...we've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side. (Pearl Jam, Leash)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Restoring the Elliott Smith "Figure 8" mural

Really cool and inspiring piece here about music fans getting it right:

This mural in the Silver Lake neighborhood of LA was the recognizable backdrop for the cover of the 2000 Elliott Smith album Figure 8. After becoming a sort of shrine following his death in 2003, with tasteful fan graffiti and notes scrawled on the wall, stupid taggers decided to mess it all up. And no one cared. Enter the impassioned fans, and the subsequent restoration. Read the full story over at Sly Oyster and download a 1997 set from Elliott on Morning Becomes Eclectic.


I don't need to see Jesse Malin naked ever again

What is and never should be. Totally dig both the song and the album. The pasty nudity not so much -- if I wanted to see that, I'd just go step in my own damn shower.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

This would not've happened if I hadn't missed my plane

The Damien Rice b-side "Rat Within The Grain" from the 9 Crimes single has been steadily pacing towards my favorite song of the moment. Like so many of Damien's creations, this one is piercing and terribly sad, soaked in a wistful bitterness.

I was first snagged purely by the linguistic aesthetics that stopped me in my tracks -- the braids of wordplay like wood/would, want, wonderful, true. The repetition lulls you along like the chugging of a railroad car, then socks you in the gut with the acidity of his meaning.

Rat Within The Grain - Damien Rice

It gouges pretty harshly at the softest parts of my insides, as his jaded self-contempt seeps into the tender, almost-hidden professions of a maybe hopeless kind of love. In one long sentence, he goes from wanting to keep her at arm's length because he knows that parts of him are a turbulent ocean, and wanting so much to be wonderful in her eyes. The circular logic is pristinely bittersweet:

I wouldn't want you to want
to be wanted by me
I wouldn't want you to worry
you'd be drowned within my sea

I only wanted to be wonderful,
in wonderful is true, in truth
I only really wanted to be wanted by you

Isn't that more or less the human condition as it pertains to love, right there?

Then a moment later, the other most striking part of the song:

"In my bed go rest your head
upon the bones of a bigger man
he can cover you with rockwool
and you can close up like a clam . . .

Just because I didn't know what rockwool was, I googled, as I do. I learned that it's an inorganic, alkaline, sterile, inert growing medium, the kind that a gardener would use to replace soil. Maybe that strikes you as too much technical knowledge, that I am a nerd who should just enjoy the song, but for me . . . knowing that makes it an even more brilliant lyric. Sterile. Inert. Alkaline. She closes up.

After I sit here and try to write about it, I realize the futility. Just listen to the song and the weight of the space it occupies. Hopeless and hopeful, redemptive and beyond redemption.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Jim Noir :: "Don't You Worry"

Jumping a decade ahead from the sunny early '60s feel of his excellent Tower of Love album (2006), the first listen from the upcoming Jim Noir 2008 self-titled release has a bit more psychedelica and golden shimmer to it. You can almost picture the shiny happy people twirling and spinning on the Berkeley streets to this one, while Noir muses about a relationship gone to crap:

"If you don't want to be with me
what do you expect me to be?
Don't you worry, I'll be fine

Don't You Worry - Jim Noir

Jim Noir is out April 8 on Barsuk, features a spaceman on the cover, and the opening track is called "Welcome Commander Jameson."
If he's talkin to the whiskey, while in outer space, well then I like Jim even more.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

Pop quiz: What do all of these things have in common?

-study abroad (ouch!)
-Mos Def ("I don't see race")
-Whole Foods
-knowing what's best for poor people

Why, this is all stuff white people like, the subject of a fantastic blog by the same name. Good lord this is funny stuff . . .

Notable related link: Top Ten Rap Songs White People Love with some awesomely excellent videos. Yo VIP. . . Let's kick it.

Yes Man
Ari Hest
Brooklyn musician Ari Hest was looking for new ways to challenge the conventional music-releasing paradigm, and decided to try something new in 2008: releasing one song per week and offering fans the opportunity to subscribe to his creativity, as it were. This tune is currently top on his MySpace player and caught my ears with its warm, roots-rock sound, but everything I am hearing spinning on there so far is good. The best-loved songs from this year's "52"experiment will be released as the follow-up album to last year's The Break-In. I think he came through Denver in support of that album playing with the Damnwells but oh wait I missed it.

I Woke Up Today
Port O'Brien
I'm going to try and see Port O'Brien this weekend as part of the most excellent Noise Pop Festival in San Fran. They're playing at Cafe du Nord, which is the sweatier, dirtier, downstairs cousin to the Swedish American Hall -- where this Oakland band played just a few weeks ago, opening for Nada Surf. This song sounds like a joyous cross between some tribal ceremony and a playground dodgeball riot. I love it, it makes the floor wanna shake.

Gray or Blue
Jamie Seerman is a 26-year-old New Yorker with an earnest, pleasing voice and melodic songs that draw from a range of pop and jazz influences.
But seriously.
Has no one in her management advised her that people hear her stage name and perhaps think of this? Or am I the only one?
In any case, this song packs a limber bassline that stretches and wraps itself around her effervescent strum and playfulness. It charmingly starts with "i feel so helpless now, my guitar is not around" as she tries to memorize everything about the guy in this song, and it makes me feel exactly like I am fifteen. I found myself singing this (out loud!) in a 7-11 the other day, so it must be catchy. Autumn Fallin' is out March 11 on Blue Note.

Ready For The Floor (Jesse Rose Mix)
Hot Chip
There's something just a little endearing about the marginally off-key exhortation of lead singer Alexis (guy) Taylor here as he urges me to do it, do it, do it, do it now. It creeps into my subconscious. Maybe it's that borderline-nerdy feel combined with the dancefloor-ready beats that is making Hot Chip such a huge success amongst the kids who don't dance much, and this remix brings out all the parts of the song that I like the best. From their new album Made In The Dark (out a few weeks ago on Astralwerks).

Falling Slowly
The Frames
After the agonizing THREE musical theater extravaganzas from the Amy Adams "Enchanted" film last night at the Oscars, I was even more excited about Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova winning for best song. This tune is just ridiculously, impossibly gorgeous and if you've seen the lovely little story soundtracked by it, it becomes even better. The song was originally written and released with Glen's band The Frames in this slightly different early version from the 2006 album The Cost (Plateau Records). Listen here for an injection of tension and fervor with the electric cascades, but it does make me miss Marketa's prominent duetting vocals. "You have suffered enough and warred with yourself, it's time that you won." Good for them.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Strange times with the Black Keys

Coming from the swampy, minimalistic fuzz-blues background of the Black Keys' past work, the decision to have Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz) produce their upcoming album sounded so surprising, so fresh. I had a hard time picturing what that would sound like. Now I have some idea, and I am even more excited:

Highly recommended: Stream the new Black Keys song "Strange Times" over on their MySpace.

Well, that feels spacey, crisp, and dirty all at once. I would post the mp3 but it looks like other bloggers have been asked to remove it (plus, it's for sale on iTunes) and I don't need to go lookin for woe.

Attack & Release is out April 1 on Nonesuch, and there's a bunch of tour dates coming up.


Friday, February 22, 2008

I'm comin' home, via Chicago: Wilco's 5 Night Stand

Wilco just might be the most vibrant live band playing right now. Earlier this week they completed a five-show residency at hometown Chicago's Riviera Theater during which they played every song in their released catalog. My friend cwb sent me this review of the night he attended, and it encapsulated their aesthetic so perfectly that I have to reprint it here:

"[Tweedy] was warm and pithy, sincere and ironic, all at the same time, charming and engaging throughout. I've never heard better vocals from him, and he just seemed in a great place the whole night. His own twinkling and shimmering pop universe of sound, with the more than occasional crashing waves of drums and power chords, or troubling lyric, reminding us we weren't just innocent kids good vibe-ing in Brian Wilson's sandbox, beautiful and stoned.

. . . Tweedy's lyrics and vocals generally strike me as that little voice in my own head, or the invisible tweedy on my shoulder, whispering the secrets, mysteries, doubts, questions, and truths of the universe and local wal-mart.

That's about the best I can say it

Yes. Exactly.

featuring Andrew Bird on violin
February 20, 2008 -- Night 5
[check the great concert photography here]

Sunken Treasure
One By One
Shouldn't Be Ashamed
You Are My Face
Side With The Seeds
Pot Kettle Black
War On War
Pieholden Suite (w/ Andrew Bird & horns)
Muzzle of Bees (w/ Andrew Bird)
It's Just That Simple
Nothingsevergonnastandinmyway (Again)
I Thought I Held You
What Light (w/ horns)
When You Wake Up Feeling Old
Jesus, Etc. (w/ Andrew Bird)
Walken (w/ horns)

Via Chicago
Blood Of The Lamb (w/ Andrew Bird & horns)
Can't Stand It (w/ Andrew Bird & horns)
Boxful of Letters
Heavy Metal Drummer
Hate It Here (w/ Andrew Bird & horns)
The Thanks I Get (w/ Andrew Bird & horns)
Just A Kid
Red Eyed & Blue (w/ Andrew Bird)
I Got You (w/ Andrew Bird)
Casino Queen
I'm A Wheel
Less Than You Think (w/ Andrew Bird)

I'm The Man Who Loves You (w/ horns)
Dreamer in my Dreams


[top photo credit Chris Sweda/Sun-Times]

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Black Dominoes remix of Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, and a Vampire Weekend prize pack

One listen to this catchy-as-all-get-out song is usually all it takes to have me whistling it for a large part of the day. I'm getting really good at it; someone should make the Heather Browne Whistle Remix.

Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa (Black Dominoes remix)- Vampire Weekend

The guy who remixed this writes: "Black Dominoes is my new nome de remix and I gig out in the Southeast as Kellen John Kid Danger. I've shared bills with people like the Black Kids, DJ Klever, the Selmanaires, Flosstradamus, Treasure Fingers, Deerhunter, HR and Dr. Know from Bad Brains, the Black Lips, Snowden etc. I'm based in Atlanta but I actually just did a great gig this weekend at the 40 Watt Club in Athens.

I thickened up the original Vampire Weekend track with some Chico Sonido percussion and some beats jacked with the help of Blaqstarr and Diplo. The female MC is Rye Rye from Baltimore--I think her 'response' to the original Vampire Weekend verses add another dimension to the track

I love it.

In related news, Beggars Group/XL Recordings is giving away a prize package for this buzz album of 2008 that includes some cool Vampire Weekend schwag -- a copy of the Mansard Roof 7" single, an autographed poster, a scarf or hat, and best of all a pair of tickets to a local show. Most folks I know who have caught these guys live are instant converts.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

This morning Joe Strummer again saved my life

This sounds so good to me right now . . .

August 21, 1999
Cologne-Bizarre Festival, Germany

Straight To Hell
Tony Adams
London Calling
X ray Style
Rock The Casbah
White Man in Hammersmith Palais
Yalla Yalla
Brand New Cadillac
I Fought The Law
Tommy Gun
Bank Robber


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Winner of the About A Son DVD

Congrats to Brian R. who was just randomly selected as the winner of the Kurt Cobain DVD About A Son.

It took me just a few weeks to remember about this one, but my benign neglect translates into good timing because the film was just released on DVD yesterday.

You can view a cool multimedia e-card here.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tuesday Music Roundup

I took something of a long weekend; one of my good friends from high school was in Colorado and it was wonderful to see someone who is familiar with a good chunk of me from age thirteen forward, in all my dorkiness and unwieldiness during those years. He was my old neighbor two blocks over; if I stood in my front yard and yelled really loudly, he could hear me and vice versa. We tested this theory several times over the years.

After I picked him and his friend up from the airport we wound up on the slightly janky, late-night special stretch of Colfax that I love, eating amidst dive bars at Pete's (Greek) Diner [pictured right]. I got the best gyro I've ever eaten; I've been told that I am too enthusiastic in talking about it. They say it's just a sandwich. They are so wrong. Just thinking about it now makes my week more bearable.

Music I am listening to this week:

San Bernadino
The Mountain Goats
I am excited about the range of songs I've heard off the new Mountain Goats album, Heretic Pride, out this week on 4ad. My heart stopped beating the moment that I heard the opening notes on this gorgeous song from the pen of John Darnielle [1, 2]. If you haven't heard them before, the incisively stinging vocals remind me a bit of The Decemberists, with some of the most hyperliterate lyrics you've ever heard. This song begins with the vista of "we got in your car and we hit the highway, eastern sun was rising over the mountains. Yellow and blood-red bits, like a kaleidoscope." Somewhere along the journey he utters the reassurance that "it was hard, but you are brave, you are splendid, and we will never be alone in this world." Sigh. What more could someone really ask for? This is a hotly anticipated album for me as I just start to grow more familiar with John Darnielle's work. The Mountain Goats are playing three shows at the upcoming NoisePop fest in San Francisco.

Paper Tiger (live in Sydney 2005)

Oddly enough, Spoon seemed to be following me everywhere I went on Saturday. This was disconcerting and cool -- first on the speakers of my new thrift store addiction, then a few hours later at the brewery where we found ourselves on Saturday night. On Friday I had just downloaded this live track for free from the bonus section of Spoon's pop-artsy website. Originally on the 2002 album Kill The Moonlight, the spare arrangement of the original grows slowly bigger and a bit more eerie sounding here. BONUS: Connor and Nathaniel are offering you Britt Daniel's remix of songstress Feist. [pic from my Monolith 2007 post]

It's My Fault For Being Famous
White Stripes + Beck
New these days in Best Buy stores, you can get the matadoriffic White Stripes Conquest EP bundled with 2007's Icky Thump album. Cool because they added tiny Beck as a producer and a performer for these living-room session songs, on this tune you can clearly pick up Beck's voice (and piano) in a twangy back-porch stormer all about the perils of fame.

Digital Love (Daft Punk cover)
Mobius Band

Brooklyn electro-indie dudes Mobius Band gave away a nice six-song EP of covers to show their heart for you on Valentine's Day. This Daft Punk cover is my favorite of the bunch -- their version is quirky and perfect for my next mixtape, as it reveals the memorable melody with less robot voice. But the EP also has songs originally by Neil Young, The National, Daniel Johnston (who is on tour?! did I read that right?), Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, and Bob Dylan. Quite the selection for you to choose from, and what better way to say I love you than free music? Exactly.

Second Chance
Liam Finn

And yes trusty readers, after some heart-stoppage yesterday morning I scored fanclub tickets to see Vedder in Berkeley in April (!!!) which means I will be seeing this chap -- son of Crowded House/Split Enz New-Zealander Neil Finn, and impressively catchy solo artist in his own right. Liam Finn released an album on Yep Roc a few weeks ago called I'll Be Lightning. Rolling Stone wants to make it simple for you and break it down into easily-illustrated formulas, so here's what they've got on Liam:

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ed Vedder's solo jaunt down the West Coast

The Ten Club wasn't lying when they promised an exciting 2008 for members. Just a few weeks after announcing that Pearl Jam will headline Bonnaroo, we members were notified yesterday afternoon that Eddie Vedder will be doing a solo tour down the West Coast in April. The venues are small, the tickets are unfortunately not cheap, and members will have a stab at presale on Monday. A friend of mine is combining the tour with some baseball park visits; the season is right, and dang that sounds like a lovely idea to me.

Liam Finn opens these shows.

Apr-02 The Centre, Vancouver, BC
Apr-05 Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA
Apr-07 Zellerbach Theatre, Berkeley, CA
Apr-10 Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA
Apr-12 Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Apr-13 Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Apr-15 Spreckels Theater, San Diego, CA

Five special ticket packages per show will be auctioned off for the legal defense fund of the West Memphis Three. On-sale to the general public is Friday through (yes) Ticketmaster.

Bruce Springsteen will also be tracing a somewhat parallel journey to Vedder, notably with his Vancouver show March 31 and the Sacramento show April 4th. Following the reliable old adage that starting a rumor on the internet is obviously likely to yield actual results, maybe there will be some collaboration like these:

No Surrender (with Vedder, Meadowlands 10-13-04) - Bruce Springsteen
Betterman (with Vedder, Meadowlands 10-13-04) - Bruce Springsteen
My Hometown (with Vedder, Chicago 9-26-02) - Bruce Springsteen

For good measure we'll throw these in too:

Growin' Up (Springsteen cover, 7-14-03 New Jersey) - Pearl Jam
Atlantic City (Springsteen cover, 10-01-05, Borgata Casino) - Pearl Jam**
No Surrender (Springsteen cover, 09-30-05, Borgata Casino) - Pearl Jam**

**The encoding on those last two tracks is too low to stream right (Chipmunks!) but if you download them they do sound fine, and that recording No Surrender is one of my all-time favorite covers. If anyone has better quality mp3s, please send em my way.

[top photo credit Kerensa Wight]
[Vedder/Springsteen photo 10-13-04, taken by Paul Hawthorne]

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The magical realism of Nada Surf

Sitting in the intimate Swedish American recital hall with a few hundred strangers on a recent rainy Saturday night, Nada Surf cast a spell. Almost akin to stepping inside a little jewel box for a few hours, these three guys out of Brooklyn worked through much of the material on their wonderful new album Lucky, as well as some gems from their back catalog that soared and reverberated in this acoustic setting.

The Swedish is a community hall in San Francisco with dark carved woodwork everywhere, not your typical nightclub. The stage was dim and warm with only a reddish glow illuminating the trio; Matthew Caws on acoustic guitar and vocals, Daniel Lorca hiding behind the amp stacks on his bass (from my perspective), the impressively moustachioed and good-natured drummer Ira Elliot sitting happily on his cajon, hammering out the rhythms with his palms and fingertips.

My friend who was at the show with me wrote about the intimacy of the set in his review, how "there wasn't a person in the room that didn't know every little bit of the songs they played" and he's right -- the intense level of fandom in this very sold-out show was impressive. We hushed when we needed to hush and enjoy the songs, we yelled along when Caws said to (even though he warned the parents of infants in the room before he encouraged us to sing along).

It was a night of melancholic catharsis snugly interlaced with their gorgeous melodies and harmonies. The arrangements of their new material in the acoustic setting really shone, and when they kicked into those chiming, golden opening notes of "Blonde on Blonde" during the encore? Forget about it. I was in love.

This is a band I will see again and again if I am given the opportunity
[setlist, more pics here]

Before the show, my friend Brian and I got to sit down with lead singer Matthews Caws and discuss a bit about the new album's old roots, the artistic inspiration, and how hip-hop informed the new disc in surprising ways. Caws was a delight to talk to -- someone who feels the music like I do, which always seems like kismet to discover.

by Brian London & Heather Browne

FUEL/FRIENDS: Congratulations on the new album, it’s really a great record. You guys recorded it all in Seattle right?

MATTHEW CAWS: Yeah, actually this is the first time we had someone to record, mix and produce it. On other records we’ve had a producer and an engineer, so this time just having one guy was really great.

We’ve been asked a lot the classic questions ‘What direction did you guys have in mind’ with this album and ‘what makes this record different than the last record’ etc., and . . . we actually had no direction in mind besides wanting John Goodmanson [Rogue Wave, Pavement, Death Cab, Soundgarden, Harvey Danger] to do it. And that is kind of its own direction because we knew it would sound . . . rich. He mixed “What is Your Secret” and “Do It Again” on the last record which are my two favorite mixes so he was kind of an obvious choice. And I don’t know if this album’s process was any different, besides possibly being more focused. At least we tried to be more focused!

So The Weight Is A Gift was recorded in Seattle and San Francisco, Lucky solely in Seattle -- do you guys write in the studio, or back at your homes and rehearsal space in New York and then take it to the West Coast?

Most of the writing is done in my apartment and then I bring it in. I finish a lot of songs in the studio. I find that I can never write in the practice space. I’ve found that I need to have total peace and be at home, or have total pressure and be in the studio with the clock ticking.

With the producer looming over you to finish lines.

Yeah, but actually John was the first one I could actually have there because he was so accepting and calm that I could be working on a verse and just ask him to work on something else for a bit while I got it ready to show him, which is something I had never done with anyone before. We would go through and he would say “yeah yeah, that line's cool, that line's bad,” and I found it really valuable to have someone you trust that much.

You described John’s work as always sounding ‘rich’, and to me a really good example on the new album would be “I Like What You Say,” because the song now really does sound ‘richer’ than the one previously released on the John Tucker Must Die soundtrack.

Oh I’m glad! Some people seem to like the original better, but I’m not so sure I’d agree. I would agree with you though, and credit John for being so good at that. “Beautiful Beat” is also a good example -- when we were listening back he would say ‘You know, that’s a really tall mix’, and I feel like the songs really have some space to them.

I Like What You Say (John Tucker Must Die version)
I Like What You Say (Lucky album version)

It’s interesting to find one person to see the record through the whole process. Has the band ever tried to produce a record all by yourselves, and really maintain your vision over the entire process?

Well, Let Go was kinda me. Because the engineer wasn’t really producing and a friend of ours Fred Maher was supposed to produce but we didn’t have a lot of money, and he was really broke and wound up getting a job auto tuning the bass on the Korn record at the time. And we would always see him totally despondent on the couch because it would be like trying to tune a motorboat, you know [makes a motorboat noise].

I heard a great rock n’ roll ethics story that you paid for the recording of Let Go with 1’s and 5 dollar bills.

Yeah, it was all t-shirt money. It looked like a lot when all stacked up, but it really wasn’t that much money.

. . . And I remember reading a clip in the back of Rolling Stone that said Let Go was “the indie Pet Sounds”, so thank God for the t-shirt fund, right?

Wow, I never heard that. Really? That’s really nice of them.

So tell us a little about the songwriting process on Lucky.

These days I have a very chaotic songwriting process. I hesitate to even call it a process. It’s a mostly dubious adventure, because I write lots of little pieces of songs and not whole ones so there are lots and lots of tapes littered about that I haven’t listened back to in years. And so for this record I decided I was going to go through each and every one and do my homework to find what was on them.

What came out of that process? Any stuff that made the record?

Yeah, a few lines here and there. A few melodies--

[gets excited, interrupts] --By any chance was one resurrected bit the “Behind every desire, is another one / Waiting to be liberated, when the first one’s sated” (from Weightless)? That song shifts so much, that whole segment feels like it might have dropped in wonderfully from somewhere else.

That is actually the oldest thing on the record! You’re totally right. I remembered that line, but I could never find the melody. I knew it was somewhere on one of those cassettes, but the problem with all those tapes is most of it’s awful snippets of me in the middle of the day thinking I’ve got something when I really don’t.

Are there any other places on the new record where older material resurfaced?

Yeah, just things like . . . in See These Bones where it goes [sings] “Do you remember when the light was low? do you remember when it fell?” That melody was maybe five years old, just lying around.

That must be exciting and gratifying to find a home for an idea that had been percolating for so long, and have it fit so perfectly.

Totally. I guess the biggest change in the band for at least these last two records is that I am much more open to that kind of juxtaposition. Daniel [Lorca, bass] and I used to try that more on the first record because he used to write more so we would smush parts of songs we both had and make one whole song and it work which was always exciting to us. But I had never really been in the habit of seeking that out, until these last two records. On “Do It Again” the end section has this really different type of melody which was a separate section added on.

It actually was because I was listening to so much hip-hop at the time, stuff like Nas. What I feel like I really got from that was how in a rap song every verse can be completely different -- different point of view, different narrator, different feeling and sometimes obviously different people/voices -- mainly how the atmosphere would change. I really like people like Nas who focus on storytelling.

It’s funny that you say hip-hop was an influence on this album, especially hip-hop that has different voices on each verse, because I noticed in John’s credits that he’s also worked with the Wu Tang Clan.

Oh yeah, that’s right! [laughs] But don’t forget he also worked with Hanson.

An all-around guy, then.

Very much so. I think that [the hip-hop storytelling element] freed me up for songs on this record like “Are You Lightning?” That song was recorded for the last record, but the whole end section that starts “I see you in my sheets, I see you in my sleep” -- that whole bit was new. The song had been done for five years, words and melody, and the end was just going to be this three-minute fade out.

But since the song was asking the question ‘Are you the person I want to be with’ and not really knowing who that person is and getting to the point of being tired of looking, that by the time we were making this record I was in a very serious relationship so I felt like I had the answer, meaning that there was still stuff to sing about.

It’s interesting because if “Are You Lightning” had gone on the last record without the outro, it would have been a very nice sequel to “Inside of Love.”

Right, exactly. And the fact that it was a whole different melody for the new part was really something that excited me then and now. It was funny because a song would be unfinished, or actually they would be done, but wouldn’t feel that they were good enough. “The Fox” and “See These Bones” were both recorded for The Weight Is A Gift, but weren’t right at the time. And I would add melodies, which might have frustrated some, because there were no words and I was adding these things that were making the song feel completely different. But luckily open minds prevailed and we were accepting of the new parts.

One lyric from Lightning - “Just look at the size of you” is so unique and interesting, do you have anything to say about that or would you just like to leave it as it is? . . . Is it about the way one person can eclipse everything else?

Yes exactly -- the amount of room one person can take up in your brain. I’ve always thought about describing lyrics and how it can be defensive, but it would be silly for me to hide behind such a simple metaphor.

On the last album, “Your Legs Grow” has such beautiful, yet elusive lyric, and I’ve always wanted to ask, what made you write that song and what does that song mean to you?

What I meant was . . . contemplate if you’re in a relationship and it’s ending. One spends so much of one’s time thinking that would kill you, or that you would just be lost. It could be whatever, a break up, disaster….I haven’t been through a lot of family death and I know it’s coming to everyone. So if something happens that you feel you won’t be able to get through, it can be sometimes comforting to remind yourself that you do get through it. Like if you were out to sea and drowning, or you walked out to sea and it became too deep, I think the way our minds work is that our legs grow to the bottom of the ocean, and then we walk out. It’s really just a song about the ability to recover.

It’s kind of magic realism because obviously our legs aren’t going to grow, but we do become strong in ways that would seem impossible at other times.

Yeah, I think sometimes --to use your phrase-- that “magic realism” is exactly what people want and need from music, with all the stuff that people are supposed to handle in this world. Just to take a concept like that, and place it inside a metaphor, and deliver it in a song - that really seems to be a consistent thread through your band’s body of work.

A frustration I have a lot of the time with life in general is that it’s hard to hold on and remember how magical it can feel. And that’s kind of what the album title is about. Because it’s not necessarily that I feel lucky, it’s that I want to remember that I am. I wish I could turn that on at will because we get so caught up in whatever particular stories are happening with work, love, family, work, or whatever that just being alive and healthy on a planet that might be going down the tubes is totally fascinating. Still we can get caught in the cobwebs of everyday problems and forget how amazing and incredible life is.

The album cover seems very appropriate for the feel of the record, just the weight one can sense when lying down and looking at the sky, yet to still feel lucky and blessed to look around you.

Don’t people say that water at night is the perfect visual representation of the subconscious? And that’s why people are so drawn to it, just staring at it? With the cover I was also thinking about how trees and sky and stars are such extraordinary things…and they’re free. On another corny level, how lucky we are just to have them.

There is a great story about Yoko Ono before she was successful, she was broke and living in Greenwich Village and to make money she put up a poster that said ‘meet me at 5am tomorrow, bring a towel and five dollars, and you will see the most amazing show on Earth. If you don’t agree, there's a money back guarantee.’ So some people met her, and she brought them up to the roof of her tenement building and they all sat down on their towels and watched the sun come up.

And you know what? Nobody asked for their money back.

[pic credit]

HAMBURG, GERMANY 1/17/08 [via]
Concrete Bed
Whose Authority
What Is Your Secret?
Happy Kid
Killian's Red
Blizzard of '77
I Like What You Say
Inside of Love
See These Bones
Ooh La La (Faces cover)
Always Love
Blankest Year
Meow Meow Lullaby
Imaginary Friends


Blonde on Blonde (Vienna, 1/19/08)
Ice On The Wing (KEXP, 1/30/08)


We were going to post some Nada Surf b-sides but then we found this (free registration required), and now there is absolutely no use for anything else that we could add. Rad.

[top photo credited to the awesome Peter Ellenby; his fine book is still worth your time]


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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Well bless your bitter, bitter broken heart

Poor Marat. When I started thinking about the songs I wanted to post for Valentine's Day, instead of a lovey mix like last year, I suggested to my friends Duke and Bruce that our joint post be on bitter, brokenhearted songs that make you want to slit your wrists in a bathtub. Not that I am planning on that tomorrow, or that I recommend that course of action to anyone (dear god) -- but the first mental image that came to mind was this one from the painting The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David. I clearly remember having to memorize this painting's stats for freshman year of college art history class. Sitting in the dimly lit room, looking at slides of art, hearing a lecture on it from a great prof -- still one of my favorite activities ever, to this day I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

So Marat was actually assassinated, but look how tragic he is. If you feel tragic and Marat-like this February 14th, these tunes are for you. They're the kind that gouge your insides -- the other function of music for when you don't want it to make you feel the warm Hallmark fuzzies.

As I mentioned, this is a joint post with my friends Duke of The Late Greats (he suggested this collab reprise) and Bruce from Some Velvet Blog. Go check out their selections as well. If you can take it.

Give Judy My Notice - Ben Folds
The aching piano melody here kills me, and also the slow revelations that unfold from Ben realizing that he's been feeling small too long, and what this relationship with Judy would do to him if he stayed in it. He won't be her bitch anymore. Go Ben.

Untouchable Face - Ani DiFranco
If you're listening to Ani DiFranco this Valentine's Day, it's already too late for you. I'm sorry. This song is one of the single most bitter, vicious, songs ever written to someone you used to love, but it somehow still has a vulnerable, almost tender edge that I can't define. Without mincing words on the unforgettable chorus here, Ani sings, "F*ck you, and your untouchable face, f*ck you for existing in the first place." She's tired of vying for his touch, and not only wants him out of her life, she wishes he never even existed. Ouch.

I Do - Jude
A new induction into my iTunes library, these lyrics deal with getting a wedding invitation from someone with whom "in a lover's whisper you said no other man would ever share your bed . . . Well we both know that's not been so." Jude will stay away from the wedding, hope she's smiling when he turns around and says I do, and tells her that she's not spent a single day outside his heart. So wistful, so defeated.

Cardinal Song - The National
This song is terrifying for the unflinching way it peers into the deepest darknesses and lies in our souls. Never look her in the eyes, never tell her the truth, save it for the deathbed? Terrifying. The final stanzas shift melodies and Berninger is confused, cornered, wasted, blessed, used, stiff and pissed and lost and loose. But it all sounds so gorgeous.

Hard Way To Fall (live, Tilburg, 12/1/02) - Ryan Adams
This song appeared on the twangy Jacksonville City Nights, but I've always loved this stripped, gorgeous, Love-Is-Hell-ish version of it since the first time I heard it. Even though Ryan could find her in a thunderstorm by the way that the rain would fall (on the album version, one of my favorite lyrical images from his pen), he has lost her to someone else. He sings about all the small details about her that he has memorized, and laments with that perfect vocal quaver the days when she was his. It's a hard thing to love anyone, anyhow.

Dry Your Eyes (featuring Chris Martin) - The Streets
The most broken-up tough dude you've ever heard, with Coldplay's Chris Martin providing the hooks before the record label yanked the collaboration, after it had already seen enough radio spins to cause a tantalizing demand for it. Mike Skinner tells in agonizing slow motion of the moment she breaks up with him and walks away -- her eyes glaze, she looks down at the ground, and then she's gone.

Forever Blue (acoustic version) - Chris Isaak
One of the most perfect melancholy little tunes ever penned about the aftermath of a relationship ending. Taken from his essential breakup album of the same title, song after unrelenting song that make you want to take poor Chris and his puppy-dog eyes into your arms, and damn that woman that done him wrong. Nobody ever warns you, or tells you what to do.

Colors - Amos Lee
Amos Lee's raw tenor aches and soars on this song about reminiscing, and how the colors fade when she's gone. It gets me every time, making me feel like staring out the window in the rain. This is an activity I have done while listening to this song, and I don't particularly recommend it.

The First Cut Is The Deepest - Cat Stevens
I would have given you all of my heart, but there's someone who's torn it apart. Cat's simple song still nails it.

Your House - Alanis Morissette
Full arc from the Ani DiFranco tune, you've got the slightly chilling, Fatal Attraction, a capella hidden track from Alanis' Jagged Little Pill album. We find her sneaking into dude's house, smelling his cologne, crying in his shower, listening to his Johnny Cash. She finds a letter on his desk, not in her writing. It's a bad idea. All of it.

Somebody Kill Me - Adam Sandler
If you've seen The Wedding Singer, then no explanation is needed for this track. Just thinking of how Sandler's face looks when he sings this pretty much sums up everything that this post is about.


And remember, if these songs resonate with you this year, next year's gotta be better.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

The Grammys were on last night, and even though I watched them, I felt just as disconnected from the alleged art contained within them as ever. I went to the Grammys in 2003 in NYC and at the time was struck by what a spectacle, what a circus it was. It was barely about the music, more about the fashion, the pyrotechnics, the manufactured emotion of the mini-crowd they select to run down to the front, wild in their staged arm-waving enthusiasm -- trying to inject an emotion into the show that doesn't exist in the natural state.

The queen of the evening Amy Winehouse looked addled, twiggy, and uncertain with what to do with her limbs while she skittered through her material (scaring the bejesus out of half the folks watching her, asking their spouse over the beats, "Who is this Amy Winehouse gal? And why did she win all those awards?"). Lackluster performances reigned; even Feist was not represented as gloriously as she should have been (where was the rainbow colored dancing? that would have been better than that painful Beatles medley with the walking umbrella and the flying culotte lady that I thought was Heather Mills). I was surprised to find Kanye West's performance the most potent of the night; his inspired collab with Daft Punk lead into a wrenching, broken tribute to his mama that added Kanye onto the short list of people that have made me cry this month (how did that happen?!).

Anyways, score one for the corporate death of music that makes me feel anything inside. Yep, pretty cheerful around here today.

Here are five tunes for you to spin this week:

Up Against The Glass
The Botticellis

The musical byproduct of communal living in the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco, indie pop-surf band The Botticellis impressed me when I saw them at NoisePop last year opening for Cake. They've got a tight, sunny, '60s sound saturated with multihued orchestral melodies. I'd posted an earlier version of this addictive little song last year; it's now revisioned for their debut album on the Oakland, CA label Antenna Farm. Check out the vintage, analog sound of the album Old Home Movies when it comes out May 13. They're playing some Bay Area shows in the coming months and also will be at SXSW.

Grounds For Divorce

Among the bands with weird noun names (Spoon, Aqueduct, Sponge, what have you) Manchester band Elbow is the only one who would be taken on a desert island with John Cale. Not a bad endorsement. This radio rip of the first single from Elbow's upcoming 4th album The Seldom Seen Kid (due on the UK's Fiction Records, home of Stephen Fretwell and Ian Brown's latests) is a haunting, gospelly blues track with a guttural punch and stomp. It sounds downright epic to these ears. [thx]


The soundtrack to last year's excellent Little Miss Sunshine brought some well-deserved acclaim to Denver quartet DeVotchKa. Since spinning those quirky, inventive, whistle and theremin-laden tunes for the film, DeVotchKa has signed to -Anti Records, and their album A Mad And Faithful Telling is due March 18th. This first single doesn't sound like much else I've heard lately, spinning dizzily by the end as we discuss someone who won't mean what they say or say what they mean. I feel confused, but I like the effect. You can stream more new stuff on their website.

Song of Love/Narayana
Kula Shaker

Hazy and trippy as ever, London's Kula Shaker always get lumped into the Britpop header, but really, why? Reformed in 2005 after six years apart, their recognizable Indian chanting and psychedelic overtones remain intact on this "new" song from the album Strangefolk. Released last year in the UK, this one slipped past me originally, but is finally gearing up for a US release on Cooking Vinyl next week. The band is still steadfast in their belief that love can save the world, and this cut bends eras and genres. It builds slowly but is solidly good; have a listen.

Return To Me
Glen Phillips

As a pretty hearty fan of Toad The Wet Sprocket throughout the Nineties, I'm always trying to keep up with the quality, heart-warming output of the various band members since their 1998 official disbanding. Of the projects, frontman Glen Phillips has consistently grabbed my ears with his literate and earnest solo output. On tour now, Glen played last night at the Fox Theatre in Boulder (and I was sad to miss it but had just been there Saturday night for the scathingly funny rock of Mr. Matt Nathanson). One of my kind readers notified me that there's a new EP Secrets Of The New Explorers up for download on his website, the follow-up to Mr. Lemons, his strong 2006 full-length. This winsome track is a free download and there are more like it for mere dollars.

Okay and this is getting long today but -- can we file this final PS under things that make me say "hmmmm"?

I was at the auto parts store yesterday (brake light out, as two nice construction workers let me know at a stoplight the other day) and I saw this keychain breathalyzer dealie for 39 bucks by the register. I found it highly amusing that it claims to have "Hundreds of Uses."

Um, actually? I am pretty sure it has just one.

That's all. Rock on.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Counting Crows on WXPN/World Cafe Friday

Yesterday afternoon, the Counting Crows played a tough-to-get-into set on the WXPN World Cafe stage in Philadelphia. According to a friend who was there: "Adam was incredible . . . There was magic in the room. [They were] really gracious and thankful to be offered the opportunity to do this. What a day here."

The Crows played eight songs from their forthcoming album Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings; this is the widest look into their new work that we've gotten yet.

There are four songs from Saturday Nights, four from Sunday Mornings, and Adam introduces each one with an in-depth commentary on the story behind the song, and revealing the threads that tie it to other songs in the Counting Crows back catalog. It's a pretty neat way to have a first listen to an album, like they're sitting in your living room walking you through it. Have yourself a listen:

Live on WXPN/WORLD CAFE Philadelphia
Hanging Tree
When I Dream of Michelangelo
You Can't Count on Me
Washington Square
Come Around


[Photo by WXPN, Luke Auld-Thomas]


please let me write the warning labels

This morning in my (finally-tiled) shower I noticed the warning label on my really yummy-smelling body wash. It read caution: not for internal use.

If there is goodness and fairness in the world, someday I will be allowed to re-write the warning labels. If I wrote this one, it would say caution: not for internal use, you moron. because THIS IS SOAP.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

yeah all those stars drip down like butter

About fifteen minutes into the Kurt Cobain film About A Son, I realized that I was a little confused. This was not a traditional documentary-style visual narrative that I had been expecting, but rather something that unfolds slowly and rewards your patience.

About A Son has been on the film festival circuit since 2006, and is finally seeing DVD release February 19th (the day before Kurt's 41st birthday) through Shout Factory. The film is narrated entirely by Kurt's own voice (and, in the background, that of the interviewer/author Michael Azerrad) in conversations recorded in the after-midnight, predawn hours at Kurt's home in Seattle. These were taped between December '92 and March '93 for Azerrad's book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana [Main Street Books, 1993].

Rather than trying to go back and recreate Kurt's precise steps through a landscape that just doesn't exist anymore, director AJ Schnack decides to accompany the story with an anonymous amalgamam of 35mm-shot images, panoramas, and stream-of-consciousness visual narratives. It reminded me of taking a car ride somewhere with Kurt and watching out the window as he talked. No images of the band even show up until 58 minutes in, no live footage of Kurt at all (other than some haunting still shots before the credits). As he muses, there are drive-by shots of rundown houses of Aberdeen, or a forklift loading a stack of logs, or a dead bird's raw flesh on the seashore. There are faces of random people from the towns he lived, looking unflinchingly into the lens.

The images seem obscure sometimes; they're often not tidily connected to exactly what Kurt is talking about, but as you watch, interesting parallels start to appear. For example when he's sharing his thoughts on fame and the press and journalists, suddenly you realize we're watching a sea lion swimming around in captivity through an aquarium glass in Seattle. In a way the visuals highlight the relative anonymity of most of his life, how he could have been anyone, just another alienated kid. It's a thread that is echoed in Kurt's own words, when Azerrad asks him, "Is yours a sad story?" He pauses and then he says, "It's nothing that's amazing or anything new . . . that's for sure."

Kurt talks circuitously through themes of alienation, sexuality, fame, marriage, success, art, community, and at several points he also makes reference to blowing his own head off to escape the pain in his stomach. Much is revealed about his life and his way of processing things that I had never heard. It's intimate and sad at the very end where we hear Courtney's voice break into the interview, middle-of-the-night, new-parent exhausted, asking Kurt to bring up a Similac bottle when he comes up, and not to forget.

The eclectic music used in the film goes admirably beyond the tired-out strategy of using famous Seattle music to talk about Seattle films. Instead, the music is a literal soundtrack to this particular story, to this particular life. There are some bands that Kurt talks about loving, ones like Queen from his early years, and also lesser-known musical contemporaries that he talks about admiring. It's diverse: you've got Arlo Guthrie singin' about riding on his motorcycle, and also R.E.M.'s "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1" overlying a dizzyingly-colored surreal segment on drug use.

I appreciated how the songs tease out the conflicts between what Kurt saw and what he felt; for example, the brilliant juxtaposition of the Big Black song ""Kerosene" ("I was born in this town, lived here my whole life, probably come to die in this town") and a cheery librarian shelving books at the golden glow of the Aberdeen public library where he would go when he had nowhere else to stay warm and occupied during his young & hungry days.

The original score by Steve Fisk and (Death Cab For Cutie's) Ben Gibbard is ethereal, echoey, unsettling. I ripped the song that plays at the end of the film over the black and white pictures of Kurt laying on stage wailing his guitar, then held high atop the hands of the crowd, sitting on an unmade bed with mournful eyes, steadying Frances Bean as she tries to take a step. It's the only images I recall of Kurt in the film. The score is out on vinyl through Barsuk, also on February 19th.

Ending Credits (Chaos & Resolution?) - Steve Fisk & Benjamin Gibbard

Star Sign - Teenage Fanclub
(this was in the film --when he's talking about Courtney-- but not on the soundtrack)

Asking For It (w/ Kurt on backing vocals) - Hole



GIVEAWAY: Leave me a comment with some thoughts and a way to contact you if you would like to be considered for the About A Son DVD I have to giveaway.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

all this life is ash wednesday

Even though I've never given up anything for Lent in my life, I obviously couldn't let this day pass without posting the great Elvis Perkins song (from the 2007 album of the same name) that pays tribute to it in rather stark form. Dude's seen a lot in his life, and you can hear it in the songs. Last year someone commented that they were trying to give up my blog for Lent, but the Monday Music Roundup cracked them and they buckled, they clicked. It's hard, I know. What are you giving up for Lent, if anything? Let me know so I can enjoy it on your behalf and write about it.

Ash Wednesday - Elvis Perkins

Also, speaking of not denying yourself the good fruits of this world, how about Pearl Jam headlining Bonnaroo with My Morning Jacket, Plant & Krauss, The Raconteurs and more? Tennessee beckons.


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