Author page: Jamie Stoike

WRVU Unplugged: Evil Home Stereo

What's a writer to do?! (Photo by Jamison Stoike)
What’s a writer to do?! (Photo by Jamison Stoike)

Today is April 14th, and that means that school is finally winding down. For our seniors, however, their entire Vanderbilt career is in its final chapter; graduation is only four weeks away, and now WRVU’s graduating DJs only have a few radio shows left. So this week, I thought I’d sit down with a senior DJ and talk about his specialty show, what makes it unique, how he’s managed to keep his shows fresh for four years, and if he has any parting thoughts.

That DJ? Myself.

(Do you know how hard it is to schedule an interview with people this time of the year?! I swear I’m not trying to be self-aggrandizing. I’m simply out of options!)

Get Laughing! 9 Songs for April Fools’ Day

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April Fools’ Day is only two days off now. Most people I know think it’s a pretty underwhelming holiday, really, unless you’re my parents, who decided to get married on April Fools’ Day. For a holiday that’s at least 800 years old and was mentioned in The Canterbury Tales, the day is typically only a series of annoyances — failed pranks, jokes that are simply mean, and friends who tell you horrifically tragic news before undercutting it with an exuberant “April fools!”

Revisiting The Decemberists’ “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”

Driving back to Nashville from Lafayette, Indiana this weekend, I decided to revisit the Decemberists’ entire discography on the way down, to listen to each record and then to rank them in a hierarchy. The result was a list ordered as such:

  1. Picaresque (2005)
  2. Castaways and Cutouts (2002)
  3. The Hazards of Love (2009)
  4. The King is Dead (2011)
  5. The Crane Wife (2006)
  6. Her Majesty the Decemberists (2003)
  7. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (2015)

You may notice that their most recent release, What a Terrible World, is at the bottom. What you can’t see is how strikingly large the gap between albums six and seven actually is. Make no mistake — WATW is still a decent album by any standard. But it does stand as the Decemberists’ biggest disappointment, especially given the bands remarkable consistency and excellence. I want to reexamine What a Terrible World a year after its release, unpack its problems, and see if they can be fixed.

WRVU Unplugged: VU Backstage

Allan Boudreau-Fine in the studio. Photo by Jamison Stoike.
Allan Boudreau-Fine in the studio. Photo by Jamison Stoike.

Sometimes the Vanderbilt music scene can seem a bit dull compared to our neighbors at Belmont, but Allan Boudreau-Fine begs to differ. Boudreau-Fine, a sophomore, hosts VU Backstage, a weekly look into the thriving Vanderbilt music scene. I met with him this week to chat about WRVU’s only radio show focused on campus music.

WRVU Unplugged: Wax Poetics

Josiah Williams in the studio. Photo by Jamison Stoike.
Josiah Williams in the studio. Photo by Jamison Stoike.

When Josiah Williams, a trombone performance major from Downer’s Grove, Illinois, isn’t performing in a Blair ensemble, you might find him reading something like this:

She’s all states, and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus.
Thine age asks ease, and since they duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed they center is, these walls, thy sphere.
(John Donne, “The Sun Rising”)

Josiah’s love of poetry informs one of WRVU’s most unique shows: Wax Poetics. I sat down with the DJ this week to discuss his show, how it started, and what he’s discovered along the way.

Let’s Talk About David Bowie’s “Blackstar”
David Bowie — “Blackstar”. Image couresty of Wikipedia.

David Bowie released the title track off of his forthcoming album, a 10-minute behemoth complete with a disturbingly surreal music video, about two weeks ago now. And despite almost obsessive listening over the past two weeks, I’m not sure I know any more what “Blackstar” is than I did when I first heard it. All I know is that I can’t stop listening.

Something’s Not Quite Right on EL VY’s Debut
Photo courtesy of

It’s hard to put my finger on it, but something’s just not quite right with EL VY’s debut, Return to the Moon. A side project of Brent Knopf of Menomena and Matt Berninger of the National, EL VY carries quite a heavy set of expectations. While I’m not familiar with the work of Knopf, The National has long been one of my favorite bands, in large part thanks to Berninger’s dry, imagist lyrics and dolorous vocal delivery. And while it’s perhaps unfair to compare the two bands, it is nonetheless telling that the moments where this collaboration works best are when EL VY sounds the most like The National.

Deerhunter Tops 2010’s “Halcyon Digest” with “Fading Frontier”
Cover art courtesy of Wikipedia

I’ll start by saying that I like Deerhunter. And while Monomania may have felt a bit overlong and undercooked, I’m reasonably convinced that their 2010 album Halcyon Digest is one of the best albums of the 2000s. I say this to give some context to lavish praise I’m about to heap onto their new album, Fading Frontier.

To start: Fading Frontier is better than Halcyon Digest, which is saying quite a lot. Fading Frontier a carefully crafted 36-minute masterpiece, filled with inventive songwriting, melodies that surprise you at every turn, and the best, most striking set of lyrics Bradford Cox has ever written.

When I Discovered My Favorite Songs Aren’t My Favorite Songs…

While I was on a road trip with my girlfriend this summer, I bravely ceded control of my iPod. Flipping through my playlists to find one she liked, she asked me if I wanted to listen to my Top 25 Most Played playlist–a playlist automatically assembled by iTunes and which I had no idea existed. What followed was a surprising series of mini-revelations as to what my favorite songs actually were.

I think that sometimes one gets so caught up in popular and critical opinion that it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of a song more than the song itself, or that you may love one song on an album so much you forget the songs around it that you listen to just as much. So color me surprised when, looking at my music library sorted by plays, The Decemberists didn’t crack the top ten. Nor did The National, or Arcade Fire, or many other bands that I love more than Rufus Wainwright, whose “Poses” is the 6th most played track on my iPod. And my two “favorite” Modest Mouse songs, “3rd Planet” and “Night on the Sun”? They weren’t there either. Looking at “Gravity Rides Everything” sitting atop the list, I realized that “Wow, that actually might be my favorite song.” It’s a strange bit of cognitive dissonance that results from this, triggering the realization that beliefs don’t always match actions. I may claim that “PDA” is my favorite Interpol song, but the facts disagree–and such was my experience with other bands.

With perhaps one exception, I didn’t anticipate any of these songs to be here–and yet they are. They’re the favorite songs that hide in plain sight; the unsung heroes; the crushes that you never notice until someone points it outThe end result is that the next time I’m asked what my favorite songs are, I may have to see if perception matches reality.

Next time you need a playlist to listen to, peruse your Top 25; maybe you’ll be just as surprised as I was.

In the meantime, here’s what I was surprised about: my top 10 most played songs.

The Decemberists Nail their Set at the Ryman

The Decemberists tear into opening song “A Singer Addresses His Audience”


Let it be known that when I last saw the Decemberists back in 2011, I successfully predicted that their first song would be “Apology Song” off their debut EP 5 Songs. Thus, when I predicted that they’d begin this show with the very appropriate “A Singer Addresses His Audience,” the Decemberists didn’t let me down and I am now two-for-two on my predictions. The Decemberists have never let me down: they’ve pumped out quality album after quality album, excellent live show after excellent live show. And Monday night, led by charismatic frontman Colin Meloy, was no different, even if Meloy and Co. had to struggle against an at times apathetic crowd at Ryman Auditorium.

Sufjan Stevens Dials it Back for the Intimate ‘Carrie & Lowell’

Sufjan Stevens has never been afraid to bear his heart to an audience. Even at his most thematic and theatrical–2005’s masterpiece Illinois–he wasn’t shy about including a line like “I cried myself to sleep last night” as the centerpiece of a song before asking the listener to question “are you writing from the heart?” But while Illinois buried its confessional nature amidst richly arranged baroque pop playgrounds, Carrie & Lowell is a thoroughly intimate affair; all you’ll find here are fluttering guitars, double-tracked vocals delivered with a whisper, and haunting synthesizer elegies bookending the album’s brisk tracks. It is an album that is simple and anguished to its very core.

Sufjan's seventh album is inspired by his mother and step-father
Sufjan’s seventh album is inspired by his mother and step-father

Better With Age: 4 Albums to Consider

Like a fine wine or high-quality bourbon, some albums just seem to get better and better–some get better with multiple listens, some get better because they were too ahead of their time, and some get better because they exist completely outside of time. Here are a few albums that, if you haven’t heard them in a while, should be given another few listens.

“Their Older Stuff Was Better” and The Bethesda Effect

Last year, Interpol released their El Pintor, an excellent album filled with hooks, grooves, and some surprisingly daring vocals from Paul Banks who I’ve previously mentioned in my articles has a love for singing in an ALL CAPS MONOTONE. It was, by all accounts, a good album, and certainly their most critically successful since they released Antics ten years prior. Yet a cloud hung over the album, a phrase that was spoken with a casual grace that belies it’s endemic presence in today’s music culture: “Their older stuff was better.”

Understanding the Decemberists in 13 Songs

The Decemberists are nothing less than the band that got me into indie rock, albeit in a very non-indie way: back in January of 2009, I was watching a rerun of one of my favorite episodes of How I Met Your Mother, “Ted Mosby, Architect”. During the episode’s denouement, as Ted Mosby walks the streets of New York and muses on his relationship woes, the seminal Decemberists’ track “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect” plays. I’d seen the episode before, but something inside me told me to look up the song this time — and just a month later I had purchased all five of the Decemberists’ LPs (including the newly released The Hazards of Love) and was at the beginning of a relationship that I still find myself in. They’ve provided the soundtrack of my past 6 years, good and bad, and with their new album What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World there’s no better time to fall in love with them again — or for the very first time.

The Decemberists – “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”

We know, we know, we belong to ya.
We know you built your life around us.
And would we change? We had to change some.

And with that, the Decemberists begin their 7th album with a knowing wink, a sad and insightful look at the relationship between a band and its audience. And sure enough, the Decemberists have changed: What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” is their poppiest, most buoyant album yet. Unfortunately, it’s also their least ambitious and exciting.

What in the World “Combat Salacious Removal” Means, and Why Abstract Lyrics Work

Sometimes I don’t know why I love the things I love. I was sitting in my room and doing homework this weekend while blasting through Interpol’s 2004 album Antics, singing along to the track “Length of Love”. It’s a great track, starting around a sinister guitar part before it shifts into the kind of ersatz-punk-disco that Interpol is known for. Naturally I’m singing along, but when I get to the chorus I stop and ask myself, “What in the world did I just sing?” See, I had to ask this question because the chorus is just a three word motif sung in Paul Banks’ ALL CAPS monotone. The words? (And I’m not making this up) “COMBAT SALACIOUS REMOVAL”.

Music and Memories

“Taxman” always makes me think of this. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Willis)

I’ve read over and over again that olfaction is the strongest sense at evoking memories. I think it has to do with the amygdala or something — hey, I’m not a neuroscience major. There are certain smells that bring up memories for me, some specific and some general; the smell of pine and sugar cookies makes me think of Christmas; the smell of “Midnight Pomegranate” hand soap, weirdly enough, makes me think of playing Call of Duty 4 back in 8th grade. Growing up in the plains of Northern Indiana, I always looked forward to the first day of summer — not June 21, but rather some Saturday in late April or May when I’d wake up, open the window, and smell the first faint, sweet, loamy scent of soil carried across the fields on the constant breeze. Every once in a while I’ll catch a brief whiff of it in Nashville and it still makes me excited.

Despite all this, one sense evokes more memories than scent for me: hearing. Specifically, hearing music; nothing else so vividly conjures up the events of my life as it does.

Beck – Morning Phase

“Can we start it all over again this morning?” Beck asks early on in the opening track of Morning Phase, his first album since 2008’s Modern Guilt. After a gorgeous 40 second instrumental opening, strings give way into the plaintive guitar strums of “Morning”, and it truly does feel like a something entirely new, a rebirth — which is odd, because Beck has specifically said this album is a spiritual successor to his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change.

And sure, the beginning of “Morning” has an uncanny resemblance to the beginning of Sea Change opener “The Golden Age.” And sure, all of Morning Phase is ostensibly similar to its much-vaunted predecessor. It does feature the same musicians and the same California-folk influence. And yeah, even the cover art (Exhibits 1 and 2) looks strikingly similar, Beck’s steady gaze staring out behind smears of orange and blue.

But hear me out: the truth is that it’s only similar in the sense that all music by an artist sounds similar to previous music produced by that artist. No left turn is truly a total departure: even the cold, Kraftwerk heartbeat of Kid A‘s “Idioteque” had its roots in the laserbeam percussion loop of OK Computer’s “Airbag”.

The point of all this is to get you to look at Morning Phase in the ways it differs, rather than its similarities, because these differences are what make Morning Phase the best Beck album since 1998’s Mutations.

A Look at Two New Songs from Beck’s Upcoming LP “Morning Phase”

Beck has been in extended hiatus since 2008’s Modern Guilt. Of course, he hasn’t been entirely dormant; he’s been producing, working on his own label, collaborating with people as diverse as Jack White and Phillip Glass, and releasing new songs in the form of sheet music. Beck is to release his first LP in six years, Morning Phase — a spiritual successor to 2002’s Sea Change recorded with many of the same musicians — this Friday, and has already released two songs from the album: “Blue Moon” and “Waking Light”. Let’s take a look.

A Much Delayed Top 5 Songs of 2013

2014 is over a month old now, the Grammys have finally aired, and it’s high time for me to compose this before the moment passes and 2014’s release schedule starts to heat up as the year pushes into spring. And what better time is there to catch up on music than a rainy Nashville February?

Reflections on Christmas Music

There’s a golden rule that it’s generally impermissible to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s to contain everyone’s excitement; maybe — as my girlfriend likes to remind me — it’s to preserve the sanctity of Thanksgiving, the best holiday. My mom, in the past a proponent of this rule, announced with guilt that she’s been sneaking Christmas music: “I’m usually able to hold off until Thanksgiving but I was weak this year.”

In the past, I would’ve groaned; I was, like her, a staunch proponent of the Thanksgiving Rule. But this year even I find myself slipping into a Christmas mood earlier than usual. So I broke. I listened to Barry Manilow’s Christmas album, then all of my Christmas favorites. And I feel phenomenal. Christmas is the itch, and its music is the salve.