Category Archives: Columns

Amplified Observations: Rhythm guitarists are the unsung heroes of rock music

How can you expect a house to stand without its foundation? You really can’t. The same principle applies to the process of songwriting and the role of the rhythm guitarist.

Without a foundation from a solid chord sequence, even if it’s expressed in secret, there wouldn’t be anything to guide a song’s progression and anchor down all its fluttering melodies. If a song lacks this necessary structure for the creation of riffs and repetition, it might not hold up as well as others that do. When those hurricane force winds of criticism descend upon it, hopefully it has enough support to not topple over onto its neighbor’s fence.

Naturally, the purest example of assuring chord structure is bolstered belongs to the role of the rhythm guitarist. Whether it’s a designated band role or simply a playing style, rhythm guitarists almost exclusively strum the song’s unabridged chord progression behind the lead guitarists’ melodies and the bassist’s often-wavering undercurrents. For this reason, they act as a crucial part of an artist or act’s intended sound, unless the intended sound is something unusually sparse along the lines ofPete Seeger.

But this musical role is also a loveless one.

Columnist Luke Furman discusses what characteristics to look for to gauge the quality or illusion of quality music holds.

If you don’t think so, then how many rhythm guitarists can you name? And, hard mode, how many rhythm guitarist can you name who are not also lead singers? For reference, that eliminates Chuck Berry, George Harrison, Joan Jett, Glenn Frey, Bob Marley and Dave Grohl.

So, unless they’re in an über-famous group or contribute vocals, sole rhythm guitarists’ names seldomly rise to prominence of the household variety. But that’s not their fault.

Their role allows them to fill in the frequency gaps between the bass, drums and leads, which is important enough that it doesn’t require conscious recognition. Perhaps it is then the most selfless role in music.

Some rhythm guitarists who have achieved fame of their own include Keith Richards, whose rhythmic playing functions doubly as a lead, Izzy Stradlin of Guns ‘N’ Roses and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, but the majority of solely rhythm guitarists remain unsung for their seemingly passive contributions whether live or in the studio.

Keyboardists, whose support role serves a similar, if not the same, purpose of providing dense structural padding, share an equal level of anonymity. Except for legendary players such as Ray Manzarek of The Doors and Richard Wright of Pink Floyd, along with the previous examples, musicians in sound-spectrum support roles seem to pass by unnoticed and unthanked.

But ultimately, fame doesn’t really matter as long as you’re doing your job.

Without the sonic layering rhythm guitar provides, we might not become as immersed in the textures and timbres of songs as we so often do. The importance of the role essentially boils down to one of those cases where, in the words of 80s glam-metal band Cinderella, you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.

So to all the rhythm guitarists out there, I thank you for your work. You keep a lot of houses from crumbling into ruin.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Do you have a favorite rhythm guitarist? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at

Amplified Observations: Sirius XM delivers an optimal driving experience worth the cost

When semester breaks roll around, I always look forward to the long drive back home to Pennsylvania mainly for two reasons.

One is that I get to take in the rustic Appalachian landscape and the other is that my parents’ car has Sirius XM. Oh and I like to see my parents, too, so I guess that’s three reasons then.

But aside from the two givens, having Sirius XM for roadtripping or just driving in general vastly improves the whole experience.

Formed from a 2008 merger between Sirius and XM, the commercial-free satellite radio service provides a diverse selection of high quality music including several channels surprisingly dedicated to niche genres and deep cuts almost never played on FM radio. Their channel 27 is even called “Deep Tracks” for that sole purpose.

Many Sirius XM channels tend to be narrowly focused on specific eras or sounds of music rather than the umbrella terms of “classic rock,” “alternative rock” or “rap.” For example, a channel called “The Bridge”  focuses on mellow 70s rock and folk acts like James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon and an assortment of the likes. This one usually stays on if my dad is in the car.

Classic rock is also divided between 60s and 70s on “Classic Vinyl” and the later stuff on “Classic Rewind,” giving listeners the freedom to choose.

Columnist Luke Furman determines whether Jim Morrison’s poetry could get an A in a high school English class or if it would come up short.

Conversely, there are also more loosely-focused channels that broadcast a variety of brand new and less established artists. Channel 44, “Hip-Hop Nation” is on rap songs nearly as soon as they’re released, and the Eminem-created “Shade 45” features the popular show “Sway In the Morning” on top of uncensored verses.

For all needs indie, “Sirius XMU” and “Alt Nation” play everything working its way through the music blogs along with some classic indie artists like Yo La Tengo. And for the birth of indie, you can tune to channel 33, “1st Wave,” for some of the earliest alternative/indie rock like R.E.M. and The Smiths.

And apart from being in a tunnel, all of these channels come in crystal clear from a satellite, seasonable to taste with the bass and treble knobs of your car radio.

Of course, like many things, cost is a major downside to Sirius XM. However, if you can shell out an extra $20 a month, it saves paying for data to stream music on-the-go and allows for more song variety than an iPhone can hold. Even so, with options in each style of music in addition to sports, talk, comedy and news, the experience is unmatched by other streaming services, at least while in the car.

For college students stretching every penny, it might not be the best use of money, but it’s nonetheless a great service that might put the subwoofer you bought in high school to good use. And if you can afford it or even have access to a car, then color me jealous.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Do you use Sirius XM? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at

Amplified Observations: Subtle bass playing is as impressive as bombastic playing

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and when it comes to bass guitar that line is drawn between playing to impress and playing to fit the song. Before I dive into what I mean by this, let me present you with a scenario.

Say you’re considering buying a bass or have just become the owner of one. Now, what’s the first thing you do beside strumming your soon-to-be-calloused index finger over the E string?

If you’re anything like high school me, after fumbling around with the tab to “Day Tripper” a few times, you go on Youtube and look up all the masters of the instrument:Victor WootenFleaJaco PastoriusGeddy LeeMarcus Miller and so on.

You watch in awe as you see a more expensive version of your new instrument grooving at the forefront of a song or showcased in an impressive solo. It’s an inspiring display for anyone who looks to learn all of the ins and outs of the low-end ax in order to replicate the excitement you felt watching it.

However, in a moment of musical inquiry, it’s soon realized that the reason those songs are so impressive is that they are based around the bass, just like how The Smiths are based around Morrissey’s voice, in a sense. Thus, the true mark of a solid bass player is playing lines and using techniques that fit the feel of each specific song, whether it be over-the-top slapping and popping or a more melodic, subdued approach.

Aside from a few select genres like funk and reggae, the bass is most widely used as part of the rhythm section, along with drums, and not as a lead instrument. In fact, I once heard the role of the bass described as “drums that have notes,” which illustrates the connection these two instruments have more clearly.

Many famous bass players in bands, rather than those billed as headliner for their name or playing, garnered fame simply by finding ways to achieve the best basslines with the least amount of excess. Paul McCartney played minimal, sparse lines with rapid note-leading during changes, but the sounds of his Höfner became integral to the sound of The Beatles. It’s difficult to imagine a different tone. Similarly, John Entwistle of The Who played mostly in the background of the mix, but his rhythmic contributions helped to glue each of their songs together, like any good bass playing should.

Countless other examples (John Paul Jones, Charles Mingus, Kim Deal) provide evidence that playing a simple line in place of an unnecessarily complex one can result in much more impressive, memorable playing. Less is definitely more if you’re not in the midst of a heart-pounding solo. Throw in an occasional fifth or third for an accent and you’re pretty much golden, ready to be inducted in the Bass Player Hall of Fame (which if it existed, I imagine would also be in Cleveland).

As the TV show Futurama once observed, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” Few quotations have indirectly summed up bass playing for me so well, and it’s my judgement that the quality of a bass player should be often held in their ability to make people forget that they exist at all.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Do you play bass guitar? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at

Amplified Observations: Less accessible songs are sometimes worth the effort

Because music really has no definite limits other than being “sound arranged over time,” some music makers have decided to run with this definition and stray from conventional music structures and timbres.

And the result can end up being painfully confusing, sonically jarring or strangely pleasant. In many cases, it can be all three.

Although unconventional songs sometimes feel like a test to our patience or ears, oftentimes they offer unique emotional motifs not found in other music.

For example, not many music genres convey sadness, depression, misanthropy or terrestrial consciousness as well as black metal’s grinding, shrieking, hopeless aesthetics. Sure, it might be difficult to accept the stark abrasiveness or unsavory politics of its pioneering bands like Darkthrone or a more polished stylistic derivative like Wolves in the Throne Room, but sometimes the journey is worth the destination if you’re looking for a certain abstract place.

However, experimental music is not limited, as it rarely is, to the caustic extremes of lo-fi Scandinavian metal.

Other brash genres like hardcore punk, noise rock and experimental hip-hop frequently explore visceral concepts like chaos, anger and, a lot of the time, hate, which is a sentiment hardly brought up outside of breakup tunes.

Furthemore, some non-traditional acts in the above styles translate these emotions less through the framework of a particular genre and more around the context of abrasive textures and constant noisiness such as Big BlackClippingFugaziDeath Grips and, in the most extreme case, Merzbow (By the way, Pitchfork rated that Merzbow album of basically manipulated white noise an 8.7, not to say that I particularly agree with that).

Furthermore, musical experimentation is also not exclusive to the independent, obscure or avant-garde.

Many popular artists have released challenging songs that test listeners in their determination and intellect in figuring out the work’s significance. Compositions like The Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9,” The Velvet Underground’s “European Son” and Animal Collective’s “Brother Sport” all ask listeners to suspend their notion of how a song should play out and allow tape loops, feedback and noises of all sorts to build up to a fruition unparalleled by verse-chorus-verse structure.

With all that being said, I must concede that there is a line where some unconventional music becomes pretty much inaccessible. Yet, it’s hard to pinpoint that line since everyone has a subjective tolerance of what can be considered pleasant, redeeming or, conversely, headache-inducing.

What’s ultimately important is that if you keep an open mind, decipher patterns and themes and try to figure out what the artist had in mind, you might find yourself entranced by something you thought you could never like.

It’s happened to me a bunch, and I’m thankful to have added a few artists to my repertoire, even if some of them are not on Spotify.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Do you listen to any of the artists he mentioned? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at