Authors Posts by David Carroll

David Carroll

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I tend to pair my experiences with music. I try to find narratives to all things I experience in my life, and I find myself constantly searching for soundtracks to everything I commit to memory – my four years at Manual High School being no exception.

I am but days away from donning my cap and gown, accepting my diploma, and forever leaving the comfort of 120 West Lee Street. The experience was not always a pleasant one, nor a bearable one, but the sight of the school still retains a certain hospitality – my thoughts, bad or good, were accepted here. Likewise, the five albums I have decided upon have whisked me away in times of despair and have accentuated the high moments of my years at Manual. They all carry certain memories, certain nuances, and certain aspects of my development from a young teenager into a young adult.

Big LThe Big Picture
I can’t remember exactly when I bought this album, but I know it was early in my Freshman year. One of my favorite projects for one of my favorite classes that year, Oral Communication and Debate, was to give my fellow students a lecture on any subject. I chose to lecture the class on “The Pioneers Of Underground Hip-Hip In The 90’s,” to which Big L was a central figure. I had immersed myself in his lyrical style, and would spend my study halls listening to The Big Picture. Just as Big L had catapulted the styles of rappers to come, he catapulted my affinity for lyrical rappers. There are countless other rap albums I listened to during my high school years, but they can all be drawn back to The Big Picture.

The Black Keysthickfreakness
Right around my 16th birthday, during a most long and cold fall, a friend of mine loaned me this album. We shared an interest in Blues, yet longed for a more modernized, heavy approach to the genre. I was handed this album with the assurance it would answer my longings. To say it surpassed them is an insulting understatement. The raw energy produced by the two-member group on this album caught me by surprise. I spent the remainder of my sophomore year listening to this album and collecting their others. Coincidentally, this was also the same time I began to play my guitar more regularly. The week before my Junior year began, I got the privilege of seeing The Black Keys perform many of the songs off of thickfreakness in concert – a performance that eased the transition from late-summer depression into the beginning of my toughest school year.

XerxesTwins
This EP was released right around the end of my sophomore year, when I first began going to shows in the local Hardcore scene. It was a hard listen at first; I did not understand the appeal of hardcore bands or screamo, but after seeing the band perform the EP live and being immersed in the Louisville Hardcore community, it all made sense. By the middle of my junior year, Twins had become my lifeline. Though it is only about 10 minutes long, I have hours upon hours of experiences to which the songs on this EP narrate. My junior year was partially defined by the music Xerxes released – some of their material scarily mirrored the times I were going through. I truly discovered Xerxes in the right place at the right time of my life.

My Morning JacketAt Dawn
I purchased this album on my 17th birthday, out of a desire to end the shame I felt from not owning any of the band’s music. Immediately, I was welcomed by the comfort of their sound. The reverb, Jim James’s wallowing voice, the acoustic guitars – they all painted the portrait of that fall of my junior year. Overnight, I went from not knowing much about them to owning and loving all of their music.

Explosions In The SkyThe World Is Not A Cold Dead Place
If I could pick one album that summarized my high school experience, it was this one. The first week of my junior year, I lucked into a ticket to their concert. Experiencing this band live was single-handedly one of the most powerful moments in my life. It re-defined my ideas of what music can do to people, and inspired me to pursue starting a post-rock band. The songs on this album have been dependable backbones by which I could gauge my experiences. They carry countless memories, and often put me in the state of mind in which I need to be to assess my life at the moment. I’m sure in the first few weeks of college, this will be the album I play most.

To say these albums simply remind me of high school is not true; more often than not, they found themselves more directly involved in my life outside of the school walls. However, these are the albums that tell the story of who I really was. They tell the story of a teenager, not just a student. They chronicle my growth from the first day of freshman year to the moment I lay my hands on my diploma. These albums have become a part of me. They have shaped me, and the perceptions I have carried into Manual.

Because of this, I leave Manual not only with hope and optimism at the prospect of my future, but also for the music I grew to listen to. It makes me wonder what college will bring to my ears. Until then, chances are you’ll find me listening to one of those albums.

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On a recent visit to the mall, I thought I’d visit an old, familiar CD/DVD store. I had spent most of my freshman and sophomore years of high school in this store whenever bouts of procrastination struck, when I was bored, or when I wanted to purge my wallet of whatever change I had hastily scrounged up before heading out to buy a random CD.

These trips were, to a young music fan, more than simply going to the mall. I began to learn every aspect of the store’s collection. I knew where I was likely to find misplaced items, which artists always ended up grouped in the wrong genres, and how to find the best deals on used CDs, which, in purchasing, were always a good choice.

I’d buy music with my lunch money and go hungry through the next day at school with no regrets. I’d spend my study halls with my head down, listening to albums I had recently purchased, reliving the experiences of buying them, however mundane they were. I developed a strong relationship with myself through those nights I spent furiously scavenging music in the back corner of a store that resided in the back corner of the mall.

But on this recent visit, I couldn’t help but feel an air of detachment while walking into the store. It was a corporate chain to begin with; it always lacked the charm of an independent record store, but the disposable employees were always helpful and their nationwide deals on used CDs still helped me build an expansive library of music. It had been quite a while since I had last gone to this store and bought something, so I figured this night I would change that.

I started with the new releases, but immediately realized there was nothing worth the price tag. I veered left and began to peruse the Hip-Hop section; one of the overlooked aspects of this particular store. As a young high-schooler, much of my taste in rap was sculpted by the albums and artists I had access to in the rows of plastic cases which held plastic discs that stretched before me.

I began my usual scanning of the artist name markers to see if anything in particular stood out. Nothing did. Nor did the rock section. Or electronic. I looked through their basket of clearance CDs. Nothing good there, either. In a fit of defeat, I sulked out of the store. I couldn’t tell what it was keeping me from wanting to dig further through their music, and try to discover a used CD I could get a satisfying discount on, or why nothing at all seemed appealing.

I headed home, when it suddenly became clear; the music in the store hadn’t changed, nor had their prices. I was the variable. In the time since the height of my shopping at that store, I had lost the value I once found in the store. Moreover, I realized I have lost the value I once held in CDs. I simply don’t buy them anymore. In the age where music has become such a commodity, buying physical music seems trivial.

Not long ago, I sat on the complete opposite side of this debate. I lived for the moments of walking in a record store and letting the week’s new releases define how good of a week I would have, and for the small talk with the cashiers about upcoming albums and concerts. It was what got me through the stress-filled days of being a high-school student. That was all before Louisville lost its largest independent record store.

Now that I have no hub of musical expansion, I’ve been forced online. In an instant, I can know everything about any type of music, any artists, any album, anything. And nine times out of ten I can immediately find access to this music for free, with the emergence of streaming radio stations and the all-inclusive YouTube. As convenient as this can be, the joy of the search and the feeling of discovery have been sublimed for an overload of information.

As I walked out of the store in the mall, I didn’t know it, but I was accepting defeat. I knew I could go home and stream any of those albums I looked at and knew there was no purpose in me spending the kind of money I would have without thinking twice as a Freshman. I had decided to let go of those bonds I once had with physical music.

The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t find anything I wanted to buy, it was that I can’t tell if I’m okay with comfortably accepting this paradigm shift in the way music is marketed.

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Here are two songs that, for one reason or another, have been stuck in my head or have generally found themselves in my life recently. I’ll try to explain why. They aren’t necessarily my favorite songs of all time; that list would stretch for miles, but they are definitely worthy of that list.

 

 

Notorious B.I.G. & Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – Notorious Thugs

I don’t even know where to begin with this song. Through its infectious nature, it has claimed the summit of my “100 Most Played Songs” on my iTunes, clocking in with 260 plays. It’s just the kind of song I guess I like.

The true reason this song has rightfully claimed the spot of #1 on my most played has to be the intro. People either love or hate the opening minute of this song, during which – in my opinion, the greatest instrumental of Biggie’s career creeps into your conscience one layer at a time. The piano loop and drum machine lay the groundwork, the hand-clapping and bass beat begin to emerge. Bone Thugs members repetitively proclaim “It’s Bone and Biggie, Biggie” – hypnotizing you until the synth bassline steals the show. That bassline is the defining aspect of the beat and, in my opinion, what makes this song. Add all of these elements together and you have a beat that has pulled you completely into the song by the time Biggie steps up to the mic.

The verses on this song aren’t top-notch. They’re classic, but not uber-conscious or progressive. Then again, it’s Bone Thugs and Biggie Smalls – not the first people I think of when I think of rappers that pushed the boundaries of thought or perception. This is a song, however, that simply sounds amazing. Biggie delivers his trademark flow over this beat that tickles your brain, and each member of Bone Thugs takes their turn bouncing around the beat seamlessly. This is a song that captures the sound and essence of the lavish lifestyles of mid-90s rappers – smooth, elegant, tasteful, and overall, feel-good. 

Blast this song in your car with your windows down and tell me you don’t feel like a million dollars.

 

 

Gary Clark, Jr.Bright Lights

I first heard Gary Clark, Jr. last summer, right around the debut of his Bright Lights EP. He’s been touted as the up-and-coming savior of the Blues genre – a hugely flattering statement and an enormous burden to take on when you only have a 4-song EP under your belt.

But it’s the truth.

The opening riff of “Bright Lights” is eerily reminiscent of something you’d hear on The Black Keys’ album Thickfreakness. At least it is until Clark’s fuzz pedal kicks into 4th gear and erupts from behind the rhythm section. Clark brings forth the full package: a strong voice he isn’t afraid to use, an absolutely raw lead guitar laden with distortion and octave effects pedals, and a more traditional full band sound, as opposed to bluesy duos like The (aforementioned) Black Keys and The White Stripes. This song reminds me of one of those moments when a more conventional, veteran blues player decides to “unleash” and shock their audience with their ability to play the blues just as gritty as the newcomers.

Clark could save Blues from being completely ignored by this combination of influences and styles; only time will tell. But until that verdict is reached, I’ll be listening to this song.

 


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As with any Spring day in Louisville, your typical sunny afternoon can instantly transform into a maelstrom of dark, towering thunderheads that seemingly pop out of nowhere and swallow the greater portion of the city.

About a week ago, I was driving down Hurstbourne Parkway at dusk when I looked out my window and noticed a gargantuan mass of water vapor in the sky. It was a large pile of destruction that looked like a balloon about to burst. Every now and then, purple lightning would surge from one side of the cloud to the other, with no accompanying thunder to give any indication of how soon or how long I could expect the storm to reach me. Everything on the ground was about five shades brighter than the sky that was dark enough to be used in a movie scene for the apocalypse.

I sat at the red light completely captivated; the juxtaposition of everyday life passing me by in the form of cars and trucks and motorcycles seemed not to care of the cloud. It was a moment in which I felt I was the only observer. I was the only person who knew of this imminent destruction.

To cope with this feeling that was engulfing me just as the cloud was engulfing both my city and my conscience, I hastily scrolled through my iPod until I reached “The Dead Flag Blues” by the Canadian instrumental-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I pressed play.

Godspeed is one of those bands I can only listen to under the right circumstances. Late nights, long drives through barren Midwestern landscapes, and thunderstorms are but some of the most fitting times I have found to enjoy their music, which paints an image of a desolate world consumed by destruction. Through the use of dissonant guitar melodies, obscure and haunting spoken-word samples, weeping string sections, and miscellaneous noises I can’t always decipher, they seem to effortlessly create a soundtrack for the end of times.

The light turned green, and I began to drive again, as the bass rumble of the beginning of that song began to wash over me just as the storm cell inevitably would. My windows were still down, welcoming the calm-before-the-storm breeze into my car. The opening spoken-word sample, of a man describing his experience of the apocalypse, had receded just as the breeze did. An ominous guitar riff began to play. Violins began to accompany it, wailing in the background like the cries I envisioned while listening to the man’s description of the world coming to an end, or like the surges of lightning that were growing in frequency.

I turned onto Shelbyville Road, and was now driving directly into a black sky. The foreboding guitar riff continued to build as it rambled around the insides of my skull. I was completely encompassed in that moment; the song I was listening to made my experience completely real. It elevated it to a level of cinematic quality, almost. It were as if I was watching a movie scene of myself driving into the end of the world with that song narrating the experience.

Heading home, I was reminded of the power music can have at the right moments. Sensory experiences, moments of any intense feeling, and in my case, drastic changes in weather, can be amplified with the correct song pairing. How you internalize the world around you can be subject to the sounds you hear.

As a human being, and as a music listener, I prefer to capitalize on those experiences. I prefer not to use music as a tool to drown out the world in which I live, but as a method of gaining a stronger connection to it.

Life is what you make it, but understanding the world is all in how you listen to it.


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It’s not often that newcomers in any musical genre create music that transcends the sum of its parts; much less the land of disposable singles, throwaway mixtapes, and one-hit wonders that comprise the bulk of popular Southern Hip-Hop; Big K.R.I.T., however, has managed to bypass those obstacles.

K.R.I.T.’s most recent mixtape, 4eva N a Day, takes us through a day in his life; a concept rarely seen in Southern Hip-Hop, where cerebral, thought-provoking messages are too often sacrificed for a catchy single or a club hit, but a concept that K.R.I.T. manages to pull off with flying colors. Through the passing of this day, K.R.I.T. takes us into his conscience as he raps whatever comes on his mind as the day passes; his cars, his relationship with his record label, his relationship with his girlfriend, and the temptations and indulgences of a successful lifestyle as a rapper are just a few of the concepts present within K.R.I.T.’s mind as he goes about his day.

Lyrically, what separates K.R.I.T.’s mixtape from an album of club singles is his point of view on the aforementioned topics; he takes the philosophical, observant point of view, analyzing each and every aspect of both his life and of Southern Hip-Hop culture in 2012. He brags enough to establish his own sense of swagger and persona, while constantly questioning his surroundings and current state of being. Through doing this, he successfully conveys himself as a man who lives the laid-back, Southern lifestyle while retaining the wisdom and sense of reflection you’d expect to hear from a Southern rap veteran.

In perfect accompaniment with his smooth Southern accent, K.R.I.T. treats his listeners to some of the most astonishing production in Hip-Hop. 4eva N a Day is chock-full of smooth jazz and soul samples (notably on “Wake Up,” “Boobie Miles,” and the title track, “4evaNaDay”) that provide fresh air amongst the genre. The subtle guitar, flute samples, and screwed (that’s Southern slang for slowed-down) vocals on the song “Me And My Old School” envelop the listener in their fluidity, and cry to be blared in a convertible lowrider cruising down a Southern thoroughfare. K.R.I.T.’s beats directly reflect the concepts in his songs, which apart from creating one of the most aurally pleasing  projects in Hip-Hop, reinforces the cohesiveness and consistency of his efforts.

Ultimately, K.R.I.T. has created a mixtape that captures the true essence of the Third Coast of rap: the South. This is a release that is unjustly labeled as a mixtape; it’s a cohesive album in its own right, and although only a precursor to his debut album, Live From The Underground, which is set to be released this summer, 4eva N a Day exceeds every criterion for an album that not only fulfills the philosophical void in Southern Hip-Hop and provides production that will leave beat-junkies from Houston to Atlanta hastily taking notes, but ultimately transcends its message.

This is Third Coast Hip-Hop at its highest-analyzed and like you’ve never heard before.

 


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When I was four years old, my brother, who was 13 at the time, came home one night with a movie he had rented from Blockbuster.

My life at the time, as was the life of any younger brother, was to be as much like my brother as I could. I wanted to see everything he saw, play the same video games he did, wear the same kind of clothes. Everything. Most of my attempts went unanswered, but on this night in what I assume was 1997, my parents seemed very enthusiastic about letting me watch this movie my brother had rented. You’d love it, it has tons of car chases, they told me, knowing my infatuation for cars, and more particularly, my love of destruction.

So that night, as a family, we piled onto our green couch made of fake leather, popped the tape into the VCR, and watched The Blues Brothers together. But it wasn’t the car chases that stuck with me, or the profanity I didn’t quite understand yet; it was the music.

From the moment the gates of the Joliet Prison opened, and Jake and Elwood Blues were reunited, the moment the first song of the movie began to play, a rendition of blues-great Taj Mahal’s “She Caught The Katy,” something began to happen inside my head I couldn’t quite grasp and wouldn’t be able to for a long time. The sounds were completely foreign to me. Never before had I heard an electric guitar, or a horn section, or a harmonica, or John Belushi’s gravelly voice, much less had I heard any of them work together to produce a sound like the one I was hearing as I sat on our green couch that night. Nothing was ever the same after that.

Sometime in the days following that night, my dad opened the bottom half of our TV stand, a place I had always been curious of, to reveal a large, black metal box. Although it would be a dinosaur by today’s technological standards, it was a CD player. He had found, in his CD collection, the soundtrack to the movie, and told me I could listen to the music by itself instead of having to watch the movie each time I wanted to hear those songs. He handed me a pair of headphones, plugged them into the CD player, and told me to put them on. Though they swallowed my head, I soon found comfort in them as I sat Indian-style on the floor in front of the entertainment console completely taken by this new experience that playing with blocks or coloring or watching Nickelodeon couldn’t in their wildest dreams stand up to. At the time, I didn’t know what the feeling I felt was, but I would come to realize it was pure love beyond any expression.

It’s been 14 years since that first time I put on headphones and was overtaken by the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers. In those 14 years, music has come to define my existence, and continues to do so more and more with each listen. Just as I mature and gain new insights, new feelings, and new outlooks, I find music with which these thoughts can pair comfortably. Music, to me, is how I quantify my experiences and emotions. If I can’t express something, I can find a song that can. I find absolute meaning for my personal existence within the feedback of guitars, the poetry of well-written lyrics, and the energy of pent-up emotions set free. There is no experience similar to music, in my life, that provides the same sense of fulfillment or enhancement.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been at comfort with the sound of the accordion; my father’s instrument and creative outlet since he was eight years old. Having an older brother who played the piano, I was surrounded by loving family who found solace and a sense of meaning through letting their thoughts and energy run wild through instruments. Growing up with a teenaged brother who, like millions of others across the world, used Napster when it was young and innocent, I also had a world of new music at my fingertips. I wasn’t old enough to understand the potential legal repercussions of illegal file sharing, or even to understand the lyrics to the music that I heard in a video game or on the radio, but being a first grader with unlimited computer access and a yearning to be older than I was, I downloaded music and listened up a storm.

I went to my first concert on my 14th birthday; my dad took me to see blues guitarist Buddy Guy at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Blues has always been one of the strongest musical bonds I’ve felt with my father. It was the first form of music I experienced with him, and a genre I always felt bridged the gap between sophisticated, mature musical genres and younger, more openly energetic musical genres. Blues concerts aren’t deafening, and they don’t have moshpits or stagedives or destruction, but they carry the same emotional and energetic impact. That night, I sat mesmerized as the space within Whitney Hall became thick with the guitar tone of Buddy Guy.  I thought I knew what it was to experience music, but that night, it all changed. I witnessed someone completely open up to an audience and communicate their thoughts through notes on a guitar. That was the night I realized what it meant to play music, and the level of respect and commitment at which playing a musical instrument should be treated; I had lived with it for my entire life, but only then did I understand what it meant to be a musician.

After that concert, I began to play my guitar more often. A lot more often. I’d begin to play and by the time I looked at my clock, hours would have passed. Regardless of schoolwork or outside commitments in my life, I began to enjoy playing music to the point that I’d play at least two hours a night. I still do. It’s my escape from reality. I play music and get so lost in the notes, in the sound of my tube amplifier and Fender Telecaster, and in the satisfaction of my mind reorganizing itself that I lose all track of everything and everyone else. When I play music, I realize what matters to me and what doesn’t. It’s more than being able to recite something to an audience, or even create something new; for me, performance is the centrifuge by which I separate all unnecessary thoughts from my mind, and lose myself in a new state of being.

There are times when I’m at concerts, playing my guitar in my room, or even simply listening to music that my mind goes to another place. It’s a real place, too. I can’t see it, or describe it in words, but that doesn’t detract from its realness. My thoughts are at ease there; everything is clear and makes absolute sense. I’m so intently playing, witnessing, or listening that I become absolutely entranced. It’s like reading a book and forgetting you’re reading. In hindsight, you know you were reading, but you don’t remember reading; you remember being within the story. I live for moments like that. I seek moments like that in my daily life, and I rely on them to make it through the day. I’ve found music to be my key to unlocking deeper thought and enhanced perception of living.

Music has always been there for me when others weren’t. I’ve spent many nights on the edge of my sanity, playing music as a way of sorting everything in my life out. I’ve never had a steady, strong friendship with extremely open, established communication, so I’ve always looked to music as a source of counseling in times when I couldn’t figure things out. It’s taken on a medicinal power for me. It’s something I can always rely on that won’t betray or mistreat me. It’s something that I find reminds me of my purpose as a human being and as a member of society. If I can share my love of music with just one other person, and open them up to the feeling I get when I’m completely lost in music, I will be entirely content and happy with my life.

I’m on the verge of my life flipping upside-down. I’m on the verge of college life, of new people and new experiences completely foreign to me at the moment. I’m at the end of my high school years, at the end of nearly everyone I know and every routine in my life. But as I look into my future, I find comfort in knowing whatever happens to me or wherever I end up, I’ll still have my iPod, my guitar, and my hunger for music that knows no boundaries and welcomes change.

Because of music, I’ll end up okay.


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I could go on forever, but for the sake of not putting you to sleep, I’ll keep it as short as I can. Music means everything to me. It is something that has grown and grown in importance in my life as I’ve matured, and likewise, as I’ve grown as both a musician and a music-listener. Music has opened countless doors for me, sparked numerous friendships, and introduced me to some of the most powerful communities in my life. It has picked me up in times of bad and allowed me to relish in the good. For this reason, it is without coincidence that when I reflect on the best moments of my life, I remember the sounds first.

They say happiness is best shared, and I take that to heart; especially when I stumble across a record or a song that invokes a deep emotional response. I live for those moments when you’re listening to music and you have the feeling that the artist wrote the song just for you. I found that feeling at a very young age, and I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t life-changing. Every day, to me, is another chance, another leg in the journey to find that next piece of music that allows me to feel that way.