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Joel Aurora

Almost Independent writing contest


Joel was voted Almost Independent Island off after the July 1 polls closed.

IN-PRINT SAMPLE #1 (from Sound & Fury, Independent vol. 74)

Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha

The 12 varied and richly layered tracks that comprise Armchair Apocrypha, the latest offering from singer/songwriter Andrew Bird, are welcome additions to the artist’s already extensive discography. On standout tracks like “Plasticities,” Bird condemns our penchant for the economically efficient yet aesthetically drab, and vows to “fight for our music halls and dying cities” atop an intricate fusion of electric guitar, pizzicato violin, and his trademark ethereal whistling. Bird’s fascinatingly eccentricand at times inaccessiblelyricism is cast aside on two instrumental tracks. The best of the two is the album’s closer, “Yawny at the Apocalypse,” in which he evokes a mournful Ravi Shankar while simultaneously solidifying a wildly inventive sound all his own

ONLINE ESSAY #1: Why I want to be a Music Writer

It’s a great time to be a music-savvy college student. Of course, you wouldn’t know that by glancing at the current Top 40 charts or ingesting the visual equivalent of fast food on modern-day MTV. Sure, there are a few notable exceptions-for one, Amy Winehouse’s soulful and deliciously funky new album can be found on this week’s Billboard charts, as can Modest Mouse’s latest triumphant effort. Yet, by and large, the mainstream is full of albums that I would just as soon use as coasters than actually purchase (or even illegally download).

It’s a great time to be in love with music because there is a huge and diverse amount of brilliantly innovative music that is strumming and banging beneath the surface of chart-topping American pop.

When writing this response, I had hoped to avoid the painfully cliche statement that reads, “I want to be a music writer because I love both writing and listening to music.” But, after giving the topic some actual thought, there simply isn’t any other reason for me to want to be a music writer, just as there is no other reason for the painter to paint or the actor to act, save for an innate desire. Music that holds-no, seizes-your senses and forces you to change yourself or the world (or just simply get up offa that thing and dance ‘til you feel better) is an extraordinarily important thing to both think and write about.

IN-PRINT SAMPLE #2 (from Positively State Street, Independent vol. 75)

WORK YOUR MOJOW: You’d be hard-pressed to find many jazz-funk bands these days as it is, let alone one that features socially conscious lyrics, white-boy beat boxing, outlandish costumes, and a six-foot, eight-inch tall, redheaded saxophone player. That’s why Mojow and the Vibration Army-a husband-and-wife duo consisting of Santa Barbara native Moriah (Mo) and John (Jo) Whoolilurie-are such an anomaly. Together, the quirky pair manages to create a full funk sound by sampling and looping their beats while Jo adds vibrant sax riffs and Mo drops rhymes promoting self-respect, environmental responsibility, and political involvement. The band will celebrate the release of their latest album, Work With What You Got, with a positive vibe you’ll find only at SOhO on Monday, June 18 from 8-10:30 p.m.

ONLINE ESSAY #2: My first concert experience

For weeks, I had begged for the biggest and baddest Super Soaker she could get her hands on. But, on the morning of my eighth birthday I awoke to the shocking revelation that my mom’s plans for my birthday were far different from my own. As it turned out, she had bought me what every second-grader always dreams of: tickets to the Bonnie Raitt concert.

Partly out of curiosity and partly because I was raised to graciously accept gifts, I masked my disappointment and accompanied my mom and godmother to the concert. Along the way, they reminisced about the braless, hippy days of yore when they played Raitt’s records and danced around their apartments. Meanwhile, I fought off mounting waves of vomit at any mention of my mom and her lack of underwear.

However, when we arrived at the concert, any initial grumblings I’d had vanished. Raitt’s performance ignited my longtime fascination with raw, unadulterated blues. In retrospect, the concert also introduced me to the unifying power of live music, something that has served as the foundation for every subsequent concert I’ve ever been to. In other words, it sure as hell beat a Super Soaker.

IN-PRINT SAMPLE #3 (from Positively State Street, Independent vol. 75)

BOYS HIT THE BOWL: Last week, the Beastie Boys vowed to inject our coastal haven with some much-needed punk-rap debauchery when they added the Santa Barbara Bowl as a stop on their summer tour. On August 23, the legendary hip-hop innovators will invade Santa Barbara for the first time in 12 years to promote their new, all-instrumental album, The Mix-Up. And since this is one of the most significant and groundbreaking bands in recent history, you probably have to fight for your right to score some tickets, which were released on June 16. Visit sbbowl.com for more info.

ONLINE ESSAY #3: My dream interview

When indie folk-pop legend Elliott Smith died from an apparent suicide in 2003, he left behind a collection of music that is at once beautiful and melancholic, brilliant and morose. This collection-recently expanded by the release of his second posthumous album, New Moon-serves as our principal source of investigation into one of modern music’s most somber and enigmatic minds.

I am fascinated with Smith’s music in part because it contrasts lyrics that are profoundly sad against a musical backdrop that is often bright, even energetic, in its construction. Perhaps naively, I have often interpreted this contrast to be the subtle suggestion that beneath the artist’s unrelenting despondence there lay a sliver of hopefulness, a segment of his psyche that begged for optimism. Either way, Smith has produced the most gorgeously tragic and painfully honest music I’ve ever heard.

Smith often refused interviews and resisted mainstream prominence. His highly personal lyrics suggest longtime battles with depression, drug addiction, and thoughts of suicide. His untimely death at age 34 remains clouded by uncertainty, as the two stab wounds to the chest are assumed to be self-inflicted, but the coroner’s office has never ruled out the possibility of homicide. Yet, if I had to choose just five questions to ask Smith, I would stray from the tabloid-friendly and focus primarily on what I find most fascinating about him: his music. What follows, then, are the top five things I would be most eager to learn:

1. Is it the cathartic qualities of song-writing that drive you to continue to make music, or something less intense than that?

2. What is your principal source of songwriting inspiration? Is it the depression? The drugs? Love?

3. Which musicians do you cite as your principal influences and where are they most prominently found in your songs?

4. Do you think your fans listen to your music too much as a diary and not enough as songs that exist only in the certain mood or time you were in when you wrote them?

5. Can you explain the circumstances that led up to your death? How much of it, if at all, is foreshadowed in your music?

IN-PRINT SAMPLE #4 (from Positively State Street, Independent vol. 76)

CALIFORNIA COUNTRY: For many Californians, country music is a genre that glorifies all that they see as backward about red-state conservatism. Yet alt-country is experiencing a surge in popularity partly due to acts like Bright Eyes and Ryan Adams, who have proven that their sound can appeal to the NPR set without forgetting its Americana roots. Drew Victor, Widower, and a Locomotive-three Brooklyn-based outfits whose members often intermingle-are also part of this movement. Victor’s style is a unique blend of stark lyricism and acoustic minimalism with a subtle banjo twang. Similarly, Widower and A Locomotive embrace a folksy wistfulness that channels Harvest-era Neil Young. The result is a trio of enthralling folk-country acts that is both sophisticated and colloquial. The bands will appear at Muddy Waters on Sunday, July 1 at 8p.m.

ONLINE ESSAY #4: Cover song that eclipsed the original

For a cover song to be considered great, it must exist independent of its predecessor and wildly interpret-rather than merely imitate-the song’s original vision. That’s why John Coltrane’s version of The Sound of Music ‘s “My Favorite Things” is my pick for the best cover song of all time.

Coltrane did not simply remake this Rodgers and Hammerstein standard. He broadly redrew and redefined its boundaries by flipping the song on its side and sizzling it in jazzy grease. The 1960 release of “My Favorite Things” marked not only a seminal moment in Coltrane’s career, but also in the evolution of jazz itself. Coltrane’s version is the classic’s rebellious little brother, transforming its precursor from a cheerful show tune into a boundless exploration of soprano saxophone and the limitless depths of sweltering, passionate jazz.

This is not to say that the original version is not a great song in itself, as it is certainly a prestigious member of the musical theater canon. However, Coltrane’s version renders this song not just memorable, but unforgettable. It is the epitome of what jazz should be: a living piece of music that is unashamedly progressive and uncompromisingly free.

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