Leave nothing behind
Image: kellyk17In the Human World - Magnolia Electric Co.
Right now I can think of no voice more comforting than Jason Molina's. Nothing so cool on a flushed forehead or as heavy as dusk or smooth and round as the stone you found that afternoon -- that last afternoon you and your father walked beside the lake. Remember? When you wore your tan moccasins and told knock-knock jokes, and the sky and the water were never so blue.
From Sojourner (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace.
From a Highway - Lovers
I might wish for a little more twang in Carolyn Berk's voice, a bit more crunchy country cadence to match the rock n' roll vigor. But the amount of highway is just right. The chugging drums, the squeal of violins, the convergent clamor of instruments (courtesy of friends from Phosphorescence and other bands) that almost shout Berk down. Like when you're sitting in the passenger seat and you start saying something important to the driver. Something you've been meaning to say for a long time, but haven't had the courage. And the hum and the warm of the engine, the sun streaking the glass, lull your lips to confession. But just then you're cut off mid-utterance by the roar of a passing 18-wheeler, and the moment is lost.
From Sleep with Heat on the lovely Athens, GA label Orange Twin (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace.
Enormous changes at the last minute
Keep in the Middle of the Road - Doc Watson
Dear readers, I know some of you -- some of you in person and some through the technological miracles of email, IM, message boards, your own blogs. But I don't know most of you. So I'm reluctant to give you advice, and yet feel compelled to say something anyway. Here goes: Whatever you do, don't keep in the middle of the road, as Doc Watson & family instruct in this curt one minute, 14 second bluegrass version of a PSA. I believe they have good intentions, I'm sure they're only thinking of your safety. They want to prevent you, I assume, from stumbling in the dark, drunk, into a watery roadside ditch and drowning. They may also be concerned with your eternal salvation, but I wouldn't know much about that. Anyway, this middle-of-the-road business ... they're wrong! I've made many mistakes (manymanymany) in my thirtysomething years, and as such, am in a position to offer some hard-won wisdom. In lieu of hugging the median: Have unpopular opinions and voice them loud and regular! Dare to disagree with friends, lovers, family! Tempt fate! Court danger! Succumb to bad influences! Love recklessly, even hopelessly! Pick up and move every five years! Eat snails, frogs legs, insects, organ meats -- at least once! Don't worry about looking stupid! Ever.
And by all means turn to the right then turn to the left then turn as many times as your heart and your head and your gut guide. But keep in mind that if you turn to the right four times (or to the left four times), you'll end up back where you started.
From The Watson Family (Amazon, eMusic)
First Bergman, then Antonioni, now this: RIP Grace PaleyHere's one of the reasons I've learned to shut up and love Myspace. Torq, dude, it's a positive review. And it's not insulting to be called an actor if you have in fact acted professionally.
Let's get lost
Sandy - Caribou
It's an embarrassment of riches, this song. A feast of components layered like berries and cake and whipped cream in a trifle bowl -- and every bite the best you've ever tasted. Should I single out the light-tripping skip of flute? Or the human fumble of clattering drums. The sleigh bells or the harp trills or the divine harmonies? Or the definite line I can't believe what we've found, followed bitterweet by something that sounds indefinite, merely hopeful: I know in time we'll be together. Should I remind you that Caribou is just one guy, Dan Snaith, responsible for the extremely good forbears to Andorra -- The Milk of Human Kindness (one of my favorite albums of 2005) and Up in Flames? But say that Andorra and its glorious psychedelic pop-folk pastiche is actually better than either? And should I confess that singling out just one track is like choosing your favorite animal at the zoo or walking into Tiffany and seeing the graceful bend of that silver bangle, the twinkle of that diamond, the flash of that gold watch, and taking only one item home in your little robin's-egg blue bag?
I feel fickle saying this, but right now Andorra (Amazon, eMusic) is my favorite record of the year. Fickle, because last week it was Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam, and two weeks before that is was ... something else. Does this make me a typical short-attention-spanned music blogger? The kind music journalists, (rightfully) nervous about the economic viability of their profession, regularly lob spitballs at? Actually, I think this is just a very good year for music -- and promises to get better before I have to commit myself to a year-end favorites list.
Wish you were here
Image: swirlingthoughtsIsland Song - Christy & Emily
I could understand if you thought this was a little underwhelming as an expression of island. It doesn't sear your skin with the roar of tropical sun, it doesn't whisper of palms or boast a melody that sticks to your soles like wet sand (not immediately anyway). It doesn't have the coy hipshake of Hawaiian hula or the generous bone-rattle of Jamaican dub. No, it's island second-hand, muted. Island from a Brooklyn bedroom. A song that announces its remove with dust-spitting pops and clicks and its sentiment with the kitsch of Wurlitzer, drum-machined bongos and rainbow-hued bird chorus. And yet there's something real in it: the melancholy of that kitsch. It's the sadness in sun-faded wallpaper of package-tour hotels, in crowded shelves of unsold plastic tchotchkes, in paper umbrellas drooping over rum-and-fruit drinks. It's kitsch that speaks in a roundabout way of the hard-felt ache of abandonment and supplies -- in the face of an onrushing season of storms -- some measure of courage.
Christy & Emily's Gueen's Head (Social Registry, eMusic) is a surprising little gem of mostly successful folk-pop experiments. Myspace
Image: Amy Rice
The Kiss [Live] - Judee Sill
Before it was freighted with hard, bad luck, with the truths and myths about its maker "The Kiss" was just a song. A song I wrote seven days, eight days ago, Judee Sill confides to this 1972 BBC studio audience. Her voice has a shiver of stagefright jitter. Or maybe she's just so thrilled to offer this shy gift (like a first kiss) because she knows it's something special, but also fears it's not. It is. And it feels incredible to be in its newborn presence -- its soft pink skin, its reaching limbs, its unfocused eyes, its tremble, its wonder. Its promise.
From Live in London: The BBC Recordings 1972-1973 (Amazon, eMusic)
Timeless Melody [Live] - The La's
By the time The La's recorded "Timeless Melody" during the band's fourth BBC session in 1990, it was an old song (I have five earlier live and studio versions on my hard drive) and the band was on the brink of bitter, exhausted collapse. And yet perhaps because it's born of experience, born of a drear and grey despair, it's probably the song's best iteration. Oh, its harmonies are still glorious and Lee Mavers still yearns like all he's ever wanted was to write the perfect pop song. But its rhythm is a nervous jagged jog and voices bump one another with some intent to bruise. If you're unfamiliar with The La's you may not realize that this is broken glass compared with the pellucid textures of the band's self-titled debut.
From BBC in Session (Amazon)
Daytrotter has a session with Horse Feathers, including a gorgeous new song "Father of Failure." Words are Dead was one of my favorite albums of last year, and if you haven't already picked it up I strongly encourage you to do so.
This is what I got for communing with nature last weekend.
All the ravers are still raving
Image: Suzanne Clements
High Score - Eugene McGuinness
Singing-songwriting wunderkind Eugene McGuinness gets compared to The Shins, and perhaps rightfully so: He has a similar easy melodicism and a wordwordwordiness. But wrongfully so if you consider the po-facedness of said Shins, their tendency to take themselves just a bit seriously. Because McGuinness is an ironist, a jester of clever asides, a greeter of misfortune with devil's horns and funny glasses. And this is cool, this is excellent, because I think we can all agree that we don't need any more earnest boys perched lonely on high stools weeping into their acoustics. What we need is fun! And "High Score" -- with its video game whizz, its West End musical bang, its hooks, its heys, its genuine jouissance -- is that.
Also fun is McGuinness' video for "Monsters Under the Bed."
From the very, very good The Early Learnings of Eugene McGuinness (Amazon), Myspace
Find My Soul - Sally Shapiro
Ads around town, at bus shelters, above El tracks, sell something called "windorphins." Windorphins are like a tickertape parade for your soul, the copy reads, and then, coyly, just a website address. I admit, I bit. I'm fairly certain Sally Shapiro isn't enlisting the help of windorphins to find her soul (though jeez, you never know). But she's doing something to find it for sure. Because this kind of music -- thin slippery falsetto-synthed dumb-thumping music -- is all too often accused of being soulless. And she's out to prove, with her breezy sangfroid, the scoffers wrong.
But what kind of soul are we seeking here? Soul as in eternal, as in everlasting life? Soul as in rhythm and? Soul food? Soul patch? (Shapiro, keep in mind, is Swedish.) Soulseek? Soul as in that four-letter word so often appended -- mate? I favor the last, but I can't confirm it. Because every time I screw my earphones in and turn the volume up and concentrate on the lyrics they scrawl themselves across my retinas and evaporate just as fast. Like [snap] that. On the upside, my fingers tingle, my toes tap and my head buzzes ear to ear with numbing glee. Perhaps this is what a tickertape parade for your soul feels like?
From Disco Romance (Amazon, eMusic), Myspace
Space and the Woods - Late of the Pier
Speaking of disco nourished on cheese and corn and other mockable foodstuffs, of ludicrous lyrics (Suicide's in my blood/It always was. Oy vey.) and delightful inauthenticity. This song has the most ridiculously painfully catchy melodic keyboard line of the year. You not only get up to dance (duh), you clean out your bank account, borrow money from your brother and buy a dance club. You open a chain of clubs across North America. You play this song in each, all night, every night. (You go bankrupt sooner or later. Er, sooner. Not that it isn't a terrific song!)
La Blogothèque has posted gorgeously filmed and edited videos from its first Soirée à Emporter (a whole night expanding on their rightfully lauded Take Away shows). Featured: Zach Condon of Beirut, Kocani Orkestar, Jeremy Warmsley, Sparrow House, Sidi Ali, David-Ivar Herman Dune and Sebastien Schuller. I contributed a piece on Schuller's performance of "Weeping Willow" for the English version of the series. (Be sure to download the DivX plugin -- much better viewing than the DailyMotion streams.)
Paper Thin Walls streams No Age's Weirdo Rippers (one of my favorite 2007 releases) and Randy Randall and Dean Spunt comment on the tracks.
Stylus revisits Rumours.
Berkeley Place offers Spoon rarities.
And I'm not normally one to guide your conspicuous consumption, but Laurel Wells designs beautiful, beautiful clothes (for women -- sorry dudes). And So Charmed has the most darling baubles -- for punks, for princesses, for thieves. Spend some money. You deserve it.
Blast of cold air
465 - The Sunny Street
"465" is a pop instrumental. You know, no words. Yeah, I can guess what you're thinking: Pop songs aren't pop songs without the baby babys and the bah-bah-bahs. Furthermore, pop songs aren't pop songs in 2007 without the ululations, the melisma, the hip-hop cameo.
"465" isn't a pop song. But it is an instrumental track by a French pop duo (Delphine and Rémi). And if you think you can find your way through a song without a vocal breadcrumb trail, it's awfully good. Forget the facts that I used the P-word earlier and that the players call themselves The Sunny Street. This ain't no sunny. It's got nothing to do with August. Drums skitter on cracked ice; reverbed guitars and "fake string arrangements" (their words) arc with the grace and inevitability of a January moon. Late one night five months from now you might emerge from a crowded party, or a dark movie theater or a Mexican restaurant, bat-blind and fever-hot (smelling of beer or popcorn or corn tortillas), and see that solemn moon climbing the sky. And snag the crisp air on the tip of your tongue. And sense the subzero sting through your boots and thick socks in the bones of your toes. And feel alive in a way you haven't for so long.
Image: Walk CarmarthenshireA Puffin - Port O'Brien
When the rabbits come out at dusk -- small tough stringy city beasts -- I want to name them. Watching from the slanting sidewalk of my slowly sinking street (only a few blocks from the Chicago river, the terra firma isn't, unfortunately), I want to anthropomorphize those brown dots on postage stamp lawns. Name that efficient little guy Hazel and the speedy one Dandelion, spot some Blackberry qualities in the creature that seems to pause reflectively. Then there are the Canadian geese summering along the banks of the Lincoln Park Boat Club's lagoon. Do siblings, I wonder, squabble over sleeping arrangements as the flocks set up camp? Does the web-footed matriarch refuse on the third day to procure a meal, squawking Get it yourself! This is my vacation too!
A few weeks ago I found an empty nest in one of my hanging baskets of geraniums -- a sparrow's nest, I think. It was built and abandoned before I even noticed how the stems of the plant were bent to all sides and thought to get up on a stepstool and investigate. A nest neat and tight and perfectly round, of packed mud and twigs and also thin strands of plastic and other human toss-offs, reminding me of how our worlds overlap. How we inhabit theirs and they try to adapt to ours. And I felt a sense of mourning for these thwarted birds (that I had driven off by unknowingly watering their nest). Did they depart heartbroken like an evicted family, or rueful like a couple who'd run out of money before their dream house was fully built? I'm prone to bad dreams, and one of my most frequently recurring nightmares is finding myself on the street, homeless. And that may be why at first I didn't even want to touch this foreign and familiar -- this uncanny -- object. And why I felt ashamed to pick it from its bed of broken flowers.
So this impulse of Port O'Brien's Van Pierszalowski, to project his own fears on a nested puffin, is something I can totally understand. Flipping that Jamaican standard "Yellow Bird" on its head, the song gives us a bird bound by invisible ropes of obligation and a man who can grow wings and fly away. But as if unsure of his asserted freedom, Pierszalowski at first sings in his rusted voice a little inhibited, until the song shakes gloriously free of its claustrophobia after 2:30 and becomes sharp and fuzzed, lucid and delirious. A thing of artless, grubby instinct.
From the delightfully rough and ramshackle The Wind and the Swell (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace
I wrote (scroll down) about Port O'Brien's song "Five and Dime" earlier this year.
It looks like my favorite AWOL-too-long mp3 blogger of No Frontin' is possibly back or has gone over to This Recording. (Danish honey, I'm kinda depressed you're not keeping me updated!) But either way, it's very good to have him back in the blahblahsphere.