I am older and arguably wiser than I was a year ago at this time. And yet I feel the same. How does that work? Anyway, I'm 35 years into this life as of last Saturday.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Monday, May 14, 2007
If I had the power to require people to read something, Phil Nugent's Mother's Day post would be this required reading.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Almost all that's on my mind lately is the book. With that in mind, here's the first random 10 songs from my iPod when I hit shuffle.
- The Mountain Goats - "Pale Green Things" (The Sunset Tree)
This is the kiss-off final track from The Sunset Tree, a downer of a song cycle (so says the author of the forthcoming 33 1/3 book Shoot Out The Lights) about, presumably, John Darnielle's abusive step-father. The elegaic feel of this song, both a curse and promise, is unbelievably poignant, a way of making a semi-fond farewell to someone hated more than loved. The lyrics talk of a trip to the racetrack, and end with these lines: "My sister called at 3 a.m./Just last december/She told me how you'd died at last, at last/And that morning at the race track was one thing I remembered/I turned it over in my mind/like a living chinese finger trap/seaweed and Indiana sawgrass." My poetry professor used to say that most song lyrics are doggerel made more meaningful by the way they are sung, and I think he was mostly correct about this. This is the exception.
- The Embarrassment - "Song For Val" (Blister Pop)
Just over a minute of a poorly recorded little punk anthem. "I don't care for old people," goes the lyric.
- Dinosaur Jr - "Start Choppin'" (Where You Been)
Man, this is a surprising collection of songs! This is a post-Lou power-pop song layered with a couple of dozen J. Mascis guitars. I'm not a huge fan of later Dinosaur Jr, but this is one of the keepers.
- The Mountain Goats - "Woke Up New" (From a free eMusic Pitchfork Festival sampler)
This song also appears on Get Lonely, which I also have, so hey, it's a duplicate and I can delete it to make room for new music. Yay! I must have my random factor set to be more likely to repeat artists, because I can't believe I'd have enough Mountain Goats out of the 4,178 songs currently stored on my iPod to bring them up twice in the first five songs otherwise. Get Lonely is an ok album, but the lyrics never rise to the poetic heights of the previous few albums and the artiface of the songs actually seems to distance me from Darnielle's characters, rather than drawing me towards them, also unlike the 2-3 immediately preceeding albums.
- Isis - "Backlit" (Panopticon)
I think Darnielle, a metal fiend currently working on a 33 1/3 book on Master of Reality, would dig this transition. Isis plays trippy, expansive metal. I understand many of their longtime fans dislike this album, but I like it a lot, almost as much as the classic Oceanic. See, I love long post-rock tracks (meaning that the music relies on jazz-like textures and moves through suites rather than verse-chorus-verse structure), and this sounds like the metal version of that. As much as I like Isis, I wish they'd join Mastodon in dropping the cookie monster vocals, although I think that may be the primary way that metal fans identify Isis as a metal band these days. Did I mention that this song is nearly 8 minutes long and features as great stripped-back bridge part? Like it.
- Tom Ze - "Dulcineia Popular Brasileira" (Tom Ze)
From the master of mindbending tropicalia, this is a somewhat unsuccessful early fusion of 60s-era radio pop with Ze's distinctly odd sensibilities. There's better examples of what Ze can do when he's cooking with grease.
- Devendra Banhart - "Anchor" (Cripple Crow)
A short burst of sweetness that may also be called "Canela". I put this on a bedtime mix I made for my 2-yr-old.
- Bill Evans Trio - "Peace Piece" (Everybody Digs Bill Evans)
I'm taking this as proof that my iPod would rather be laying in a shady hammock in a cool breeze. This track, a slow sort of ur-New Age ivory tinkling, but with, y'know, tons of heart (unlike George Winston, f'rinstance), always sounds like it should score the inevitable final compromise between the protagonists and antagonists in a Miyazaki flick.
- The Mekons - "Cocaine Lil" (Mekons Rock 'N Roll)
A spacey, sing-song tale of a coke addict. The lyrics read like a Victorian morality tale.
- Prince - "New Position" (Parade)
Wow, I had no idea I had any songs from Parade in my iTunes at all. I'm completely unfamiliar with this song. It ain't Prince at his maximum brilliance, though.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
I downloaded Joanna Newsom's new EP Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band a couple of days ago from eMusic, and I finally sat down last night to listen to it.
And it's a freaking revelation. All you Joanna Newsom-haters who want to know why I love her so much must - nay, MUST - hear this version of "Cosmia". All the songs on the EP are live arrangements, but they've brought some serious intensity here.
First of all, she's obviously taken some sort of voice lessons, because all the little-girl tone is gone, and she's somehow taken her voice, which I always thought interesting and sweet, and brought a level of passion and power to her singing that just blows me away. I say this as a person who rarely gets excited about the human voice.
Then, there's the arrangements. Let me say briefly why I liked Ys. so much: where some Joanna-haters just heard self-indulgence, I heard an attempt to recast American folk music as a much older artform. To explain, consider that The Band was a reflection of American folk and country by a mostly Canadian rock band that took elements of this artform and combined them with a sort of art-rock lens to make music that was completely new but sounded centuries old. Now, over in England, the Fairport Convention, inspired by The Band, decided to do the same with British folk music, only they had, y'know, almost a millenium of music tradition to draw upon. Liege and Lief, their answer to The Band, also blended the old and new in a completely original way, recasting the past as a vital component of folk music moving forward. With this in mind, I think Joanna Newsom's Ys. is a similar work to Susanna Clarke's book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Clarke took the literary trappings of Dickens and Trollope, and recast British history as one of fantasy with near-realistic (at least in terms of Victorian literature) terms. Ys. is to American folk music what Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is to British literature and Liege and Lief is to British folk music, an attempt to recast American history as if it had 1,000 years and a folkway of fantasy to draw upon.
Now, Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band takes one of the songs from Ys., "Cosmia", and re-arranges it to play up the Appalachian sound. The result is just flat-out gripping, and I barely breathed through its 13 minutes. It starts similar to the album version, just quiet voice and harp, but the other musicians, at first building on Van Dyke Parks' album arrangements before abandoning them, slowly add intensity until by the final chorus, Newsom is almost hollering, a drum is pounding, and the musicians sound like they are about to break their instruments. As I lay in bed last night, listening to this, breathless, I felt like I was discovering her music all over again, with all due excitement.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
This past weekend, I watched the documentary Danielson: A Family Movie, which is about the band/musician also called The Danielson Famile, Brother Danielson, and Danielsonship. I have been a tepid fan of the band for a little while, liking some of the aspects of their music but finding the overall sound a bit offputting. The documentary made a convert of me, and this is language the band might appreciate, as most of its songs are overtly Christian.
The documentary focuses on the discomfort many of the band's fans, who are primarily indie music people, have with the band's explicitly Christian message. Some acknowledge that they have no problem when gospel or country singers sing about their faith, but they find it strange when indie bands do so, especially bands as oddball as Danielson. I should take a minute to describe the band and the sound.
The Danielson Famile is primarily composed of Daniel Smith on vocals and guitar with his siblings singing and playing flute, glockenspiel, or drums. One of his oldest friends plays keyboards, and marriage to any member of the band seems to bring along band membership. His friend's wife plays violin and sings. Daniel Smith's wife comes aboard as a singer. One of his sisters' husband joins the band late in the movie as a bassist. His friend Sufjan Stevens, who is a brilliant artist in his own right and many times more successful in finding an audience than Danielson, passes in and out of the band (and as a fan, I could have lived without learning of Stevens' nebbishy/needy personality, but what are you going to do?).
There's a scene in which Daniel Smith's parents joke about how the indie music press always compares the Danielson Famile with bands they've never heard of. With that in mind, the math formula I have for the Famile would be (The Shaggs + Pere Ubu + The Pixies) covering (early Talking Heads + Deerhoof) fronted by (the guy from The Flaming Lips screeching at the top of his lungs + the Partridge Family). Odd, odd, odd music. Did I mention that they all used to dress in modified nurse's uniforms, that Daniel Smith occasionally performs solo in an elaborate tree outfit, or that they've constructed an elaborate mythology around the symbols of the band?
Anyway, the documentary was thought-provoking, tackling not just the band for the band's fans' sake, but also the band's faith and acceptance by pop culture mavens and indie rock fans. There's a subtle suggestion in the movie - maybe not even a suggestion, but just a hint - that Sufjan Stevens stole ideas from Danielson to achieve his success, but I have to say that I don't hear a lot of Danielson in Stevens' music. And Stevens' support of his friend appears to be heartfelt, so I don't think the archetypical theme of the hanger-on who steals the real genius's work and makes it more mainstream really applies in this case.
Oh, and a final note. My friend Michael Sherer of the band Padre Pio appears in the background of a scene in which Daniel Smith's artwork has a showing at a gallery in Brooklyn. He appears to be representing the way in which Brooklyn hipsters dig Danielson, although he assures me via email that he isn't really a fan of the band, but was there to check the artwork of Tim Rutili (of Califone). But it's extra-cool, anyway!