Music That Inspires: Seal

I like Seal.

Not the animal, although I find them cute. I mean the musician Seal. I find his voice fascinating and his music and lyrics full of emotion. Over the last year I have bought most of his albums. I was already familiar with his music, but I did not have any full albums, only a handful of songs featured on soundtracks.

I have all of this studio albums except for the most recent and the two Soul compilation albums. Below are a selection of some of my favorite songs. In case anyone is curious, my favorite album is Human Being. The album did not fair well with critics, however, I enjoy the darker tone of the songs. My second favorite album is Seal: Commitment. The interesting part about both these albums is that Seal wrote them in response to his relationships, the first being with Tyra Banks and the second with Heidi Klum.  Continue reading

Music That Inspires: Rodriguez

I first learned about Sixto Rodriquez a few years ago. I watched a documentary about him called Searching for Sugarman. Rodriguez released two albums in the United States, but neither of them did well. However, they made their way to South Africa in the early 1970s, and found an audience among the young white liberals in the country during the middle of the apartheid-era. Rodriguez found similar appeal in Australia and New Zealand, however, he was completely unaware of the South African audience. They similarly knew little about him, and rumors went around claiming he was dead.

That proved untrue. Rodriguez is alive and mostly well (he is losing his eye sight). He still tours, and thanks to the Oscar-winning film has found a new audience.

It is quite a thing to consider. Rodriguez made two albums — Cold Fact and Coming from Reality — almost 50 years ago and nothing else since then. Yet these two albums hold up very well. Continue reading

Music That Inspires: Ten

Yes, I am one of those people who like Pearl Jam.

I do not remember the first Pearl Jam song I heard. The one that sticks in my mind is Jeremy, mostly because of the video, but I feel like I heard Alive or Evenflow first.

I consider Pearl Jam’s Ten a perfect album. I love every song. It has a special meaning for me because the summer of 1993. The album almost plays out exactly the that summer went. I remember listening to the songs and seeing parts of my life in the lyrics. The songs were not at all about the situations I experienced, but I saw them that way.

I also made my younger brother hate this album. I would make him listen to it, either by the stereo, headphones, or singing the songs. When moved in together years later, he banned from playing the album on anything he could hear. A running joke between us is that to annoy him I will sing the opening lines of GardenShe don’t wander in, don’t wander in here, she — which he usually follows up with something along the lines of “I swear to God….” and then offers a colorful threat. (Ironically, this is just happen. He heard me playing Evenflow and yelled at me, and now he is yelling at me and hitting me for adding this to the post.)

I think the reason I love the album is because of the raw energy of the music and lyrics. The way Eddie Vedder sings adds to this. He is similar to Bjork in that you cannot know what he will say next. It is as if he is finding the lyrics as he goes along.

Below of my favorite songs from the album. I ended up buying the European version of the album a few years ago to replace the original I left at home, which explains the inclusion of Dirty Frank. Continue reading

Being a Man: A Difficult Discussion

How do I tell him?  How much do I tell him?

I always intended to tell my godson about the things that happened to me. I see no reason to keep it from him. So much of who I am today comes from bonding with him. He deserves to know. However, the last thing I expected was to have that conversation this past weekend. Correction, the last thing I expected was that the death of a musician and one of his best songs would spur that discussion.

Prince died last Thursday. My foster father is a massive Prince fan, so our home was filled with Prince’s music over the weekend. My foster father has original vinyl pressings of Prince’s first three albums. No one was allowed to touch them, especially no one under the age of twenty. That seems petty, but he had a practical reason: none of them had ever held a vinyl record before, let alone put one on to play. The scratching potential alone was not worth the risk.

On Sunday we made it a day of Prince’s music. Like any true fan, my foster father has multiple versions of the albums, so he moved from the more fragile vinyl records to his digital collection. Since everyone was in a good mood and singing along with the songs, I decided to join in as well.

Some of the songs I had not heard in years, like Scarlet Pussy and Partyman (the best part with the latter song is that everyone but my foster father only knew the lyrics up to the point where the song ends in Batman). I am a fan of Prince’s music, primarily his music from the eighties. I always liked his videos and the few performances I got to see on television. He was a showman in the truest sense.

However, I also have an unpleasant memory involving one of his songs. That song, of course, would be the one my godson asked me to sing. Continue reading

Music That Inspires v.31: David Bowie – Blackstar

David Bowie died on January 10, 2016. I have been a fan of his for some time, although I could not say that I followed all his music. Two of my uncles were fans, so I grew up listening to Bowie’s work. My uncles were almost two decades apart in age. The older one favored Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust work while the older favored what Bowie called his “Phil Collins years.” Those would the mid 1980s, particularly around the album Let’s Dance.

I listened to those songs and loved them, but I somewhat forgot about Bowie until I saw the film Se7en. The film ended his song The Hearts Filthy Lesson, and brought back my interest in Bowie’s music. (Interesting side note: Brian Eno produced this song and the album it came from, Outside. I notice that several of my favorite songs or albums were produced by Eno, including two of my three favorite U2 albums.)

I bought a few albums here and there and again Bowie slipped my mind until 2014. One of my friends mentioned a documentary about Bowie called David Bowie – Five Years. After watching it, I dug up my Bowie cds. It was weird rediscovering music I already had. What made it more enjoyable was my cousin, godson, and my godson’s friends falling in love with the music, particularly the album Young Americans.

My friend and I were talking about Bowie on Saturday, wondering if he would release another album. It took Bowie ten years to release his previous album The Next Day (which I still have not gotten). This is a Sade schedule, so we were having a bit of a laugh about who would release an album first. After the conversation, I checked and noticed not only did Bowie have an album coming out, but he had released two singles.

I bought Blackstar and I knew when I listened to it what it was. Firstly, I knew it was a masterpiece of music. It is so rare to get an album. What I mean is something where each song is cohesive and follows a general theme. This used to be common, but in our increased singles market it is gone. Older artists, both in terms of age or longevity, are more likely to present such an album (U2 and Dr. Dre did this with their last albums). This is what you get from Bowie — seven songs thematically driven by morality, recognition, regret, and good dose of humor.

Secondly, I knew it was Bowie’s last album. The opening song gives that away. But rather than feeling sad, I marveled at Bowie’s talent. Now that I know he was suffering from cancer, I am even more impressed with the quality of music that he produced. This is a perfect album, and it is not the first time he has made one. Yet to make one while battling cancer and to make it fresh and modern and forward-looking while retrospective and introspective is insane.

It is as if Bowie took pieces of all his eras and personas and genres and gave a taste of what should come next. You can hear the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s influences, yet it is never dated or derivative. It is no different than what he did with Young Americans or Let’s Dance. He took those concepts, played with them, and gave us something new from his perspective.

This is Blackstar. Continue reading

Music That Inspires v.30

The latest album I bought is rather bittersweet. It is a fantastic album. The perfect album to relax to. What makes it bittersweet is the artist who gave us this beautiful work is no longer with us.

Back in 2010 hip hop DJ Nujabes died after being severely injured in a car accident. He was in the process of recording his third studio album. Several of his friends and collaborators decided to finish the album Spiritual State. The album was released in 2011, but I only found out about it a few weeks ago. I finally got my hands on a copy and have been listening to it for the past days.

Spiritual State does feel slightly incomplete, but that may simply be my mind trying to figure out what Nujabes might have done differently had he lived. It opens with the title track. It definitely sets the mood of finality and reflection that is found throughout the album. It is one of my favorite tracks: Continue reading

New Avatar

I want to thank my friend Chris for creating the my new avatar.

jake avatar

It is a remarkably accurate caricature. I particularly like the coloring. It reminds me of Naruto. My cousin also noted the detailing on the jacket. I did not notice it at first, but now I see the bat symbol. Batman is my favorite character. It was quite cool of him to add that element.

However, I much prefer the avatar he created for himself. That was also a very cool thing to do.

Chris, if you read this, firstly thank you. Secondly, prepare for my godson to harass you. He wants one. You should start drawing now.