Archive | September 2011

Last Day of September

My own music is coming soon, but I might have to outsource some instrumentals…
In the meantime, let’s celebrate the end of the month with one of the funnest, funkiest groups of all time.

I also have to throw in one of their songs that features Philip Bailey, a top 10 R&B singer for sure. If you want to learn how to sing falsetto, look no further

Advertisements

Baltic Breeze

Laulupidu Singing Festival, Tallinn

Struggling to get traction in the Stockholm apartment market, I decided I needed a mini-getaway. Why not see more of Europe while I’m over here, especially since I’m still unfamiliar with the Baltic region. Spanning 600 miles or so beneath the Nordic fingers rest some of Northern Europe’s most notable cities along the Baltic Sea: Copenhagen, Gdansk, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and Stockholm. I made the short bound from Copenhagen to Helsinki and then took a ferry to Tallinn, my primary destination.

I already shared this on Twitter, but I think Tallinn is the new Prague. A decade or so ago Prague became an underground hotspot for travelers based on the following criteria: cheap, fun, and scenically/historically beautiful, mostly in that order. The secret is out on Prague, but not yet on Tallinn. The effects of Soviet (and further back in time/historical) occupation are felt here too, but Tallinn is definitively vibrant as the capital of an up-and-coming Estonian nation. (Fun fact: Tallinn invented free Wi-Fi. Bam.) Integrated into the EU in 2004, Estonia adopted the Euro in January of this year. Fortunately, this has not affected universally low prices; hostels, food, and booze are all at bargain rates here.

Searching for places to sleep on Hostelworld, I immediately came across Tallinn Backpackers Hostel with its 94% positive rating out of hundreds of reviews. That’s a remarkable feat if you’re familiar with the hostel scene in Europe. Their description said something like come here to party, etc, etc. I was already sold on 94%. After my arrival and subsequent check-in, I was given a “welcome shot” of apple vodka. I think it was around 5PM at that time. One of the staff asked me if I would be joining the house dinner at 7:30…why not? Two New Zealanders had arrived about the same time as I did, and we started up a conversation that ended with a trip to the supermarket.

It warmed my heart to find, gasp, real beer sold in the supermarket – for real prices. Am I back in the United States? No, Tallinn just knows what’s up. Other than seeing the town, I had no objectives in Tallinn other than to clear my mind of Sweden for a few days. I didn’t come here to party but I had just made friends with two Kiwis and taken a welcome shot. I felt like I belonged. I was part of something. In Tallinn it took me fifteen minutes to do what it took almost a month to do in Sweden.

The hostel conducts a pub crawl every night, and I imagine that at least half of the night’s residents joined the festivities. We were quite the crowd and had a great time. Our first stop was a karaoke bar. Perfect. The locals were holding it down well when we arrived. Apparently an Aussie band The Happy Endings were also in attendance. Countless renditions of top-of-the-lungs rock ballads passed before I apologetically stepped up to the mic to serenade them with Usher’s U Remind Me. A few girls clapped. An Aussie gave me a lot of crap for the song choice – I won’t repeat his exact words. An Irishman said I was too good for karaoke. It’s nice to be appreciated.

Tallinn got me to pondering the whole question of drinking, why we do it, and what it does for us. It’s no different back home. On the one hand it’s undeniable that when we drink we gain a sense of camaraderie we don’t otherwise have. But I always ask myself, why don’t we otherwise have this? Why do people have to get drunk to truly get acquainted with one another?

Right now I’m writing at an atrocious hostel in Helsinki. It’s located inside the old Olympic Stadium. I know, it’s sound amazing on paper. In reality it’s more like a prison. Ok, I’m being a little harsh. Let’s put it this way, there’s no house dinner and certainly no welcome shot. People are sitting in the common room preoccupied, most on the computer (I’m guilty as well). In Tallinn the hostel was playing drinking games together and having a blast. Here it’s anti-social, borderline lonely. People tend to swim with the current. There’s no reason we couldn’t all be talking instead of typing. With drinks in hand, the volume level in here would quintuple. We would converse. We would interact. We would be together. And yet, are we so afraid of each other that we can’t break bread unless we add alcohol? Maybe holding a few more Laulupidus would help.

Tallinn

On a mini-excursion to Estonia, another country with a rich musical tradition.

As you may glean from the above video, this is a most interesting place

Here’s a prettier offering from the same composer Veljo Tormis

Saturday Soul

Came across two awesome soul jams this morning.

Cutesy but endearing throwback r&b from Danish “electro-soul” group Quadron. In English the word quadron connotes quadrant, as in one of four areas, or more closely, quadroon, as in the old colonial term meaning someone who is one-quarter black. I’d bet the group’s name draws upon the latter definition, although it could just be a completely random name.

I love how Scandinavian groups deal with English in their music. First of all, singing in English seems mandatory for anyone seeking commercial (international) success. But beyond that, although English proficiency is ubiquitous on this scene, Scandinavian singers use English as if it were Swedish, Danish, etc. In other words, they use direct translations rather than relative translations, and with fantastic results. The song’s primary refrain, “I’ve been trying to get you under my pressure” provides a great example. You know what the singer means, but no “native” English speaker would ever say “under my pressure.” (It’s quite possible that expression would have utility in Danish). And yet, “under my pressure”…I love it!

This linguistic oddity of Scandinavian music in English causes the English listener to approach his/her native tongue from a different perspective. “When you look at me deepest/ I see myself at my weakest” is another great example. I suppose you could use “deepest” in place of “deeply” despite that it’s technically improper, but regardless, “deepest” resonates as quite poetic. As I continue to explore music in this part of Europe, I hope to notice more of these unique language twists.

The second track I am posting as much for the video as the music. I came across it by accident, as is the case with the best discoveries. A cover of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” by the ever-enigmatic soul singer Bilal, this version of the song features an excellent and eclectic backing band including a violinist and a piano-Rhodes-organ trio.

Notice how Bilal meshes his vocals into the instrumentation, organic but deliberate at the same time. I love how he jumps around at 4:03, really investing his whole body into the music. 4:16-4:26 is pure genius. At 5:17 he becomes band leader, conducting the drummer to accelerate his hits and building the energy of the song back up. I would love to have been in that room.

The Greatest Artists of All Time

While I was doing a little research on Prince, per DDB’s cover of “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” I came across this monstrosity known as Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Now before we proceed, I know my own expertise is limited and I don’t pretend to know all about every group on the list. So, let’s establish a reasonable foundation for critique of this project, presupposing that: 1) what does Stockholm Steve know?; 2) such a list is inherently subjective; and following from that 3) complete “accuracy” is essentially impossible; in addition, 4) for better or worse, “artist” and “band” are equated here, but we won’t delve into that possible distinction; and to further temper my general dissatisfaction 5) no name-calling of Rolling Stone or said artists allowed. I will try my best not to descend into diatribe, but no promises! Let’s have some fun.

First off, we have the Beatles at Number 1. What a daring choice, you ambitious selectors. Listen, just because they’re the frickin’ Beatles and everyone loves them (or should) doesn’t absolve them from criticism. I’m just kidding, I love the Beatles and I’ve already broken rule #5. That being said, who else would you go with if not the band from Liverpool? For quantity and quality they cannot be beat. Moving on…

Bob Dylan at #2. We know Bob Dylan wrote some of the most incredible lyrics ever set to song. I respect that. His guitar melodies were catchy and profound at the same time. His influence was enormous; he pretty much created the “folk” music genre. At the same time, I personally find it impossible to get past the fact that he was a mediocre singer at best. As far as I’m concerned, singing is a pretty darn important part of “music.” Is that an unfair judgment? Can Dylan be so great as to overcome such a glaring flaw and ascend to #2 of all time? You know my answer.

Elvis at #3. I’ll try to be as impartial as possible with this one. Elvis’ debut album in 1956 included no original music. Most notably, it featured covers of Carl Perkins, Ray Charles, and Little Richard (more on him later). Perhaps his most famous song, “Hound Dog,” was written by Lieber and Stoller and recorded four years earlier by legendary blues singer Big Mama Thornton. Elvis gets an A for timing, as his own rise coincided with the rise of television – without which he undeniably would not have been so famous. Dylan and Presley also fall in the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers list, but I won’t go there.

#4 The Rolling Stones. Wait, what’s the name of the magazine putting out this ranking list? Hmm… My mom says “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” is crude and even misogynistic. It’s not explicit that Mick is talking about sex, but I won’t argue her on this one. I can only name two other RS songs, Get Off My Cloud and Gimme Shelter. Maybe that makes me musically illiterate. Or maybe the Rolling Stones are overrated…

Chuck Berry, #5. For me, the case of Chuck Berry is somewhat similar to Elvis Presley. Is he timeless? I’m not sure. He had incredible timing and was one of the fathers of rock and roll. I think there is such a thing as overvaluing the “musical impact” an artist has if the artist’s work isn’t that spectacular. To me, it matters more how well the music holds up over time than the impact it had in its day. I could be wrong. The Beatles certainly hold up. Does CB?

#6 – Jimi Hendrix. I’m not going to argue with this one. Has anyone ever been more of a virtuoso on electric guitar?

The one and only James Brown at #7. JB was a force of nature. No soul singer sang with more desperate energy than JB. And that’s a bold statement. Would we have had Michael Jackson or Prince without JB first? Can anybody outgroove JB? Doubtful. Is he the seventh greatest artist of all time? I’m not sure. But I know that the man was a sublime performer until the day he died.

#8, Little Richard. No. This is just bad. Does anyone have a Little Richard song on their iTunes besides Tutti Frutti? Does anyone even have Tutti Frutti? Is Tutti Frutti even a good song? Inexcusable.

You already know how I feel about Aretha Franklin. Without a doubt she must be in the top 5. Is it just a coincidence that #1-4 are all white people? Oh no he didn’t….

#10 Ray Charles. Did you see the movie yet? It’s fabulous. So is Ray. Thank god they fit him in the top 10. I would have really had a fit.

I’ll comment a bit more sparingly from this point, if you’ve even stuck with me this far!

Bob Marley and the Beach Boys at 11 & 12. Ok, fine. Buddy Holly, 13? Ahead of Stevie Wonder (15), Sam Cooke (16), and Marvin Gaye (18)? Bull. A lot of bull. Zeppelin at 14? Well, even I admit that Robert Plant is an insane singer, and I don’t even listen to hard rock. Muddy Waters (17), Velvet Underground (19), and Bo Diddley (20) round out the top 20. Bo Diddley? Come on now.

Otis, U2, Springsteen…Jerry Lee Lewis? Eh. The Ramones at 26, Prince at 27. Waiting to hear what my friend Elias has to say about that order. Out of those artists, I’d have Prince at 20. But now I’m definitely being biased!

#33: The Everly Brothers. Who? MJ at 35. Madonna ahead of John Lennon? Hmm. That doesn’t really count, it’s pretty tough to separate Lennon from the Beatles. PS We should have seen Duke Ellington or at least Louis Armstrong by now.

Hey, we got a rap group! Public Enemy at #44, Run DMC at #48. They should probably reverse that order, but how can you argue with “Fight the Power”? Enemy was a direct product of the Reagan presidency. I’ll stop there.

Metallica and Aerosmith ahead of Al Green? Ok, I’m done.

If I Was Your Girlfriend

This is what I wanted to share with you guys this morning: an awesome A Cappella cover of Prince’s classic “If I Was Your Girlfriend” by UK singer Daniel De Bourg. I just downloaded his two mixtapes, all covers of recent radio hits including 3 excellent Drake covers. I’m glad he included an old school classic in there. Check him out here.

A Day In The Life

There had been no day to day continuity on my trip until I came back from Ross’s Stockholm performance. I was always on the move, and consequently had a plethora of material to write about. Now that I’ve been settled for about a week, that has all changed. But even a relative “lull” provides me ample writing material. So, let me describe a typical day in the life of an American bum in Sweden.

8:40AM – I awake to the ringing sound of my fourth-hand Nokia serving as my de facto alarm clock. I mean, this “thing” must be from 2002. Does Nokia even make phones anymore? I hit snooze. Hey, it’s early. Why the hell should I get up yet? It’s not like I have a job.

8:50AM – I get up. I know, you thought I was a real rebel for a minute there. But I do need to start the day at some point. Or do I? We’ll return to that later…

8:55AM Bowl of oats and water goes into the microwave.

8:57:30AM I begin eating breakfast. With a glass of OJ in hand I boot up my beloved MacBook Pro and peruse a website triumvirate of paramount importance: Gmail, Twitter, and ESPN.com. I’ll usually have one email waiting, two on a good day. Yes, I’m that popular. Perhaps an intriguing tweet or two to read, probably not. ESPN, however, is where it gets exciting. See, the baseball season is culminating in dramatic fashion and my favorite team the St. Louis Cardinals are right in the hunt for the NL wildcard – only 1.5 games back of Atlanta. There’s also a thrilling race in the AL between Boston, Tampa Bay, and the Angels. If you calculate the odds of both St. Louis and the Angels making the playoffs, it’s… anyways, moving on.

9:25AM I brought an electric toothbrush with me, but the stupid device does not accept a 230V Scandinavian power outlet. So, I’ve been relegated – aka humiliated – to using it the old-fashioned way. Take a look.

Sonicare split in twain

9:30AM Leave the apartment and walk to practice.

10:05AM Arrive at Michael Hansen Kollegium. I stand outside the door until Gunilla sees me. She smiles as she rises from her desk to greet me. She must think I’m a real pain in the ass. You see, Sweden loves its security (or façade thereof – more on that later): in order to access the music room in the building’s basement, one must pass through three locked doors using two different keys to gain access. Without her assistance I’d have to pull some M:I crap just to tinker at an old piano. She ushers me inside graciously.

10:10AM Practice time. I listen to gospel, play some random chords, hit some high notes, and repeat. More or less.

1:30PM I leave Hansens and walk home for lunch. Sometimes I’ll stop at the grocery store if I’m feeling particularly ambitious.

2PM Lunch. This part’s boring.

3PM Investigate housing options in Stockholm. Whoever came up with the needle in a haystack metaphor never searched for an apartment in the Swedish capital. Good lord. I navigate to blocket.se, a Swedish craigslist, and message all the relevant postings. Which are few. Most places are either 12,000 SEK ($1800) or situated an hour outside of Stockholm. I don’t think I’m that desperate. Yet.

4PM Procrastinate. But since I’m mostly listening to music, it could be construed as being somewhat productive.

4:30PM Actual procrastination.

5PM Exercise time. I love basketball but Swedes don’t hoop much. I don’t have a tennis racket. No access to a swimming pool or weight room. I can’t believe it, I’m running? No, I swore an oath ages ago. I run. I can’t believe it, I kind of enjoy it.

5:40PM Take a shower. Scrub a dub dub.

6PM Timko wakes up, grudgingly starting his day. Timko is my soon-to-be replacement moonlighting as an unofficial house guest. He sleeps 16 hours a day and is nocturnal. I think he is part feline.

6:15PM I think about dinner.

6:45PM I thoroughly contemplate dinner.

7PM Dinner. Last night I cooked salmon. From Norway. Ooo. I pan-fried it in butter, so that the bottom skin was crispy brown and the fillet was perfectly tender. This is the life.

8:30PM Clean up. I am a master dishwasher, which will serve me well when I return to the US broke and unemployed.

9PM Blog. Provide viewers like you with mediocre entertainment at best. Just kidding (I hope).

10PM Does anyone really keep track of what they do after 10? I know what my housemates do: they play FIFA.