Nyansense: Favorite song

What is your favorite song? It seems like a pretty simple question. It’s that song you listen to most frequently. So for me that would mean its “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” by Los Campesinos! But what about that song you play in the car with the top down in the summer time and sing along to? Oh wait, I do that with “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed,” too. How about that song that just hits you in a way that words can’t describe?  It’s that feeling that transcends words, an idea that can’t be transmuted into words. ”We are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” fits that description, too.

To be clear, while “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” is an amazing song, it is not my favorite. I was hoping that I could illustrate just how contradictory the criteria for choosing a “favorite” song can be… but it seems I’ve been duped. Everything points right at “We are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” — but somewhere there is a disconnect.  Because as much as I love it and as much as I listen to it and as much as I blast it on highway trips and sing along to it, “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” is not my favorite song. This title belongs to “Motorcycle Drive By” by Third Eye Blind.

I’ve struggled with this question for quite a while, how exactly to define what my favorite song is. I mean, I came up with perfectly good criteria and found a song that fits all of them, but for some reason there is still a gap between my theoretical favorite song and my actual favorite song.

I first heard “Motorcycle Drive By” when I was 14. I was mesmerized. I listened to it constantly and then, as I went through high school and began to truly love music, it fell out of constant rotation. It’s not that I had gotten tired of it, which happens frighteningly often when I find a song I love. Instead, my favorite song just fell aside. But the memory of elation stayed clear within my mind. I rediscovered it in March of my freshman year of college and it was like greeting a long lost friend.

My favorite song is a love song. I don’t see how anyone could honestly admit that their favorite song is not about love. My favorite song is also a pop song. If you know me, you’d know that I take pride (probably a bit too much) in having an eclectic musical taste. I constantly seek out music that’s fallen out of the public eye or has never really reached it in the first place. And more often than not, I’d rather listen to the niche music of the underground than the all-too-often cookie cutter creations of the mainstream. But while I constantly search for music that is odd, unique, and complex there is an integral aspect of music that pop capitalizes: Connection. Pop music is made for the masses. It needs to find a way to cater a message to an audience that’s heard it all without being boring. While pop will always be criticized for being inauthentic corporate drivel, it is inauthentic corporate drivel that brings people together in a way niche music cannot. That is why I am not ashamed to say that my favorite song is, indeed, a pop song.

When I was eighteen I decided that I wanted to make a mix CD that reflected my personality. It took me six months to create; 21 songs and 1:19:04 long.  With 20 songs chosen and organized in a logical (to me) fashion I had enough room for one song and I had no idea what to choose. Time passed, songs were proposed and subsequently tossed aside, and frustration built up.  And then, as if it had been the logical choice all along, I thought “Hey, what about THAT song?”  I still don’t know how I could have overlooked “Motorcycle Drive By”.  This song, which had fallen out of my life for no particular reason, had suddenly regained prominence.  It illustrates the duality of the system and surroundings, the unity of “was,” “am,” and “will be.”  It is a love song that is not about falling in love or falling out of love. Just love. The pain of isolation and rejection juxtaposed with the assuagement of community and acceptance. It was the perfect capstone.

This song, like “We Are Beautiful We Are Doomed,” fits all of my criteria: Consistently among the top 25 played through five iPod incarnations, sing-along-able, and hits me in a way I can’t quite explain. But unlike “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed,” “Motorcycle Drive By” has long since rooted itself in my heart.  It is inextricable to my persona and I cherish every second of it. And yes, it is a poppy love song.


Nyansense: Music scene

Five words guaranteed to break my heart: The Pittsburgh music scene sucks. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pittsburgh is no New York, Boston, or Los Angeles – there is not a constant stream of popular musicians catering to the musically savvy here — but by no means does that legitimize the devaluation of Pittsburgh and the eclectically talented musicians who have contributed so much to the cultural revival that has been occurring here. Remember that whole “Pittsburgh is the new Portland” thing? Thank the music scene for that — maybe not for the hipsters but for the opportunity to discover amazing live music that has yet to be cuckolded by Ticketmaster.

I wanted to write a sarcastic joke here about artists refusing to play in Pittsburgh but pretty much every artist I tried using has played here. Red Hot Chili Peppers is playing at the CONSOL Energy Center this summer. Weezer graced us with its presence at Stage AE last summer. And do I even need to mention Lady Gaga or Kanye West and Jay-Z? But let’s forget about them for a second. Let’s forget about the almost insulting ease by which we can hear about those musicians or the jaw-dropping price of their tickets.

What makes Pittsburgh so fantastic and so unique in a musical culture that is continuously torn between profit and art is the underground music scene. Venues like Belvedere’s, The Shop, the Thunderbird Cafe, Garfield Artworks, and Shadow Lounge all feature amazing musicians for relatively cheap prices. It is a bit more challenging to delve into the music scene here, but for any musical adventurer the reward is well worth it. Classical, noise, hip-hop, electronic, folk: There is almost no audience that Pittsburgh fails to cater to. Even the fact that you have to try in order to find music here is amazing. There is no feeling better than stumbling upon a band you’ve never heard of and coming away with a new love.

Pittsburgh is not New York, nor should it try to be. As someone who has loved music for most of his life, I came into Pittsburgh feeling cheated because I could not see M83 or Fleet Foxes live. A year and a half later I feel more strongly attached to the music here than I ever did back home. You can be happy here too, if you only shut up and listen.


Phutureprimitive – from Dub to Dubstep

Phutureprimitive (aka DJ Rain) has been a favorite of mine since his debut album “Sub Conscious” came out on Waveform Records in 2004. It features a dark psy-ambient dub style that invites the listener on a journey filled with reverb, echoes, and deep pulsing bass. It could be called electronic dub (as in the dub that comes from reggae), but it would be inaccurate to call it dubstep or even “bass music” (a more generic term for dubstep and similar styles). Compare his tune “Rites Of Passage” on that album with a dub remix of Grace Jones’ more recent offering “Corporate Cannibal”:

Phutureprimitive – Rites Of Passage

Grace Jones – Corporate Cannibal (Ivor Guest Dub)

Aside from differences in the actual bass instrument (electric bass vs. synthesizer), the two tracks have a similar feel in the bass, the drums, and the heavy reverb/delay (echo) on everything else.

Fast forward to 2011, when Phutureprimitive releases his second full-length album, Kinetic. In the seven intervening years, the world of electronic dance music has embraced dubstep and made it popular. DJ Rain has obviously been paying attention. Check out the difference in the way the bass moves and it’s more aggressive “acid” sound, and the “two-step” drum style (both key dubstep ingredients) in Kinetic’s title track, which still features the signature Phutureprimitive psy-ambient landscape:

Phutureprimitive – Kinetic

Phutureprimitive will be opening for Shpongle in Pittsburgh at Mr. Small’s Theatre on Thursday, March 29.

-DJ Firefly


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