Review: The Hello Strangers – Introducing Max Schmidt

You know, I have to confess: I actually feel lazy reviewing this. My San Fran blog buddy keeps spoon feeding me all these incredible bands, and of course I just lap ’em up. I am her dog, and she is my Pavlov. I swear, I’ve been conditioned. Also, I don’t mind or care.

Alas … I highly suspect I will not make it to SXSW ever. Or Coachella. Or [insert multi-day music-fest here]. Well, okay … maybe not *never*, but it’s definitely a distinct possibility. Thus it is that I will probably never see as many awesome bands as she who hails from The Bay. However, that does not mean that I will not pine for such the opportunity, for to do so would be tantamount to giving up a dream. I’m not willing to do that. So I continue to hope.

Meanwhile, those who DO get to go generously and gratuitously pass on their discoveries. Such is the case with The Hello Strangers. I have two words: Love ’em! Here’s why.

The first thing I thought of when I heard the vocals was Ani Difranco. That eventually wore off and gave way to me lapsing into a Karin Bergquist coma. The Chace sisters–Larissa and Brechyn–have been writing songs together since about 2006. They added Dave Holzwarth (bass), Kevin Shannon (guitar), and Katie O’Neil (drums) to round out their line-up in what we have in the Introducing Max Schmidt EP. Or I’m assuming it’s supposed to be an EP; there are just 6 tracks, so hopefully a full-length release is in the works.

I love the lyrics. Very Nick Cave-esque. I also love the alt-folk-country sound they have. Very reminiscent of Faun Fables, for those of you who are familiar with them. However, I *really* enjoy their vocals much, much more. Like I said–Ani Difranco and Karin Bergquist. Hard to go wrong if you sound like either of them.

One of the best tracks on the CD, in my opinion, is “Conococheague.” There’s a very western, cowboy feel to it. “I have a lover but I want another cuz he’s being chased by John boy’s brothers. I had a lover like no other, but he’s at the bottom of the Conococheague.” Interestingly enough, Conococheague Creek is located in eastern Pennsylvania. Western feel. I love it.

“Poor Dear” is beautiful and upbeat musically. Ironically, I think it’s about someone who’s been in an abusive relationship and is getting the hell out. “You laid your hand on me; why is it so hard to see by the time you light up that cigarette, I’ll be gone to Tennessee …” I dunno. Maybe I’m reading into it. I hope I am and that I’m not right. Worse, I hope it’s not based on personal experience. Tragically, we do tend to write what we know about …

Great band. I hope they put out more material soon.

 

 

App Review: Classical Music Radio

I like classical music. Really … I’m willing to bet that most people do to some degree. I’m not fanatic about it, nor am as well versed in it as I would like to be. But I’m working on it! It just takes me a bit longer cuz I’m Middle-Aged Man. If any of you know the reference, I request that you comment. Who knows … maybe you’ll win a prize. Emphasis on the word “maybe.”

ANYhoo, so I came across this app in the App Store the other day, and being that it’s free right now, I thought I’d try it out. Here are my thoughts, such as they are.

First off, the interface is a tad gaudy. It’s not extremely clean; the background graphic is distracting, and the color scheme washes out the text. Thankfully, the one button you actually NEED to read, “Radio Station,” is perfectly clear. So that’s nice.

The selection of stations is pretty good. Seems to be world-wide, and I’m sure they’re working on adding more and more stations. Germany, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Austria, Peru, Columbia, Norway, and France are all represented, as are a LOT of stations from across the USA.

However, having said that, it also appears that some of the stations are only broadcast in mono, or in something like 64kbps. That’s kind of annoying, given classical music’s strong stereophonic allure. I’d rather see them broadcast in CD-quality. Pandora, for example.

If I’m sitting downstairs at my desk, and I turn off my wi-fi connection to my phone, there is an almost instantaneous drop. Not of quality–of sound. Using just 3G and with 3 bars, I’m pulling in nothing. Contrast this to other streaming apps, such as Pandora, AudioGalaxy, or WGR550 out of Buffalo New York. With 3 bars on my phone for any of those, I get uninterrupted streaming. Not so from this app. Not sure why the difference.

When it does play though … it’s great. And over wi-fi, it’s fantastic. So this might be an app you’re relegated to using at home or over a wi-fi hotspot if you’re oot and aboot (as say the eastern Canadians). Or if you’re a persistent bugger like I am, you can try to wave your phone around until you get a good signal and then just find a way to get it to stay there, but … well, good luck with that.

Hey, for right now, it’s free. Maybe they’ll update it and make it better. You can do no wrong in downloading this right now.

Extraneous Noises in Songs

I’ve come to a conclusion: I’m not a fan of “Uhn”s, or “WHOOO”s in my music. It just seems … blah. I don’t know. Contrived? Cliche’? Boring?

This morning, for my at-work listening pleasure, I turned in to the Jim Rome show on WGR in Buffalo NY. I was hoping to catch a local sports radio show, but apparently Rome Fills from 9-1. So I tried listening to him for a bit. At some point, he announced that he would have Sammy Hagar on his show. Having grown up with Van halen in all their various forms (except that Cherone “moment.” That was pretty desperate.), I thought it’d be interesting to listen to, especially since he just released an autobiographical book.

After the interview, I thought, “Hmm … now I’m in the mood for some VH, Hagar style.” I queued up 5150 and OU812. Yah …

While I still find there to be some gems of good songs on there, the excessive use of “WOOOOOOWWW” and “UUUUHHHHNNNN” just set me in a foul mood. Along with all the “babe”s, “baby”s, “honey”s, and whatever other ridiculous words that have almost zero place in a song beyond one time, and even then, there can only be one–not all three.

I do not, nor will I ever, deny that I still find Edward Van Halen one of the most fascinating, explosive guitarists ever. Not that I’ve heard anything he’s done recently, but that could be because he hasn’t done anything recently. Nothing published, anyway. Nothing we common folk get to hear.

Having said that, like I said, there are still some gems that I still enjoy. From 5150,  I still enjoy “Get Up,” “Dreams,” “Best of Both Worlds,” “5150,” and “Inside.” I believe that constitutes more than half the CD.  From Ou812, the list is considerably shorter. “Mine All Mine” is still great,” “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired),” “Source of Infection” … all good songs. Other than that … not so much. From “The Red Album” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge), “Judgement Day” and “Pleasuredome” is about it. I won’t even attempt Balance, mainly becaues I don’t own it and I barely remember anything off that CD. I do remember that when it was being released, there was an article in some magazine where the band claimed something like “This is our most serious CD to date: musically and lyrically.” Then they proceeded to produce a track about getting high in Amsterdam. Maybe it’s just me, but that does not scream “forward progress” to me. At all. If you want to get high, that’s your thing, but please … don’t bore me with details on the size of your blunt and the grade of the roll. I. Do not. Care.

So yah. I think this whole resurgence of “liking” Van Halen may be winding down. Not sure yet, but I’m fairly confident that the 10 or so tracks I mentioned are all I need from the Van Hagar era.

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