FIVE ALBUMS WITH COBRA: DEREK CHRISTOPHER OF WANDERING STARS
Photo Credit: Dan Mitchell
When my family and friends ask me why I stay in Columbus, I always say the same thing: community. But not just any community, the music community here in Columbus is one of the best I have had the privilege to be part of. I have met people that will no doubt be a part of my world forever. As a matter of fact, it was one of those people that first introduced me to Derek Christopher three years ago at Tree Bar.
It was a normal weekend night for me. I had gone to a show beforehand but was not ready to go home. I remembered that a good friend was playing a late show. So I decided to head that way. As with most shows at Tree Bar I spent my time out back when bands were not playing. It was one of those moments that I was introduced to Derek Christopher. We instantly hit it off. At some point in our conversation, he mentioned he was in a band as well. So I, of course, asked when their next show was, as I was interested in checking them out.
A few weeks later I caught my first Ghost Town Railroad show. I was not prepared for what I witnessed. Why had no one told me about Ghost Town Railroad before? This band was unbelievable. I enjoyed every aspect of their performance. However, one person stood out. Yes, I’m talking about Derek. He had a different persona on stage, and it suits him. Over the next few years, as I got to know him, I found out that the Derek I saw on stage that night and the one I was coming to know better were one and the same. And he is one unique individual. He is creative and outspoken. He is one that you want in your corner. He is that person that you say “The world/music scene needs more people like him.”
Over the years we have had many a conversation about music. And as it turns out we have a lot in common when it comes to music, despite where we are now. I really got to see his musical genius last summer when he was working on his side-project, Wandering Stars. Since last summer Wandering Stars have released 3 albums and a few singles. This project is all over the place, but its roots lay in industrial rock/metal. He is gearing up for a new release. One that I am beyond excited for. And you should be as well.
It’s almost cliché isn’t it? You hear musicians say it. It starts with “it’s kind of a mix of”, “I don’t really compare” or “we feel like our sound.” Watch an interview of rock bands in the ’80s talking about what sets them apart from their peers. They all finish with “we can’t really be categorized” or “we don’t really have a genre.” Usually, they’re wrong. Occasionally, some musicians, still manage to create something either brand new or blend so many genres, so perfectly, that they defy categorization. Here are 5 modern albums that fit that lack of genre. – Derek Christopher
David Lynch – The Big Dream
Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of anything David Lynch creates. That being said, this isn’t about what I like. It’s about what can’t be pigeonholed into any real genre at all. David Lynch is obviously known best for movies such as Lost Highway, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, etc. and the TV show Twin Peaks. Not as many people know that he’s an accomplished musician as well. Since 2001 he’s put out 3 solo albums. BlueBob, Crazy Clown Time and my personal favorite, The Big Dream. Released in 2013, The Big Dream is an album that’s a little more accessible than his other albums. You don’t have to be a hardcore fan or enjoy the dark surreal atmosphere that is so much of his work. There are elements of jazz, blues, rock and roll, and a bit of ambiance in places. The album truly sounds like you’re in a David Lynch film. And that’s exactly why it defies any type of categorization. Tracks to start with: “The Big Dream,” “Last Call,” and “Wishing Well.”
Woodkid (Yoann Lemoine) – The Golden Age
Native to France, Yoann Lemoine is a modern-day artistic renaissance man. Musician, Director, Artist, and Graphic Designer. He’s directed music videos for Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry. Early in his film career, he won multiple awards for his AIDS Awareness campaign, Graffiti. Outside those amazing accomplishments, he’s an extraordinary writer and composer. In 2011 Woodkid released the Iron EP and the title track was used in promotion for the game Assassin’s Creed Revelations. I remember hearing and realizing I’d never heard anything like it in my life. I thought there was no way someone could make a whole album in this huge melodramatic style. Then, in 2013 he released The Golden Age. The album soars. Gigantic orchestral arrangements, drums that sound like war, and Woodkid’s signature soft, deep, and almost fragile voice. It almost sounds like Bach meets Cat Stevens in a military campaign with no weapons but the emotion and no mission but to make you think. That’s the only way to tie this album to a genre. The track’s to start with: “Run Boy Run,” “Ghost Lights,” and “Conquest of Spaces.”
Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
Lana Del Rey’s 2012 album Born to Die is a monster of its own kind. I’ve seen this album listed as a Pop album. It’s not. I’ve seen this album listed as a trip-hop album. It’s not. I’ve seen it listed as a jazz album. It’s not. I’ve even seen it listed as a dance/electronic album. It’s not. I’ve heard it’s a perfect mix of hip hop and Nancy Sinatra. Close maybe, but it’s not. I could make a decent argument that some of these songs were grown out of the mid-nineties industrial boom while knowing that they’re not. Or, conversely, I guess I could make an argument that it’s all these genres, which it might be. That’s an odd paradox. It’s none of these things yet all these things. That’s exactly why it can’t be put in the corner with any type of genre. The sound of this album spans decades of music. I can find traces of almost any great artist in this album, but nothing sounds anything like those artists that come to mind. I don’t even have time to go through the list of instrument arrangements, vocal performances, and compositions on this album that make it so unique. It really is an album and genre in and of itself. Tracks to start with: “Born to Die,” “Off to the Races,” and “Lolita.”
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Leonard Cohen gave us 50 years of brilliant music. Collectively, it’s the story of his life and a catalog of his thoughts, poetry, and philosophy on life. In 2016 he released his final album, You Want It Darker. It’s a perfect end to his career, and frankly I hope there are no posthumous releases, because this is an excellent period at the end of his story. There are blues, there’s some jazz, there’s a folk feel, there’s gospel, there’s a 70s vibe, but when you pull it all together it’s like nothing heard before. It’s dark, it’s tongue in cheek, it’s heavy, and at times its light as a feather. Throughout the album, you feel like you’re in a smoky and dimly lit room, and he’s just hanging out talking with you. And you don’t want to stop listening. The reason this album can’t be classified as any particular genre of music? It’s Leonard Cohen’s last. You’d never heard anything like it before and you never will again. Tracks to start with: “You Want It Darker,” “Traveling Light,” and “Steer Your Way.”
Tricky – Blowback
The oldest album on this list is Tricky’s 2001 album, Blowback. Tricky is known as one of the inventors of the Trip Hop genre. His debut album Maxinquaye was a Trip Hop masterpiece that would go on to be the standard for the genre. He went on to release 2 more albums before Blowback that was an expansion of Trip Hop to include some drum and bass vibes as well. He also released a couple of side projects. Tricky has stated he put this album together because he was broke. It’s more accessible than some of his other albums, but that’s part of what makes this genre-defying. There are a lot of collaborations on this album that at first seem odd, but when heard it makes complete sense: a Nirvana cover, a duet with Cyndi Lauper, and songs featuring Ed Kowalczyk, John Frusciante, and Hawkman. Somehow, this album all comes together perfectly, and it’s not a mess. There’s hip hop, trip hop, jangly rock, 80s new wave, rock and roll, and even metal—sometimes all in the same song. Although the songs cross a lot of musical boundaries, they fit so well with each other. The album is in a category all its own and a uniquely brilliant sidestep from the Godfather of Trip Hop. Tracks to start with: “Five Days,” “Bury the Evidence,” and “You Don’t Wanna.”