High on Stress "Cop Light Parade" (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. In this edition Nick Leet, from the Minneapolis-based quartet High on Stress, describes the evolution of “Cop Light Parade.” Written by Leet and performed with Ben Baker, the song underlines his story underlines importance of continually searching for ideas before describing the events that eventually influenced the song. “Cop Light Parade” is scheduled to be included on High on Stress’ forthcoming September release.

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I wrote most of the lyrics to this song in a van between Chicago and Omaha. I was on a tour with Brad Senne and Charley Dush that we called the “Magical Misery Tour.” I noticed along the way that Brad and Charley would grab their notebooks and write song ideas out as we went. All my life I’ve noticed that when I’m out of my day to day routine I do my best work so I figured I’d give it a shot too.

When we were in Chicago we spent the day downtown walking around and record shopping. When we finished we needed to get back to the train and get to our show. As we were walking back to the station I realized that people around the train station all walked around with their heads down staring at the ground so people wouldn’t hassle them which made it difficult to ask for directions. It was interesting to me how scared people seemed and I wondered how much life people missed while staring at the ground. That got me thinking of all the other ways that people waste their lives while they are too blind to see the good that is in front of them. People spend a lot of time watching television and reading the news which is just saturated in negativity, body counts, child abuse, Paris Hilton and realized it’s very hard to keep your head up and be happy when you’re surrounded by negativity.

The last verse of the song is about a girl I used to know. She was the kind of person who was a lot of fun to hang out with but as time went on I realized that half of what she said wasn’t adding up. She was a really sad and lost person and although there were bright things happening around her she couldn’t see it. I’m not sure whatever happened to her. - Nick Leet

Santogold "Santogold" Review

The initial draw of Santogold’s eponymous debut is heavily based on that of the album’s lead single, “L.E.S. Artistes,” a song that has enough widespread appeal to own up to the title of being this year’s “Crazy.” Having said that, the appeal of the remainder of the album comes from its ability to inflate various abstract pieces that are slowly beginning to epitomize modern popular music. I continually fall back to a thought that was raised by Soul Sides‘ Oliver Wang when he was evaluating last year’s Kala for NPR, relating the sounds of the album to a vastly more important trend, “At a time when globalization is both dissolving and reinforcing national identities, M.I.A.’s music speaks from a blurry borderland through a lingua franca of agitated, propulsive pop.” Maybe it is no coincidence then that M.I.A.’s friend Santi White has created something so closely related last year’s blockbuster. Santogold doesn’t have the genuine edginess of its equally hyped contemporary but it may serve as an urbanized equivalent to M.I.A.’s guerrilla manifesto. Equal parts reinvention and innovation Santogold is an album that is too easy to avoid yet too creative to ignore.

Death Cab For Cutie “Narrow Stairs” Review

Hypothetically speaking – the most beautiful, smart, vibrant woman could approach me by saying that Death Cab For Cutie were a good band and I’d still have scoffed. Not just at the idea that someone would enjoy a second-rate Weezer knock off (at least the Weezer that still made albums worth a damn) but more importantly because they would brag about it. Without really listening to the band I had built up an idea of what they represented, and not even the best of intentions can overcome a closed mind…sometimes. Giving Narrow Stairs an honest chance proved my thoughts to be a bit preemptive. “I Will Possess Your Heart” makes me wonder if all this time the band has been writing wonderfully churning songs capable of bearing their own weight. “No Sunlight” and “Cath…” add to the glaring enjoyability of the album, though, and as it shifts past the first few tracks it develops into something a bit typical of what I had expected – musically consistent mid-tempo tracks with titles like “Pity and Fear.” Despite my initial disposition I enjoyed Narrow Stairs to a point where I’d actually bring it up in a conversation; so…bring on the ladies!

Big Cats! “Ballad Northwestern” (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here, producer Minneapolis-based producer Big Cats! explains not just the process that lead him to the first track on his forthcoming album, Sleep Tapes, but the process that helped him reinvent his passion for making music. Falling into the trap of defining himself by the skills of others he spent a year training himself to get in the habit of being productive for the sake of personal fulfillment. Sleep Tapes will be released June 19th, celebrating the release will be a CD release party at the Dinkytowner.

On “Ballad Northwestern”:

This song is the genesis of the whole album. It’s the first song I made for the record and aside from the intro, is the first song on the album. Prior to this record I had been really focused on placing beats, getting my stuff to rappers and getting my music on other people’s records. I had just struck gold by hooking up with Sage Francis and Jolie Holland on Sage’s last album, and figured that’s what I should be doing more of. This beat got me back to making music for myself. Much of this record comes out of me being sick of waiting for rappers to get it together, for rappers to listen to my demo, for more than 1 out of every 1,000 rappers to be worth listening to, and for all the shitty MySpace MCs to stop asking if I want to “collab” (aka, give them free beats). Instead of having 300 beats sitting on my hard drive waiting for so and so to buy one that he liked, I just said “fuggit” and made a record for myself. This song was crucial in convincing me that a record like that would be worth listening to.

I made the beat late last fall, at a time when a horde of crazy stuff was going on in my life. Among other things, my mom had been in and out of the hospital for a few months, I was trying to finish school, and another bad ass Minnesota winter was looming just over the horizon. I had recently made a rule for myself that I would work on music, even if it was just for an hour, every day. So, even if it’s Christmas, even if I’m dead tired from work, from school, from hanging out at the hospital all day, whatever, when I get home I’m making beats. This was part of the reason for the title Sleep Tapes as well, because I was making most of the material in my bedroom, late at night, really quietly so my neighbors and roommates wouldn’t kill me. In addition - the music is calmer, more relaxing, partially as a way for me to get away from whatever had been going on that day, and to get ready for sleep. A lot of people come home from a long day at work or whatever and crash in front of the TV. I basically spent a year crashing in front of my computer every night and making beats. - Big Cats!

Nine Inch Nails "The Slip" Review

Whereas one must turn off their phone, email and instant messenger services in addition to making sure their pet and/or child has been fed and appropriately sedated before even considering making it through Ghosts I-IV in a single sitting, Trent Reznor artistically departs from that vision with The Slip. In doing so however its ten tracks are scattered, often confronting one another with such distinct sounds; considering it an album to be listened to from start to end quickly becomes a distant thought. In pieces The Slip is phenomenal, touching on Year Zero with its “Survivalism” Jr. “1,000,000″ it also wields tracks such as the introductory “999,999″ and “Corona Radiata;” both clearly Ghosts-castaways. With the approach taken however, Reznor allows for unique nuances to not only see release, but become prominent. “Letting You” sounds like a personal response to the agro-industrialism of the Spawn soundtrack and the albums lead non-single “Discipline” flaunts what may (or may not be) vocal slips during the first verse. The Slip is a solid release, its pieces far stronger than the album as a whole, however releasing such a collection may possibly indicate that Reznor may eventually go one step further in his journey to slight the recording industry and forget about releasing songs in the form of an album altogether. Or maybe it is just scattered, either way it’s worth the price of admission.

My Morning Jacket “Evil Urges” Review

A friend admonished his suggestion to listen to Evil Urges, hinting that My Morning Jacket was set to release something twisted and absolutely uncharacteristic, “It’s almost like MMJ thinks they can do whatever they want now;” my response, “they can’t?” I thought it fitting that the gravity of a sound that has nestled the band so close to a jam-centric culture now seems plausible ammunition for revolt. The band’s latest pulls from sounds so wide in comparison to what has become expected of them that it’d be hard for any historic fan not to wince…if only momentarily however, as it shifts and casts different shades suggesting to be not only the band’s most creative outing to date, but a fitting complement to 2005’s Z.

My concluding thoughts on the band’s 2006 DVD Okonokos lead me to a feeling that there wouldn’t be a complementary understanding between myself and the band for quite some time, “Despite the music, the allure of the band’s unfashionable roots-based fans and the unique stage setting this still makes no sense. Be warned, this is Okonokos.” It wasn’t that the spectacle of the DVD or the music behind it made little sense to me, both were in fact quite spectacular, it was that there was an ideal that seemed to rule the feeling I took away from the experience. Not having been a fan for too long at the time, the almost innocent voice of Jim James revelling in the unique compositions still left a suggestion that there could be something else. A different direction, different sounds or just plain something else somewhere in the future - I didn’t understand why such pursuits weren’t being followed. However for better or for worse on the album, amongst the expected sounds of tracks such as the amazing “Evil Urges,” the band does take aim at itself with such iconoclast pieces as “Highly Suspicious.” And with hearing that song in particular the band honestly starts to make sense to me.

James said of the album recently that one of the struggles the band had with its creation was in its attempt to show people that “music isn’t really as different as they think it is,” therein lies the one line that best defines the difference in approach that the listener should too take with listening to Evil Urges. For the most part the album is going to sound just as one would expect it should. It will have lashing moments of culmination that elevate even the quietest of moments - but when debris is tossed into its spokes and the album changes abruptly, James suggests that the band isn’t really straying at all.

In 1994 one of James’ friends, Eddie Vedder, released Vitalogy with Pearl Jam - an album that saw an almost fanatical reception upon its release despite it incorporating a few unique tangents. For the most part, it sounded characteristically Pearl Jam - “Spin The Black Circle” revealed a slightly sharper edge while songs as “Satan’s Bed” seemed wild, yet likely cuts for the mix. It might not be fair to compare these two albums, let alone say that “Highly Suspicious” is Evil Urges “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me”-moment, but it may be fair to say that whatever comes next from the band may be directly related to the progressive jump made by Vedder and crew back during grunge’s dying days.

Pushing with forward motion are tracks like the aforementioned “Evil Urges,” “Remnants” and “Aluminum Park;” the last sounding like a direct bridge between Z and this album. While the Vitalogy-kinship may be a stretch this album certainly contentment in knowing that the band is alive and well.

The opening lyrics of “Sec Walkin’” deeply slumped in “Three Times a Lady” offer a melody so honestly comforting that in comparison to its surrounding tracks it sounds almost kitschy. Likewise, “Thank You Too,” sounds almost too uniquely My Morning Jacket, its gracefully bouncy ballad refusing to tremble amongst its delicate lyrics and underlined beat. Call Evil Urges a culmination of influence, call it a small step forward, but whatever you do don’t think that you’d still be out of line in calling the band America’s best.

Carl Creighton “El Paso” (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. In this, the second of two parts featuring Carl Creighton, the singer expands on his transition into America’s ultimate metropolis. The feelings that develop as one becomes blind to their surroundings, Creighton concludes, start to resemble a song that really has nothing to do with its title.

On “El Paso”:

This was the first song I wrote after officially moving to New York, at least the first one that sounded any good. None of it is really true, except for the feelings about the city. It’s supposed to be about a relationship that doesn’t work out because New York is the worst place to have a relationship in the world, which I think is true; at least in Yorkville, where I live. That’s why everybody has dogs, because owning a dog is the highest relationship people can afford the time to maintain. I know so many people that have been in relationships here that have crumbled under the weight of the city. I threw in all the things I hate about New York in the song, like entering the Subway when the weather is nice, drinking coffee… I guess drinking coffee doesn’t have anything to do with New York especially, but still…

Another part of the song, the big crescendo part, is about getting stuck in the annoying details of the city and not appreciating what’s actually around you. When I first came here, I didn’t have a job or school or any responsibilities except to walk around and enjoy everything so I walked around Central Park and the East Village a lot…Times Square…all the touristy places. Now that I have to actually do stuff I only focus on getting to work, to school and getting back home. But whenever a friend comes to visit and I’m showing them around I actually realize the big buildings and how beautiful the city can be.

I only chose El Paso as the destination in the song because I knew somebody from El Paso at the time. But that person said they were from El Paso, NM, which I don’t think exists. So maybe they were lying to me, which makes the song even more fake.

This was the first song I wrote after officially moving to New York, at least the first one that sounded any good. None of it is really true, except for the feelings about the city. It’s supposed to be about a relationship that doesn’t work out because New York is the worst place to have a relationship in the world, which I think is true; at least in Yorkville, where I live. That’s why everybody has dogs, because owning a dog is the highest relationship people can afford the time to maintain. I know so many people that have been in relationships here that have crumbled under the weight of the city. I threw in all the things I hate about New York in the song, like entering the Subway when the weather is nice, drinking coffee… I guess drinking coffee doesn’t have anything to do with New York especially, but still…

Another part of the song, the big crescendo part, is about getting stuck in the annoying details of the city and not appreciating what’s actually around you. When I first came here, I didn’t have a job or school or any responsibilities except to walk around and enjoy everything so I walked around Central Park and the East Village a lot…Times Square…all the touristy places. Now that I have to actually do stuff I only focus on getting to work, to school and getting back home. But whenever a friend comes to visit and I’m showing them around I actually realize the big buildings and how beautiful the city can be.

I only chose El Paso as the destination in the song because I knew somebody from El Paso at the time. But that person said they were from El Paso, NM, which I don’t think exists. So maybe they were lying to me, which makes the song even more fake. - Carl Creighton

Carl Creighton "Minnesota" (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. In this, the first of two parts featuring Carl Creighton, the singer/songwriter recollects the events that lead him to return to his family’s home of Minnesota. Struggling with the death of his sister, Creighton eventually revived his interest in exploring the world and returned to New York, where he had previously moved on to a year prior. As the song explains, in many ways death is a freeing experience as it can help one embrace new ideas and introduce drive where there was once contentment.

On “Minnesota”:

One time I played “Minnesota” at the Sidewalk CafĂ©, where I’ve played about a million times, and right after I introduced the song someone in the audience said, “Is this the song where your whole family dies?” And I said, “No, just my sister.” I think the guy thought the song was fictional. Someone else thought that too, that I was trying to be like Sufjan Stevens and write songs about states; but it’s true, especially the verse about my sister.

About four years ago I tried to move to New York from Minnesota. My family and friends were afraid for me to go because I only had two friends there and they thought the city was dangerous. My mom was crying hysterically because she thought I was going to die so far away from home. I was in New York for about a week when my sister died in a car accident fifteen minutes from our parents’ house. I had to go back, of course, and when I did my friends and family told me I had to stay. The song “Minnesota” is about all the things I have in Minnesota, mainly my family, and how I’m never going to go back to New York.

Each verse is about a different member of my family and my favorite memories with them, like going to Duluth with my brother. I think the next place I move to will probably be Duluth, it’s so beautiful. There’s a lot of my guilt about leaving home in the song too, like if I hadn’t left nothing bad would have happened, and my best friend Leah is in the last verse. I wrote the main melody for the song while working overnights at a Shell station in Prior Lake, at around three in the morning.

A little less than a year after Amanda’s accident, I unregistered for classes that I was going to take at community college and took a trip to Vancouver to record music. When the recording fell through, rather than going back to Minnesota, I decided to come to New York instead. I’ve been here ever since, so the song is kind of a lie, I guess. - Carl Creighton

Gnarls Barkley "The Odd Couple" Review

The same lopsided disparity between St. Elsewhere’s “Nectomancer” and “Smiley Faces” is paralleled throughout Gnarls Barkley’s second album, The Odd Couple. Its unique balance between the obscure and digestible suggests an attempt at parity, but to hear Cee-Lo growl “Say fuck me, well fuck you too” prior to a surfsteady homage tends to imply otherwise. Eventually it is within the honesty of the final track’s lyrics, all draped across its mellow beat where The Odd Couple finally delivers what it may have been aiming towards all along - balance. “A Little Better” is a plea, the type of poem that one writes just to get words on a page with the hope that they escape one’s thoughts if only for a single second. However inviting it may be to emotionally subtract oneself from a moment, sometimes it’s healing to embrace life’s confusion and grasp at extremes.