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What’s New In Music: Nirvana, White Denim, and Local Shows

Album: By the time this article is published, it will have been nearly 20 years since the death of Nirvana frontman and guitarist Kurt Cobain, and I thought this week I’d review the last record he recorded before he died, which was a live album called MTV Unplugged in New York, a taping of their spot on the series MTV Unplugged in late 1993.

Most artists’ sets on Unplugged were kind of a greatest-hits album, where they’d just play their famous tracks on acoustic instruments. Nirvana, however, consciously avoided that. They played a set of mostly covers and songs that didn’t get much radio play from their previous albums, the exceptions being “Come As You Are” and “All Apologies,” and used some electric instruments to great effect. This album does catch them at a great point in their playing ability, especially considering they whipped through this album in a matter of hours.  All the instrumentalists play really well and tone themselves down appropriately for the event (especially the perennially energetic Dave Grohl on drums), and Cobain attunes his voice for these songs, leading to my realization that he was one of the greatest singers of the 90s for his ability to mix growling and screaming with being on pitch and sheer range, all of which is very hard to do.

Standout tracks on this one include “Lake of Fire,” “Pennyroyal Tea,” and a cover of folk singer Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” But to me, the whole album stands out because it’s the last real musical transmission of a figurehead for a new musical movement who had so much potential, much like Nick Drake’s Pink Moon or Joy Division’s Closer.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

One of my favorite albums that I’ve heard in the past couple weeks is White Denim’s Last Day of Summer, it’s trippy psychedelic rock that’s all linked together with melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Beatles’ Abbey Road or Let it Be. You can tell it’s just four guys who really love to play making some really chill music. I would just suggest next time you’re writing a paper, and you’re a fan of artists like Minus the Bear, the Grateful Dead, later Beatles, or the Allman Brothers Band, definitely put on this album and listen the whole way through.

Since I’ve been driving across the state recently for gigs, I’ve been rifling through my guitarist’s CD collection for something we haven’t played before, and Steely Dan’s Aja came up. They may sound like a strange band to get into, especially in the 2010s, but they’re so good that it would be strange not to if you’re a musician. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker crafted songs with the right amount of jazz and rock to make something that sounded completely cohesive and smooth, yet adventurous. The cadre of studio players they got to help out with this record, including guitarist Larry Carlton and drummer extraordinaire Bernard “Pretty” Purdie (if you need a good laugh, check him out here) make it all the more smooth. Standout tracks include “Peg,” “Home at Last,” and “Deacon Blues,” but this is really one that you should turn on and play all the way through.

Another album in a similar vein is the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which is like an electronica artist joined a pop-psychedelic band from the late 60s and made a concept album about pink machines hellbent on destroying the world, all the while pondering life, love, mortality, and the fate of the universe. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt.1” is on the game Rockband, but there’s so much more to the album to that. Check out “Do You Realize” and “Fight Test” as well. It’s a great album.

Local Music:

1. Local favorites Red Velvet Ribbon and Phil Rebrovic will be playing a gig on April 25 at Crossroads Rt. 20 Bar and Grill in Palmer, MA. While it seems like a hike, you and a couple friends could make a night out of it, drive yourself, find someone to drive, or take one of the Zipcars, you don’t want to miss these guys in action.

2. The RSO Students for Alternative Music (SALT) is putting on a show in the Agricultural Engineering Building on April 10, as is Kappa Kappa Psi in the GNP Building at 4:40 on the same day. Come support your classmates and watch them play some music on campus, you won’t regret it.

3. UMass String Band Mamma’s Marmalade is playing a featured slot at the Black Sheep on April 17. If you haven’t gone to the Black Sheep Open Mic on any given Thursday night and you like acoustic music, you need to sort out your priorities. Come watch the Marmalade tear it up onstage like only a string band can.


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Benjamin Bosco

U Mass Amherst

Ben Bosco: writer, musician, compendium of useless knowledge. If you don't expect too much from me, you might not be let down.
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