The Evidence for Our Opinions

Opinions can be a tricky thing. We all have them–in fact, we are all entitled to them. However, that doesn’t mean an opinion is correct. The issue of theism is an easy example of this issue. Because science cannot convincingly prove or disprove the existence of God, holding to either extreme is considered an “opinion.” However, since the two conclusions are logically exclusive, they can’t both be true. Eventually, one must be true and the other false.

But this blog post isn’t being written to explore the philosophical ramifications of Pascal’s Wager or Schrödinger’s cat. Quite the opposite, in fact: I simply want to share an entertaining and helpful discovery I’ve made toward answering the question, “What’s your favorite _____?”

The discovery I’ve made is this: look at the evidence.

I’ve always struggled with such questions. When asked my favorite movie, I often just begin listing off a few dozen films from many different genres and decades. Back in January, around the release of American Beauty/American Psycho, the absolutepunk.net community blew up with discussions of everyone’s top 10 favorite Fall Out Boy songs. Determined to make a definitive list, I dug through the band’s entire discography twice through, making notes on each song. By the time I gave up, I’d narrowed down the list to my top, erm, SIXTY tracks.

Picking favorites is hard.

I always fail. I always end up with superfluous, unyielding lists. Ask me for a favorite song by an artist and I’ll give you two full albums. It’s helpless.

That all changed this week, when I finally thought of a convenient way to figure out my favorite songs. In hindsight, the solution is comedically simple: look at the evidence. I’ve been using the same iTunes collection for nearly 5 years. I expanded my ‘Top 25 Most Played’ playlist to include the top 200 songs. Then I went through and collected (in a separate playlist) the top song per artist included in the list. This ranged across 35 different artists, maxed out by The Reign of Kindo and trickling down to a more recent obsession, Wolves at the Gate.

Rhythm, Chord & Melody

When I compiled these favorites, there was a peace that came with it. There was no stress involved with picking the right choice. Breathe. Look at the evidence. It’s all there in the numbers. I didn’t have to worry about picking “better” songs, making more prestigious choices. Instead, I just trusted the evidence in front of me, clearly stating to me, “Chase, these are your favorites.”

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Now, this list isn’t perfect. Not all of my music-listening occurs through iTunes. These numbers are skewed toward newer releases, ever since my speakers blew out in my car, which forced me to listen to my iPod more than CD’s. Take my favorite band, Thrice, for example: I listened to most of their pre-2010 discography physically, but digitally thereafter, meaning the band’s 2011 album Major/Minor appears nearly track-for-track in my top 200. The top song was “Disarmed”, just a notch above “Treading Paper.” (I’m also pretty sure that many plays of “Red Sky” were lost from my iPod not syncing correctly on one occasion.) Does this mean “Disarmed” is my favorite song from my favorite band? I doubt I’d ever be able to choose a song, and thereby stick to my decision. But who cares? Look at the numbers.

There are some anomalies in the list, too. “Alone Down Here” by the SpacePimps and “The Love Inside” by Laura Hackett Park both made the list even though I’ve spent very little time listening to those artists as a whole; those are just two songs that I’ve listened to on repeat (and repeat and repeat). Similarly, “Bloom” by Between the Buried and Me made the cut because, from its parent album, that’s the song I’ve most often shown other people.

Meanwhile, picking a top song from each artist was often a toss-up, as most of my music-listening is done in full albums. The top 200 songs are dominated by 16 albums where most of the tracks are represented (…evidently my favorite 16~ albums ever?). One of those albums is Fall Out Boy’s Folie à Deux, and I actually expected “27” to take the top spot. Instead, there was a tie for the most played song, leaving me to basically flip a coin between “The (Shipped) Gold Standard” and “America’s Suitehearts.” (I chose the former, as the latter had such a high mark because it often appears when I’d do shuffles. I guess I do have a favorite FOB song after!)

Before I post pictures of the final two playlists (each capable of fitting onto an 80 minute CD), I’ve got one final remark about how they turned out. On a less technical note, I’m just amazed at how fun these playlists have been to listen to! (What’s funny is, by listening to these playlists in isolation, I’m inadvertently cementing the play counts and making sure other songs don’t overtake these…which I suppose is called sabotage?) Part 2, for example, begins with Canadian worship band Starfield’s “Filled with your Glory,” which somehow seamlessly flows into British thrash metal band Sylosis’ “Fear the World” before miraculously making a smooth transition into Fall Out Boy. Could this be true? It’s so strange, so unlike any playlist that I would purposefully piece together, and yet it is all so very ME. There’s nothing about these songs that doesn’t scream, “Chase! Alexander! Tremaine!” Even though there are some glaring absences and some surprising results here, it’s all an incredible example of what my taste in music truly looks like on a practical level, with all of my preferences and idiosyncrasies laid out with no filter or barrier. You can see that Michael W. Smith and Barry Manilow are my favorite artists I’ve held onto since childhood. You can see how I’ve dealt with homesickness by singing along to The Receiving End of Sirens’ “Pale Blue Dot” over and over. You can see that I love at least one country artist and three metal artists. You can see my massive bias towards Thrice, as frontman Dustin Kensrue makes 4 appearances (Thrice, his solo work, with The Modern Post, and a guest appearance on Ascend the Hill’s “Even When I’m At My Darkest”). I’ve always wondered what album or playlist I could hand to someone that would be the most certifiably “me”…and now I’ve found it.

Part 1:

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Part 2:

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Now, for those of you who have actually read through to the end of this blog, indulge me for a moment as a conclude by widening my topic’s scope once again. When we speak of our opinions…are we looking at the evidence?

For example, do I think I’m a safe driver, yet I keep getting into wrecks? Do I think I’m a great listener, yet I always do most of the talking in conversations? Do I say I love my parents, yet all I do is argue with them? (To be fair, that last one is a question I often need to ask myself.) We are all entitled to opinions, but we might do a much better job heralding that entitlement by grounding our opinions in evidence.

Now, go make yourself a playlist!

Act Action (Blog #2) – What Kind of Music Do You Play?

(Note: this is part of a series of blog posts concerning my new album, which can be streamed or purchased here. However, this is one of the posts that I believe might be difficult to enjoy or participate in without hearing the album first.)

I hate this question.

Can I be honest? I really hate this question.

When someone asks me, “What kind of music do you play?”, my first reaction is usually to freeze up and scurry through my thoughts in an attempt to figure out some sort of response. Sometimes I’ll be super generic and say, “pop/rock,” or I’ll say something untrue like, “pop-punk,” or I’ll say something that’s strangely specific and impossible to discern, such as “a cross of Thrice and Barry Manilow” or “a mixture of Jesse McCartney and la dispute.” I also secretly want to get super sassy and say, “I play music with words and instruments.”

But I think the best thing I can do is request, you tell me! I would love to know what you think I sound like, what genres I seem to fit in, or what influences you think I have. So let the comments fly!

If you want some hints, I’ll do my best to recall the music that was inspiring me when I wrote the bulk of these songs, which was during the summer of 2011 in between my freshman and junior years of college.

This is surprisingly hard to remember… I can recall all my favorite albums from every single year of grade school from 6th grade through 12th. During college, things got blurry. Looking through my iTunes collection, I’m not seeing many albums released in 2011.

One of the primary reasons for this is I spent most of that school year purchasing second-hand albums from EntertainMart instead of buying new albums. I fell in love with Barry Manilow’s lesser-known albums, as well as the entire discographies from Michael W. Smith and The Academy Is…, all of whom were probably inspirations for the record.

I do know at the very least that during the writing of many of these songs, I was pretty hooked on the first half of The Dear Hunter’s Color Spectrum, primarily the Black, Red, Orange, and Yellow EP’s. I also know that I took a trip to Hawaii that summer (which, obviously, is where I wrote the song “Sandcastles”), and on that trip I was primarily listening to Pala by Friendly Fires, Human Hearts by Maritime, Mirrorwriting by Jamie Woon, Unfinished by Jordan Knight, and musiqinthemagiq by Musiq Soulchild.

Alright, your turn: what do you hear?

I would love to finally have a decent answer to this wretched awful question.

Act Action (Blog #1) – Why “Ours By Accident”?

(Note: this is part of a series of blog posts concerning my new album, which can be streamed or purchased here. However, this is one of the posts that I believe can be read, understood, and enjoyed without needing to hear the album.)

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Friends, fans, and stalkers might notice that Ours By Accident has not always been my artist moniker. Heck, even this blog itself was named by my intended-at-the-time band/artist moniker Alexander Machine. So for those interested in knowing the significance about why this changed, keep reading:

First off, band names are stupid. I’ve been playing music with my brother for about eight years, and we have been through three official names together, along with countless numbers of almost-names and joke-names, from The Brothers Tremaine to Heaven Yes. Our most recent (and most official) moniker was Romantic Machines, coming off the heels of another moniker derived from our middle names: Nelson and the Alexanders (i.e., Taylor Nelson Tremaine and Chase Alexander Tremaine).

Since 2013, my brother and I have been focused more on writing separately than together, leading to the idea of having side projects that were tied into our together-project, Romantic Machines. Through this, my brother had the idea of his project being called Nelson Romantic and mine Alexander Machine. This felt like the perfect idea at the time, so we ran with it and he released a few 2013 demos followed by a 4-song EP in May 2014 as Nelson Romantic.

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Meanwhile, I meant to begin recording my full-length debut as Alexander Machine in the fall of 2013. I even made a good amount of progress into the pre-production of the record, but busyness with working and being a senior in college kept pushing the recording dates further and further away until I began fearing the album would never come.

By the time I graduated college, I decided to record a different album, with a completely different style and set of songs. When I began recording what would become Act, Action, and the Peace that Never Was in May 2014, it was still supposed to be an Alexander Machine project. Here are the main reasons why this decision changed:

1. Because Google: When you search “alexander machine” on Google, it takes pages to get to my blog posts, Youtube videos, etc. Instead, you find a bunch of links to machinery sites. Even the domain alexandermachine.com was already taken…yes, by a machine and tool company, likely owned by a man named Alexander.

2. Because connotations: When my brother and I decided that he’d be the romantic and I’d be the machine, we brainstormed ideas that I could record music with electronic drums and distorted vocals. When I got in the studio, we tried those ideas out and it just didn’t seem right for these songs–I began to desire a more organic approach.

3. Because people: With a first-name-last-name set up, Alexander Machine sounded more like a singular person’s stage name or solo project, and I really did not want to rule out the possibility of this project becoming a band. I was already asking a bunch of friends to join on the album, and all but one person that I asked to be on the album ended up making an appearance.

4. Because the alternative: When I began questioning Alexander Machine as the right artist moniker, I didn’t really have a solid plan of where else to turn. I thought about changing the Machine part to Minutiae, but it turned out I was pronouncing the word very, very wrong. When I found out how “minutiae” was actually pronounced, I loathed it. (Seriously, it’s an oddly bizarre, almost disgusting sounding word…) Back to square one. Then one day I came across a Soundcloud account I had created few years ago, under the name “Ours By Accident.” Until that moment, I’d completely forgotten about that account and that band name idea.

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This discovery made everything add up for me. Fall of 2012, I tried my first attempt at recording this Act Action album, which at that time was just an 8-song acoustic EP. [The story of how that EP turned into this album can be read in a future blog post–also, one of the demos from those sessions can be downloaded for free as part of the bonus tracks EP]. Had I finished that EP back in 2012, I would have released it under the moniker Ours By Accident. This name harkened back to the summer I spent in the Grand Canyon, and the phrase began meaning something really huge to me: how special it can be when the greatest friendships seem to come together at random, by accident, in ways that we can’t predict or plan for.

Summer of 2012 was also when I really began taking friendships seriously; I began realizing how little sacrifice I’d put into relationships up until this point in my life and how shallow most of my friendships were. When I returned home from my summer at the Grand Canyon, I cherished friendships old and new alike, spending time and spending myself in favor of honoring this shared possession that we call friendship, this strange entity of human relations that is essentially “ours by accident.”

When this moniker appeared into sight once again, I knew this album needed to be released by Ours By Accident, and the fact that this album was filled with the appearances and influences and support of my best friends in the world only supported the relevance of this artist moniker.

So, yes. Ours By Accident isn’t currently a real band. I hope it will be someday. But the fact that I am currently releasing this album as a one-man-band solo artist thingy doesn’t mean it has to be MY album. This album is OURS. This album’s ownership is shared with everyone who participated in its creation; now you, potential listeners and fans, have my permission to also share in the ownership of these songs.​

Currently Listening:

Defeater-Letters-Home o ransomed son pvris

Genres as Colors

Imagine for a moment if we could transport music into a completely different medium of art. How about a coloring book? Maybe you’re listening to a really great rock song; once we transport that song into a coloring book, it becomes a vividly-realized grizzly bear. (And no, I’m not talking about songs by the band Grizzly Bear.) Filling the frame of the bear are lifelike shades of greys and browns and pinks, completing the space of the image. The hair looks real, the eyes anthropomorphic. Now let’s take all the color away, leaving us with the empty frame of a bear—it will look like a brand new, untouched coloring book (…or perhaps it’ll look like a polar bear). If we take this colorless image and reverse it back into a song…what will the new song sound like?

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An anomaly I have been shocked to see over and over again lately is bands releasing “reimagined” versions of songs. The most notable version I’ve stumbled upon is Manchester Orchestra’s Hope, an October 2014 full-length album of acoustic re-recordings song-by-song of their April 2014 LP Cope, which was filled with pretty straightforward post-post-hardcore guitar rockers that pretty much all fell into the 3-4 minute range. (I just about died laughing when I saw someone online suggest that Manchester’s next album would be electro remixes, titled Dope.) Hope might sound one-dimensional in theory, but—au contraire—the record actually greatly expands upon the dynamics of the original. Along with some changes in lyrics, the Hope versions are more varied in song lengths, carried occasionally by acoustic guitar, sometimes by piano/organ, and one track is mostly a’ Capella. The World Wide Web seems to be in one accord (for the first time in the history of the interwebs) that Hope is a better record than Cope, (along with the fact that its new style of music was perfectly fitting for its autumn release).

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I noticed earlier this week that the band Issues are on the verge of releasing an EP of soft versions of their songs, and Hands Like Houses did this a few months ago with (the obviously titled) Reimagine, which will likely end up being my favorite EP of 2014.

Now, this all could simply be a trend of heavier artists trying to prove their versatility within a musical landscape that currently prefers folk-rock bands and singer-songwriters. However, these releases also expose a fascinating feature that seems to be true of all pop music in general (note: when I say “pop music”, I’m referring to any non-classical song with an emphasis on lyrics and melody): music genres tend to function simply as the “color” of a song.

I think all of us have heard an artist perform an acoustic or stripped performance of a song, maybe even seen it done live. Chances are, a lot of the songs we listen to started out in those stripped down, one-instrument versions. While not everyone will agree with this statement, I’ve heard it said, “Take out all the production; that’s how much song you have.” That gives us two questions: 1. How good is a song when you are left with only the lyrics, melodies, and the simplest form of musical accompaniment?, and 2. How did the song end up in its final version, with this specific coloring?

Recently, I had the chance to perform in a songwriter’s competition. Before I played, someone tipped me off that the judges were biased towards country-folk and Americana. I thought about the two pop-rock songs I was about to play and considered changing my choices. Instead, I stuck to my guns, played my pop-rock songs, and lost the competition to a few Americana artists. Before performing, however, I realized that I could have played my songs with a country accent and a swing-rhythm strumming-pattern and all of a sudden I would have had a pair of Americana songs on my hands. No one would have been the wiser, and I could have stood a chance at winning.

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The idea for this blog post came from listening to an older AbsolutePunk.net podcast, episode 26, titled “Songs vs. Production.” In it, the podcasters discuss how every time a certain type of sound gets huge, a lot of other artists want to make their music sound exactly the same. Artists might walk into a producer’s studio saying, “Make us sound like this other band’s album.” In a more specific example, the podcasters also discuss how, in the wake of the success of New Found Glory, many new pop-punk bands were trying to write the “perfect NFG song.” However, that was never the goal of New Found Glory themselves. Instead, NFG were simply trying to write good pop-punk songs. Because pop-punk was their color of choice.

Color can make a song. Heck, color can even make a band. I admit pretty shamelessly that I love the second and third albums by One Direction. After sternly disliking and ignoring the British band for about two years, I finally gave both of those albums a chance in November 2013. I was stunned by their dedication to guitar-pop with really dynamic drumming and percussion. The way songs progressed was exhilarating, with oft-compelling transitions from verses into the choruses. Now, strip away the great guitar parts and drums parts and harmonies and you’d probably never find me listening to One Direction songs. The lyrics and melodies alone would be far too cloy and cheesy for my tastes, yet when the songs are surrounded by huge guitars on “Best Song Ever,” Journey-ripped stadium-massiveness on “Love You First,” or dance-drum magic on “I Would,” I honestly can’t get enough.

The idea of coloring songs can be very manipulative, which itself can be positive or negative. One of my favorite positive stories of color manipulation comes from Steven Curtis Chapman while he was recording his 2013 wonderwork The Glorious Unfolding. Once he had all the songs written, he and his producers began listening with a careful ear to all the popular songs on the radio at the time, asking themselves, “What can we learn from and borrow from these songs that would be a benefit to our album?” While this may sound like a disastrous idea, the plan worked out perfectly. The record became the first heavily-synth-based album for the 50-year-old singer-songwriter, but it was not at all a sell-out, EDM or Europop album. Instead, the album utilized very warm synths in a mixture of acoustic guitar and real and electronic drums that worked beautiful. Even better, Chapman knew to draw back when a song could work just fine with only a piano.

cover for bandcamp

 

Personally, I haven’t gained the tact that Chapman displayed on that album. From mid-2013 through early 2014, I planned on recording a full-length album of folk songs I’d written during my summer 2012 while living at the Grand Canyon. However, since at the time I’d been listening to so much .letlive, I the Mighty, Defeater, la dispute, Touché Amoré, etc., I began trying to transform those acoustic folk songs into 4-piece band post-hardcore productions. Time after time, I kept failing, especially when I tried to take one of the soft-poppiest songs and color it as a heavy, 7/8 rocker. While I was clearly working outside of my comfort zone, I also realized that perhaps not every color is very compatible with every song.

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Now, there are plenty of times when songs aren’t first written in a simple format and then colored into a genre. I’ve read stories from the band Thrice that it worked both ways on the album Major/Minor. One song, “Anthology,” began as an acoustic demo that the singer wrote by himself, meanwhile another song, “Cataracts,” was written as an instrumental song without the singer, who later heard the song and just wrote his lyrics and melodies on top of what his band members had created. In the case of the former, the other members attempted to make the song more effective and more fitting for the band’s style with their additions of drums, bass, and lead guitar. But strip those away and “Anthology” is a beautiful acoustic song. For the latter, it’s hard to even imagine what a stripped version would sound like–all the dynamics of the song are driven by intricate, melodic bass lines and guitar riffs, to the point where a stripped version would completely compromise the essence of the original.

Maybe not all songs fit within the idea of a coloring book? Maybe there are some songs, especially those cohesively written in a shared setting of a group of musicians, which would— when transformed into a piece of art—have a more abstract output. There might not be a clear picture of an object (like a bear), or even any clear lines to trace around. In this abstract painting, begin taking away colors and you would begin to lose the piece entirely.​

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Unfortunately, the music industry in general is moving in the direction of color-in-the-lines music, with most bands actually being a singer who writes the songs and then has hired guns as his band members, adding in the color. And I can’t call out these “bands” without pointing right back to myself–my new album fits this description to a T! (Click link to stream/purchase.) Yet I can’t help but remember that the best experiences recording my album were when I had friends come in to sing or play along with me. And most of the best musical experiences I’ve had in my whole life were when a group of friends and I were in a garage or basement jamming, flowing off of each other in fluid, wholly improvised pieces. These jams were sometimes magical, creating pieces of art so abstract that not only did they not fit the color-in-the-lines model: they can never be experienced again, either.

So while I might spend most of my time dealing with coloring books, I’d trade all the coloring-in-the-lines for a good old-fashioned jam any day of the week.

(Drawing of bear courtesy of http://deathmetaldan.blogspot.com)

Currently Listening:

60_bigixora91g89Q1Hk1L._SL1500_thegloriousunfolding(m)orninga-fternoon-b-iext24794040(e)vening.jpgOne_Direction_–_Take_Me_Home_album_coverOne_Direction_Midnight_Memories_(Official_Album_Cover)ArticleSharedImage-20243The+Reign+Of+Kindo+EPRhythm, Chord & Melody The Reign of Kindo - This Is What Happens (2010) 163187190

Boyhood – A Parody (with Respect)

Boyhood, the Album

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A 12-song album recorded over the course of 12 years, Boyhood is a musical remake of the 2014 award-winning, universally-praised Richard Linklater film of the same name. Releasing in 2026, this album features the same backing band over the course of its dozen time-travelling tracks, with one new song being written and recorded each year. The band’s frontman is the now-20 year old Holland Rivers, who joined the project when he was only 8 years old. Each track highlights both Holland’s singing as well as his guitar playing, each song giving him the spotlight for one solo–even though he first started playing guitar when he was 8. Listen to Holland as he evolves from song to song, year to year, growing from the one-note soloing and boyish chirps of album opener “I’m Just a Boy” to the gravel-throated swagger and virtuoso guitar licks of epic album finale “Youth is Wasted on the Young (and I’m a Wasteful Man)”. The lyrics throughout the album powerfully portray every human’s transition from childhood to adulthood, ranging from the careless comedy of the early tracks to the confused anger and cynicism and rebellion of the middle teenage track to the cool, confident hope that pervades the album’s closing triad. While the scope of this album may appear to be a gimmick, what proves itself to be true by the end of the record’s running time is how Rivers has developed into an accomplished songsmith throughout his years, with each song upstaging the previous one. All in all, Boyhood offers not only a cohesive musical triumph and a deep look into what we call human nature, but it points toward an illustrious future career for Holland Rivers that technically has not even started yet. You can expect his official debut, XXI, in stores next fall.

Currently Listening:

ixorathe_ghost_inside_dear_youtho ransomed sonpvriscover for bandcamp

P.S. The name “Holland Rivers” was completely made-up.

7in7 – A Poem about Fools (because I just watched Dinner for Schmucks and because 1 Corinthians 1)

Someday soon, the fool:

Frustrating the foundations,

Making simple the sought-after insights to the universe.

Someday soon, the fool:

Freeing us from falsehoods,

Unmasking the unanswered questions.

Someday soon, the fool:

A stumbling for institutions,

The downfall of death from a deal the deities made with, yes, the dumb.

So today, I:

The scholar, the learned

Man, education my grand golden throne.

Where did I go so wrong?

 

1 Corinthians 1:26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”