Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Something nasty in the woodshed

Image: Colin Blakely (cropped)

Purty Polly - John Hammond

As much as I like the many weird and wonderful ways murder ballads dramatize root anxieties (life is short, strangers are dangerous, love can kill you), the seemingly inexhaustible methods with which they execute rather elemental melodies, I prefer old recordings. With the exception of Gillian Welch's "Caleb Meyer" and some of The Handsome Family's morbid outings, I never quite warm to contemporary takes on the tradition. The older, the crustier the patina of pop-and-hiss, the more voices and instruments rattle like dry bones in a box, the better. So maybe I have some misguided notions about authenticity. But I like my murder ballads to sound like this 1927 variant on the durable "Polly" standard: ancient. John Hammond's wheezed twang isn't beautiful. But it's perfect-- strained and anxious and a little out of breath from trying to keep up with the banjo. A banjo that flows so fast and fluid it sings in sympathy to the poor girl's exsanguinating heart.

From American Primitive - Volume 2: Pre-War Revenants 1897-1939 (Amazon, eMusic)

Halloween treats:

Get your Vincent Price here: Heart on a Stick has a
scary holiday mix.

Love bacon? Love bacon so much you want everything to taste like bacon?

Monday, October 29, 2007

By proxy

Image: Alessandra Sanguinetti

God's Got It - Reverend Charlie Jackson

Even if I don't end up making a deathbed reconciliation with the deity, confessing all my trespasses and naming those I've trespassed against, this is the song I want them to play as I lay dying. Especially if I don't capitulate to fear of the afterlife. Because the Reverend Charlie Jackson's got enough zeal and conviction in the lord for both him and me. He's got enough for a roomful of mourners-to-be. Which is another reason I select this song
(perhaps a tad prematurely): I'd like to see those ghouls around my bedside lose the long faces and dance. Not just dance--hoot and holler, rattle the floorboards, shake the ceiling, annoy the nurses, frighten the candystripers, usher me out in style! And, you know, feel what it is to live, to be here right now. Because there's no doubt Jackson does. He plays his Fender electric in rapturous riffs of crimson glow and hot pepper and ice so sharp and cold it burns. And his voice is weary and exhilarated, relaxed and agitated all at once. It gladly wears itself raw to the viscera, hammering at God got it and Out of time, a tick different with each iteration, fiercer and higher pitched in repetition. Because if he can't hook you with one phrase, he'll snag you with the next. If not immediately, than eventually, if not forever, than for a few minutes, you'll get got. And it feels like you could just die right here clapping your hands and hallelujahing.

From the utterly fantastic God's Got It: The Legendary Booker and Jackson Singles (Amazon, eMusic).

Oh and:
I guess I missed it back in September, but Idolator has (had) an amusing discussion on the worst songs ever. I'm stunned that no one mentioned Miss Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" (critical reclamation be damned!). I have been known to flee--actually run out of--stores when that aural atrocity pipes over the soundsystem. I'd also like to nominate "Afternoon Delight." Ironically enjoyable my ass--some things are just bad

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Small-thumped pulse

Agnes Martin
Image: Agnes Martin

Music for Evenings - Young Marble Giants

The collected Singles and Salad Days appended to the latest reissue of Colossal Youth (Amazon) contains a bunch of instrumental demos and outtakes that are at once repudiation, consequence and qualitative exception to their era. More graphically linear than multi-dimensionally geometric, tracks like "Posed by Models" are fine drawings in their own right as well as elegant sketches of the might-have-been. Even Young Marble Giants' fleshed out (it's relative) songs with vox can be studies in abstraction. In "Music for Evenings," a groove, a few flicks of melody and Alison Statton's grey tempera-washed voice delineate a flattened aural canvas. And its title implies the labor of making Music and flags the song's songness, pointing at Evening's stranded position between art and consumable good.* Not to mention the spare guitar work that sounds like it's writing drafts for a performance of a song called "Music for Evenings." It's a calculated, even overintellectualized music. Yet Evenings, and really, most of YMG's work, has a strange beauty and an austere kind of warmth. It's the small-thumped pulse of a greyhound or Agnes Martins' sublime inquiries into absence and presence.

*To be fair, if you listen to the song's lyrics, the title can assume a different, more mundane meaning. Though I'm happy to interpret such lines as Don't come here with your wallet as ideological, not personal protests. Either way, as cultural critique, it's a quiet one.

I'm extremely sorry to see Stylus go. Some fine writing about music (and film) went on over there.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Drawn just so

Image: Takashi Iwasaki

Rain Will Come - Castanets

So, it starts. So. So is a story in the middle that already knows its end.

So, rain will come.

It's a cracked china-heart declaration sung stolid as steel. It hums prophetic in Ray Raposa's taut rubber-band throat, is exhaled
with biblical authority through his ruddy wind-rubbed nose. And his fingers pluck notes that prick sharp like cactus needles, that hit heavy like bricks and hard labor and universal laws of physics.

And it will. Eventually, rain will come--in all its costumes. As regular trouble, sad and long. As Dylan's hard rain of repercussion. As lens cleanser. As new start. And literally, meterologically, rain will fall, even on the thick crust of desert drawn vividly chalk-brown and desolate with these words and those instruments. (Even on trialed-by-fire Southern California scorched earth, it will rain.)

We already know the end of the song.

No, not true. The song's second half is everything that's dreamed, imagined, up-for-grabs, open to interpretation--the arable land between so and sound. A drought tipped sideways that's a flood. A machine mulching metal that's also the groan of earth easing into nightfall. Lost transmissions sprinting through space, fleeting and fragile like ricepaper-winged fireflies. Just reach out and grab them.

From In the Vines (Amazon, eMusic), Myspace

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In defense of self-doubt

Image: Tudyk

The Sun On My Right - The Rosie Taylor Project

Maybe they're onto something, this dour pack of Northern Brits. In a time when every baby band is buttering its bio with oily superlatives, The Rose Taylor Project deliberately undersells itself. Check the MySpace how-di-do:
Born through an unexciting mixture of boredom and whimsy the Rosie Taylor Project is a somewhat laidback attempt at an alternative country rock band.
Unexciting! Boredom! Attempt! Sign me up for the street team! Ok, so reduced expectations pretty much guarantees you'll be pleasantly surprised. And I am. In fact "The Sun On My Right" is lovelier than it has any right to be, seeing as it treads the most familiar of folk-pop-whatever territory. (Whispery, sensitive male vocals: check. Male-female harmonies: check. Acoustic jangle-strum: check.)

But here's what's worth the bother.
The song's razor-etched lyrics are stark devastating (Not for the first time/ You called that morning/ Your breath tells of dark rum). As are the solemn little trumpet solos that sneak in after every verse. The horn is distant, as if leaked from the next room, and communicates better than any words the emotional and physical divide of a couple ripped in half by alcohol.

Jesus Christ I Don't Know - Listening Party

Speaking of self-doubt ... this song's itchy beats and desperate-yelp vocals are the sound of hopping impatience, of a bug-eyed addict twitching for a fix. I think this guy's been set loose on some dire survival course, but it's probably no different from what most of us face every day--pretending to know all the answers when we wish we could scream, Jesus Christ I Don't Know!

Listening Party's Myspace

And what I learned this week:

With The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson has entered his self-parody period. (By comparison it took Woody Allen, what, about 20 years?)

There's been a suffocating avalanche of responses to Sasha Frere-Jones' New Yorker polemic--from the thoughtful and impassioned to the petulant and uninformed (not gonna link to those). But Carl Wilson's Slate piece was the best I read for bringing up, among other things, the unsaid in this conversation: class. Yes class, that great American blindspot. I'm convinced that most Americans would rather admit to being racist than acknowledge the existence of, let alone their participation in reinforcing, our actually rather rigid class system.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Riding in cars with boys

Walden - Drug Rug

Outside of this Car, the End of the World! - Le Loup

Patrick says it's not stealing if it's your own parents' car. I guess not. We needed something to get us to California and Dad's old green Volvo--and a couple boxes of Cheerios and Mom's kitchen cash stash--were easy to take. Pookie (or as Mom and no one else calls her, Penelope Anne) sits in the backseat chewing the ear of a pink stuffed bunny. Her eyes blink green and her teeth flash pearl. Pookie's already ripped off the bunny's other ear and plucked out one of its black button eyes. She's 12, if you can believe it. Patrick can't. He studies her in the mirror from the driver's seat as if monitoring a feral dog that could attack at any time.

"She's cute," he says to me in private, "but dangerous."

"Don't be absurd," I say, "she's my sister."

A sister, incidentally, neither of us planned to bring along. She ambushed us as we tiptoed the back stairs in our socks. Said she'd scream and wake up our parents and say Patrick molested her if we didn't let her go with us. "Where does she get these things?" he asked.

"I dunno. Oprah, Dr. Phil, probably."

Pookie worms her way out of school at least a couple days a week and drowses afternoons
in front of the tube on the sunporch's tangerine sofa. One time, Mom called the DAV to come pick up that hideous 70s artifact (springs sprung, corners frayed to a dirty gray). Pookie wailed for 45 minutes straight, I swear. So we kept it.

I know I said we're driving to California, but we're actually making a short (short!) stop in Concord first. It's not exactly on the way, but Patrick lived there when he was like 10, and wants to find his old house and take a picture or something. Boys are more nostalgic than girls, I think. Pat's nice, though ... the nicest guy at school--and smart. As soon as we get to California, I'm buying Pookie a plane ticket home so Pat and I can finally be alone together. You know.

"Pookie? Pookie you know Concord is home to Walden Pond?" Patrick asks, "Ya know that?"

"I want to see where they burned the witches," she says.

"That's Salem." he sighs.

Pookie asks me, "Can we see where they burned the witches?"

"That's Salem."

"Can we go to Salem?"


Patrick is driving in circles. I've seen that ice cream shack with the scabby peeling polar bear sign (Frostee! it screams) three times now. "I guess we're lost," I say.

"I guess," he says. Then, "Hey, why don't we go see where my mom is buried." It's meant to be spontaneous, but I can tell it isn't. Even Pookie can tell.

"I don't want to go to a cemetery," she sulks. (Our grandfather died last year.)

Now that we know where we're going, we find the place right away. It's kind of shabby compared to Grandpop's final resting place. There's a stripmall across the street with a burger joint, a dry cleaners and a bunch of boarded up storefronts.
At the cemetery gate, we ask a tubby man in a red polo shirt for Elizabeth Donnelly's grave. Pookie's moaning in the back.

"Shut up!" I tell her, "You sound like a whale! Stop it. You can stay in the car."

"Can I? Can you keep the stereo on?" Pookie grubs under the seat for a scratched cassette, the Archies' Greatest Hits.

"Yes. Fine," says Patrick, turning the key hard left, then twisting it a tick clockwise. "We'll be right back." We tramp through the crabgrass and bare patches and when we get to the stone with its stiff, formal etchings Pat feels bad about not having any flowers to put down. We stand there a few minutes and I try to look reflective. I mostly watch a bird peck the fresh dirt in the plot next to Mrs. Donnelly's. I'm not really sure what else to do.

When we get back in the car, Pookie's lying on her back singing, nah nah nah nah, bah bah bah and kicking her feet against the glass to the beat. Pat pops the tape out of the player and says he thinks we should go back to Connecticut, that our parents and his dad are probably missing us. I guess I'm not too surprised. I guess I knew
an hour ago when we saw the sign for Walden Pond. Pat's kind of crying and asks Pookie what she thinks, "Whadya say, should we go back, Pookie?"

"It wouldn't be the end of the world," she says.


She shrugs so that she practically lifts her shoulderblades off the seat in a kind of full-body twitch, "It wouldn't be the end of the world."

Songs from: Drug Rug, Drug Rug (Amazon, eMusic) and Le Loup, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the N (Amazon).


In a typically smart piece, Eric Harvey (aka Marathonpacks) argues that fetishization of music technologies has replaced meaningful engagement with music:
Yet there seems to be something inherently missing with the Machine era of mp3 blogging, and with the current state of music fandom in general, in which status is accumulated through the trading of endlessly reproducible commodities, and not necessarily (sadly, in fact, increasingly rarely), through a Jenkinsian model of what one has to offer to a discussion about the art itself, or even what one can do with the music once one has it in his/her possession.
As if timed to support Eric's thesis, the new Hype Machine debuted yesterday. ( Not that I don't want you to "heart" us or whatevs.)

Slate explains what many mp3 bloggers already know: When they're not prosecuting them as "infringers," copyright holders are only too happy to use fans as cheap day laborers:

... media companies—particularly in television and film—are at least sometimes practicing a mellower concept called "tolerated use." They watch and see whether infringements are actually harmful or not before sending out their copyright pit bulls.
And if you wanna know where the music industry is headed, you could do worse than watch Madonna.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Woo woo woo woo

Image:Joseph Chiang

Dating Cops - The Intelligence

Lars Finberg is seized with an anxious, itchy aggrievement that knows no precise object, a vague and omnivorous can't get no satisfaction. So his voice careens around the room like a squash ball, hard and unpredictable.
Going out, going out with, going out with you, he stammers over the dirty chug of guitars and drums, scrambling for the most withering insult in his arsenal. Going out with you is like going out with a cop, almost comes as a lame surrender, though it's still plenty hostile. You can see the girl sitting across from him respond with an I'm outta here roll of the eyes, a cool sip of beer, a gesture for the bill. Some guys sitting at the table behind them laugh and make police signal sounds--woo woo woo woo woo woo. That's when Lars realizes his mistake. He turns the line on himself: No, going out with me, ME, is like going out with a cop! But she's already gone.

The Intelligence's new album, Deuteronomy (Amazon, eMusic) is pretty great.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

See the colors

Image: Andrew Hem

Two songs of soft-swaddled narcopop. Like wrapping a lightbulb in a towel, setting it on the floor and gently, gently pressing down with your foot.

Have You Seen the Colors - Samara Lubelski

Take just the title and try to imagine who Samara Lubelski might be asking, and why. Did she redecorate while her husband was at work and is she nudging him to notice? Is she walking a child down a country lane on the first day of spring and explaining this miraculous change of season? Or is this the fevered dream of a different world--a
twistered Wizard of Oz hallucination of color-drenched spectacle? Or like that film Pleasantville, where the characters, numb and blind, open their eyes for the first time to feel and see?

Then listen to the song and the line fleshed out: Have you seen the colors once were new/Now that you have found your honeydew? Past-tensed with "onces" and "nows", nonsensed with fruit, the possibilities are different, but endless.

From Parallel Suns (Amazon, eMusic), Myspace

Midnight Sun - Speck Mountain

This is a cotton lullaby sung to yourself after a long crying jag--a cat's purr, a soft pillow, a rough brown mug of spiked apple cider. A mantra ticking in the penumbral halflight, I'm alright, I'm alright oh, I'm alright. Whispered so many times, you start to believe it.

From Summer Above (Amazon, eMusic), Myspace

World of web:

A mostly true tale of breaking bands and bands breaking, from the Oxford American.

9 of the most repulsive buildings on earth. Dunno, I've always thought #1 was kind of charming. But #9, 6 and 4: soul withering for sure.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

With a book in my hand

Image: Kim Rugg

John Allyn Smith Sails - Okkervil River

Sloop John B - The Beach Boys

Histe Up the John B Sail - Anonymous

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that at least half of the reviews I've read of "John Allyn Smith Sails"--and Okkervil River's album The Stage Names (Amazon, eMusic)--have identified its coda as "the Beach Boys' song." It's a totally understandable error. Brian Wilson's arrangement of the traditional West Indies sea shanty on one of the most critically regarded and beloved albums in the rock canon owns that puppy. "Sloop John B" wears Wilson's signature so elegantly and authoritatively, the song effects a sort of cultural amnesia that erases all of the "Hoist Up the John B's Sails," "Wreck of the John B's" and other recorded variants that came before, and all the "Sloop John B's" (there are few variants post-Beach Boys--it casts a shadow that large) that came after. (By point of contrast is the anonymous--and hard going--folk version "Histe Up the John B Sail". It's a field recording from, I'd estimate, the 1920s.)

So if it's an excusable misattribution, it's also a really fascinating one given this song's (and album's) preoccupation with names and naming, ownership and authenticity. Some thoughts up front. It seems to me a capitalist impulse for individuals to claim an anonymous and collective work, to seize ownership and profit from it. This kind of activity ran rampant during the folk music revival of the 1950s and 60s, with performers and audiences reassigning standards like "Tom Dooley" to The Kingston Trio and "Scarborough Fair" to Simon & Garfunkel. I don't want to excessively valorize the folk tradition or demonize it's participation in pop culture. As Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor adeptly argue in Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music (Amazon), the idea that what we regularly term "folk music" has a greater claim on authenticity, or reflects a pure, noncommercial oral tradition, is sentimental rubbish (and has been deployed in support of noxious ideologies--particularly racial segregation).

John Allyn Smith is John Berryman, who
took his stepfather's name after his birth father (also John Smith) killed himself. Most interpretations of Berryman's life attribute the chaos of his career and personal relationships to this original trauma. And to perform a really elementary psycholinguistic trick, Berryman in his renaming, suffers a second trauma: alienation from the name of the father. I've actually never had much confidence in Freud or Lacan, but I do think there's something profound and troubling about a poet with a "false" name, symbolically severed from his origin. I mean, that's a massive dangling signifier for someone so invested in the precision of language! And that Berryman spent his last years on his father's old stomping grounds of Minnesota working through his anger and loss via Dream Songs, seems consistent with this kind of reading. (For what it's worth, Roland Barthes referred to the proper name as the "prince of signifiers," and Jacques Derrida called it an empty signifier, an impossibility.)

So I think that's what Will Sheff's getting at with the title and big extratextual reference of this song (aside from the fact that by calling it "John Allyn Smith," he obscures his clever-clever of referencing a boat called "John B"). In using Berryman's "proper" name, Sheff also refers to the album's larger theme of stage names and anxiety over where the performer and performance end and the person starts--nicely hinted in the line At the funeral the University/ Cried at the three poems they presented instead of broken me. A couple months ago, when I first heard this tender/brash/funny take on Berryman--this song that starts direct, in medias res,
its lyrics of liquored melancholy bluster and sarcastic self-pity, its languid bass guitar and tight, insistent beats, its neat, feedbacked slide into rousing sail into the sunset--I had to go back and reread Eileen Simpson's great memoir Poets in Their Youth (Amazon) for her version of the man.

Simpson was married to Berryman early in his career, and for an ex-wife, offers a remarkably fair-minded and fascinating portrayal of Berryman and his circle of crazy-drunk-famous poets. Naturally it's a much more intimate portrait of the man--smaller, less heroic for its details of domesticity. But even Simpson implies that this is someone she never really knew (she reads of his 1972 death by suicide in the New York Times like everyone else). And she closes her account with an afterlife fantasy that may have inspired Sheff (who I assume
has read Simpson's book--it's pretty much essential if you're even remotely interested in 20C American poetry). Here's Berryman hanging out with his dead poet pals:

They would recite one another's poems and talk for hours on end, free at last of worldly concerns about where the next advance, the next drink, the next girl or even the next inspiration would come from...

And its traces: And I hear the others all whisper "come home" ... I'm full in my heart and my head and I wanna go home/With a book in my hand.

I guess maybe I'm a little stuck on this subject, but both biographers seem to be trying to rescue Berryman from the tragic suicidal artist plot. Simpson uses love (or at least the fondness that comes with time and distance) and applies the details that build a complex portrait of a person. Sheff uses wry humor and interestingly, attributes agency to the dead man. As he says in an interview, it's Berryman's voice, "his song, he gets to do what he wants, say what he wants." It's like Berryman's name is on the song because he owns it.

Oh and:
I can already anticipate the hate that some will lob its way, but I kinda love Lavender Diamond's cover or "Like a Prayer" over at Paper Thin Walls.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hidden in plain sight


Henry Darger
- Mazarin
Watch it Happen (Amazon, eMusic)


Vivian Girls
- M. Shanghai String Band

From the Air (Amazon, eMusic)


Vivian Girls
- Seely
Winter Birds (Amazon, eMusic)


The Story of the Vivian Girls
- Comet Gain

City Fallen Leaves (Amazon, eMusic)


Vivian Girls
- Walker Kong
There Goes the Sun (Amazon, eMusic)


Vivian Girls
- Fucked Up
Hidden World (Amazon, eMusic)


The Vivian Girls are Visited in the Night by Saint Dargarius and His Squadron of Benevolent Butterflies
- Sufjan Stevens
The Avalanche (Amazon, eMusic)

Highly recommended:
Documentary, In the Realms of the Unreal (Amazon)
Monograph, Henry Darger: Art and Selected Writings (Amazon)

Wikipedia entry on Henry Darger
Online tour of selected work
"Further Adventures of the Vivian Girls in Chicago," John M. MacGregor
"Henry Darger: Realms of the Unreal" (exhibit review), G. Jurek Polanski
The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

If you miss my usual words, I posted 800 of 'em on Elliott Smith a couple days ago.

David of Digital Audio Insider on Economists, Radiohead and Bob Mould.

Ethan of Berkeley Place on How to save the music industry.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Coming up roses

Georgia, Georgia - Elliott Smith

Amanda Cecilia
- Elliott Smith

Color Bars (live) - Elliott Smith

The Big Fact about Elliott Smith is that he was a sad bastard. Possibly the saddest bastard of them all. Deviate from this script, and you have to answer questions you'd really rather not because you might just be as invested in this tortured genius thing as all the weepy indie fanboys and the deceased's estate. I've thought a lot about whether suffering--particularly mental suffering--is productive of "great" art, whether it's necessary if an artist is going to create something dazzling, meaningful, for-the-ages (I know). I wrote my undergraduate thesis on how mental illness informed the work of bipolar patrician Robert Lowell and his modest, melancholy comrade-in-poetry, Randell Jarrell. Whether it was a critical component of the process. I can't remember what I concluded (it was eons ago now, and I can't reread the thing without succumbing to massive cringe attacks). But I suspect I delivered a tentative "yes" to the above question. Each passing year I inch in the other direction, and have almost decided that suffering is productive of virtually nada--it's just an evil we'd all avoid if we possibly could. Talent (and hard work) is something separate. But I don't have proof, just life experience.

So I become increasingly irritated with the official story of Elliott Smith, its privileging of certain information. The tortured, depressed, drug-addicted, gruesome-and-mysterious-end material.
The lyrical breadcrumb trails. The romantic inevitability death-wish shit. As if the endless resuscitation of Ian Curtis (coming soon to a screen near you!), Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain, et al--so that they might reenact icky voyeuristic scenarios of doom and genius--doesn't sate us. (This guy's codification of the rock star self-destruction plot implies we'll never get enough.) I'm irritated with how this Elliott Smith narrative is officially produced and circulated via posthumous collections. Not so much with From a Basement on a Hill (Amazon), which reportedly is pretty close to what Smith intended and actually sounds finished and fully realized. Basement at least balances grim self-eulogies like "Fond Farewell" and "King's Crossing" with subtle-shaded songs like "Memory Lane" and "Let's Get Lost."

No, what irritates me is the ironically titled New Moon (Amazon) odd-and-sods set released earlier this year. Part of what I say when I say "irritate," is that I haven't been able to get into this record. (And fair warning, I'm maybe letting personal taste, not so much my keen analytical (ha) reasoning inform me.) Many of these songs, of course, are first-rate compositions, and further evidence (as if needed), of Smith's rare and wonderful songwriting talent. Probably my favorite track is "Georgia, Georgia," which scans as an anonymous folk ramble, but upon closer reading has Smith stamped all over its hiccuped syncopation, aching melodicism and killer couplets. But Moon swallowed whole? More a gray and dreary set of samey rainy-day strums-and-whispers. A record drowned by an undertow of sad. And by design.

It was a forgone conclusion that Smith's demos and cast-offs would eventually be converted into cash (and I think his fans are rabid enough to buy in addition to downloading for free). That's not the issue. It's the version of Smith offered; that it's his sad songs that have cultural currency. And if they aren't really sad to start with, they'll be framed as such. Unreleased tracks have been making the rounds since his death, which means fans have organized Smith's output into the kind of infinite-possibilitied micro-narratives that digitization, online communities, mp3 playlists and random shuffles, blogs etc., enable. "Amanda Cecelia" --a vibrant track of whirling, bobbing carousel keys and lots of spit and sarcasm--
is probably the best song in this floating file. And I think it's telling that the song wasn't included on either posthumous release (acknowledging that there might be other, for example legal, reasons it hasn't been collected--the song's just an example).

Fortunately I (you) don't have to accept the official version. I make my own by mixing "Amanda Cecelia" with other multi-valenced songs in the Smith catalogue. Songs that glow and spark and burst into flames, that ring and rage and thrash with life. And also brood and twitch and hurt. Songs like
"Southern Belle" and "Waltz #2," "Rose Parade" and the piano version of "Miss Misery." Or an energetic concert recording of "Color Bars," that slyly funny song from Figure 8 (Amazon) with a joyous bouncing piano line and glorious string section. From the perspective of who this guy was/is, my Elliott Smith playlists are unschematic, incoherent, chaotic, and they rarely come up roses. They say more about me--and my need for realistic, therefore complicated, stories--than him. As they should.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Busting out


Dancing On Our Graves - The Cave Singers

I love how the percussion seems to skitter in every direction, like a bag of BB pellets loosed in a school gymnasium, like a tapdancing marathon in a bowling alley. It's as if The Cave Singers handed everyone they saw a pair of sticks and various jingle-jangle makers and asked them to paint the sun in rhythm.

From Invitation Songs (Amazon, eMusic), Myspace

Your Stories - Parachutes

I felt reassured by this--that I'm not crazy to find music in the thwack-thwack of tires on wet asphalt or the slow rumble and screech of El trains, that it isn't odd to hear a grade-school playground at recess as a comic opera or a dog yapping at the start of his walk, a hymn of thanksgiving. But the article's right about identification and pleasure: Once some sounds are demystified, once we know their origin, they aren't as pretty any more. So let's just say this band of Icelanders, Parachutes, pieced this song with scraps of copper-haze sundown, with children's sleep-scabbed, yawned and happy morning greetings, with soft rain and the winter's-break crack of ice, the curious bird-chirp of squirrels. With peonies busting out all over, white and fuchsia.



Fantastic vintage color photos of American cities. The above image of the Chicago cityscape in the 1940s is taken from this set.

Frightened Rabbit's Sings the Greys has been rereleased for American consumption. Now no one has an excuse not to buy this album.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Hell no, I don't want to go

Image: Dan-ah Kim

Capture the Flag - Nurse & Soldier

Maybe because I spent a big chunk of sunny Sunday watching The War, I half expected a band called Nurse & Soldier to offer lovelorn Bing Crosby croons or Andrews Sisters' style pep talks. Or perhaps clipped Ernest Hemingway-like rhetoric about courage and sacrifice and victory. Nope. N&S (an Oneida sideproject) makes emotionally ambivalent, vaguely noirish (gris, then?) electro pop that was long-since defeated, but is also totally at peace with that. "Capture the Flag" is a tense, churning, fuzzed-out almost-dance track--almost, because its tight coil never quite unwinds. Its implied kinesis is a tease; every time you expect the song's jitter to launch into a four-on-the-floor rave-up, the droning static organ seems to rein it in. It's like the song's going to reenact
Rockie's dispassionately sung "climbing up the hill, climbing up the mountain" over and over, but never reach the top. "Capture" then, is ideal for this in-between month of natural and psychological indecision, a time to tuck in limbs and build a fortress of pillows.

From Marginalia (Amazon, eMusic), Myspace.