I attempt to conjure up joy on a daily basis and I succeed on the most part, but somewhere along the journey when I come full center with my soul, I realize my sorrow in regards to former loved ones and best friends that have disconnected from me in the past few years. The reason for such disconnect? Temporary disagreement, lifestyle change, proximity change, “permanent” relations with others that are disapproved, shyness, stubbornness, pride, loss of youth and as weird as it sounds this unspoken but natural disconnection of singles with family and friends that are married or in serious relationships. Of course, you could blame my entire attitude on the idea of a person that thinks way too much beyond what is necessary, but to ignore such issues, I believe, is what leads to insanity and depression in adult years further down the road. So before I turn 30, I want to acknowledge these truths as to what I see around me that is naturally evolved and changed significantly in the past 8 years. That being said, I love my job, I love my co-workers, I love the Rooks, I love my family, and thank you to those who have made an effort with me as I whole heartedly admit that I am not the greatest communicator and initiator of contact in this realm of digital communication. I am an introvert who loves to sing karoake.

Thank You,



What kind of music do you like?

This was my favorite question when I was 22 years old. Now that I’m almost 30 and a workaholic with barely any trace of a social life, I haven’t kept my mind open as I once did to the endless exploration of great music. I still have my past loves that return to me from time to time, but I think the best enjoyment comes with that which is new, exciting and not quite saturated yet. That being said, if someone asks me this question today I think about what is the most exciting to me at this stage in my life. Right now I really like introspective hip-hop and r&b which is trend many people say Drake brought back to the mainstream.


This is balanced out by the conscience openness about womanizing, lust, strip clubs and what not that may come from men acting out by the complicated bad manners and behavior that many young beautiful women seem to possess. More so than Drake, I really like Kendrick Lamar who is brave enough to put out a hit song about the destructive consequences for young people dancing with alcoholism.


That is a small part of Kendrick’s talent and subject matter which showcases his brilliance as a performer and communicator about the world he sees around him. I love singing and have been looking for great vocalists to come out for years and finally this artist from Toronto called the Weeknd appears through his work with fellow Toronto native Drake and this guy is doing it all right, just like Kendrick.


By that, I mean their own careful marketing of their precious talent and what the Weeknd possesses is a voice I have not heard since Michael. The best thing any artist can admit to themselves is that this success can all end in an instant, so knowing that the work and creation of art is always more important than the rapid wealth. My favorite mainstream artist right now is Bruno Mars.


His new song Locked out of Heaven is the best pop song to come out in the three years into our current decade. I hope that this guy will continue to work hard and share his gift with the world forever.

As far as rock music goes, which is what I grew up in love with, we have been on somewhat of a hiatus. This is largely in part to the emptiness that exists on the major rock format station DC101 and the resistance and natural disconnect with authentic indie music that one can find if they spend a lot of time on the internet and keeping up with and/or hanging out with knowledgeable hipsters on a regular basis and attending shows at clubs in DC, Philly, NYC. Anyways, I want to mention that my favorite record that came out almost 3 years ago was Circa Survive’s Blue Sky Noise and they just came out with a new record called Violent Waves which has a great video for a great song called Sharp Practice. You have to watch and listen to this.

Another song I really enjoy that I heard once on the radio a few months ago from a band I haven’t listened to in 10 years is called Tempest by Deftones.

The common theme amongst most of these artists that I like are that they are tenor vocalists which is what I am so I can perform vicariously through them. That’s what I enjoy most and sounds best to me.

I feel like this range of interests is really thin and I wish I had much more to be passionate about so one of my prayers is that a floodgate will open in the coming months with new music that enlightens me and brings additional joy to my everyday life.

Fashion Part 1: My History

I have been interested in fashion since about the time I was in sixth grade. At that time, I started learning about trends. Back then, it was trendy for young men to wear rugby polos and I was fascinated by that. I might have owned one of them, but I wasn’t obsessed with the concept necessarily. The other thing that was trendy was sports gear. I was collecting baseball cards at the time and one of the most exciting things for me to get was a Chicago White Sox hat. I liked Frank Thomas, so I felt I had a connection. The other thing that was very trendy were Starter jackets. I was mesmerized by those and one lucky day, my father decided he would buy a North Carolina Tarheels Starter Jacket which was the greatest gift I ever received at that point. I  cherished that and I believe I ended up losing it somewhere or it got stolen. When I moved up to northern Virginia and started seventh grade, my sense of fashion took a bit of a 360 as I transitioned from urban to preppy/skater hybrid fashion culture. The first thing I became obsessed with up here were Levi’s wide leg jeans. The commercials were very convincing and this along with back to school clothes shopping was highly anticipated and almost a religious experience for me. It strikes me as quite bizarre how important that was to me back then. I still remember those brands that were huge that you had to have or you were considered worse than a loser. Stussy, Airwalk, Billabong, Quicksilver, Vans. This was so big in the mid 90’s. Of course the most common word used all the time was “poseur.” Yeah, I got called a poseur. Rightfully so, if I wasn’t skateboarding or surfing, but wearing the brands associated with these activities. In eighth grade was when I learned about real fashion icons like Tommy Hillfiger, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. These were expensive clothes, but you can’t get called a poseur for wearing these. Who plays polo in northern Virginia anyways? Maybe a few Clifton kids, but there few and far between and I never met one. I owe my parents so much for accommodating my intense desire to own a few articles of clothes from these brands. To own a pair of Tommy Hillfiger jeans was such an honor to me and to get a compliment from some stranger or random girl at school meant the world to me. I barely had any friends, so I was really riding on this fashion thing. That, and running fast in gym class. Going into ninth grade was a little strange, for a good reason. I started becoming more comfortable with myself and making friends and cared a little bit less about my clothes and more about expressing my personality. I became obsessed with South Park and wanted shirts related to content from the show. I also got really into theatre and it became a huge honor to acquire a show shirt from my work in Shogun Macbeth, Marvin’s Room and The Music Man. I lettered in theatre my freshman year, which is a big accomplishment in any field as a freshman and getting my letter jack sophomore year was amazing cross of fashion and achievement. Sophomore year was kind of boring, but the summer before Junior year was great when I took up Cross Country and got a little bit jock sense of fashion. Well not really, maybe just a shirt or two. That fall, I went to my first HFStival and I picked up the trend of getting a shirt from the festival as that sign of “I was there and I saw these bands.” It was my first concert and cross of music and fashion. So this was the end of the 90’s, the 20th century, and here we go into the millennium, the 2000’s. At this point, I was becoming more obsessed with music and learning style from my favorite bands and artists while still dressing my age as I was transitioning into an adult. Every June in high school, I would go to Nebraska for an International Thespian Festival for Theatre students and one of the highlights of these trips for me always was going to the little stores in the college town of Lincoln. They had several vintage clothing shops and I got real into that retro fashion resurgence in the summer after graduating high school and got my hands on all kinds of random obscure shirts that I could find for $1 that were random but fit which was most important. The coolest thing I got back then was a silk, button up big collared shirt that was a light greenish gray with a cool plant design on it that I still own to this day. Here’s a picture.

Once I went to college, I just kind of held on to my style from senior year of high school and actually got called out by some frat kid about wearing an all night grad party shirt or something which he disapproved of. I tried to adopt some sort of hippie nerd image around 2002 based on the fact that I had a friend that could make a hemp necklace for me and I told people I just play guitar all the time and just went with that. The summer of 2003 was all about trucker hats and I was rocking this camo anti-smoking hat which I thought was hip and ironic. Turning 20 for me was still a confusing time, but it was the first time I decided to go without getting regular haircuts and grew my hair out. Here’s the first picture of my hair in that state.








I always felt like growing my hair longer was a fulfilling extension of my passion for my favorite music and that goes along with fashion. Making a statement and attempting to move forward. During my junior year of college, I was the most brilliant and inspired that I have ever been in my entire life. I felt the touch of God and responded with my own form of creation that was otherworldly. My mind and soul was always occupied by a sense of creativity and I felt compelled to use my pencil to show what was flowing through me. I would have been great to use my creativity towards artistic fashion, but that wasn’t in my reality in college. This flowed into my final year of college where I was a bit of a hermit and obsessed over Bjork and The Mars Volta. I remember back in 2004 when I first saw a Bjork Single/EP/Remix CD and saw how she decorated the liner notes and font of her name and knew instantly that she was a significant source of inspiration to me. The music and art of Bjork is something that will always exist in my soul and be around whenever I go through serious emotions in my life. 2005 came along and Booom! This band called The Mars Volta are there waiting for me to listen to them and show me what is means to be smart and cool. Don’t forget about At The Drive In. My God, this band, these guys, they changed my life and showed me a way of living that was on another level that was incredible. Life can be this amazing! I went so far as to only buy women’s jeans (only denim that really fits skinny guys) and become a vegetarian for 2 and a half years.

The Mars Volta – Veganism & Fashion

And that’s 6th grade though graduating college. I’ll see if I can follow this up with anything interesting. I have a few things in mind.









What’s your favorite wine Andrew?

People always ask me what’s my favorite wine. Well that’s a long conversation, but let me break it down. I love Malbec from Argentina, hot climate ripe, dark, muscular structure and fruit as well as high altitude, Andes influenced, cool nights that give seductive floral, sweet spiced perfumey Malbec. I love the Languedoc/Roussillon in southwest France near the Spanish border along the Mediterranean coastline that is the home to the mysterious and cerebral Carignan that I adore. These wines have amazing organic concentration and a distinct cocoa/cacao dark chocolate flavor in their wines that you cant find anywhere else in the world. I love that these wines are under the radar and offer so much personality. I’m also a sucker for a culture that mixes a little bit of Spain/Catalonia into France. Its easy for me to tell everyone how much I love the southern Rhone. Chateauneuf-du-Pape makes the best $35-$75 wines in the world that show what magic wine can be as a result of its mutual love and obsession with the Sun. Those abundant white rocks and those old gnarly vines are so unique and picturesque that are just a glimpse of what fruit come from this wonderful location. I love this region for its well known ambitious little brothers and sisters that perform like rising stars ready to become the next among best players in the world. Gigondas is like the Prince Harry who just because he was born 3 years earlier, cant be King, but performs just as impressive, if not better than Chateauneuf and delivers amazing concentration and big, deep, spicy, dark, muscular structure and fruit for less than $40. One producer Domaine la Bouissiere made one of my favorite wines of all time that was a declassified Gigondas for $15 that was so amazing I bought a whole case and turned on several of my friends to it which very rarely happens. Vacqueyras is like the twin sister to the brother Gigondas that has many identical traits but often performs slightly more feminine and elegant but still powerful and full of dark delicious spicy fruit. Cairanne is also an intriguing place that I call the quiet, brilliant younger sibling that doesn’t speak much, but when they do, they blow your mind with how much artistic brilliance and imagination they have inside them. This place produces several (hidden secret) spectacular wines everyone should seek out. I’ll mention the producer Domaine de l’Oratoire as one of the greatest. Rasteau makes some amazing under $20 wines that have delicious chocolaty grenache based fruit. I love Cote-du-Rhones! They have had a string of great vintages and you can find dozens around $10 and they are ALL good. Burgundy France probably makes the best wine in the world, but because they are so expensive and I’m not rich, the economy is just OK, they are not a hot category. However the few over $50 ones I have tasted have been magnificent, white and red. I have to taste Domaine de la Romanne Conti Pinot Noir before I die. The Iberian peninsula. I love Portgual. I often get asked, what are the best $10 wines? My answer in 2011 is Portuguese reds. These wines kick ass and keep you coming back for more. I love what they are doing and exporting to the USA for such a low price. These wine are filled with such enjoyable juicy plumy fruit with hints of cocoa and lovely balance that I cant resist. One of my favorite grape varietals in my Top 5 is Touriga Nacional. I love LOVE this grape. Its so dark, plumy and mysterious and intoxicatingly arromatic. Any Portuguese wine with a blend of this I easily fall in love with. Give me more! Touriga Nacional is the main grape grown in the famous Douro winemaking region that is known for the production of Port wines, which I love, but I love table reds that show the natural expression of the genius Touriga Nacional varietal without being sweet. Try Portuguese wines! OK now let me finish by expressing my love for ESPANA (Spain) Here we have a country that seems to have all the right elements to be the greatest in the world at all the things that I cherish and TODAY is the time people are starting to notice that this is one of the most important countries in Europe, if not the world. Oh wow, Spain is so special. Let’s talk about Tempranillo. This is the royal grape that seems to always walk around with a velvet cloak. It works so well with new french oak and shows very sexy red fruit and hints of vanilla. Its not always brainy, but its sure is hot. I’m really not an expert on Spanish wine, but I put a lot of faith and passion in supporting the great brands by the famous importer Jorge Ordonez. He knows how to send the USA delicious Spanish wines at a very affordable price with very attractive, modern labels that are a retailer’s dream. The wines from Jumilla in the south east are incredible as they are dominated by the powerful and seducticve Monastrell (mouvedre) grape that is packed with more skittles rainbow fruit than any varietal I’ve evr come across. Yum! I love Juan Gil monastrell that I sell for $16 that is pure pleasure and indulgence in a bottle that I don’t say about any other wine under $20. I cant ignore the fact that the one place one Earth that I have never been that I am head over heals in love with also makes amazing wines. That place is Catalonia and they are mostly famous for their sparkling wine known as Cava which is always under $20 and can rival the quality of fine Champagne which is something I adore. I cant begin to describe my love for Champagne, that’s a whole other story. Catalonia also is home to Montsant and Priorat which are making some incredible powerful fruit packed wines that I am just beginning to explore. This is a place I hope to live one day and hopefully work in a vineyard. There or the Roussillon. I just want to work with this mysterious Carignan varietal. I want the world to know Carignan.

Let me finish by naming my 5 favorite grapes. This is very Very serious.

1. Carignan (because of the future and Catalonia) Go Barca!
2. Touriga Nacional
3. Malbec
4. Pinot Noir
5. Grenache


You make my dreams come true

Last night I dreamed I was doing a cross between flying and galloping through room after room in a mansion or museum that had the most beautiful sculptures and paintings in blue, white, pastel colored rooms decorated sometime in the 17th and 18th century in France or Italy. Its a beautiful thing to use your brain in dreams to create a world of settings that appeal to you the most. For me, besides the ability to fly, I love the architecture and decorations of chateaus, homes, restaurants, museums and old towns in Europe more than anything else my imagination can think of. In dreams, I always find myself in mazes, an easy metaphor for trying to find myself or place in the world. But anyways, I think its just appealing to explore unfamiliar settings just as way of playing something like a real life video game. Something like Zelda. I really enjoy elaborate magnificently designed gardens that have bush sculptures like edward scissorhands would create and maybe a maze and fountains. Large colorful flower beds like you see in the Wizard of Oz when they fall asleep in the poppies. I really respect Michael Jackson for being one the only famous wealthy people with really following through with creating a real world version of the biggest dream settings around where they live. I think that is really satisfying to ones heart, along with sharing joy with those that are less fortunate. For me, the beautiful life is all about country music, soccer, wine, traveling, friends, and family. Don’t ever lose sight of your imagination and dreams.

Hello Romance. Goodbye Romance.

On My Record Player Part 21

Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan !1963

Rolling Stone – 5 out of 5 stars. Dylan’s second lp was released on May 27th, 1963 — three days after his twenty-second birthday. It was a tender age for such a historic triumph. On Freewheelin’, the poetry and articulate fury of Dylan’s lyrics and his simple, compelling melodies transformed American popular songwriting. He later made light of the protest anthem “Blowing in the Wind” (“I wrote that in ten minutes,” he said in ’66). But Dylan’s wholly original grip on grit, truth and beauty in “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Masters of War” still changes everyone who hears this album, four decades later.

On My Record Player Part 20

The Mars Volta – Frances the Mute (2005)

This is the jump off! How did it all begin? Well, in early 2005 I was talking to Mikey Everson online and he told me about this band The Mars Volta that was about to come out with a new record called “Francis the Mute.” I heard a few tracks off of Deloused in the Comatorium and I loved what I heard and I told him he had to listen to At the Drive in whose members went on to form the Mars Volta. So what does this have to do with vinyl records? The Mars Volta are all about vinyl. They made a point to release the self titled track “Frances the Mute” exclusively on vinyl format and that was sold at one of my favorite places in the world, Relative Theory Records in Norfolk, Virginia. They were the ones that sold me my first records which were mostly Mars Volta. March 1st, 2005 was a very exciting day for me. I have to say first and foremost that I caved in and downloaded a leaked copy of Francis online a week or 2 before the record release and heard it early on and told the world on myspace. However, being a a DJ on a college radio station, I made a point to do a show on March 1st, after picking up the CD, to play all 77 minutes of Francis the Mute on my DJ Coleslaw radio show, which was epic. This was the one of the most exciting moments I have ever had about a record release and I was so proud to have a source to express my excitement. Now I just wanna mention that this record is so dope. It has brilliant arrangements that honor salsa and great moments in classic rock while staying fresh and full of bad ass grooves. This was the first Mars Volta album to be produced by only Omar Rodriguez who plays guitar for the group and writes and leads the band. He really indulged and made an un-compromised album that shows what kind of music this band wanted to play at this stage in their career. I remember going to New York City a few weeks after this record came out and listening to it non-stop on the way and through our journeys in the city, mainly to see the art work of the brilliant painter Alex Gray. A true fan that listens to this music is rewarded with “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore.” It has a disturbing intro that goes on for about 2 minutes. Cassandra Gemini is a trip that is practically an album in of itself. My 2nd favorite track if it was on the album is the self titled track that I obtained a vinyl copy of. This is Cedric favorite songs from these recordings. Great lyrics and a very theatrical collage of sounds. This was a great musical discovery in my life and seeing them live May 1st, 2005 was one of my most memorabile concert and life experiences. I love the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA. I have seen the mars volta there 3 times now. acblakneyThis picture is from my concert I went to on October 10th with Jenny Geier the day after her 24th birthday. She was great company and I am so glad she got to share this experience with me. Frances the Mute was a record that came out at a great moment in my life,graduating college, entering the real world, and returning to northern VA to be with my family and best friends. I want to thank Mike Everson so much for giving me encouragement during this time to share my artwork on deviant art. Anyways, this vinyl kicks ass, did I mention this is the only album I have come across that was released with 3 records, 5 sides to fit all 77 minutes, and not to mention the 6th side counting the self titled song that is 14  minutes in length. Thank you Mars Volta for your indulgent ambitiousness. 96%/100

After the amazing Deloused in the Comatorium, The Mars Volta gave themselves two years to mess around with their confusing guitar sounds, vague lyrics, jazz and Latin influences. It turns out that Frances The Mute is the masterpiece some people are looking for, featuring arguably better musicianship, lyrical themes, and tighter sound than on their excellent debut.

What’s inside is one hell of an adventure. This is a progressive concept album, mixing together jazz, odd time-signatures, unique guitar distortion, and the occasional trumpet. To top it all off, you’re presented with a mess of ideas, vague lyrics depicting the protagonist of the story on some sort of search for his missing parents… or something like that.

Starting with the first track, “Cygnus…. Vismund Cygnus,” Frances The Mute takes you on the first step of the journey. If this album’s “like factor” was based on first impressions, then The Mars Volta got it right, as “Cygnus…” is one of the strongest tracks on the CD (granted, there are only five songs). It starts off with some Spanish-sounding guitar, and heads straight into a romp of craziness. With drums going everywhere, guitar outstretching the drums, and vocal ability to match the metallic funk (or funky metal, you pick) energy, it blows you away, almost coaxing you into the ambiance that then leads you into a closed hi-hat and snare side-taps, a much softer form of noise, a spiffy bass line, and, of course, a guitar solo that plays to an intense 29/16 time signature (that’s right, no grace notes). It builds and builds and builds, and never feels rushed. When it’s finally getting to the climax, Cedric Bixler-Zavala starts with his sweet vocals again, helping the song to build up until the final chorus, his vocal chords showing an insane amount of high range. After all this, the song fades ever so slowly into ambiance, setting the stage for the single, “The Widow”.

Ironically, while “The Widow” was the poster-child single of Frances The Mute, I find it to be near the bottom of my favorite tracks on this CD. That’s not saying it’s a horrible song, because it’s definitely a great example of their musicianship. Contrasting greatly with the album, and Mars Volta habits in general, “The Widow”‘s actual music (meaning, minus ambiance) lasts about four minutes long, sticks to 6/4 time signature, relying on eerie vocals and brooding guitar to keep the groove going. It definitely sticks, and the solo is great, but, again, not the best track on the CD.

“L’Via L’Viaquez” starts off with ambiance that has more of a distinct beat to it, and then slaps your mind with a guitar solo by John Frusciante (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame), backed by funky bass and some more classical instruments. The song heads into Spanish vocals, and definitely proves that Cedric’s vocal ability is phenomenal no matter what language he wants to speak at the moment. What stands out most in this song is the shift to Latin music, a welcome, if seemingly unfitting, twist (but really, it’s the Mars Volta we’re talking about here). “L’Via L’Viaquez” switches between these dynamics twice, each coming back to the more conventional rock sound. This song proves that backwards thinking can work.. “L’Via L’Viaquez” ends with more ambiance in the form of distorted, watery vocals, and subtle guitar noise.

“Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” is a song as long as its name implies. Clocking in at just under 12 minutes, it’s the most psychedelic and ambient song on the CD, giving the listener a break from rushing music and mixtures of genres. It features trumpet (Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Spanish guitar, and background guitar from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Only near the end does it climax in blasting toms and bass drum, heavy bass, and guitars that make it sound like it could give you a heart-attack. The beginning and the ending of this song sound like they could belong in an epic soundtrack of some kind (which is something Frances The Mute could be considered, since it is a narrative concept album).

“Cassandra Gemini” might be the best track on the CD. It really does depend on your patience. While it doesn’t take a lot of build-up in the beginning, like the other four songs, “Cassandra Gemini” is just intense, brooding vocals of Cedric being backed by intense fret-work and back-and-forth switches between singing and short guitar solos, and, all the while, drums just going everywhere. This song is probably the pinnacle of lyrical ability and progressive rock as a whole for The Mars Volta, since the song manages to change time signature, guitar sounds, drumming dynamics, and lyric composition many, many times in the thirty-plus minute masterpiece. It would be a hard and lengthy attempt to explain how amazing this song is, but, with its multiple guitar solos, differences in vocal effects, and the fact that it never stops pumping musical euphoria into the listener’s ears, I could never do this song justice. Truly, this song could be released as an short album of its own.

The CD ends up being three minutes short of eighty. From beginning to end, the album is a prime example of how to mix every genre of rock together, plus some stuff from outside the box, without ruining things. This album is almost perfect, the small complaint that I have being that I just can’t absorb half of what Bixler-Zavala ever says because of his amazing ability as a lyricist. Frances The Mute is more than a musical adventure into the prodigal minds of The Mars Volta, and is more than the best album of 2005. It’s The Mars Volta, at their very best.

On My Record Player Part 19

The Beatles – Revolver (1966)

This sounds so good turned up loud on multiple speakers! Wow! “Love You To” by George Harrison is unbelievable when you hear it at a good volume. Taxman is such a great opener, I love to sing along to that. Eleanor Rigby is a brilliant work of art I could listen to over and over again. I was fortunate to have a copy of the Yellow Submarine animated VHS movie when I was a kid and I watched it many times and developed an early appreciation for the Beatles music. I love that movie! its crazy! I’m not crazy about Side 2, but “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a classic John Lennon composition that introduced that Indian/Psychedelic groove to pop music in the 60’s that became so iconic. Obviously, George Harrison took this genre a step futher in his songwriting, but this song on Revolver is just so well done at an early time.

Rolling Stone – 5 out of 5 stars

I don’t see too much difference between Revolver and Rubber Soul,” George Harrison once said. “To me, they could be Volume One and Volume Two.” Revolver extends the more adventurous aspects of its predecessor — its introspection, its nascent psychedelia, its fascination with the possibilities of the studio — into a dramatic statement of generational purpose. The album, which was released in August 1966, made it thrillingly clear that what we now think of as “the Sixties” was fully — and irreversibly — under way.

Part of that revolutionary impulse was visual. Klaus Voormann, one of the Beatles’ artist buddies from their days in Hamburg, Germany, designed a striking photo-collage cover for Revolver; it was a crucial step on the road to the even trippier, more colorful imagery of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which would come less than a year later.

And then there’s the music. The most innovative track on the album is John Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Attempting to distill an LSD trip into a three-minute song, Lennon borrowed lyrics from Timothy Leary’s version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and recorded his vocal to sound like “the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountaintop.” Tape loops, a backward guitar part (Paul McCartney’s blistering solo on “Taxman,” in fact) and a droning tamboura completed the experimental effect, and the song proved hugely influential. For his part, on “Eleanor Rigby” and “For No One,” McCartney mastered a strikingly mature form of art song, and Harrison, with “Taxman,” “I Want to Tell You” and “Love You To,” challenged Lennon-McCartney’s songwriting dominance.

Revolver, finally, signaled that in popular music, anything — any theme, any musical idea — could now be realized. And, in the case of the Beatles, would be.

Pitchfork – 10.0 out of 10

Like any band, the Beatles’ recording career was often altered, even pushed forward, as much by external factors as their own creative impulses. The group’s competitive drive had them, at times, working to match or best Bob Dylan or Brian Wilson; their drug use greatly colored the musical outlook of John Lennon and George Harrison in particular; and the death of former manager Brian Epstein ushered in a period of distracting and poor business choices and opened the door for individuals such as the celebrity guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Yoko Ono, and businessman Allen Klein to penetrate, alter, and, some would say, disintegrate their inner circle.

The most important of these external shifts in the Beatles narrative, however, was a series of changes that allowed them to morph into a studio band. The chain of events that ushered in the band’s changing approach to studio music began beforeRubber Soul, but the results didn’t come into full fruition until Revolver, a 35-minute LP that took 300 hours of studio time to create– roughly three times the amount allotted to Rubber Soul, and an astronomical amount for a record in 1966.

Longtime Beatles producer George Martin, justifiably upset that EMI refused to give him a raise on the back of his extraordinarily profitable work with the Beatles, quit his post with the label in August 1965. Martin used his clout to create his own company, and the group and producer used theirs to effectively camp out at Abbey Road Studios for whatever length of time suited them rather than being forced to comply to the rigid and economically sound schedules demanded by labels at the time. The Beatles could now work both in and out of the studio, taking full advantage of new advancements in sound recording that allowed them to reflect upon and tinker with their work, explore new instruments and studio trickery, and refine their music by solving problems when they arose.

This new approach not only greatly altered their work environment, but drove the Beatles to value the flexibility of emerging technology. They also cashed in some of their commercial capital to abandon the mentally and physically sapping practice of touring– and the glad-handing and public relations requirements that went with it. Exceptionalism became the watchword for the band, and it responded by using its freedom to push forward its art and, by extension, the whole of pop music. Musically, then, the Beatles began to craft dense, experimental works; lyrically, they matched that ambition, maturing pop from the stuff of teen dreams to a more serious pursuit that actively reflected and shaped the times in which its creators lived.

Revolver was also the first record in which the impression of the Beatles as a holistic gang was disrupted. The group had taken three months off prior toRevolver— easily its longest break since the start of its recording career– and each band member went his own separate way after years of moving around the world as a unit. Even without the break, it’s possible that the group would continue to explore individual concerns: After starting to do just that on Rubber Soul, it was only natural that the Beatles wished to continue to highlight their individual strengths on its follow-up, and they did by listing each song’s lead singer on the record sleeve.

The first, surprisingly, was George Harrison, who kicks off the record with another stab at politics on “Taxman”, and then later offers philosophical musings on “I Want to Tell You” and the Indian-flavored “Love You To”. Over the next year or two, Harrison’s guitar played a more background role in the group’s recordings– fortuitously, then, that time also corresponded with the years in which the Beatles were pleased to bunker down in the studio and most explore the dynamic tension between their individual interests and their final stretch of camaraderie and mutual respect.

Lennon’s primary interest throughout much of this time was himself, something that continued throughout his career– he was always suspicious, even dismissive, of Paul McCartney’s character songs, but once he and Yoko Ono joined forces, her Fluxus-rooted belief in art-as-subjectivity became orthodoxy in his mind. Lennon’s early explorations of self and mind that began on Rubber Soul continued on Revolver, as the suburbanite spent much of his time at home indulging his zest for the exploratory powers of LSD. He contributes five songs to Revolver, and, indeed, each is concerned with drugs, the creative mind, a suspicion of the outside world, or all three.

Each is also uniformly wonderful, and together they provide a tapestry of Lennon’s burgeoning art-pop, which, along with Martin’s inventive arrangements and playful effects, would peak the next year with the triumphs of “I Am the Walrus”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “A Day in the Life”. The gauzy “I’m Only Sleeping” and rollicking 1-2 of “She Said She Said” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” aren’t nearly as demonstrative as the songs he’d write in their wake– as a result each remains oddly underrated– but they function as some of Lennon’s most purely satisfying pop songs.

“Tomorrow Never Knows” is another thing entirely. While “Doctor Robert” or “She Said She Said” touched on drug culture playfully or privately, “Tomorrow Never Knows” was a full-on attempt to recreate the immersive experience of LSD– complete with lyrics borrowed from Timothy Leary’s Tibetan Book of the Dead-inspired writings. Remarkably, though, much of it due to Martin’s experimental production, tape loops, and musique concrète-inspired backdrop, the song is lively and giddy instead of self-serious or preachy. Even Martin’s primitive psychedelia could have been thudding and ponderous, and yet more than four decades later the entire thing seems less a clear product of its time than not only most art or experimental rock, but most Beatles records as well.

Despite that triumph, however, Revolver was McCartney’s maturation record as much as Rubber Soul was for Lennon. While Harrison was learning at the feet of sitar master Ravi Shankar and Lennon was navigating heavy use of psychotropic drugs, McCartney was refining his compositional chops by exploring classical music, training an eye for detail and subtlety in his lyrics, and embracing the orchestral work of Brian Wilson.

McCartney’s optimism and populism resulted in the most demonstrative songs he created for Revolver— the brassy “Good Day Sunshine” (which delightfully toes the line between schmaltz and heartwarming) and “Got to Get You Into My Life”, and the children’s music staple “Yellow Submarine”, an inventive and charming track too often derided as camp. (It’s also an early indication that it would be McCartney who would hold tightest to the impression of the group as a unit– the image of the band all living together here was, for the first time in years, untrue.)

The understated qualities of McCartney’s lyrics began to be misconstrued as simplistic in his ballads, but he provides three of his best here: “For No One”, all the more affecting because it’s slight and difficult to grasp, “Here, There and Everywhere”, a model of sepia-toned sentimentality, and “Eleanor Rigby”, which in its own way was as groundbreaking and revolutionary as “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Virtually a short story set to music, “Rigby” and its interwoven descriptions of lonely people was and is a desolate and altogether mature setting for a pop song.

Revolver in the end is the sound of a band growing into supreme confidence. The Beatles had been transformed into a group not beholden to the expectations of their label or bosses, but fully calling the shots– recording at their own pace, releasing records at a less-demanding clip, abandoning the showmanship of live performance. Lesser talents or a less-motivated group of people may have shrunk from the challenge, but here the Beatles took upon the task of redefining what was expected from popular music. Lest we forget it, the original flashpoint of Beatlemania remains the most influential and revolutionary period in the Beatles career, but the creative high points of 1966-67 aren’t far behind. It’s worth remembering as well that what had been demanded or expected from them as entertainers and popular musicians was something they’d challenged from their first cheeky, flippant interview, but just a few years later they were no longer mere anomalies within the world of pop, no longer potential fads; they were avatars for a transformative cultural movement.

On My Record Player Part 18

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

Nathan got a box of records from his godfather Marshall in 2005, maybe after I had been expressing so much enthusiasm for vinyl in early 2005, it spread amongst a few of my friends and Nathan acquired a few treasures including this masterpiece and although he is in Germany, we have this record of his to enjoy and every song on this is a classic. Dave wanted to listen to Hello Goodbye and I thought it was on Sgt Peppers so thats why I put that on previosuly and wrote about it, but I quickly found out that Hello Goodbye is on Magical Mystery and not Sgt. Peppers as I thought and I went to Nathan’s box and found this record which deserves to be played much more than it has been. I love playing records like this, rather than greatest hits. You get to feel for the intended arrangement that was put together at this point in history. Not as epic as Sgt. Peppers, but it sure does have some classics that everybody loves. All You Need is Love.

Pitchfork – 10.0 out of 10

After the death of manager Brian Epstein, the Beatles took a series of rather poor turns, the first of which was the Magical Mystery Tour film. Conceived as a low-key art project, the Beatles were oddly nonchalant about the challenges of putting together a movie. They’d assembled records, they’d worked on A Hard Day’s Nightand Help!— how hard could it be? Without Epstein to advise, however, things like budgeting and time management became a challenge, and this understated experimental film turned into a sapping distraction.

Musically, however, the accompanying EP was an overwhelming success. The EP format apparently freed the band to experiment a bit, not having to fill sides of a 45 with pop songs or make the grand statements of an album. The title track is a rousing set piece, meant to introduce the travelogue concept of the film. The remaining four songs released exclusive to the EP are low-key marvels– Paul McCartney’s graceful “The Fool on the Hill” and music-hall throwback “Your Mother Should Know”, George Harrison’s droning “Blue Jay Way”, and the percolating instrumental “Flying”. Few of them are anyone’s all-time favorite Beatles songs, only one had a prayer of being played on the radio, and yet this run seems to achieve a majesty in part because of that: It’s a rare stretch of amazing Beatles music that can seem like a private obsession rather than a permanent part of our shared culture.

As a more laid-back release, the EP suggested the direction the band might have taken on the White Album had it remained a full band, happy to shed the outsized conceptualism and big statements and craft atmospheric, evocative pieces. In the U.S., the EP was paired with three recent double-sided singles, ballooning Magical Mystery Tour into an album– the only instance in which a U.S. release, often mangled by Capitol, became Beatles canon. With only the EP’s title track married specifically to the film’s themes, the overall effect of a title track/album sleeve as shell game was in line with Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Of the three singles, the undisputed highlight is “Strawberry Fields Forever”/ “Penny Lane”, John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s tributes to their hometown, Liverpool. Slyly surreal, assisted by studio experimentation but not in debt to it, full of brass, harmonium, and strings, unmistakably English– when critics call eccentric or baroque UK pop bands “Beatlesesque,” this is the closest there is to a root for that adjective. There is no definitive Beatles sound, of course, but with a band that now functions as much as a common, multi-generational language as a group of musicians, it’s no surprise that songs rooted in childhood– the one experience most likely to seem shared and have common touchpoints– are among their most universally beloved.

The rest of the singles collected here are no less familiar: Lennon’s “All You Need Is Love” was initially completed up for an international TV special on BBC1– its basic message was meant to translate to any language. Harrison’s guitar solo, producer George Martin’s strings, and the parade of intertextual musical references that start and close the piece elevate it above hippie hymn. Its flipside, “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, is less successful, a second-rate take on John Lennon’s money-isn’t-everything theme from the considerably stronger “And Your Bird Can Sing”. It’s the one lesser moment on an otherwise massively rewarding compilation.

Much better from Lennon is “I Am the Walrus”, crafted for the Magical Mystery Tourfilm and EP but also released as a double-sided single with McCartney’s “Hello Goodbye”. One of Lennon’s signature songs, “Walrus” channels the singer’s longtime fascinations with Lewis Carroll, puns and turns of phrase, and non sequiturs. “Hello Goodbye” echoes the same contradictory logic found in the verses of “All You Need Is Love”, a vague sense of disorientation that still does little to balance its relentlessly upbeat tone. McCartney excelled at selling simplistic lyrics that risk seeming cloying, though, and he again does here– plus, the kaleidoscopic, carnival-ride melody and interplay between lead and backing vocals ensure it’s a much better record than it is a song.

In almost every instance on those singles, the Beatles are either whimsical or borderline simplistic, releasing songs that don’t seem sophisticated or heavy or monumental (even though most of them are). In that sense, they’re all like “All You Need Is Love” or childhood memories or Lewis Carroll– easy to love, fit for all ages, rich in multi-textual details, deceptively trippy (see Paul’s “Penny Lane” in particular, with images of it raining despite blue skies, or the songs here that revel in contradictions– “Hello Goodbye”‘s title, the verses in “All You Need Is Love”). More than any other place in the band’s catalogue, this is where the group seems to crack open a unique world, and for many young kids then and since this was their introduction to music as imagination, or adventure. The rest of the Magical Mystery Tour LP is the opposite of the middle four tracks on the EP– songs so universal that, like “Yellow Submarine”, they are practically implanted in your brain from birth. Seemingly innocent, completely soaked through with humor and fantasy, Magical Mystery Tour slots in my mind almost closer to the original Willy Wonka or The Wizard of Oz as it does other Beatles records or even other music– timeless entertainment crafted with a childlike curiosity and appeal but filled with wit and wonder.

On the whole, Magical Mystery Tour is quietly one of the most rewarding listens in the Beatles’ career. True, it doesn’t represent some sort of forward momentum or clear new idea– largely in part because it wasn’t conceived as an album. The accompanying pieces on the EP are anomalies in the Beatles oeuvre but they aren’t statements per se, or indications that the group is in any sort of transition. But if there was ever a moment in the Beatles’ lifetime that listeners would have been happy to have the group just settle in and release songs as soon as possible, it was just before and after the then-interminable 10-month gap between the Revolverand Sgt. Pepper’s. Without that context, the results could seem slight– a sort-of canonized version of Past Masters perhaps– but whether it’s an album, a collection of separate pieces, or whatnot matters little when the music itself is so incredible.

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