Friday, December 24, 2010

Top Ten Albums of 2010 Part 3

Merry Christmas Eve everyone! Before I leave you all for a few days to feast like there's no tomorrow, I leave you with my top 5 albums of 2010.

5. Garry Schyman - Bioshock 2: Sounds From the Lighthouse
As most of you who read this blog know, the Bioshock series contains some of my absolute favorite games ever, and part of the reason they work tremendously well is because of this man. Schyman's score for Bioshock 2 weaves through heart-wrenching themes, incredibly spooky undertones and horror intensity like no other game soundtrack I've heard. The integration between music and game may very well be the best in any game I've played so far. However, the real reason this soundtrack makes the list is for one reason: the main theme from the game, entitled "Pairbond". A beautiful sparse string arrangement backs up one of the most emotionally stirring solo violin pieces I've heard, and it's had an incredibly profound effect on my writing as of late. For Schyman's ability to influence my writing in a huge, huge way, his recent score earns a spot on my list.

4. Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness
By far the skull-fuckingly heaviest thing on the planet named after the first openly gay politician, Harvey Milk's latest album is slow, soul crushing and requires an incredible sense of will to listen to. Going back to the formula of Harvey Milk's earliest albums, A Small Turn of Human Kindness contains 7 tracks that all flow into each other to form one 40 minute piece. The compositions are what we've come to expect from the group; sludge-doom masterpieces with the wailing, hopeless vocals of Creston Spiers over the top. This time around though, the group takes cues from more minimalist practitioners and draws out their riffs even longer. Perhaps the best moment on the album is the final track, where, after being bombarded by a nonstop barrage of despair and crunch, the mood switches to uplifting and the light at the end of the tunnel appears. It's paced perfectly and succeeds in a big way. If you like your doom heavy, filthy and absolutely depressing, you can't find much better than Harvey Milk.

3. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
After the last track on The ArchAndroid finished during my first listen, I sat in my computer chair with a "What the fucking fuck?" attitude. The scope of this album is incredible, incredulous and at times bordering on utter absurdity. In the hands of anyone else, The ArchAndroid would have crashed and burned, because the ideas here are so fucking ridiculous that they're destined for failure. Neo-motown music mixed with rap and sampling. Stray Cats-style strut. An intro ripped straight from Tchaikovsky's repertoire. A FUCKING BEATLES SONG WITH A BIG BEAT BEHIND IT. More stunning is the fact that it all works, and not only works, but sounds completely normal as well. Monae's voice is always on point and her melodies and arrangements are expertly crafted, so well it hurts. Want a song? Pick one.  Even throughout 18 tracks, there's only one misstep: "Make The Bus". And it's only a misstep because Of Montreal shows up and sound completely out of place. Absolutely one of the best complete works this year.

2. Amy Macdonald - A Curious Thing
I picked this up on a whim without knowing anything about the artist, and it's quickly become one of my favorite singer-songwriter albums. A Curious Thing doesn't do anything terribly innovative like The ArchAndroid does, but the attention to detail and quality of compositions found here is wonderful. Lush, full arrangements back up Macdonald's Scottish accent and sweet strumming, letting her voice take front and center but always supporting her. Highlights include "Don't Tell Me That It's Over", "An Ordinary Life" and "This Pretty Face". I know it seems like this album shouldn't be this high on my list, but I realized the genius when, a week later, I was still humming melodies from it. After one listen. Sign of a fantastic songwriter? I'd fucking say so.

1. Trophy Scars - Darkness, Oh Hell
It was hard choosing between this album and A Curious Thing for my favorite out of the year. In the end, though, Darkness, Oh Hell won out, mainly because it's like nothing I've heard before. It's classified as post-hardcore music. Not post-hardcore in an Underoath "let's add whiny vocals and keyboards to really bad pop-metal" vibe; the album has more of a "fuck you, this is what we play, if you don't like it fuck off" sound to it. If anything, it borrows heavily from psychobilly and blues music, but with a flair all its own. Growled-sung vocals, extensive horn arrangements, layered guitars full of distortion, and, again, that ever-present depressing atmosphere I love in my music make up the core of this album, and it's delectable. I could go on and on trying to describe this album, but honestly, just listen for yourself. It'll do a much better job than I could ever do. If you only get one album from the list I compiled, make it this one.

Thanks for humoring my list. I'll see you all in a couple of days, this time with ACTUAL MUSIC I'VE WROTE. Exciting.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top Ten Albums of 2010 Part 2

Part 2 of my 3 part albums of the year list. Enjoy.

10. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
Pitchfork eat your heart out. Sufjan's never been a stranger to experimentation, and The Age of Adz sees him exploring sonic territories that even he hasn't ventured through. Glitch drums and slide guitar? The os-so-popular indie vocal layers in front of a full orchestra? Fucking harpsichord AND auto-tune? It's a difficult album to digest in one sitting and has its share of missteps, but when it hits, it hits fucking HARD. Just listen to the title track to see why Sufjan trumps his contemporaries.

9. TesseracT - Concealing Fate
TesseracT came completely out of left field for me. Attending a Devin Townsend show recently, TesseracT were the supporting group. I wasn't expecting terribly much, especially after the awful opening band (bad hardcore rap metal bullshit). I've also become incredibly jaded when it comes to metal; most of what I've listened to in high school has fallen by the wayside because of music school and learning more about writing. Thankfully, these lads from across the pond absolutely blew me away. Combining Meshuggah chug with mildly bombastic progressive overtones, not unlike Octavarium era Dream Theater minus the pretension and poor writing, their debut EP is not to be missed. In terms of impact on the scene, eh, there's better groups out there. But TesseracT has been able to do what no other emerging metal group has done so far. They've reaffirmed my faith that the metal scene can produce some spectacular music.

8. The Birthday Massacre - Pins and Needles
A friend of mine I collaborate a lot with summed up this band as "Disney Metal". He's not that far from the mark; The Birthday Massacre combines crunchy downtuned guitar riffs with plenty of twinkly synthesizers and a vocalist who tries her best to appeal to everybody's gothic schoolgirl fantasy. Pins and Needles sees the group toning down their industrial spooky overtones in favor of a much more upbeat, poppy sound. Purists cried foul. I heap praise. The songwriting is infectious; the hooks will get stuck in your head for hours on end and you can't help but bob your head along. Maybe that's why I like it so much. It's essentially a power pop album heavily distorted, downtuned and sped up a bit. And it fucking works.

7. Murder By Death - Good Morning Magpie
Murder By Death is drinkin' music. Not drinking music, like Ke$ha, where you drink Hypnotik, dance at the club, end up in some random dude's house later with your panties around your ankles. Drinkin' music; sitting alone in a wood paneled room with a double of Johnnie Walker and a double barreled shotgun, contemplating your pathetic excuse for a life. Their latest outing sees the now 4 piece group exploring much more gritty territories than they've previously seen. Whereas their previous album, Red of Tooth and Claw, sparkled with crisp and clear production, Good Morning Magpie is muddy, a mess and utterly depressing. Cellist Sarah Balliet shines with some of her best and most prominent performances to date, and the entire band plows headlong into oblivion with nary a thought of well-being. Don't believe me? On The Dark Streets Below should change your mind. Don't miss this.

6. Front Line Assembly - Improvised Electronic Device
It's hard to believe Front Line Assembly have been around since the 80s. A driving force in the EBM scene, the group's output hit a few rough patches in the past decade, due to lineup changes and the fact that they've been around for 30 FUCKING YEARS, give or take. Thankfully, Improvised Electronic Device is the band's best output in years. Atmospheric but still hard hitting enough to satisfy the clubgoers, I.E.D. (get it? get it?) provides plenty of tunes to get you on your feet and dancing. Single Shifting Through The Lens has one of the best main synth riffs I've heard in a long time, and the album isn't afraid to throw in time signatures other than 4/4. Which is incredibly rare. If you like your industrial relatively smart, give this a listen.

Tomorrow - The Final Albums! Who's number one gonna be? Find out soon.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top Ten Albums of 2010 Part 1

Taking a page from a site I used to frequent back in high school, the end of the year means album lists! I realized as I was compiling my list that 2010 didn't have too terribly many albums that I've been digging recently. All of the shit I really enjoyed was either from 2009, 2008 or the 80s (what up, Prince). However, never fear; yours truly has such an absurdly large collection of music that I was able to not only compile a list of 10 albums, but some honorable mentions as well.

First, the honorable mentions:

HM: Melissa auf der Maur - Out Of Our Minds
Though completed for three years, Out Of Our Minds was released this year on March 30th. Melissa auf der Maur's second solo album, it's full of the badassery, off kilter rhythms and intensity one would come to expect from her. The title track sums up the album best; fueled by rage but still incredibly heartfelt, it's quite possibly one of her best tracks.

HM: Ke$ha - Cannibal
Yes, it's trashy, sleazy, offensive to everyone and incredibly annoying throughout the second half. The quartet of tracks that opens Ke$ha's new EP, though, are wonderful. Regardless of the absolute stupidity exhibited through the lyrics and Ke$ha's awful insistence on using whine-talk voice, the backing tracks, courtesy of producers Dr. Luke and Bangladesh, are pounding, epic and entirely danceable. Also, it makes an incredibly great drinking soundtrack. Don't miss. But skip the second half.

HM: Nachtmahr - Semper Fidelis
Not a groundbreaking album by any means, but if you like your EBM with some of the most stupidly loud kick drums imaginable, this fits the bill. By the numbers industrial dance music that'll sure to have your next fetish party up and moving, even in all their tight fitting latex and vinyl.

HM: Oceansize - Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up
Post-metal-lite. Oceansize's fourth album has much more in common with say, Circa Survive or The Sound Of Animals Fighting than Isis, though nothing is lost in translation. Odd time signatures and wonderful atmospheres prevail throughout the album, though it's not without its share of heavy moments.  Once the opener Part Cardiac drops and frontman Mike Vennart shouts, "SELF PRESERVED, WHILE THE BODIES FLOAT UP", it's hard not to bang your fucking head.

HM: Taylor Swift - Speak Now
I became a Swift convert because of this album. It took me a while though, because the front end of this album is loaded with bloated arrangements and song lengths. Such is the curse of a pop artist. I'll give Swift credit though; when not constrained by label needs, she can write some really great material. First single Mine is whatever, it fits the bill, but once we get to the halfway point the album starts picking up. Don't believe it? Check Mean, an uptempo country tune or Better Than Revenge, Swift's attempt at a hard rocker that's hit absolutely out of the park. She still can't write melodies worth a damn, but this album finally shows the potential that Swift could have if she wasn't required to write single material.

Tomorrow: The best albums of the year, 10 through 6.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Artificial Collective Unconscious

Big news today. My fellow Salvation Denied band member and moviemaker, Caleb Foss, has just put up the Kickstarter for his junior film, Receiver. Caleb was one of my first introductions to Purchase, seeing as how we lived together freshman year, and he was also one of the first people I started working with in the film scene. Since then I think we've done... I don't even know, 15+ films together, all of them incredibly entertaining, deliciously absurdist and full of craft from an artist who has his shit together.

Receiver's his first chance to actually utilize all of his creative juices and produce something much more experimental than the rest of his work at Purchase, so I highly suggest you consider donating. I'd attempt to explain it, but Caleb's Kickstarter can do so much more than my words can. Plus, he has some pretty bitchin' rewards.

Caleb's Kickstarter

Caleb's Youtube Page. Some of my favorites I've done for him include Good For You, Abscission (which is entirely grounded in reality... that doesn't often happen with Caleb),  Social Courtesy and An Introduction To Physics (the first major film we worked on together).

Next post, hopefully I'll have something for you all to listen to. I've been experiencing a bit of writer's block lately, and trying to get over that hump has been fairly difficult. Bioshock music helps as a reference point though.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Very Salvation Christmas Album Artwork

I received the artwork for Salvation Denied's upcoming Christmas EP today from Rachel Edelman, an extremely talented artist/graphic designer at SUNY Purchase. I've worked with her on numerous occasions and she's consistently given me terrific work. Thanks again, miss Edelman.

The artwork:

Rachel Edelman's website. She's also designed some of my favorite posters for Purchase band gigs, Salvation Denied included.

Expect this album in the next couple of days, once I get my monitors to stop ground looping so I can mix it.

Almost unrelated but not really, a friend of mine named Andrew Fox recently released a track that I played guitar on. Called "Sixteen Pages", it's the 80s reborn into the new millennium. Shred solos, gang vocals, handclaps, gated snare drum, synth pads... it's incredible. And FREE. Granted, you can pay for it, and you should since Andrew's out on his own now and needs money to feed himself. Regardless though, listen to it. Rachel did the album artwork for this one too, which is one of the best things I've seen in a while.

Link to download Sixteen Pages


UPDATE: A Very Salvation Christmas has just been released a few hours ago. To get it, click on this link.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Sorry for the silence from this end. The minute Thanksgiving break ended, I was thrust headlong into projects and schoolwork. Somehow, the idea to complete the writing for 2 albums before Christmas break comes up was an incredibly dumb one. However, that's good for those of you who read this blog. It gives you something to look forward to.

So let's see what I've been working on...

I suppose projects that'll be done later will be touched on first. Since the beginning of school I've been working with a fantastic singer named Laurie Anne Creus on an as yet untitled heavy rock/metal EP, among others. She's been the main driving factor that keeps the project alive, in addition to being a wonderful lyricist, something that I have no idea how to do. As of now, I think it's going to be 4 tracks, each with a couple of different singers in addition to Laurie Anne. There'll be updates about that as we near completion of the writing process and go into the studio to record it next semester.

Secondly, I've been working diligently with my industrial 2 piece, Salvation Denied, to try to bring an album to the masses. All that's left to do for that is finish writing soundbites to insert in the album (it's going to be a loose concept about the life of one Dr. Zwitter, a character invented and played by the other member of the band) and record them, as well as whatever vocal work we have left to do. Expect that in February. Hopefully.
If you want free tracks that we've completed so far, click here.

We've also been tasked to complete a Christmas 2 track album, which should be coming out in the next week or so. Entitled "A Very Salvation Christmas", it'll have renditions of Oh Come All Ye Faithful and Little Drummer Boy, because I felt like I didn't have enough work already.

Finally, one Andy Cahill contracted me to write a score for his upcoming movie over break. I have yet to see the film or get information on it, but that'll happen in the next couple of days. More to come.

Keep checking back for more updates.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Alone Together

Over Thanksgiving break I received a nearly completed draft of the script for a movie entitled "Alone Together", written and soon to be directed by the wonderfully talented John Morgan. John's been a close friend of mine since the end of our freshman year, when we first collaborated on his freshman film. He's a fantastic filmmaker, really passionate about his craft and I always enjoy working with him.

"Alone Together" tells the story of a hitman tasked to eliminate his next target, an ex-spy, with whom he falls in love. While the script is not completely finalized yet, it's equal parts touching, tragic, suspenseful and euphoric, as well as one hell of an entertaining read. Even without actors, the dialogue speaks for itself in an entirely human way. In terms of scoring, there's a couple of ideas kicking about in my head already. Certainly the film noir genre style of writing may come into effect, but a much more modern, tragic score may be called for as well. We'll see once I start getting footage.

In the meantime, John's 98 dollars away from his Kickstarter goal. Check out his movie pitch, see if it interests you and donate a couple of bucks to his cause. Trust me, it's a fucking good cause. (John's blog) (John's youtube page... I highly suggest checking out Evil Film and his first adaptation of Herbert West: Reanimator. But that's only because I scored them. The rest is quite good as well)

More updates about this project will follow soon once John moves into production.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Changing Tastes

There's been a soundbite my mom said to me a few years ago that's been echoing through my head for the better part of this semester. I had asked her for money to go see some heavy metal band (I don't remember which; it was a long time ago), and she had given me a look that said, "THIS again?". I asked her what the look meant; to which she responded, "Your dad and I thought you would've grown out of this by now."

Of course, when you're 17 years old, you think your music tastes are never going to change. But they do.

It's interesting how our music tastes evolve. I started heavily listening to music way back when I was 8, with a brief snippet of Creed played at the tail end of a movie trailer. I was hooked. I had never heard anything like it. My parents had tried to buy me stuff they thought would influence me, like Revolver by The Beatles, various jazz records my dad owned, James Brown, to name a few. But nothing could compare to Creed.

Keep in mind, I was 8. I still dig old Creed, but they were a gateway drug of sorts.

Creed gave way to other radio rock, that gave way to Linkin Park and Good Charlotte, they gave way to various other forms of heavy metal. Another major turning point happened when I dragged my dad to a Good Charlotte show when I was 13. I found a sticker of a band I had never heard of in the bathroom. They were called Static-X. I went out and bought a CD, and they brought me fully into the metal scene. Loud guitars, pounding drums, pissed off vocals; when you're 13, you eat that shit up. Throughout high school I was the "metalhead": long hair, black t-shirt with some band or another on it, skate shoes, baggy pants, entirely anti-mainstream, the whole nine yards. I thought I was gonna be like that forever; the music spoke to me in such a way that I believed I could never find enough.

Funny thing about that. College changes your view on a LOT of things.

I was still entirely immersed in heavy metal culture when I first got to college. Classes I took would focus on analyzing other forms of music, like motown or 60s pop or (gasp!) mainstream music. All were brushed aside by my musical elitism, claiming it could never be as "complex" or "technical" as heavy metal. Gradually, though, my tastes started to change, simply from being surrounded by music 24/7 and sharing all of my time with musicians, each with a different set of tunes for me to listen to. Death metal was replaced with Demi Lovato, thrash with Lettuce and Chris Potter, Miley Cyrus and Pink somehow slipped their way onto my computer, Lady Gaga took over both my and my sophomore roommate's speakers for a good month... it was terrifying. And yet strangely exhilarating. Learning how to compose music made me realize how poorly composed most heavy metal is, and that pop music was, oddly enough, legitimately well crafted. Some of it, at least.

Now as I make my way through my junior year as a composer, it's clear just how far I've come in terms of taste. Writing film scores, awful catchy industrial dance tunes, pop-punk arrangements, acoustic slow jams with vocoders and strings and glockenspiels, and even the occasional heavy metal in a while... none of that could've been accomplished without listening to a huge spectrum of music.

The goal of this post isn't to say, "Oh, look at me, I listen to so much music, therefore I MUST be more well rounded than you." A few years ago, yes, I would have yelled at you for listening to Jack Johnson or Cartel. And I still might. But I don't give a fuck what you listen to. If it makes you happy, go for it. If blasting Ke$ha late at night makes me happy, I'm gonna go for it. It finally clicked.

Who knows what I'll be listening to 5, 10, 20 years from now? More pop? Classical? Whatever takes over the airwaves in the near future? It's entirely uncertain.

Honestly, if it still brings me as much enjoyment as the music I listen to now does, it's perfect.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And Here We Go...

Hello all! I've decided to throw my hat in the blogging ring and create a place for all of you to see how I think and work. This blog will mainly focus on the goings-on in my busy schedule of composing for various purposes (student films, pop arrangements, EP release, whatever other projects I may have going on), as well as what makes me tick.

As you can clearly see, black and white are safe color choices. Hence the title, Composing While Colorblind. It would be awful if I tried to make it look nice and ended up with purple and green and whatever else normal people can see, since they'd look normal to me. Eventually I'll teach myself how to use these design elements right. Or have somebody do it for me. One of the two.

Here's hoping you enjoy what I have to say.