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It is truly a great time to be alive.

The new Death Cab for Cutie EP, The Open Door EP, just dropped, literally five minutes or so ago.  It’s on the iTunes music store and includes:

The Grapevine Fires video – This has been on-line for sometime, but with the EP on iTunes you get an HD version you can take with you wherever you go.  It has been quite acclaimed by the music press and is a haunting vision that melds perfectly with the ideas in Grapevine Fires while at the same time not being a word for word interpretation of the events in the song.  In my opinion, the EP is worth it if only for this video, which is one of the better music videos I have seen in recent years.

Talking Bird Demo – Talking Bird made it on to Narrow Stairs but the demo version on the EP better showcases Ben Gibbard’s vocals and the ukulele (?) accompaniment is definitely interesting

I Was Once a Loyal Lover – Pretty evident why this didn’t make it to Narrow Stairs, this is definitely noisier than typical Death Cab offerings but the thematic material is the usual Death Cab fare: failed relationships.  Percussion takes a more forward stance than usual in the outfit.  Overall an experimental track that sheds some light onto the inner workings of the band.

Little Bribes – I guess this is what it sounds like if Death Cab takes on a country twang, appropriate to the locale of the song: Las Vegas (“The Eiffel Tower built to smaller scale”, “The hidden cameras on the casino floor”, “in the desert for a dollar bill”, and an interesting personification of slot machines all are dead giveaways, amongst others).  The lyrics and songwriting are all superb, they really put you in the desert landscape.  And the western edge doesn’t go against the grain of the group as much as you’d think.

A Diamond and a Tether – Warbling, atmospheric guitars glisten in the background as Gibbard sings about his shortcomings and the failure of romance.  It’s pretty anthemic as the instrumentation outshine and overpower the vocals at times.  Some awesome solo guitar work.

My Mirror Speaks – Noise seems to be the theme of these tracks, as percussion and handclaps again dominate the soundscape early.  The lyrics are great as the significance of the title is revealed.  Seems like something of a thematic sequel or accompaniment to Brothers on a Hotel Bed from Plans.

Overall, there are some moments of sheer Death Cab brilliance on this EP but you have to wade through the group’s experimental self-indulgences to get there.  It is interesting to hear the group mess around with their sound but it is very evident why these tracks were banished to the realm of a summer EP.  With a bit more polish and perhaps a downplay of the percussion and noise, these could easily have fit with a previous Death Cab album but at the same time would lose something in the process, especially Little Bribes which relies on a driving feel and southwestern twang to define the setting.  It’s hard to pick a standout besides the video, but My Mirror Speaks and I Was Once a Loyal Lover feature better song writing and are more familiar.

For a $5 EP, I would say this is worth every penny for Death Cab fans.  For people who enjoyed Narrow Stairs this would also be a good investment, as it must be something like a “behind the scenes” of last year’s LP as the outfit’s experimentation here is likely a stepping stone towards the final Narrow Stairs sound.  If you’ve never heard of them, check out Plans, Transatlanticism and the other mainstays first before you round out your collection with these tracks.

So I survived my midterms week and am returning to the ol’ blog.  I actually spent an hour writing a post about why I support Obama speaking at my school despite my personal distaste for the man but decided that the rambling post itself was pretty distasteful, so I’m leaving it for a later time.  At any rate, let it be known that I do support his appearance and oppose the myriad groups out there that are demanding his invitation be rescinded.  And some of said groups are a little crazy, just for the record.  At any rate, I wanted to blog about some cool new music I’ve heard over the past few weeks, we have some pretty good new releases and some stuff to look forward to.

A couple albums I really like:

To Lose My Life by White Lies

This dark UK group builds on the success their EP of late last year enjoyed at alternative and college stations across the country.  With tracks like “To Lose my Life” and “Death”, you can probably imagine that the subject matter may be a bit towards the macabre but they deal in death very well, crafting songs that make you think even if they seem depressing on the surface.  Both the aforementioned tracks are great, as is “Farewell to the Fairground”.  A well-rounded offering that fans of Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, or maybe The Killers may enjoy.

Pins & Panzers by Plushgun

If you like the ’80s or maybe just The Postal Service, this group delivers hooky synthpop that’s right up your alley.  Introspective lyrics combined with melodic vocals, sickeningly sweet synths and fun persistent beats.  “14 Candles” is a stand out track for me, with hauntingly nostalgic lyrics but “Union Pool” is a great cut as well.  Surprisingly serious subject matter wrapped in pop sensibilities that’s at least holding me over until Gibbard’s aforementioned side project delivers on its promise of new material.

Get these tracks now:

1. Ulysses by Franz Ferdinand – Of of FF’s new album, “Ulysses” has the same sound you loved in “Take Me Out” (until it was played into the ground, at least) but is a bit more ambitious and mature.

2. In This City by Iglu & Hartly – In the mold of such rock-hop acts as Linkin Park and Atmosphere, Iglu & Hartly combine electronic beats and rapped lyrics with more melodic choruses as they craft an auditory expression of hometown pride that is surprisingly meaningful and fun at the same time.

3. Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked by Cage the Elephant – With a name this obtuse, it must be good alternative rock.  Fascinating, existential lyrics denouncing capitalistic culture (kinda), this track off of their new self-titled release has a bluesy edge that really can’t be compared.

4. Microphone by Coconut Records – A nice acoustic track that smacks of a less drugged out Of Montreal, Microphone is a good track heading into summer: catchy and irreverent with a head-nodding beat.

5. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa by Vampire Weekend – You either love or hate these guys.  Off their self-titled album, Vampire Weekend delivers funky guitar riffs that annoy the hell out of you before becoming hopelessly lodged in your brain and the melodic vocals don’t help.  A lot softer than what typically gets attention in the indie rock scene.

6. Daylight by Matt & Kim – Hopelessly happy pop, synth and drums power this married duo’s sophomore offering.  Even if you don’t know what the lyrics mean, it’s hard not to feel better as soon as you hear the clangy piano intro.

7.  The ’59 Sound by The Gaslight Anthem – Reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, The Gaslight Anthem laments premature death in this title track off their newest album.  The lyrics combine life, death, and music effortlessly and if it sounds like The Boss, it can’t be that bad, right?

8. Working Part Time by The Henry Clay People – I saw them in concert and grabbed their newest album.  At least mediocre indie rock that reminds me of Modest Mouse at times, Working Part Time is an anthemic track powered by a running bass drum beat and bright guitars.

9. Tear You Apart by She Wants Revenge – This is an older song, but it has been getting play on XM’s Alt Nation of late for whatever reason, and it happens to be a great song that could easily be mistaken for Interpol.  It’s pretty identifiable (and graphic).

On the horizon, we have a new Death Cab for Cutie EP dropping on Tuesday digitally.  You can preorder it on the iTunes music store.  It is to include tracks that didn’t fit the vision of Narrow Stairs.

Modest Mouse has allegedly completed the song-writing portion of a brand new album but no word on recording.

O.A.R. and Dave Matthews have posted summer tour dates and other bands are following suit.  Start getting tickets now for the ’09 summer concert season, it is going to be a good one.

On my shelf, to be reviewed for the blog and possible inclusion in my show: new stuff from The Decemberists, The Von Blondes, This Town Needs Guns, Boy Least Likely To, and Umphrey’s McGee.

Greetings, readers!

I have returned from Spring Break and am brimming with things that I am excited to blog about.  They must, however, wait until I have settled back in and caught up on my course work but stay tuned!

I hope everyone had a great St. Patrick’s Day…

What’s this? A reasonable defense of centrism in The New York Times op-ed section that almost goes so far as to criticize Obama?  Have I woken up in some new world?  Snow in Virginia but not in South Bend, a New York Times opinion piece that I don’t completely disagree with…what’s next?

Here are some highlights:

“But the Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.”

Democrats: you only need to be revolutionary when you’re trying to get into power.  Now that you’ve won, it’s OK to like the status quo.  Oh, and it also means you can completely disregard the wishes of your constituency for another, say, three years, as Presiden…ehem…Speaker Pelosi reminded us.  But remember, readers, that the Democrats aren’t left enough.  Please see my post below in that matter.

“The current administration concentrates enormous power in Washington, while plan after plan emanates from a small group of understaffed experts.”

When I said that I liked “smaller governement”, this isn’t what I meant.

“In its very first budget, the Obama administration raises the cost of charitable giving. It punishes civic activism and expands state intervention.”

And I thought Obama liked charity.  I guess it only counts as being charitable when you’re forced to do it.  Barack won’t miss the charitable deducitons as much as someone, who, say, gives his own money to charity.  Then again, he could go the route of his cabinent and just not file his 1040s, then the point is even more moot.  At least he pays taxes.

“Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget ‘contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.'”

Um…who thought he was going to be anything but who he is?  I guess in making a concession to the paper he’s writing in, Brooks needs to stick in that even if Barack is ruining the country, his speeches were just so darn inspiring.

I wouldn’t agree with everything in this op-ed, naturally, but it’s refreshing to see someone in the Times who doesn’t write like he’s on Obama’s payroll for a change.

Well, it’s about time for spring break and The Rogue Classicist is excited about the prospect of spending ten days seeing friends and family, sleeping, biking, lifting, and generally not doing anything that taxes his brain too much.  Between packing for the 600 mile road trip and cramming for a Greek midterm, I wanted to publish a list of my favorite traveling music.  And procrastinate.  So I’m shooting two birds with one stone.

I generally take advantage of my frequent 10 hour road trips to do my musical homework, so to speak, so I am ready for my radio shows.  Listen to a few top 20 countdowns on XM 20, see what’s good in alt on XM 47, surf around the mix channels and maybe hear some old songs I forgot about, bit of jazz here, some hip-hop there…I would strongly suggest SiriusXM to everybody.  Not just because I’m a shareholder either.  It is an awesome service that I could not imagine not having in my car.  But that’s for another post.

When I’m overwhelmed by all the new tracks or suffering an overdose of pop, I like to throw in an old LP I still love, like Plans by Death Cab for Cutie, Stadium Arcadium by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Soul’s Aflame by O.A.R. and see if any of the songs hit me in a different way, speeding down 80/90 in the middle of the night.  Or a mix CD that I’ve burned just for the ride with some of my all time favorite tracks.  Here is an example of such a list of home/travel-themed songs that I’ve listened to many a time on various turn pikes and toll roads, heading into the blazing setting sun in Ohio or in the dead of night amongst the autumnal trees of rural Pennsylvania.  I hope you enjoy them!

1. Howlin’ Down the Cumberland by John Hiatt (Master of Disaster)

A folky singer/songwriter, John Hiatt laments a lost love in this track, which I like especially because between Notre Dame and Fairfax I pass through Cumberland, Maryland, though I’m sure it’s unrelated.  Plenty of road-worthy lyrics (“shifting in this icy wind/howlin’ down the Cumberland,” “caught like a deer in my own headlights”).

2. Homecoming by Kanye West feat. Chris Martin (Graduation)

If you’re heading home, especially if you live in Illinois, Homecoming makes good sense as this song about Kanye’s native Chicago features Midwest nostalgia (“baby do you remember when?/fireworks at Lake Michigan”) to spare.  And if there’s one thing we know, it’s that nothing tempers Chris Martin’s sugary falsetto better than a hip/hop collaborator.

3. Move Along by The All American Rejects

Nothing is better to drive to than something with a good beat, and Move Along will have you singing in your car and doing 110 in no time.  Has a great video to boot (but you might not want to check it out ’til you hit a rest stop).

4. Time to Move On by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Wildflowers)

While Tom Petty’s song chronicles a transplant of a more permanent nature than spring break or a summer vacation, the lyrics to this song perfectly capture that antsy feeling of needing a change of venue (“’cause under my feet baby/grass is growing”) despite having no idea what lies beyond.  A great syncopated beat fills this song with urgency, and the overall happy sound of the piece cleverly contrasts the themes of urgency and the unknown found in the lyrics.

5. Lonely Road by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus (Lonely Road)

If you thought TRJA could only do whiny teenage pop punk stuff, you’d be wrong as this cut of their newest album shows.  Hootie & the Blowfish comes to mind when I hear the airiness of this song (though this comparison might not hold for you and it’s not to say that they sound like Hootie, per se).  A modern take on a Robert Frost classic.

6. Recycled Air by The Postal Service (Give Up)

New things by this Gibbard sidebar are in the works, apparently, but for the moment all we have is Give Up.  Because sometimes you’re traveling in planes, Recycled Air relies on airline imagery (as the title shows) backed with their usual electronic beats.  An incredibly dreamy song sure to soothe even the worst flier.  At least until the Xanax kicks in.

7. Death by The White Lies (Death EP)

Still waiting for more from these guys.  White Lies put out this EP last winter, and it features Black Song, Death, and two mixes of the latter.  An interesting compliment to the above song, Death explores themes of mortality (um…really?) and impermanence from the mind of a fearful airplane passenger.  The vocals aren’t amazing, but the samples are inspired and the drum work is key.

8. Dramamine by Modest Mouse (The Lonesome Crowded West)

A song that opens, “traveling, swallowing Dramamine,” clearly belongs on a travel-themed list.  The intro guitar work is awesome (and classic MM).  Lyrics you’d expect from Isaac Brock combine with the aforementioned guitars and a persistent but sort of dragging beat captures that feeling of going somewhere you don’t necessarily want to be.  It’s easy to picture a long Greyhound ride listening to this track.

9. Passenger Seat by Death Cab for Cutie (Transatlaticism)

A Death Cab song in the list was a clear choice.  But given that whenever Death Cab isn’t singing about relationships, or, well, death, they are probably singing about traveling in some way or another, it was hard to pick an individual track.  Maybe a “Death Cab for Cutie songs about travel” play-list is in order.  The vivid imagery in this song made it a stand out for me (“I strained my eyes and tried/to tell the difference between/shooting stars and satellites,” “the darkest country road/and the strong scent of evergreen”).  It’s hard not to be in the car with him.  The minimalistic style relies on Gibbard’s vocals to carry the track, which he does with aplomb.  An awesome bridge with a deep revelation.

10. I Feel Home by O.A.R. (Soul’s Aflame)

Whether you’re leaving home or going there, “I Feel Home” by O.A.R. will help accompany the nostalgia or get you pumped up to spend some time with friends and loved ones, respectively.  O.A.R. often deals with themes of home, and this very personal, acoustic track makes you feel like you’re sitting around a campfire with O.A.R., roasting up some s’mores.  The imagery is universal, and hits close to home (no pun intended) no matter how old you are or what “home” means to you.  The ultimate revelation of the song is poignant, as are many one-liners (“and in a thousand years/and a thousand tears/I’ll come finding my original crew”).

11. Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel

An oldy but goodie about some spiritual revelation or another, it has an anthemic feel and theme-appropriate lyrics (“son, he said/grab your things/I’ve come to take you home”) that’ll make you want to crank your stereo up and put the windows down as the track builds to a crescendo.

12. Driving South by The Early November (The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path)

Starts with a nice upbeat, finger-picked acoustic intro.  The Early November have an interesting sound, infusing emo with more mainstream rock, and even getting a touch folksy in this track.  Melds nostalgia and tragedy nicely.  It’ll remind you of driving through South Carolina and Georgia even if you’ve never been there before.

My hometown has been hit by something of a snowstorm, an irregular occurrence in the DC area in general but made more so by the fact that it’s March.  Though, if I recall, our worst blizzards seem to happen in March.  At any rate, still unusual.  This is made most interesting by the fact that aside from the permapiles of snow on the quads and in the parking lots, there is now more snow at my house in Virginia than there is here in South Bend.

I don’t like the snow.  I like snowboarding, but I don’t like it around sea level.  It’s nice for a couple days, but not for the five months the South Bend area is blanketed in the stuff.  So now, a few days before my vacation, snow has left South Bend, which I will soon be leaving.  And my home, my spring break destination, is covered in the stuff.  Schools are already closed, The Rogue Classicist is awaiting Mr. Obama’s thoughts on the matter.  I wonder if he approves of their decision this time.

Because the current socialist regime isn’t left enough, The New York Times reports that the Marxist blogosphere is demanding something new: less centrism. First it was the Republicans’ fault that Obama couldn’t be progressive enough, now the man’s own political party is taking heat for not allowing him to destroy the foundations of our country. Just a thought, but maybe the reason that Obama’s socialist paradise hasn’t come to fruition is that he hasn’t even been in office for two months. Or maybe, you know, because it’s impossible.

Anytime liberal bloggers and labor unions are uniting for something, nothing good can happen to our civil rights. Say goodbye to economic freedom and hello to deficits the likes of which have never been seen before, should they succeed in leftening the new left. And while I’m generally all for ignoring future consequences so I can enjoy things today, this might actually come back to bite us before I’m dead.

The last thing we need are Republicans going further right or Democrats going further left. To get our nation out of this crisis, we need cooperation, not polarization. We need input from all sides and in constructive ways, not merely retrenching in political rhetoric and name calling.

Our nation was founded on principles of freedom, personal and economic. The reason I’m libertarian (not to be confused with the American political party of the same name) is that in recent years the GOP attacks the former and the liberals the latter. More extremity in either direction is legitimately frightening to me. I wonder what the people think? I guess it doesn’t matter, right Ms. Pelosi?

I of course support the debate, that isn’t what I am worried about.  I am worried lest the Democrats do heed this new manifesto.  And, let’s be honest, the idea of our current Democratic party not being “left enough” is  a bit much.  There are lefter parties available.

Believe it or not, the original intent of my blog was not to write about politics, despite what my previous posts may indicate.  It just so happens that a number of politics-related things which disturbed me happened to occur at the same time that I registered my digital soapbox.  No, my original intent was occasional political musings every so often with posts on music, sports, college life, and the like occupying as much if not more space.

This installment is musical in nature, a list of some of my favorite tracks that you may not have heard of or at least haven’t listened to much.  It’s what I’ve been listening to for the past few days and you might give them a try as well.  As always, you can hit up my last.fm page to discuss music.  And if this list appeals to you, consider checking out my radio show this Saturday from 5-6:30 PM EST on WVFI.nd.edu.

1. Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors by The Editors

I’ll admit that I don’t know much about this group from the  U.K.  This was a single from their 2007 album “An End Has A Start” and is for the Interpol/Arcade Fire set.  With gritty vocals, poignant lyrics (“The saddest thing that I’d ever seen/Was smokers outside the hospital doors”), and a grand, soaring, soulful sound that could surely fill a stadium, this piano-backed track will take you on a five minute musical roller coaster.  Nice use of percussion and bass throughout.

2. Rocket Boy by Jets to Brazil

If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, look no further than this nine and a half minute ballad.  Great story with a tremendous climax (pause for sex joke), this almost has a Ravel’s Balero feel as instruments come and join the piano/acoustic combination as the action builds and the melody becomes more defined.  Fans of Wilco will feel at home with these guys whom I missed during their initial run in 2002 but caught up with now thanks in no small part to my friend Erik.  This is off the album “Perfecting Loneliness”, which on the whole is quite good.  Awesome string samples will make you melt.

3. Stability by Death Cab for Cutie

Just in case 9:30 wasn’t long enough for you, this 12 minute gem off an EP by Gibbard, Walla and co. is all too often overlooked by Death Cab fans, maybe because a syncopated version was included to great effect on “Plans” (greatest album of all time, bar none).  But if you thought the “canned jam” album version of I Will Possess Your Heart was out of character, this powerful cut shows that the boys were into uncommonly long tracks much before “Narrow Stairs”.  The whole EP is great, which includes another original composition and an awesome cover of All is Full of Love.  May not win over new fans, but seasoned vets will definitely appreciate these three tracks.

4. War All The Time by Thursday

Thursday has a brand new album out, hot off the presses as of last week, but this older single is required reading before you check out their new stuff.  Sounds like The Early November or maybe a more intimate All American Rejects, it definitely has the pop punk/emo sound of the latter but is a touch more grown up.  Like the classic resume author, their biggest fault on this track may be trying too hard.

5. Wishing Well by The Airborne Toxic Event

Steadily growing in popularity from a regionally known indie band to a nationwide alt sensation with the (awesome) single Sometime Around Midnight, The Airborne Toxic Event impresses with depth of lyrics and a broad range as they try to discover who they really are on their self-titled debut album.  All the songs on the LP aren’t gold, but Wishing Well should be single-bound with it’s catchy melody, driving tempo, and great lyrics.  Come for Sometime Around Midnight.  Stay for Wishing Well.  The band needs more all-around polish and direction to hit it big, but if their freshman effort is any sign of things to come, I would keep on eye on these guys.

6. Spitting Fire by The Boxer Rebellion

A decent alt band rediscovers itself four years after its initial album.  And it’s made all the better as iTunes offers their new album “Union” at fire sale prices.  Spitting Fire may appeal to Coldplay aficionados as Nicholson’s soothing falsetto melds with a soft melody, crooning chorus effect, and a pulsing drum beat.  The Coldplay comparison is more true in some tracks than others, but carries throughout to a certain extent.

7. Winter Passing by The Academy Is…

Academy Is… has a single out?  Winter Passing is timed appropriately timed enough and a can’t miss for the oblates of pop punk out there.  And William Beckett’s evolution as front man is certainly fun to watch, from the immature, airy songs of Almost Here, to the exploratory depth of Santi, to the more mature, developed sound on Fast Times.  Winter Passing isn’t as amazing as the rest of the list, but it’s worth a listen and it’ll give you something to tide you over until it gets a bit warmer.

8. You Remind Me of Home by Ben Gibbard

Off a concept album of songs about home, Gibbard goes rogue from his Death Cab buddies and takes the singer/songwriter route providing an awesome glimpse into his head.  His acoustic work is impressive and his lyrical depth and vocals are what you’ve come to expect from this noted frontman.

9. Gimmie Chemicals by The Pink Spiders

Pop punk with a Tennessee twang, Gimmie Chemicals has everything you’d expect: riffy guitars, a pulsing beat, and lyrics about drugs.  What more could you want?

10. You by Atmosphere

Is this hip-hop?  I think it would be classified as such but the drums and baseline are more than just an afterthought in this group’s case.  An interesting fusion of rap and rock styles telling the story of a down and out young lady struggling with everyday life and her own aspirations.

So let me know what you think and stay tuned for album reviews and my manifesto on why Death Cab for Cutie is the best band yet to exist.

Because Obama uses it.

The New York Times, America’s best source for very well-written but absurdly non-centrist news has become a bit more grammatically permissive.  The paper that eschews a comics page, prides itself on its lofty constructions, and even has a blog dedicated to grammatical and stylistic points on its website is apparently all too willing to overlook certain grammatical gaffes as long as they come from the mouth of our nation’s savior.  In defending his habitual flip-flop of “I” and “me”, the Times Op-Ed piece in question called on Shakespearean folios to support the notion that “I” and “me” really are interchangeable!  So it turns out Obama isn’t human after all, he’s just more correct than the rest of us.  Never mind the fact that in Shakespeare’s time, f’s were used instead of s’s and committing suicide was some form of courtship. Oh and never mind the fact that back then there was no real “style” of English, so to speak, as people were generally too busy grappling with crusades and plagues and such (I am aware of the anachronism, this is more for effect) to compose a manual of style.  Like we have now.  Where “me” is for oblique uses of the first person and “I” is nominative.  I guess now English style is determined by the president.  Who knew?

It’s not that I am always grammatically perfect, but this piece seems to be a bit much to this Classicist.

(Case in point – I have made three spelling corrections in this post already!)

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