Image: eshuPoor Things - The Boggs
One of the things that makes the Beta Band's best songs so devastating (yes, devastating, not ironic, not wry, not God forbid, comical) is the friction between Steve Mason's scruffed and shaggy, weary and deadpan voice and the pyrotechnics of instrumentation and sampling, the multi-multi tracked hullabaloo. I've always found that that kind of still point in the middle of maelstrom, that sense of being lost but also safely hidden, yields a strange and unexpected pathos. A curious comfort. The Boggs (really just one permanent Bogg, Jason Friedman, along with friends culled from other combos) go for similar effect and affect here. In this case, various musical motifs orbit Friedman's doped and bemused vocals (especially cool when he casts his hey heys like casual fishing lines, surely knowing he's not gonna catch a thing like that but enjoying the day nevertheless). The plates spinning on sticks include a rhythm section performing something between a jig and a post-Madchester shuffle, growling riffs and puckish picked strings, wood block percussion, bells and "sci-fi" synthesizer sounds--almost all of which play hot potato with the melody, almost all of which urge you to move. Friedman tucks into this immaculate chaos (murmuring something about sleeping and dreams), and lets the music exert the sweaty and satisfying physical and emotional workout.
From Forts (Amazon, eMusic), an extremely fun, consistently exciting album.
It Wasn't Said to Ask - Foreign Born
Foreign Born makes a song of exclamation points, high drama, even emergency: twister touchdowns, ten-car pileups, defibrillated hearts, flashing lights on police cruisers. More than anything, it's music that evokes the hard, hard pow and thump and thwack of teenage feeling, the way it shatters all objects of its attention, the way it makes an ear-splitting noise like no other. Once my adolescent bread and butter, I don't much listen to music like this anymore, but am reminded of how good it is when it is good. How one of rock's roles is crashing catharsis.
From On the Wing Now, due August 21 on Din Mak
Myspace (be sure to listen to the excellent "In the Shape")
... Imagining You - Arizona
The singer's a Jack White pining for his Meg, his after-school friend, his apple blossom. He's tight awkward tucked-in shirt, slicked hair and clutched daisy-bouquet waiting by the bus or next to a broken swing on the playground. Or crouched in the shadow of a maple tree under her bedroom window--even though she's at summer camp for another three weeks. But he's happy in this waiting, knowing that pleasure lies not in the having, but in its anticipation, in its laters. That the actual small shy smile that will greet his small shy gift isn't as dazzling as the fireworks and power chords and pummeled drum kit in his heart.
From Fameseeker and the Mono (eMusic, iTunes)
Can't do this right now. Back in a couple weeks (?).Just a few things first:
My dear friend Robin Allender has just released an album called The Bird and the Word (Dreamboat Records, iTunes) that I highly, highly recommend. I met Robin almost two years when I wrote about some demos he had recorded under the name The Inconsolable. We first got to talking (if I recall correctly) because I said something to Dreamboat Records' Mike about Inconsolable reminding me of Kuzuo Ishiguro's novel The Unconsoled. "Wow," Mike said, "you're the first person ever to solve the origin of 'The Inconsolable.'" (Mike may have been flattering me.) As it turns out, both Robin and I have a couple of totally useless literature degrees and love of bookish things. He has since turned his demos into "proper" recordings and produced this beautiful album influenced by traditional English folk as well as people like Mark Mothersbaugh, John Fahey and the indie rock stuff we all listen to and love. He has also recently joined the band Gravenhurst on bass (this evening in Paris, they opened for Animal Collective). I'll admit I'm terribly biased towards Robin's music. So you'd be much better off reading and trusting the lovely words Said the Gramophone's Sean wrote about "The Memory Trap" (and to download the song, of course). You can also stream/download a couple of songs on Robin's Myspace.
Zara of Bon Ton has assembled a great, but unsurprisingly short list of female music bloggers. (I mean considering there are like 80,000 music blogs, there should be more of us!) If you're a music blogging girl, go add your name in the comments.
Music is Art has been running a wonderful series called Song/Context/Result where mp3 bloggers talk about a moment and a song and what it meant to them. This is the latest entry. I told Danielle I would participate one of these days, but as we can see I'm having a hard enough time keeping this blog updated ...
Finally, très drôle as Catbirdseat's hipster clone prediction of Pitchfest was, the trendoid factor last weekend was thankfully pretty minimal. Sadly, Grizzly Bear was a snooze on a hot, sunny afternoon. Deerhunter was awesome. But I think those guys would rule anytime, anywhere.
Ask us where we've been
Night Lights - The Mighty Narwhale
What's weird/cool about this song is that even while it asserts a sure sense of place, that place is sort of unspecific. You can as easily imagine its bright and clamorous indie-pop orchestra and amiable coed vocals soundtracking timelapsed urban spy-cam footage as videoed suburban barbecues as carefully ordered stills of cornstalks poking their greeny heads from the dirt in some farmfield. Hey we're right here we're right here we're right here! these Michigan kids shout boisterous but also a little uncertain, like they're playing a game of hide-and-seek and are the reluctant moving targets. Or they want to root their own anxious souls and jittery hearts but don't know if they've found the right place yet.
Shifting the sightlines
Image: gardenpainter4A Phoenix and Doves - Diane Cluck
This happens to me all the time. Someone speaks warmly about a song. They call it a best, a favorite, an influence, even something that's changed their life. And I think, I must hear that! Get me that song right now! And then I realize: I already have it, I've already heard it. I walk by it all the time without looking up. So then I listen to the song again in this different context, as something adored by someone else, and often it is wonderful: a glimmering gem right under my nose (or on my hard drive) all along. Such is "A Phoenix and Doves," which Bryce Dessner of The National* calls "one of the sweetest folk songs I've heard in a long time" in a guest list the band compiled for eMusic this week. I've liked Cluck for a while and own a couple of her albums, but songs that stuck out for me were "Sandy Ree," "Real Good Time," and "Easy to Be Around," not this modest composition. But yes, on second listen, it is one of, if not her best -- an elegant song of metaphysical deliberation (to die daily die daily implies to be born daily), of root truths, with Cluck's extraordinary voice lapping like dark waves. Don't pass it (or her) by.
From Countless Times (Amazon, eMusic)
*I'm undecided about the new National album. So far it hasn't grabbed me, but National albums don't tend to. I should probably put more "work" into it, but my attention seems to be elsewhere these days.
Your Million Sweetnesses - Noa Bell
Yr Million Sweetnesses - Diane Cluck
Noa Bell: The name rolls round your tongue sweet and sonorous, milk and honeyed. Noa Bell noa bell noabell. The best, most standoutish name I can think of for a solo girl with an acoustic guitar at a time when girls with guitars (and guys with guitars) are so thick on the ground they're carpet. (Now that you've heard it, will you forget?) And also right for someone who sings as unclouded and white-blinding as a sunny winter's day following a terrific snowstorm. "Your Million Sweetnesses" was written by Diane Cluck (Oh Vanille) and originally performed folk-conversational, with words spaced even and singular like teaspoons on a table. For all its restraint and soft-surging guitar, it's frustrated -- a plea to a reluctant lover who stems a floodtide of desire with religion (Mary a virgin/Mary not a virgin). Bell, who's Israeli, covers it religiously, by which I don't mean faithful, but sacred-solemn. Sung live in Jerusalem, a capella, the song is offered for collective consideration. And it's fascinating to consider the possibilities of this cultural transposition, the additional emotional heft when something private and personal (how religion can inhibit us, making it impossible to fully live or love) possibly turns public and political.
Noa Bell's (Noa Babayof) Myspace also has streams of original songs and a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Tin Angel." I believe she's recording an album.
Can You See the Sunset from the Southside posts its fifth and final Uncle's Primordial Soup mix -- post-punk and new wave tracks from the late 70s to late 80s -- inspired by a mixtape Eric's "cool" uncle made for him way back when.
Every beautiful thing
Image: Suzy PolingReflection of the Sun - The Sheds
Even The Sun, it seems, needs help selling itself these days. As part of a comprehensive integrated marketing program (branding and positioning, advertising, website, media relations, more!) The Sheds assist The Sun in developing a key message (Your true glow is a reflection of the sun) that will speak to the needs of its prospective customer base (demographic research indicates both sexes of all ages and income levels, geographies and television viewing habits). Its client has the advantage of niche leadership (some might argue market domination), so the initial promotional piece of The Sheds' True Glow campaign is a "folksy," softer-sell ad that adopts the communication style of "real people." With its plain-spoke and spirited testimonials (courtesy of The Seedy Seeds, Uncle Smokin' Joe, Matthew Shelton), and a bam-bam beat ushering it from storyboard frame to frame, it's highly effective. It's also, in all seriousness, as random-whimsy as a dog parade, as stifled-giggle as a school play, as sweet as pink lemonade, as summer as the sun.
From You've Got a Light, which The Sheds offer as a free download on their website, along with their other albums.
Ms. June - Snowglobe
These are salad days for horn players. No longer do these session musicians watch the clock tick the hours, thumb blank diary pages, pray for mariachi-lite Mexican restaurant chain ad gigs. No, now every pop song needs a trumpet accent, if not a full brass section, and horn players are booked round the clock, feted as celebrities, too busy counting their cash to call their own mothers! (If I recall correctly) press materials say that the horn players who lent their talent to Snowglobe's reissued 2004 Doing the Distance, also performed on Cat Power's "Memphis" album The Greatest. That record, to be perfectly honest, did nothing for me. It was dull and sluggish and, I dunno, false sounding (tho that probably wasn't the horn players' fault). Snowglobe makes a different kind of music, for sure: hooked and jangly and even when it's wistful, laced with hope. The intersecting highways of horns in "Ms June" (sung, inexplicably, "Mrs. June" -- I'm sure there's a different kind of blog-post dissection there) are bright, lively and candid, even as the lyrics fret over regrets. It's a bittersweet track that quotes liberally (both lyrically and sonically) from "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," but as with that song, you're left counting every beautiful thing.
Doing the Distance (Amazon, eMusic)
They Don't Know - Tara Jane O'Neil
The "They Don't Know" that most of us know -- Tracy Ullman's 80s hit -- was a Kirsty McColl cover (the original flopped). And the way most of us remember even Ullman's version is through her adorable and self-consciously performative (Ullman doesn't even pretend to try to sync her lips to the soundtrack) video. And if Tara Jane O'Neil's cover sits in conversation with the song's past, it's with that. The cover's lullaby-soft body empathizes with the video's spoilt-dreams rue and its comic touches (that yelped baby and the song's rocky landing) accords with its critique of the girl-group ethos.
From Bridging the Distance: A Portland OR Covers Compilation (Amazon, eMusic).
Tara Jane O'Neil's website
Both feet in the waves
Image: I will always be Saffanna
Under the Waves - Pseudosix
One summer while my extended family was vacationing at the Jersey Shore, my aunt almost drowned. She was an excellent swimmer and didn't go out very far, but got snagged by the undertow and slammed against the sea floor. Some long agonized moments and pints of swallowed seawater later she surfaced, stunned but -- lucky considering it was a sparsely populated beach and no one was swimming with her -- not unconscious. By the time she clambered to dry land, her limbs were badly scratched, one side of her face had already mottled red-to-purple and her cheekbone and nose looked iffy.
People almost drown all the time. I've been swimming since my parents plopped me in a pool at 18 months and I've near-succumbed to death by drowning twice that I can remember (once in a lake when I ventured beyond bounds, once in a pool when a bad swimmer panicked and grabbed me by the shoulders). What was notable (or, possibly typical) about my aunt's near-miss was what happened next. Even though she was a red hot ball of pain and looked liked she'd wandered into a bare-knuckle boxing ring, because she looked like she'd wandered into a bare-knuckle boxing ring, my aunt refused to go to the emergency room. No one was going to believe that it was the ocean that had used her as a punching bag. For that reason, my uncle, broad-shouldered and a full foot taller, wasn't eager to accompany her. Riptides, mortally dangerous as they are (actually killing something like 100 people a year in the U.S.) were one thing. A close call could be shed like wet clothes. Potential social mortification and gossip, even in a seaside town where no one knew us, fed an entirely different level of fear.
So the adults debated how it looks and my aunt self-medicated with gin and aspirin. And we kids, earlier promised lobster and coleslaw for dinner, grew hungry and cranky and lethargic, then, despite the fact that the kitchen was well-stocked with Coke and Doritos and other various kid-junk, started talking about death by starvation the way children who never have and never will be at risk for death by starvation talk. About the days and weeks it would actually take and if it would hurt or be more like a gradual, numbing slip into sleep. And we laughed off the legitimate shadow on our day, The Undertow, like it was some comic figure of mischief, some soft, sandy, subaquatic poltergeist that scrapes your shins, throws seaweed in your face, spoils your dinner. We talked, my brother and cousins and I, like kids who didn't yet know classmates who would drive off cliffs, neighbors who'd deliberately fill their garages with carbon monoxide, friends who'd die from drug overdoses and cancer and drowning. But at least we had the excuse of ignorance.
From Pseudosix, forthcoming on Sonic Boom.