed by the sensible working class, the downtrodden and those who want their non-conformist voices to be heard.

Contemporary folk’s simplistic sound comes from taking time-tested chord progressions and rustic timbres — such as the guitar, the banjo, the harmonica and the mandolin — and infusing them with new commentary about how the folk artist wishes to see change in the world.

Many of the 20th century folk revivalists, alongside their own compositions, covered traditional folk songs for their new audiences like “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” “House of the Rising Sun,” “Oh! Susanna” and “Joe Hill.”

Naturally, the context of their songs change with the era they’re played in, and the times they were a changin’.

Columnist Luke Furman discusses how rhythm guitarists and other support roles are often overlooked, despite playing a crucial part in binding an act’s sound together.

Following the initial wave of artists who established contemporary folk, Bob Dylan turned the movement on its head when he incorporated electric guitar in 1965 much to the dismay of other folk musicians, including Pete Seeger. However, the songs he produced with electric instruments, including “Maggie’s Farm,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” became classics, dismantling the perception of how true folk must be played. But it would not be the last major change that would befall the music.

After going electric, many sub-genres and derivatives emerged from the folk revival such as folk rock, folk punk (e.g. The Pogues) and later on freak folkpsych folk and indie folkone of the most pleasant genres.

In the new millennium, folk singers started to introduce modern technology and life into into their lyrics. Artists like Father John Misty, Bright Eyes and Bon Iver have adopted a modern angle to folk, referencing topics like email repliesprescription drug abuseGeorge BushJean-Paul Sartre and online friends.

However, folk’s original working class subversion is still present in these newer works as each one of these artists criticize modern politics or society, in one fashion or another. They also manage to craft their songs in a fairly self-aware way that often adds an extra layer of sarcasm and irony to their music, especially with Father John Misty and Kurt Vile.

With such a wide array of musical arrangements and subjects to pick from, today’s folk artists might have the most freedom to create a unique sound, as opposed to an acoustic guitar and 4/4 drumming.

This is because, at its roots, folk is really about what’s being said and less about how. Something as simple and abrasive as a Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains song is just as much folk as something as complex and lush as a Fleet Foxes tune. They look to accomplish the same goal of transferring relatable truths backed only by a steady beat beneath some bluesy strings.

Having a huge back-catalog to take inspiration from can only produce a better future for folk music, especially since that catalog stretches back long before Lincoln took office. So, although the means might change, the spirit of folk ultimately remains the same: meaningful, subversive and honest.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. What’s your favorite folk song? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at lf491413@ohio.edu.