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.

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Campy Music (and some other stuff)

None of the songs on this cover were written after 1971.
None of the songs on this cover were written after 1971.

Hey everybody,

It’s been one of those weekends that wasn’t any sort of break from the action of the week, but definitely in a good way.  Things got started with a bang when I scored free tickets to see Fitz and the Tantrums, Capital Cities, and Beat Club at Marathon Music Works on Thursday night.  All three bands started in Los Angeles, but each has a distinct sound within the broader category of indie pop-rock.  Beat Club has a very retro feel and their sound is very influenced by The Strokes, which makes sense because they are connected with Julian Casablancas.  Capital Cities is straightforward synth-pop and put on a very energetic show, closing with a fifteen minute rendition of “Safe and Sound” that turned into an electro-dance party.  Other than the last song, however, I didn’t find their music terribly engaging; all the songs sounded very similar but lacked the catchy hook of “Safe and Sound.”  This is only natural, though, since they have released just one LP.  The fact that they already have a Top 10 single at this point in their existence is very promising.  Unfortunately for Capital Cities, their performance was totally upstaged by that of Fitz and the Tantrums, whose neo-soul had a perfect dancing groove but didn’t feel superficial.  “Moneygrabber” was a highlight, leading off the encore and featuring a confetti explosion in the middle of the song.  Overall, the night of music was supremely satisfying, and there should be a lot of buzz about these three bands. Here’s some of the better songs that were played.

The real highlight of the weekend, however, was going home for a weekend of summer camp-related festivites: a bar mitzvah, an official camp reunion, and lots of running around to see as many friends as possible before heading back to school this morning.

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8 Songs to Play at a Halloween Party That You Might Not Have Thought Of

My fellow staff writer Lucas Kunsman recently wrote a very good list of songs that are hauntingly beautiful. A few of my favorites — “Oh Comely” and “Kasimir Pulaski Day” — made the list. But it got me curious: what are 8 songs that are actually appropriate for a Halloween party? Now, these aren’t all Halloween songs, I know, and a lot of them aren’t really that dark or scary; I didn’t want to give you a list filled with horror-film scores and industrial metal. I also didn’t want to give you a list of songs like “Monster Mash” and “Thriller”, so I tried to pick songs you haven’t thought of.

So here are a few songs that are vaguely sinister and festive, but still fun enough to justify playing at a party. No one wants to hear the theme from Psycho while they’re sipping a beer and trying to hit on the girl in the inappropriately revealing costume.

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A Closer Look at Why We Hate Nickelback

But why?  ...Okay, that soul patch is pretty bad.
But why? …Okay, that soul patch is pretty bad.

This past weekend, I was having a GroupMe conversation with a few of my fraternity brothers and, somehow or other, Nicolas Cage popped up.  He always seems to do that in the strangest of places.  We threw around the idea of having Cage be the entertainment for our next party–”he probably needs the money,” quipped our social chair–when I brought up the possibility of a Nick-themed rager: Nicolas Cage PLUS Nickelback.  So bad it would be legendary.  “Cagelback: Because we hate you.”

We all had our laughs but then I remembered something: I used to like Nickelback.

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Under-appreciated Albums: “The Hazards of Love”, by the Decemberists

A few weeks ago the National played at the Ryman, and fellow staff writer Nick Kline and I happened to meet up there. We talked about music, favorite bands, past concerts, and then we hit upon The Decemberists — we’d both seen them live, on their 2009 A Short Fazed Hovel tour, where they played the entirety of their recent album The Hazards of Love. Nick mentioned as an aside that HoL his least favorite Decemberists album, and conversation moved on.

Perhaps this (and, admittedly, a bad case of writer’s block) is what motivated me to write this. While I don’t necessarily know why it’s Nick’s least favorite, nor do I even know if he likes or dislikes it, the general opinion developed since The Hazards of Love‘s release is that’s it’s overwrought, weird, has too many guest vocals, is too repetitive, and too metal. By the time of the release of The Decemberists’ next effort, the superb The King is Dead in 2011, frontman Colin Meloy admitted “Even I’m starting to believe it, like, ‘I guess The Hazards of Love did kind of suck, didn’t it?’”.  By 2013, it’s largely been swept under the rug, left hiding under the skirt of the bigger and strong releases in their six-album catalog. Yet, I can’t help but love this album.  [Read more...]

Jillian Stein and a New Project

I have a second music child to look after now--RVU Records, Vanderbilt's student-run recording company.
I have a second music child to look after now–RVU Records, Vanderbilt’s student-run recording company.

Hi everybody,

Thanks for your continued support of The VU Backstage!  Jillian Stein was a phenomenal guest last night.  Her music gives off a very retro, late 60s-early 70s folk vibe, and you can easily draw comparisons to Joni Mitchell (who, as it turns out, is her chief influence).  Catch the full episode right here.

This next bit of news is extremely exciting and relevant both to the show and to WRVU.  It has taken weeks of development on my part and involved a litany of other people, both students and fully grown adults.  It required a fairly large investment by the Vanderbilt Student Communications board.  It has the potential to change the music scene at Vanderbilt FOREVER.

Jillian Stein played a great show on The VU Backstage last night.  Also, building suspense for the "bit of news" I'm about to drop.
Jillian Stein played a great show on The VU Backstage last night. Also, building suspense for the “bit of news” I’m about to drop.

Have I built you up sufficiently?

Irrelevant picture of a cat, to further build suspense.

HAVE I????????

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