Monday, April 09, 2007

I had a dream last night

We Didn't Need To Breathe - Seamonster

- Seamonster

There's something naggingly familiar about the way the man who calls himself Adrian Seamonster gravely strum-and-moans a dream journey from an oxygenless world into outer space in "We Didn't Need To Breathe." Or how he eee-eee-eees through his teeth over churning beds of electro-folk psychedelia in "Annalee." And that's because few young musicians make less effort to disguise a single source of musical inspiration. No, Seamonster is utterly forthright about his admiration, nay naked worship, of the Elephant Six Experience. In fact, on his Myspace he's streaming a wonderfully unpretentious little song that commemorates a dream he had about Robert Schneider and, er, an abacus. Betraying his obvious delight in the enchanting possibilities of low-tech recording devices, Seamonster's ring-ding-jangle-'n-tap bedchamber pop pieces give off some whiff of mellower, mid-90s Apples in Stereo tracks. Yet the real archetypes for Seamonster are Neutral Milk Hotel's early, hissy recordings -- those lonely campfire songs about engines and circles of friends and the disquieting tune-scraps that eventually reconfigured into In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

I don't need to point out how charged with potential disaster a crush like Seamonster's is; plenty of terrible bands (and only a few good ones) are fired-up by Jeff Mangum's complicated genius. Seamonster circumnavigates this particular iceberg by focusing on the stuff that really made NMH so good in the first place. He has an easy yet forceful way with a tune. Instead of assuming the song will just sort of fall into place around the fetching sounds he coaxes from his toybox of instruments, he subordinates everything to an insistent (in the case of "Breathe," very insistent) melody. If this sounds dead obvious, I encourage you to wile away an hour hopping the Myspace pages of random singer-songwriting hopefuls (pretend you're an mp3 blogger!) and then get back to me. Also, Seamonster's music -- to the extent this is even possible -- telegraphs a certain unselfconsciousness. These songs sound private, built for their maker's own enjoyment or as modest gifts for friends, but certainly seem limited in their intended reach. (Not that they should remain that way.) They revel in their own fuzzy logic, referring to our world but with an intimate, dreamlike integrity of their own. Regardless of how much artifice (I mean, of course) contributes to the effect, it's warm and engaging and marvelously personal.

Seamonster has been touring pretty extensively and will begin recording a full-length album soon.
You can buy his sweet homemade EP White Whale at his website for $5 (and should).

Little Birds - Neutral Milk Hotel

Song Against Sex (Live at Lounge Ax / Chicago, 4.25.98)
- Neutral Milk Hotel

Before the internet seekers made unreleased NMH odds and sods easily accessible and downloadable, you had to hunt and peck for them. "Little Birds" was always a hard one to find and became, both by its relative scarcity and content, sort of a holy grail for Jeff Mangum acolytes. It's a crummy live recording; emergency sirens squall in the background for most of the last two minutes (something that isn't,
it turns out, entirely inappropriate). But even unfinished, it's a sublime (both in the wonderful and terrifying senses) song and a crucial chapter in the book of Neutral Milk Hotel.

Little bird, little bird come into my body
, Mangum enjoins in that wobbly steel-bowled voice -- so resonant, so uncanny, so uniquely his.
It's his familiar preoccupation with innocence (in this case, both the boy and the birds, alternately orphaned) and frustrated attempts to shield or shelter it from harm. I just want to swallow up and promise to protect them, he keens, drawing out the consonants like he's slow-pulling a thin rope strung with broken birds from the pit of his own guts. It's a promise, I suppose, like Holden Caulfield's poignant watch in the rye fields, a longing, ineffectual vigilance, all heart and no sense. And it's shattering, this promise and its failure. It's shattering, this song. You cannot listen to it more than a couple times in one sitting without getting bruised by its hard volleys of surplussed feeling, or nicked by its sharp, cresting wave over wave of unease.

It's my way to pick at any scab, so I will. If Mangum's oeuvre broods on a central anxiety (and yes, I'd say it does) it's over the problem of bodies -- their fragility, their vulnerability to violence and violation and mortality. And the possibility of transcendence, through imagination, with dreams, and sometimes, through sex. Though sex is such a fraught act, less often the "King of Carrot Flowers" ecstatic fumble of twining fingers through notches in spines. More often,
a kind of inevitable but catastrophic entrance into adult conflict and suffering. In "Birds" a brother finds a lover in town, another boy, and his father "nearly beats his little brains in." Sex, in songs like "Sailing Through" and (ahem) "Song Against Sex" is an emotional ambush that offers, at best, grim rapture but not a love worth living for. Though "Sex" skirts the issue with an offer to sleep in the gutter, "while you sleep here on the floor." A temporary solution, that with "a match that's mean and some gasoline" expires in flames soon enough.

Despite its indifferent sound quality, I'm posting a live version of "Sex" because I was at that Lounge Ax performance. I don't exaggerate: It was the best rock show I ever saw. Rapturous, and nothing grim about it. As you can hear for yourself.


Speaking of the E6, Greg Kot and Jim Derogotis devoted the March 30 Sound Opinions show to the Big Three (Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control). The longish interview with Robert Schneider is fabulous and worth the (free) podcast download alone. AIS main man on early impetus: It's the kind of war where you want to convert everyone to your side ... a love war.

And Before the First Kiss recounts a rather funny, but I'm sure mortifying encounter with a precious deli clerk over a song on the store's soundsystem.

Daytrotter has a zippy little session with one of my favorite poppoppop discoveries of last year, The Kingdom.

Annnd, this blog is on break for a while. I wouldn't expect to see anything new here in the next seven to 10 days. So unless you just want to come around to bask in our vacant blue glow, add us to your fave RSS reader so you'll know when we're back. (I'll still be checking email.)


Blogger Jon said...

on seamonster, i definitely feel some haunting by galaxie 500.

i'm gonna mull over your NMH musings a while before i comment on them.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Oh but you would, wouldn't you?

I'm glad you said musings. I wouldn't take it any more seriously than that. You know when I'm doing this kind of overwrought freshman English exegesis that I'm desperately in need of a break. The music deserves better!

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you kindly for the write up

to jon - i definitely listened to my share of galaxie 500 songs back in the day


7:43 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

It was a *very* mortifying experience but, you know, it comes with the territory.

Needless to say I have not returned to that Deli yet.


(ps, thanks for the mention)

6:15 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

i enjoyed your musing about NMH, though i feel a little sad that you remember so fondly a time before my site existed :)

i made it in high school (8 years ago!!) and at the time i felt it was a good way to hear some rare NMH stuff without having to wade through a lot of less interesting noisy bits. it's a silly site, really, a relic of a time when there was no sense of mystique or urgency about collecting little demos, because as far as we knew, the band still existed.

i'm extremely jealous you got to see them in concert!

9:37 AM  

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