Weird Instruments of Rock, Opinions on Maggie Rogers & Sharon Van Etten


Forget about the guitar, bass, and drums. This week, Jim and Greg explore some of the weirder instruments of rock from the theremin to the ocarina to the cowbell. They'll also review new music from two singer-songwriters: the debut album from Maggie Rogers and the latest from Sharon Van Etten.

Download Subscribe via iTunes

Heard It in a Past Life Maggie Rogers


Singer-songwriter  Maggie Rogers caught the ear of super producer Pharrell Williams while she was still a student at NYU. Video of her playing her song, "Alaska" for Williams, and his emotional reaction, went viral in 2016, putting Maggie on many listeners' radars. Jim and Greg hoped that her new album, Heard It in a Past Life, would have more of the unique blend of folk and electronic beats that "Alaska" offered, but Greg laments that the album's heavy handed big label production by the likes of Greg Kursten and Ricky Reed is like "putting extra icing on a cake that's already perfect." A highlight for Greg is the introspective "Past Life" because it's just Maggie accompanied by the piano "and the producers don't screw it up." Jim goes one step further, adding that he thinks the record "is all icing." He cannot relate to the album sonically, or to the album's message.

Remind Me Tomorrow Sharon Van Etten


Remind Me Tomorrow is Sharon Van Etten's fifth official album and first in nearly five years. Since her debut in 2009, Van Etten's profile had steadily grown until she essentially walked away from her recording career after 2014's Are We There. Instead she went to college hoping to become a mental health counselor, started a romantic relationship with drummer Zeke Hutchins, acted in the Netflix show The OA and gave birth to a son. Loyal fans didn't lose hope, though. One even made a t-shirt asking when Van Etten would record a new album. When she started work on the new album, instead of featuring guitar or piano as she has in the past, Van Etten built her sound around the Roland Jupiter 4 synthesizer. Greg says you might have heard that instrument on a Spandau Ballet album, while Jim calls it the "Farfisa trash organ of synths." They both praise Van Etten's newly reimagined sound. Greg calls the sonics her "boldest touch here." He says the connection between the creepy sounds and very astute lyrics and melodies indicate that Van Etten may be getting even better as an artist. Jim likens the album to Radiohead's Kid A in that it expresses uncertainty in the outside world and how it encroaches on personal life and self expression through art.

Weird Instruments of Rock


Since its earliest days, rock music has been dominated by guitar, bass, and drums. But, as Jim and Greg reveal in this episode, sometimes it's the more unusual instruments (aka weird instruments) that really make a song. They play their favorite tracks featuring non-traditional rock instruments.


  • Theremin: The Octopus Project, "Rorol"
  • Ocarina: The Troggs, "Wild Thing"
  • Singing Saw: Mercury Rev, "Endlessly"
  • Harmonium: Beck, "Nobody’s Fault But My Own"


  • Marimba: The Rolling Stones, "Under My Thumb"
  • Didgeridoo: Aphex Twin, "Digeridoo"
  • Autoharp: Cat Power, "Sea of Love"
  • Bag pipes: AC/DC, "It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n’ Roll)"


Alan R. Pearlman

Jim pays tribute to the late Alan Robert Pearlman, inventor of the ARP synthesizer, who died in January at age 93. Before founding his synthesizer company in 1969, Pearlman worked for NASA designing amplifiers to be used on Gemini and Apollo spacecraft. In a nod to this aspect of his life, Jim plays "Space Truckin’" by Deep Purple in memory of Pearlman, a song Jim says is basically about "how cool it would be to be high in space." The version on Deep Purple's 1972 live album, Made in Japan is almost 20 minutes long and features a wicked ARP solo by Jon Lord.

Dear Listeners,

For more than 15 years, Sound Opinions was a production of WBEZ, Chicago's public radio station. Now that the show is independent, we're inviting you to join the band and lend a hand! We need your support more than ever because now we have to do all the behind-the-scenes work that WBEZ handled before (like buying insurance and paying for podcast hosting, ugh). Plus, we have some exciting ideas we'd like to try now that there's no one to tell us no!