Can I borrow a feeling? The latest from Strand of Oaks uses obvious influences to illicit honest emotion.

Heal by Strand of Oaks, Timothy Showalter, is a puree of critically lauded influences. The echoes of painfully honest Joni Mitchell lyrics, soaring Bruce Springsteen choruses, early U2 synth lines and sloppy guitar work courtesy of Pavement or Dinosaur Jr. ring throughout the album.

Although Heal is basically mystery meat made from the grounds of Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. it has been incredibly well-received–and rightly so.

Despite being transparently derivative Heal is an excellent record. The reference points are familiar, but Showalter is successful in injecting the album with intense, personal feeling entirely his own. Heal tapers off toward the end, but its first six songs are some of the best music released this year and would make a remarkable, albeit short, standalone album.

These songs run the gamut from the straight-ahead rock of the album opener , “Goshen ’97” to the emotionally raw 7-and-a-half minute tribute to Jason Molina and his music, “JM”. The album’s first half also describes a variety of emotions and Showalter’s personal battles with substance abuse and self-image, which gives it a striking resonance.

Remarkably, Heal comes across as a very cohesive album even as it hops across decades and genres and crosses emotional hemispheres  from adolescent elation to crippling depression. This is largely because a few themes thread themselves across the album. Self-deprecation  verging on self-loathing; substance use to both celebrate and medicate;  the catharsis of music and its inextricable presence in day-to-day life; and Midwestern ennui are the album’s touchstones.

It is a testament to Showalter’s ability to create enormous, wonderful choruses that Heal is life-affirming and uplifting instead of overbearingly bleak. This is a collection of weary, overtly literary song about life both before and after becoming “fat, drunk and mean” and what it’s like to “lose [your] faith in people,”, and they are absolute earworms.



These sweeping, radio-ready moments earned Strand of Oaks at least one comparison to Coldplay, but a different wildly successful ’00s band is a much closer match to Strand of Oaks’ sound. When Showalter’s voice hits the highest, soaring notes in Heal‘s gigantic choruses, it sounds extremely similar to Brandon Flower’s of The Killers, someone who was certainly no stranger to Springsteen’s influence. Comparing Strand of Oaks to the slick Las Vegas band is no insult. The album’s lyrical content and emotive vocals provide substance to match the style.

If catchy pop-music viewed through a gruff, misanthropic lens imbued with the attributes of every critically lauded singer/songwriter  of the 20th century sounds appealing to you, then even Heal‘s slightly lackluster second half should deter you from listening to and loving this album.



Heavy petal: 5 songs that bring the flower power

Today, while listening to Shannon and the Clams shortly after a song by Wilco, it occurred to me there are actually a lot of songs about flowers that at least sort of rock. I decided to make a quick list of songs that concern flowers, but which aren’t particularly flowery. Despite the title of this post, the songs aren’t extreme, I just cannot pass up a good or bad pun.


  • Shannon and the Clams- “You Will Always Bring Me Flowers”


Warm lofi production, Shannon Shaw’s infectious barking of a veritable bouquet of floral species and a vintage sound make this strange song thoroughly enjoyable.


  • The White Stripes- “Blue Orchid”

Technically, an orchid is a flowering plant, but without a colored flower this song would have no title, so I made the executive decision to include it. It’s a classic White Stripes rocker with simple drums and killer guitar. “Blue Orchid” is part of a proud lineage of incredible White Stripes album openers as it kicked off 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan with a bang.


  • Outkast- “Roses”

“Roses” is one of the stranger songs in the Outkast catalog, but it is also a stone cold classic, and it is undeniably catchy. The chorus is undeniably silly, but it will reverberate around the inside of your skull for the rest of time. The music video for this song is also incredible, and it subverts music video expectations in such a way, that even more than a decade later, I don’t want to spoil it.


  • Japandroids- “The Nights of Wine and Roses”

This song is prototypical Japandroids. It is anthemic, catchy and robustly energetic. If you can vocalize a “long O” sound, you can, and should, sing along.


  • Wilco- “Forget the Flowers”

“Forget the Flowers” finds Wilco in fine, alt-country form. It’s a simple, hummable tune that expresses a sadly pragmatic thoughts on romantic gestures. In other words, this is a classic Wilco song.

My favorite albums of 2014 so far

It’s roughly halfway through 2014, which means it’s a convenient time to take a look at my favorite musical releases from the past 6 months.

As Steven Hyden pointed out, in his Mid-Year Music Report, there has not been a universally adored blockbuster release this year.  On one hand this means the music released so far this year can seem inconsequential. This years biggest commercial success is the soundtrack to a movie released during the 2013 holiday season. Of course, a year’s critically acclaimed or influential music can be just as important to a year’s perceived legacy as which songs received the most airplay. For example, last year Yeezus seemed ubiquitous despite not actually being one of the 10 best-selling albums of the year. As of June 14, 2014, the vast majority of albums generating critical reverence are reissues. Still, this makes 2014 a year perfectly emblematic of its time. Niche markets, streaming services and the ability to generally listen to any music at any time mean the release of Fucked Up’s Glass Boys can be as momentous as the release of Jack White’s second solo album, Lazaretto, for listeners who seek out hardcore rock while eschewing folk-tinged tunes.

Without critical or commercial behemoths to rank and reckon with, this means everyone’s musical experience in 2014 is going to be different and extremely personal. This is definitely freeing, because it means I can feel better about any omissions or oversights. In no particular order, these are the five albums, which I have enjoyed the most during the first six months of 2014.


1. St. Vincent- St. Vincent

Annie Clark is having an awesome year. She got to perform with the surviving members of Nirvana at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. She also put out an incredible, self-titled album chock-full of humor, rocking hooks and interesting arrangements. St. Vincent is one of the most vibrant, self-assured releases of the year even when it deals with the minutiae of Clark’s modern neurosis. This album is a must-listen for fans of everything from straightforward rock to more avant-garde Brian Eno-inspired dream pop.

2.Schoolboy Q- Oxymoron

Without a doubt, Oxymoron, is my favorite rap album of 2014. This album combines hooks and wordplay with heartbreaking voice overs from Schoolboy Q’s daughter and lurid personal details from the Californian rapper’s gang-involved youth. It also contains the monstrous single, “Collard Greens”. When listening to Oxymoron, it becomes clear Kendrick Lamar’s ex-hype man is ready for and deserving of the spotlight.

3.The Men- Tomorrow’s Hits

The Men first captured attention by releasing incredibly earnest rock songs with a healthy dose of garage rock fuzz and punk attitude. Over the course of their discography The Men’s sound has matured. The coyly titled Tomorrow’s Hits is a collection of gorgeous songs, which pay homage to classic rock’s golden age. The songwriting is solid, and the rootsy throwback vibe never seems like a gimmick. This is one of 2014’s most purely enjoyable albums.

4.Cloud Nothings- Here And Nowhere Else

Cloud Nothings continue to grow and improve. The hooks and energy of Dylan Baldi and company’s earlier works are approached with the intensity and relative polish on display on 2012’s Attack on Memory. The blending of old and new is fitting, because Here And Nowhere Else is an album full of contradictions. It blends sweet tunes with sick sentiments. The lyrics proudly display Baldi’s insecurities. It’s a tough balancing act to pull off, but Cloud Nothings do it incredibly well.

5. The Both- The Both

Ted Leo and Aimee Mann teamed up to make an incredibly pleasant pop-rock record. The Both is not a grand artistic statement, but it is a collection of well-crafted,, mostly good-natured pop songs. With its guy-girl lead vocals and  anthemic chrouses, The Both is the best New Pornohraphers’ record since Twin Cinema. It isn’t ground breaking, but it is ridiculously listenable indie rock.



The Third Worst Band of All Time?

I recently saw LA Weekly’s list of the 20 worst bands of all time. Of course click-bait lists with superlatives in the title are meant to incite a reaction and generate activity in the comments section. Despite this knowledge, I still found myself incensed by the band which came in at no. 3 on the list, LCD Soundsystem.

I love LCD Soundsystem,but I  realize it is probably safe to say no music is loved universally. Not even the Beatles carry a 100 percent approval rating, so it’s easy to see how music often genre-tagged as dance-punk isn’t for everyone.

The distinction of being what LA Weekly considers to be the third worst band ever also came with a brief paragraph explaining the ranking, so I decided to read exactly why I was so wrong in holding the music of LCD Soundsystem in high opinion.

If LCD Soundsystem were only responsible for three albums that are half-filler and a “workout mix” made by people who clearly don’t go to the gym — for people who don’t go to the gym themselves — they wouldn’t be on this list. No, they deserve special mention for the critical crusade to pass James Murphy off as indie rock’s preeminent male role model in spite of, nay, because of his worldview which remains as rigid and obnoxious as Toby Keith’s. It is, roughly, that music achieved perfection in 1977, no one outside of New York City is important, and your interaction with credibility and its overseers is a bigger concern than learning how not to be an insufferable, self-obsessed jerk. In other words, LCD Soundsystem fans are the type of people who think buying their 10-year old kid a Public Image Ltd. record for his birthday is an example of good parenting. -Ian Cohen

It’s one thing to dislike a band’s music, and it’s another thing to take a reductionist-stance on someone’s body of work and bash a band without doing any sort of due diligence. That paragraph made me angry on so many different levels, that I would like to debunk as much of it as humanly possible.

My first point of contention with Cohen’s description of LCD Soundsystem’s body of work is the idea that LCD’s three studio albums are mostly dispensable. Arguing that LCD Soundsystem’s eponymous debut double-album is bloated would be an entirely defensible position. The next two albums in LCD’s canon are both a lean nine songs in length. Neither album contains 4 expendable songs.

Cohen’s next knock on LCD Soundsystem is that James Murphy would have the gall to produce a long-form workout mix while not being the pinnacle of physical health. James Murphy, the singer-songwriter-producer behind LCD Soundsystem, has admitted the song in question was not the workout mix it was marketed as. Murphy said “45:33” was primarily an experiment with long-form songwriting.

Finally, Cohen dismisses Murphy’s lyrical worldview as anachronistic, plagued by East Coast bias and  slavishly dedicated to old school critical conventions. This suggests to me that Cohen completely missed the point of LCD Soundsystem’s breakthrough, “Losing My Edge”.

“Losing My Edge” is essentially an indictment of the old metrics for judging what is cool. It’s a tongue-in-cheek laundry list of observations and tastes that would have made Murphy the focal point of any group of self-important people 20 years earlier. Murphy’s point is that it doesn’t matter. A new generation of scenesters is always waiting in the wings to cannibalize old trends and appoint a different set of bands as seminal.

Also, describing Murphy’s lyrics as New York-centric is somewhat accurate, but it is incorrect to say he is entirely indifferent to anything happening outside of Manhattan Island. Again, one only needs to look to LCD Soundsystem’s first single to see Cohen is off base. “Losing My Edge” references almost ever influential band imaginable, not just every influential New York band. Plus, it is worth considering that songs such as “All of My Friends” and “I Can Change” primarily concern themselves with universal sentiments. Furthermore, the one LCD Soundsystem song with New York in it’s title actually pokes fun at the metropolis Murphy holds so dear.

Music that melds together afrobeat-inspired dance grooves and wry, post-punk lyrics is going to inspire plenty of detractors and vitriol, but to dismiss LCD Soundsystem based on the logic on display in LA Weekly’s list is wrong. It’s fine to dislike LCD Soundsystem, but to seemingly hate them for reasons that are categorically wrong seems ignorant at best, and intentionally incorrect in an effort to court controversy and elicit page views at worst.

The song remains (mostly) the same

I took this post’s title from a Led Zeppelin song. It seemed only fitting that a title for a list of sound-alike songs should come from a band whose members are no strangers to allegations of not properly crediting their inspiration and plagiarism.

Of course, not all similar songs have nefarious origins. Great minds think alike, and even when circumstances are less coincidental, sometimes the influence of another artist’s work can be subliminal. However, occasionally songs bear a resemblance to each other so uncanny that the similarities are nearly impossible to write off as coincidental.

In preparing this list, I tried to steer clear of some of the more famous examples of this phenomenon, but still found plenty of songs with strong similarities.


1. Killing Joke- “Eighties” and Nirvana- “Come As You Are”

The iconic, murky intro to Nevermind standout, “Come As You Are”, bears more than a passing resemblance to the guitar riff from “Eighties” by seminal post-punk band Killing Joke.

The songs are so similar Kurt Cobain feared legal action, although Killing Joke would never file for copyright infringement.


2. Tom Petty- “Last Dance With Mary Jane” and Red Hot Chilli Peppers- “Dani California”

Q:Aside from both of these songs being incredibly overplayed, what else do they have in common?

A:Well, pretty much everything. The two songs are more or less interchangeable, but Tom Petty seems cool about it.


3. Tom Tom Club- “Genius of Love” and Magic Wands “Teenage Love”

Magic Wands are probably best known for being the band that ripped off Sleigh Bells’ aesthetics. This is inaccurate. While Sleigh Bells are much more well known than Magic Wands, both bands formed in 2008 and released debut EP’s in 2009.

However, Magic Wands did seemingly take from a less obvious source.

If the bouncing bassline in “Teenage Love” makes you nod your head in a familiar way, imagine someone intermittently screaming James Brown, and you might realize your essentially listening to Tom Tom Club’s 1981 hit “Genius of Love”. I feel validated knowing I’m not the only one to notice the similarity.

4. The Beatles- “I Should’ve Known Better” and The Vaccines- “Blow it Up”

There are definitely worse sources of material for an aspiring British guitar-driven band than the Beatles. However, as Marc Hogan pointed out in his review of What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? for Pitchfork the similarity is blatant.  All things considered it seems like a fitting tribute for a band whose members had their own problems avoiding plagiarizing others.

5. New York Dolls- “Personality Crisis” and Titus Andronicus- “Food Fight”

The mostly instrumental track by Titus Andronicus is an homage to proto-punk rockers, New York Dolls, rather than an attempt to crib an awesome tune, but the two songs do sound nearly identical.

6.Bo Diddley- “Bo Diddley” and everyone

“I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob.”

Bo Diddley popularized a beat so instantly recognizable it has its own Wikipedia entry, which concludes with a partial list of songs that make use of the Bo Diddley beat.

Use of Diddley’s signature riff is so rampant, not even a 117-song list contains the title of every song to employ the Bo Diddley beat.

A lack of compensation for the wide-spread use of the Bo Diddley beat was a sore spot with the wildly influential bluesman until his death in 2008.

“I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob,” Diddley told the New York times in a 2003 interview.