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10 Band Member MVPs (That Don't Play Guitar) Part Two: Contemporary

Music ListAarik DanielsenComment
Flea, bassist of Red Hot Chili Peppers (via Facebook)

Flea, bassist of Red Hot Chili Peppers (via Facebook)

This is part two of a two part series. Catch up with Part One: Classic.

Guitar players get all the glory. Aside from lead singers, they typically are the focal point in any band, and at their most prolific, guitarists can overshadow singers or even render frontmen interchangeable. The dynamic is understandable; The mythic power of rock is perhaps most fully alive in a great riff or solo. If we’re going to play “air” anything, we usually go for the guitar first.

That doesn’t lessen the significance of a band’s other members, though. Strong players on other instruments sharpen a band’s sound, make it more versatile, and make their running mates look even better. The best of these players don’t just keep the beat or meet minimum expectations, they find spaces of their own to express something intangible, to contribute moments of lyric beauty and sheer power. Here is a small sample size of those who’ve shouldered these roles, a team of most valuable players who don’t primarily play guitar. They might not be the flashiest players, but they make their bands better in important, sometimes nearly imperceptible ways.

First, we looked at legacy artists. Now indie icons — players whose bands have earned respect and a faithful following, but started from the outside looking in.

Jim Eno
: Drums, Spoon
Strengths: A great drummer knows the quirks of his or her fellow bandmates. In Spoon, Eno backs a singer, Britt Daniel, with a particular style and cadence. Eno has developed a remarkable sense of phrasing that suits, and at times pushes and pulls against, Daniel’s. In that way, the pair have a relationship not unlike the one most singers share with a lead guitarist.
Check out: “Rent I Pay” 

John Stirratt
: Bass, Wilco
Strengths: Long Jeff Tweedy’s right-hand man, Stirratt is the only other member to be part of Wilco’s entire arc. Stirratt is always a true servant of the song. But don’t mistake him merely for some low-end bedrock or trusty sidekick. He can take hairpin turns on his instrument; his basslines are deceptively funky and only grow more so as time passes.
Check out: “Handshake Drugs” 

Janet Weiss
: Drums, Sleater-Kinney
Strengths: Weiss is no less than one of rock’s great drummers — but she’s something more. Playing in a trio with superlative guitarists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, and no permanent bassist, Weiss has to cover more musical ground and account for more sound than many drummers. Her ability to fill in the gaps, and do so with ferocity and flair, is awesome to behold.
Check out: “Bury Our Friends” 

Dave King
: Drums, The Bad Plus
Strengths: The Bad Plus is about as punk rock as a jazz trio can get. Technically, pianist Ethan Iverson is tasked with melody, though bassist Reid Anderson and King pull their fair share of the load as command is passed between each player with ease. It’s hard to call a drummer as zealous as King melodic, but he definitely does more than drive the beat. He digs into his kit, making use of every inch of it and impacting a song in ways traditionally reserved for a more tuneful instrument.
Check out: “Pound for Pound”

Ryan Young
Role: Fiddle, Trampled by Turtles
Strengths: This Minnesota new-grass outfit is known for the intensity of its picking. More than just a happy-go-lucky fiddler, Young is able to match his bandmates blow for blow, but also can bring the legato to the party, providing a melodic counterpoint to all that chugging. Young’s ability to mimic other instruments or effects with his bow and strings only adds to his value.
Check out: “Wait So Long” 

Rick Steff
: Keyboards, Lucero
Strengths: An all-around talent on keys, Steff can temper Lucero’s scuffed-up sound with soft, sweet piano, soulful organ or accordion playing that evokes a New Orleans street corner. He also can indulge the band’s basest urges with boogie-down, bandit scampers across the keyboard and mountains of B3 reverb.
Check out: “Baby Don’t You Want Me”

Noam Pikelny
 Banjo, Punch Brothers
Strengths: Think the 1927 “Murderer’s Row” New York Yankees. Think the Wu-Tang Clan. Whatever says “supergroup” to you, the Punch Brothers are the string-band equivalent. This staff full of aces can play anything, and Pikelny often does. He can be fast and mean, but often coaxes unconventional sounds out of his banjo, playing painterly, rippling passages that set the band’s mood.
Check out: “New York City” 

Jay Gonzalez
: Keyboards, Drive-By Truckers
Strengths: Gonzalez does wield a guitar on occasion, helping the Southern rockers achieve a three-axe attack. But he does the most damage behind the keyboards. His soulful organ stabs and cascading piano runs add a killer element to the Truckers’ sound and qualifies Gonzalez as a potential heir to rock keyboard royalty such as Benmont Tench and Garth Hudson.
Check out: “Pauline Hawkins”


Wylie Gelber
: Bass, Dawes
Strengths: Less can indeed be more. And when a band boasts one of its generation’s great lyricists, as Dawes does with Taylor Goldsmith, it feels unnecessary to dress those words in unnecessarily technical playing. With the exception of last year’s We’re All Gonna Die, the band has kept its cool, focusing more on nuance. As Dawes’ bassist, Gelber has played a major role in keeping it simple, but never simplistic. His sense of control — and ability to find the pocket right away, then stay there — is an example to young bassists who think they have to run their fingers all over the frets.
Check out: “Just My Luck”

Sergio Mendoza
: Keyboards, Calexico
Strengths: Mendoza leads the vibrant “indie mambo” collective Y La Orkesta, but is best known in the rock world for his association with the Tucson rockers. His experience growing up on both sides of the Mexican-American border, and his instinct to listen attentively to the soundwaves floating across it, brings richness to the Calexico sound. Mendoza can do a traditional Cuban dance across the piano or replicate the bargain-bin synths heard in popular cumbias.
Check out: “Cumbia de Donde”

Spoon Announces New Album 'Hot Thoughts,' Drops Title Track

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

The idea of a new Spoon record is a hot thought indeed, and following their top quality 2014 release They Want My Soul, Spoon has returned to "old friends" Matador Records to give us just that.

Due out March 17, the watercolor covered LP Hot Thoughts has a tracklist and title track available now, and, while there are no full tour details yet, they have announced a residency at their hometown SXSW festival in the days leading up to the release as well.

"Hot Thoughts" sees Spoon continue co-production with Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Tame Impala) for a jangly yet tight single unafraid to embrace danceability at no expense to rock sensibility. Listen below.

Hot Thoughts:

  1. Hot Thoughts
  2. WhisperI’lllistentohearit
  3. Do I Have to Talk You Into It
  4. First Caress
  5. Pink Up
  6. Can I Sit Next to You
  7. I Ain’t the One
  8. Tear It Down
  9. Shotgun
  10. Us

10 of the Best Musical Cameos on TV

TV/Film List, Music ListEllen WilsonComment
Jack White on Portlandia

Jack White on Portlandia

1. The Shins on Gilmore Girls 

Gilmore Girls is known for their fast paced dialogue and countless pop culture references, often mentioning numerous artists an episode, so it would make sense that Rory and co would stumble upon a hip new band playing in a club while on spring break. James Mercer and band play "So Says I" for an uninterrupted minute and a half, which is a pretty impressive amount of airtime for television. Rory and friends don't arrive until the last song, though, so we can assume they are the worst concert goers ever. Shortly after you can hear "The Laws Have Changed" by The New Pornographers while Rory and Paris uncomfortable try to fit in with the club-goers stating, "no one can sniff out the hip like we can." 

2. The Decemberists on Parks and Recreation 

The Decemberists get about 30 seconds of airtime playing "Crane Wife 3" at the Pawnee-Eagletown unity concert. While they might not have gotten as much airtime as deserved the entire episode was full of additional musical guest such as Jeff Tweedy, Ginuwine, and Yo La Tengo. 


3. Jack White on Portlandia 

Jack White magically appears on the Portlandia sketch "The Studio" in which Fred's character portrays a man who has a "top notch" studio with overwhelming similarities the studio used when recording the Beach Boy's album Pet Sounds. Jack White magically appears and silently watches Fred's character as he struggles to make sense of it all. The lack of dialogue from White makes his facial expressions even more hilarious and one of the best musical guest Portlandia has locked down. 

4. Britt Daniel of Spoon in Veronica Mars

Britt sings a karaoke version of the song appropriately titled "Veronica" by Elvis Costello. The Spoon song "I Summon You" was also featured in the same episode. You can read more about Britt's decision to do the show here

5. Death Cab For Cutie on The OC 

Death Cab was famously the favorite band of OC stud Seth Cohen, despite Summer's less-than-flattering analysis, "it's one guitar and a whole lot of complaining." When the band finally appears they play a show at the infamous fictional venue, The Bait Shop, and were featured on the official soundtrack. 

6. Prince on New Girl 

Prince, the majestic being himself, guest stars in an episode of New Girl. In the episode, he plays himself and gives Jess (portrayed by Zooey Deschanel) relationship advice. The highlight, though, is when the The Purple One asks, "Do you like pancakes?" 

7. Beck on Futurama 

After Bender is hospitalized he discovers Beck's disembodied head is occupying the bed next to him. Beck then loans Bender a set of neck-mounted robotic mini-arms, and the two go on tour together as Bender uses the arms to scrape across his mangled body and earn the position of Beck's washboard player. As the episode continues, Bender writes a song about broken robots, and the duo decide to put on a benefit concert in San Francisco to help all the disabled machines. While helping Bender write a song about his feelings, disembodied Beck explains how emotion is an important part of his musical process as well, saying, "When I'm upset I write a song about it. Like when I wrote 'Devil's Haircut,' I was feeling really... what's that song about?"

8. The Beach Boys on Full House 

The Beach Boys have a long standing friendship with the Tanner family, appearing in not one, not two, but three separate episodes. The most notable episode is the one in which DJ wins two tickets to the Beach Boys show but has the tricky decision of picking which family member to take. Naturally, The Beach Boys show up and invite the whole bunch along (except for baby Michelle) to the show where they sing and do some sort of a line dance on stage. 

9. Radiohead on South Park

In this particularly dark episode, Cartman vows to take revenge after being tricked by eighth grader Scott Tenorman. Upon learning that Radiohead is Scott's favorite band, Cartman writes a letter to Radiohead claiming that Scott is a victim of "cancer, in his ass" and the British rock band visits South Park just in time to watch Scott cry after hearing he ate his parents.  

10. Sir Paul McCartney on 30 Rock 

In one of these two brilliant episodes of 30 Rock, Sir Paul McCartney appears as himself to prove the point that "it's live TV, anything can happen." The look on Alec Baldwin's bewildered face as Paul McCartney grins and slaps Baldwin's face makes this one of the best moments of 30 Rock's entire seven season run. 

2015 Bonnaroo Playlist (Saturday + Sunday)

Music ListTransverso MediaComment

As we discussed previously in Part One (Thursday + Friday), Manchester, Tennessee's annual music festival and hedonist mud orgy Bonnaroo is right around the corner, kicking off June 11-14th. Any good concertgoer knows to familiarize oneself with the music beforehand, and we've done the work for you, compiling a playlist of the top songs by the best artists featured during the last two days, which you can check out below:

"Do You" Want to Hear the First New Spoon Song in Four Years?

New Music, Music NewsWeston PaganoComment

After a four-year hiatus, Austin-based indie rock mainstays Spoon are back and as spry as ever with the first official single off their forthcoming eighth record, They Want My Soul.

“Do You” is classic Spoon, with Britt Daniel’s pleading vocals calling out over intertwining guitar and piano along with the type of softened, echoing “do-do-dos” only the best instant sing-alongs are made of. Despite the ferocious intensity of the three-eyed lion in the artwork, the track is actually quite warm and inviting, and you can almost feel the audiences clapping in time already.

Written immediately after Daniel’s side-project Divine Fits concluded touring last year, They Want My Soul is scheduled to become the Texas outfit’s first LP on new label Loma Vista upon its release on August 5th, though there’s still plenty of summer left to bounce along to this song in the meantime.

“Do You” is available for purchase on iTunes, or better, through the band’s new Vinyl Gratification program.

Originally published on The Music Ninja