Last night, this year's Grammy nominations were announced. Apparently. I flipped to the 10 p.m. "announcement" — CBS's The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — a few times but didn't hear one word about who was nominated. Although the all-star rendition of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's Hip Hop classic (host LL Cool J called it "the greatest Hip Hop song of all time") was cool to see, the tributes to Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber (with their songwriting-duo partners Valerie Simpson and Mike Stoller) was a nice touch and the closing Lady Gaga/Sugarland collaboration was at least interesting. Thanks to ye olde internets, I was finally able to see who was nominated this year and, I have to say, once again the list of nominees is more surprising than what we've come to expect from the Grammys. In past years, Paul Simon's latest album, So Beautiful or So What, would have scored nominations in almost every category it was eligible. But this year, it was completely snubbed.
Below are a few random observations about the nominations this year. Click here to view the full list of nominees (or here for a PDF file download). The 54th Grammys ceremony is Feb. 12, airing on CBS.
• Cincinnati native Fred Hersch (pictured) scored two nominations this year. (Click here for Brian Baker's interview with Hersch for CityBeat from earlier this year when he came to town for a two-night stand at the Blue Wisp.) The well-known and respected Jazz pianist (who grew up in North Avondale and attended Walnut Hills High School) is up for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for his Alone at the Vanguard, as well as "Best Improvised Jazz Solo" (which may just be my favorite category, at least in spirit) for his solo on that album's track "Work."
What's your favorite musical group/artist of all time? Got it? Good.
Who are you voting for this upcoming election for President of the United States? Got it? Good.
Now let's say that favorite artist of yours was coming to Cincinnati to perform. Let's say it's a remarkably intimate show with limited tickets. And let's say you've got a friend who can get you a ticket to purchase. Let's say it's $35.
But here's the catch — your favorite group or solo artist is making their concert a fundraiser for the guy you REALLY don't want to be President.
Do you suck it up and pay the admission/donation for a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime concert? Maybe make a bigger donation to your guy's campaign? Or do you refuse to do anything that may, in even the smallest way, affect the outcome of … well, possibly American history.
Cincinnati-bred/Brooklyn-based band The National has just announced a special last-minute pair of shows in Ohio next week, including a show at the revitalized Emery Theatre in Over-the-Rhine on Oct. 4 (they play the Newport Music Hall in Columbus on Oct. 3).
The concert — which comes a few weeks before the band headlines the Freedom to Love Now! marriage equality-supporting concert in New York City — is a benefit for "Gottavote: Ohio," President Barack Obama's campaign to get Ohioans registered and voting. The band will also reportedly play a private fundraising function in Cincinnati for Obama right after the Emery show.
Searching around for ticket info (details have yet to be announced; we'll update this post when they are), I came across the event's page at Last.fm, where an apparent big National fan left the post's sole comment: "Obama fundraiser...What a moral dilemma…"
As a hardcore lefty and big National fan, I personally have no dilemma in this situation, but I sympathize with the commenter. What if The National had a change of heart since last performing for Obama in Cincinnati (a huge, free outdoor show on Fountain Square with The Breeders in 2008) and the members were disillusioned by the President's first-term actions (or inaction), built up impressive balances in their bank accounts and decided the best way to protect America (and their money) was to go out and do whatever they could to get Mitt Romney elected. Would you still go?
"Shut up and sing" is an oft used saying for people who think politics and music have no business being in bed together. But if the artist shuts up and sings, but just so happens to give your admission fee to a politician you despise, what do you do?
Personally, I stay home and wait until the artist's next show. Luckily for me, deciding not to go to a Mitt Romney concert/benefit featuring Kid Rock, The Oak Ridge Boys and Hank Williams, Jr., is not a hard choice in the slightest.
When Maps & Atlases dropped Perch Patchwork, their 2010 debut full-length and first album for Barsuk Records, the Chicago-based quartet was just beginning to explore the intersection of their adoration of Post-Punk Math heroes like Don Caballero and their father-tilted love of ’70s Prog avatars like Jethro Tull and Mahavishnu Orchestra. M&A’s introductory EPs — 2006’s Tree, Swallows, Houses and 2008’s You and Me and the Mountain — found the band pursuing a more Folk-tinged flavor, but Perch Patchwork was an expansive yet subtle attempt to utilize the totality of the band’s creative building blocks. That exploration paid huge dividends as critics and fans alike were drawn to M&A’s lo-fi sonic constructions and hi-fi orchestral ambitions.
Maps & Atlases’ sophomore full length, Beware and Be Grateful, expands and refines the musical trail blazed on Perch Patchwork. In the album’s formative stages, the band employed a collection of secondhand battery-powered keyboards to blueprint their textural arrangements and, although the keyboard sounds were largely excised for the final recording, they were vitally important in forcing M&A to rethink their creative process.
As a result, Beware and Be Grateful doesn’t stray impossibly far from Perch Patchwork but it definitely advances the band’s flag a little further up the hill, exhibiting a forceful Math Pop sound that shimmers and shakes with an exuberant authority. The album’s opening track, “Old & Gray,” begins like Talking Heads tributing Paul Simon’s Graceland and finishes like Brian Eno producing Spoon. Similarly unexpected juxtapositions crash and meld into one another throughout the duration of Beware and Be Grateful.
Tribal choral melodies float above while the band skips and skates around a soundtrack that is equal measures of quirky Indie Rock (“Vampires”) and blippy Electro Pop (“Silver Self”). There are still plenty of remnants of the band’s organic approach to song construction but there are also many more examples of Maps & Atlases pushing themselves to think well beyond the natural box they fashioned on their earlier releases, blending their influences and experiences and evolving in fascinating new directions.
(Maps & Atlases perform July 15 at the inaugural Bunbury Music Festival along Cincinnati's riverfront.)