...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, October 31, 2008


Zombies On Parade - Greg Camp
Mummy Beach - Hot Lava
Black Ghost/Black Girl - Starling Electric

The good folks at Bar/None did the work for me today, with three spooky little songs, all good and not cheesy haunted-house sounding. Although there would be nothing wrong with that (but really. How many times can you hear Monster Mash?)

It's nice working on a college campus on a day like today, even though I got almost nothing done because my blood sugar level is probably illegal. A guy in a small toga and a grape leaf garland just came into my office looking for glue, and out the window I can see my co-worker dressed as Dog The Bounty Hunter at the copy machine. Love it.

I'm out to make some mischief. Be good and pls save the Milk Duds for me.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

try to ignore all this blood on the floor / it's just this heart on my sleeve that's bleeding

Seeing Ray LaMontagne the first time was pretty dang incredible. It was early 2005 and I had just experienced the beginnings of my slow musical rebirth (snatched from the jaws of grownup musical apathy) through his groundshaking Trouble. I listened to it non-stop, feeling like something I had been missing out of music was slowly being diffused back into me. The rough-hewn beauty of the music, the incisive daggers in his lyrics, and most of all that unbelievable voice -- it all felt so raw and beautiful. I went to see him at the Fillmore in S.F., and as I wrote:

"This skinny guy comes walking out on stage, looking as uncomfortable as all get out. Big beard. Quiet voice. Hiding behind his guitar. I almost thought he was going to bolt.

But then he opens his mouth and begins to play.

He has this vulnerable, raspy, velvety, pure voice, and he absolutely pours his soul into his music . . . He feels each word and resonates with each chord.

[One] non-album track that I remember vividly from the show is "Can I Stay." He ended with this song. The venue went still, as if we were all transfixed in the moment, like you could almost feel the song hanging there above our heads. The spotlight shone on him, with the dust motes swirling in the heavy air. Absolutely beautiful song. I almost felt like I couldn't breathe.

On Monday night, I made the long drive up to Boulder for my fourth time seeing Ray. As jaded and cynical as I sometimes worry that my little critic's heart is becoming, wouldn't you know it - it happened again for me. The chills and the lump in the throat. Several times. The potency and passion still lives in Ray's music, and I was so glad to meet up with it again.

Dressed in the same plaid shirt/jeans/workboots ensemble of his Maine roots, Ray is really hitting an amazing stride and finding his subtle confidence as a performer. Instead of feeling bad for even looking at him on-stage, as I sometimes did that first night, Ray now exhales a quiet sense of purpose, a level of comfort as he melds with his backing band, and occasionally a wickedly funny streak. (One gal in the crowd yelled out that it was her birthday, 26. Ray first claimed not to remember that long ago in his life, and then he thought for a moment and pensively but determinedly said, "Now I said I didn't know what I was doing at 26, and that's not true. I was getting stoned, that's what I was doin'").

Ray's set skillfully wove his older material together with the bigger, brighter, shiner songs from his new album Gossip In The Grain. From the robust opening notes of "You Are The Best Thing," to the rocking blues of his ode to Meg White (while the stage was saturated in a very White-Stripesy crimson light), it was exciting to see this different side of him bloom. The country flavor ran deep, with pedal steel replacing the elegant strings on songs like "Shelter." Songs were laced through with high and lonesome whistles, and harmonicas unbounded like a runaway train.

I was nothing short of captivated, that he could still move those puzzle pieces around inside me. In a moment, Ray's music conjures up a hard-working world of faded wood cabins on the plain, country dresses, and going home at night exhausted to someone who really loves you. There may be some cornbread involved, maybe a passel of children. All that flashed through my mind (and I thought about various Steinbeck books I've read) in the way he sang the line from Empty about, "kiss me with that country mouth so plain." Overactive constructs, perhaps, but I loved it nonetheless in its simplicity, and in his absolute gut-wrenching conviction. He still doesn't sing songs as much as they are yanked out from his insides.

Since you all already know that I'm a sap sometimes, I'll totally cop to crying on his solo acoustic version of "Burn." I didn't expect that. It was very much like this video from a few days prior, and just bleeding raw and damn gorgeous:

A guy in the balcony said it best when he yelled out during one of the many quiet moments of guitar tuning between songs: "You sound good, Ray!"

And good it was. Very good.

You Are The Best Thing
Hold You In My Arms
Let It Be Me
I Still Care For You
(with Leona Naess)
Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's A Shame)
Narrow Escape
Meg White
(solo acoustic)
Winter Birds (solo acoustic)
Hey Me, Hey Mama
You Can Bring Me Flowers

3 More Days
Gossip In The Grain
(with Leona Naess)

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In the future, we'll all have jetpacks and listen to Robert Harrison

In the mid-90s, Cotton Mather (named after an especially foxy-looking Puritan minister) made a splash with some of the most divinely-arranged power pop I've ever heard. For example:

My Before and After - Cotton Mather (from Kontiki)
Heaven's Helping - Cotton Mather (from the 40 Watt Solution EP)

Yeah, it's that good -- the 1:11 mark in Heaven's Helping is one of my absolute favorite moments in any song ever. It borders on celestially sublime; sixteen seconds of downright musical perfection.

I discovered Harrison's work only after Cotton Mather broke up, and now their albums are often solely the purview of lucky record store cratediggers and used-on-Amazon buyers. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Austin-based frontman Robert Harrison came back to musical life last year with a cinematic new band, Future Clouds and Radar. The sound is evolving into something a bit more psychedelic and sweeping, but that Lennonesque voice obviously remains the same.

After 2007's self-titled double disc, Future Clouds and Radar is back with their sophomore effort, Peoria. The opening track has a rosy glow that builds and shimmers, as it sings about "an Epcot view of the stars."

The Epcot View - Future Clouds and Radar

Peoria will be out on election day in the U.S. on their own Star Apple Kingdom label, and there are a few rare tour dates on the books.

Also, a flabbergasted thanks (!!) to one of my favorite writers/fellow music lover Nick Hornby for the Fuel/Friends mention today on the New York Times site. He must have known that I have Songbook on my nightstand right now, not even lying.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

No two ways about it -- I'm pretty proud of those Halloween carving adventure results. First time I ever tried one of those fancy kit things with tracing wheels and all (mine is on the right), and I still popped the eyeball out of the left eye and had to tape it back on (shhhh, don't tell). Since we always used dull carving knives and grabbed the gooey innards with our bare hands when we were kids, I felt a little out of my element when handed mini saws and ridged plastic scrapers. But what I lack in inborn creativity, I make up for in being able to trace.

I also solidified my costume this weekend at the Buffalo Exchange secondhand shop in Capitol Hill (Denver) with my friend Laurie. When she screamed and then died laughing after I tried said element on, I knew it was a keeper. My mom took out a needle and thread yesterday to make some alterations to the dress (because she is the best mom ever) and I am set. Boo!

Music for this week:

If You Want Blood (AC/DC cover)
Mark Kozelek

Gathering a wide variety of covers from his days with Red House Painters and also his solo career, Mark Kozelek is releasing The Finally LP on December 9th. Always staggering in the ways he reinvents originals, many of the tracks collected here were first featured on compilation albums that are no longer available. If you know me at all, you might know that I am a sucker for covers (and love his) so I will be picking this one up. AC/DC never sounded so pensive, so sensual, so sad. Listen to his previously unreleased cover of Husker Du's "Celebrated Summer" here, and pre-order the record on his Caldo Verde imprint.

Fresh Feeling (live in 2005)
This song takes me back vividly to a perfectly encapsulated feeling of, well, freshness. Possibility. Old paint peeling and new horizons suddenly coming into sharp focus. I never tire of the the sweet melancholic strings combining with the crispness of the sharp clean beat. This live version of Fresh Feeling is from Manchester in 2005, and part of a free 4-song EP for download on the Eels website as part of a promotion for the new Blinking Lights deluxe version. Lately I've been quite impressed with Eels reissues and special collections - the packaging and liner notes alone are a journey. And since I've never caught E live, I can always use more free live Eels. You have until tomorrow to go and get it!

Born In The '80s
The Boat People

While I watched Game 1 of the World Series, Bruce from Philly and I were electronically bantering, and he recommended I check out The Boat People from Brisbane and Melbourne. Their music is jaunty and bright and catchy - like Phantom Planet and the cousin Coconut Records. Even though the song talks about being born in the Eighties (and they likely were) don't let it mislead you -- the music isn't bound to that decade. Their album Chandeliers is out now, with colors and lines on that wonderful cover art that echo the feel of the music inside.

Black White
The Raveonettes
Julio feels nauseous when he thinks about how effortlessly cool Danish duo The Raveonettes are, and listening to this new attitude-laden slowburner from their fresh Beauty Dies EP makes me jealous as well. All I know is that when they make a movie of my life I kinda want a scene where I get to walk down the street with this playing. I will probably wear sunglasses. In keeping with their vibe, this feels like such a stark, spacious song while vibrating with those warm surf-retro guitar tones. So sexy. Stream the full EP here, it came out last week on Vice Records.

Duet (with Ray LaMontagne)
Rachel Yamagata

So one more song featuring Ray's warm voice before I head out the door to his show in a few minutes -- and this is an incredible tune that has knocked me flat. The duet here is from Rachel Yamagata's new album Elephants... Teeth Sinking Into Heart, and it is exceptional. One of my favorite Ray moments falls within the nakedness of early renditions of "Can I Stay," and this feels like its musical twin, or its postscript. Yamagata's voice has innate qualities that have always reminded me of a female Ray (or perhaps the sadness wound deeply into Lisa Hannigan's songs). Now the twain shall meet in this flawless, delicate, intimate bedroom classic.

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"Only A Song" :: Ben Sollee and Jim James (My Morning Jacket)

After the the earnest beauty in his last album Learning To Bend (which included that Southern-sweet cover of "A Change Is Gonna Come"), Kentucky's Ben Sollee is back this month with a 2-song EP, currently available only on tour.

The opening track finds Sollee pairing with another musician friend from Louisville that you may know: Jim James of My Morning Jacket. Their simply-strummed acoustic duet blends Sollee's gentle musings of optimism with Jim's distinctively gorgeous harmonies. It is a timely song of hope in the face of seemingly overwhelming hopelessness.

I wouldn't make a sound if I wasn't so angry
I wouldn't be running if there wasn't so far to go
I wouldn't keep on if there wasn't something worth keeping
I want to believe the mountain can be moved

But this is only a song
It can't change the world

But why try? Why even sing at all?
... There is beauty in freedom and folks like me
Came over on boats, flew in on planes, crawled under fences and fought wars to find some unity

Only A Song - Ben Sollee and Jim James

1 Nov - Louisville KY / 930 Listening Room w/ Bootsie Ann
5 Nov - Nashville TN / The Basement
6 Nov - Atlanta GA / The 5 Spot
7 Nov - Chapel Hill NC / Nightlight
8 Nov - Washington DC / Iota
11 Nov - Brooklyn NY / The Bell House
12 Nov - New York NY / Mercury Lounge
13 Nov - Boston MA / Great Scott
14 Nov - Philadelphia PA / World Cafe Live
15 Nov - Pittsburgh PA / Club Cafe
17 Nov - Chicago IL / Schuba's
18 Nov - Minneapolis MN / 400 Club
21 Nov - Seattle WA / TBA
22 Nov - Portland OR / Balcony Bar At The Hawthorne Theatre
24 Nov - San Francisco CA / Café Du Nord
25 Nov - Los Angeles CA / Hotel Café

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Tonight: Ray LaMontagne and Leona Naess

Touring in support of his new third album Gossip In The Grain, the skinny bearded man with the immensely warm & rough voice comes through Boulder tonight. I fell hard for Ray LaMontagne in early 2005 and his music has accompanied me through all sorts of highs and lows since then. Every now and again I still get a hard lump in my throat that's hard to swallow past when I listen to his music; even after knowing most of it by heart, it still suckerpunches. This is one of my favorite qualities.

A few of my favorites at the moment:
Hold You In My Arms (live on KFOG)
Empty (live at Bonnaroo 2005)
Crazy (Gnarls Barkley cover)
To Love Somebody (Bee Gees cover)
All The Wild Horses (solo acoustic, 9/30/08)
Heaven Is A Honky Tonk (live on ACL)
("all my heroes have gone to heaven..." - written after the death of Townes Van Zandt)

The effortlessly wonderful songbird Leona Naess lends her talents on Ray's newest album, and also opens this tour. I am quite excited to see her live after also being a fan for several years and never managing to catch her on tour. I was out at the record store on Friday night and I saw that her long-awaited album Thirteens is finally, finally out with little fanfare. It's excellent.

Ghosts In The Attic - Leona Naess

[photo credit: Dan Winters]

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

The runaway smash hit of election season

It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly how I found myself dancing in a music video about bacon and Obama -- but I know when one gets an invitation to wear bacon-hued clothes and come prepared to dance on a Sunday afternoon, you best listen. Plus, I guess I've always wanted to be a girl in a hip-hop video, really ever since my days of watching In Living Color. So it's kind of a no-brainer.

After the taping a few weekends ago, I was singing this song for days ("heat up the griddle cuz that bacon got sizzle!"). Oh, watch at your own risk.

Bacon in '08, preferably crispy.

[and arguably even better: go behind the scenes here]


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Kings of Leon / We Are Scientists / The Stills @ Fillmore Denver

[Keith Murray of opening band We Are Scientists]

On Thursday night, the prodigal sons of preacher Leon were out in fine form at the Fillmore in Denver. Playing to a sold-out crowd, Kings of Leon opened with their current steamy single "Sex on Fire" and pushed through the early technical difficulties with the swagger of "My Party."

Minus the long hair and cleaned up like school photo day, the clan kept it tight through through pent-up rockers like "Four Kicks" (which always makes me feel like I want to, well, kick somebody) and my favorite song off Because Of The Times, "Fans" (to my unbridled delight). Some of their newer material felt a little sludgy but definitely hit a high point with "Use Somebody," which is a fantastic song and sounds epic live. Although for me they never quite hit the same sweaty frenzy of the last time I saw them at the smaller Ogden Theater, they --and possibly their sex, although this is unverified at press time-- were still on fire.

Off Canada's Arts & Crafts label, The Stills opened the night (always the bridesmaids, never the brides -- although they totally could bring it as headliners themselves) followed by New York's We Are Scientists. The Gigbot photo booth was also out to capture all the fine looking hipsters in the crowd, and then there was me and Julio.

More pics (The Stills, then the rest of KOL):

Beneath The Surface (Sex on Fire 7" b-side) - Kings of Leon
Snow In California - The Stills
In Action - We Are Scientists

Bonus: an intimidating track to attempt -- how do you learn the words?

Hoppípolla (Sigur Ros cover) - We Are Scientists

All pics from the night here.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ben Nichols (of Lucero) and The Gaslight Anthem cover Johnny Cash

Today marks the release of All Aboard: A Tribute To Johnny Cash, featuring The Gaslight Anthem and Ben Nichols of Lucero in a one-two punch, along with artists like Chuck Ragan, Dresden Dolls (featuring Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady) and a variety of other punk/indie/Americana bands. Some artists I've not previously heard of, but they do the songs an interesting turn. Aside from a few missteps, in general the rough edges of this collection suit the songs well.


1. Man In Black - The Bouncing Souls
2. Country Boy - Fallen From The Sky
3. Wreck Of The Old ’97 - Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music)
4. Let The Train Whistle Blow - Joe McMahon (Smoke or Fire)
5. Delia’s Gone - Ben Nichols (Lucero)
6. God’s Gonna Cut You Down - The Gaslight Anthem
7. Cocaine Blues - The Loved Ones
8. Give My Love To Rose - OnGuard (feat. Jason Shevchuk of Kid Dynamite and None More Black)
9. I Still Miss Someone - Casey James Prestwood (Hot Rod Circuit)
10. Hey Porter - MxPx
11. Cry, Cry, Cry - The Flatliners
12. Ballad of a Teenage Queen - The Dresden Dolls feat. Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady
13. Folsom Prison Blues - Chon Travis (Love = Death)
14. There You Go - The Sainte Catherines
15. I Walk The Line - Russ Rankin (Good Riddance, Only Crime)

Bonus Track/Vinyl only: Delia’s Gone (Alternate Version) - Ben Nichols (Lucero)

All proceeds benefit the Syrentha Savio Endowment for underprivileged breast cancer patients; we can all rock for breasts. That seems like a pretty unifying and worthy cause. Buy the album for ten bucks on Anchorless Records.

Also, good neighbors take note: Ben Nichols and Chuck Ragan are playing (along with Tim Barry, Jon Snodgrass and Austin Lucas) tomorrow and Thursday nights in Colorado as part of this "Revival Tour." Hallelujah.

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New contest :: Calexico's moustache hat poster

Insound is partnering with Fuel/Friends to offer a sweet limited-edition Calexico poster designed by the fearsome Jason Munn of Small Stakes in San Francisco. If you are a fan of the burnished southwestern wilderness in Calexico's music, moustaches, or excellent poster design, this is the contest for you. Enter to win here, and the lucky reader will be announced next Tuesday.

There's a whole series of posters and hoodies Munn's designed for artists like The Hold Steady, The National, Okkervil River and Grizzly Bear. It's part of the Insound 20 project to benefit 826NYC, and I like the clean and direct graphic punch of the entire collection.

Some of my favorite Calexico sounds:
Always On My Mind - Calexico with Iron & Wine (live on NPR)
Banderilla - Calexico (from the Sprout soundtrack)
Two Silver Trees - Calexico (from the newest release, Carried To Dust)

Good luck!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Prabir And The Substitutes!!

This summer I listened to a hand-labeled CD marked "Prabir And The Substitutes" in simple Sharpie script at least a dozen times through from front to back in a single week. If you could see the avalanche of submissions awaiting my feeble attention, then you would see what a feat this is -- for one little album to ensnare my attention so thoroughly on repeat and not let me up for air. It was the perfect soundtrack to a good chunk of my July, and rediscovering it at the first chill of October I realize that I never gave it the love I intended.

Prabir And The Substitutes are from Richmond, Virginia, and have been making --and self-releasing-- music together since 2005. From the opening track about kissing below, the album explodes with bold and radiant sunshine harmonies. At first blush it feels simple, innocent, and very familiar, but soon they become a bit unwound as the album rolls along with the ragged edge and influences that modern day kids understand so well (I mean, we all know the punk, we all know the rock). Blunt lyrics of sexual frustration over kickin' piano crescendos sound like Jerry Lee Lewis using the kind of language he probably always wanted to use (umm, with his... cousin?). A capella harmonies and handclaps abound, but with enough crunch and scream to balance out the sugar.

These are the first two songs on Five Little Pieces, a delightfully fresh and welcome collection of tunes. Paste Magazine named them Band of the Week this summer, around the same time I was undergoing my weeks of obsession.

The Kiss - Prabir & The Substitutes
Bad Days Are A-Comin' - Prabir & The Substitutes

After touring with Dr. Dog, they play a hometown Halloween show in Richmond, Virginia and are on the road in the coming months. And although their MySpace lists an aspiring triumvirate of "Sony, Warner Brothers, AND Universal" as label, they are currently unsigned.

[top photo by Steve Cross]


Friday night: Mountain Goats with Kaki King in Denver

There's a scene in Elf where Will Ferrell's character, as naive and untainted by the world as he is, falls for Zooey Deschanel's shopgirl character. He stretches out his arms wide and yells, "I'm in LOVE! And I don't care who knows it!!"

As I stood four feet from John Darnielle and his rotating crew of Mountain Goats at a sold-out show at the Bluebird on Friday night, I found myself thinking the same thing, with almost that same embarrassingly unabashed fervor.

Darnielle is not hip. He is too vulnerable and transparent, too honest in his lyrics and unselfconscious in his delivery to be cool. Combine that with the potent gut-punch of the songs and you've got a memorable evening. Amidst exuberantly lame dance moves (me too John! Me too) he spat out lyrics of hope and despair, and rocked and tore through an amazing range of intelligent and gorgeous songs from his catalog. As Rob Sheffield wrote about Pavement in the awesome Love Is A Mix Tape, "The songs were all either fast or sad, because all songs should either be fast or sad. Some of the fast ones were sad, too." For being as obviously intelligent and well-read as Darnielle is, he hasn't forgotten how to rock, and rock loud.

In addition to new songs off Heretic Pride and the Satanic Messiah EP, they also played some rare back-catalog tunes ("Genesis 19:1-2"), and closed the main set with "This Year." Those final moments with the whole crowd yelling along were among my cathartic concert highlights of this entire year. It was, for me, transcendent and very timely.

Darnielle has Wilco-like fans in their rabidity. Whenever I go to a show of an artist I've not seen live before, and the fans are like that, I pay extra close attention to the proceedings so I can investigate catching whatever fever led them to be foaming at the mouth in the first place. In between a crazy variety of song names being shouted as requests, the range of hardcore fans was noteworthy. I saw everyone from early high-schoolers (I think it was an all-ages show) singing along at the top of their innocent hearts, to burly biker dudes and everyone in-between.

I missed opener Kaki King because I was hauling heavy things onto moving trucks, but she came out and joined Darnielle for a good chunk of the set on her guitar, alternating between acoustic and electric and even playing some slide guitar down on the floor. She is the guest guitarist on that eloquent instrumental ballad from the latest Foo Fighters' album, "The Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners," as well as a collaborator with Tegan & Sara. Her distinctive style can also be heard on the new EP collaboration with Darnielle, the Black Pear Tree EP (she wrote music, he wrote lyrics). They performed "Mosquito Repellent" from that EP together, wide smiles across their faces.

The show ended too soon and left my cheeks flushed. Somewhere in these lyrics Darnielle sang, the night remains suspended:

Do what you have to do
Go where you have to go
When the time comes to loosen up your grip, you'll know

Called my friend in New York, 3000 miles away
Halfway through her metamorphosis, nothing I could say
Hoard my small resentments
Like rare and priceless gems
Hang on to your dreams until there's nothing left of them

All pics here

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Friday, October 17, 2008

there's gonna come a day when you'll feel better, you'll rise up easy on that day

John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats hit Denver's Bluebird Theater tonight with Kaki King, in a show billed as "The Last Happy Night of Your Life." That sounds promising. I am truly madly deeply looking forward to seeing Darnielle if I manage to get the U-Haul truck loaded in my driveway in time (it's moving weekend!). I hope to not miss it.

Darnielle is one of the most piercing lyricists of our generation, writing songs that combine hyperliterate mythical/biblical imagery with eviscerating emotional honesty. He has a way of writing a lyric that hones in on exactly the way a situation feels, and even though you'd never thought to express it in those words yourself, it feels like he's coalescing a truth inside you that you've known all your life.

Take a listen to these alternate versions of songs from the limited-edition vinyl Come, Come To The Sunset Tree. According to the cover, "this vinyl edition of the sunset tree consists of songs recorded at home in north carolina."

Love Love Love (demo) - The Mountain Goats [lyrics]
You Or Your Memory (demo) - The Mountain Goats [lyrics]
Up The Wolves (demo) - The Mountain Goats [lyrics]

There's also a great interview with Darnielle on the Denver Post's site right now, where Darnielle reveals a recent obsession with Amy Grant (oh John, the songs I could sing) and talks about the catharsis of this amazing song live in concert:

This Year (live in San Francisco) - The Mountain Goats [lyrics]

[from this set from Noise Pop in San Francisco; still one of the best live recordings I've heard from TMG]


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Damien Hirst exhibit, MCA Denver

On Friday I went to the opening night of the Damien Hirst gallery exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Denver. Hirst is a modern British artist who I probably first heard about when watching the Live Forever documentary about British pop culture in the Nineties. He was mentioned in the same breath as Oasis and Blur, as an artist who embodied the break from the old, the hedonism, and the challenging of new boundaries.

The first piece of Hirst's that I saw was last October when I went to visit my best girls in New York City. His most famous piece The Physical Impossibility of Death In The Mind of Someone Living (1991) is a 12 foot tiger shark suspended in bluish-green formaldehyde. That's it. There was a layer of shark oil floating on the top. Leaking. I will admit I felt like prey, standing there in front of its huge jaws, looking at its rows of teeth, so impotent, so harmless now.

This current exhibit in Denver (now through August '09) consists of four pieces, but the most buzzed about is the St Sebastian, Exquisite Pain (2007), because, well, it's a gutted calf strung to a steel post, pierced through with arrows. And there's formaldehyde again. Two of the other pieces involve butterflies --so gorgeous and ethereal in life-- dead and pasted onto painted canvases en masse, while the final is a portion of his famous Pharmacy display (1992) of bottles and pills and potions stoically beaming from shelves.

As one who cut my own art history teeth on Renaissance art and the search for the beautiful, the transcendent, Hirst's exhibit raises interesting talking points about what art is, and what (if anything) its function can be. My companion to the show is a fierce visual artist herself, so I enjoyed bouncing ideas off her -- what is he trying to say or make us think about with this one? Threads of death and life and pain and modern apathy all came up in our conversations.

The calf startled me in several ways. I felt nothing but detached when I looked at him front on. Then to my right, and around to the back -- brutal but clinical. But when I moved around to the fourth side, suddenly there was something sad and familiar and almost sensual about the curve of his head as it lay to the side. Strange and startling to see a bit of that ecstasy-in-death that I am so familiar with in Renaissance art. I had similar thoughts while studying the hundreds of butterflies arranged in neat geometric patterns in death. That's what I appreciate about contemporary art -- the ability to ambush you.

St. Andrew (The Battle Is In The Air) - White Stripes
Butterfly Nets - Bishop Allen
The Drugs Don't Work (live on Jools Holland, 1997) - The Verve


Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

This last week I started twittering. Suddenly all the small moments in my life are memorialized in 140 characters or less. So now in addition to being able to keep up with what some of my favorite real-life friends are doing RIGHT THIS MINUTE, I've also laughed daily at the twitter feed of writer Joshua Green Allen aka fireland. I don't know him for reals but I first read about him over on Heather's Dooce blog, and he turns out to live up in Denver. Now, my Denver is never as fun as his Denver, but now I can chuckle at his twitter feeds like: "First time I've ever been fired for sexual harassment during a job interview, but your sick gams ARE my biggest managerial weakness."

Allen also penned a great article about the perfect length for a song, and posits that it "had to be closer to three minutes than two, but definitely shorter than three minutes. Three minutes is where bloat starts to set in. Where the band thinks: Hey, let's do the chorus seven times. Hey, let's give the saxophone guy a real moment to shine on this one. Hey, let's add another bridge."

He goes on to give some love to The La's "There She Goes" as the ultimately perfect song of that perfect length. In sum, a man after my own heart. Listen to the 2:42 muxtape too if you're in an abbreviated mood.

Music for this week:

Pop Song

This Portland band played on Saturday at Denver's Hi-Dive but I was literally still trying to thaw under my comforter from a freezing afternoon attempting to understand Australian Rules Football in a friend's tournament over at the Air Force Academy. Starfucker rocked the joint, and I dozed cozily. But I'll bet the cool kids there enjoyed their sound -- sexy but not sleazy, light but with an undercurrent of electronic grime. I think this song should have played in Empire Records; it's got that mid-90s innocence and pop heft. Starfucker's self-titled debut is out now on Badman, and their cover of Madonna's "Burnin' Up" is also streaming on RCRDLBL. Worth noting, they are neither the NIN song nor the Belgian band of the same name, but apparently this recreational hobby seems to be hitting its stride.

Balloons (Foals cover) - Holy Fuck
Balloons (original) - Foals
Hey, while we're already using words that make my mom blush, let's throw this little nugget in here as well. This week Foals and Holy Fuck released a collaboration/mutual admiration society 12" where they each covered one of the other's songs. These dudes both played Monolith, so I like to picture them sitting down at the oxygen bar and coming up with this idea amidst the red rocks. It could happen. To get the vice-versa cover (Super Inuit), click here. The split 12" is out now on white vinyl via Young Turks, or on their tour(s).

Satanic Messiah
Mountain Goats

As I write this Sunday night (35° outside!), I've been listening to Mountain Goats on shuffle while I pack and go through stuff I'd rather not look through in prep for moving this next weekend. The poetic ache of Darnielle's lyrics, his indignation and passion keep these songs on repeat. The newly-released Satanic Messiah EP is not Darnielle's foray into black metal but rather a lovely 4-song acoustic collection with religious metaphor themes (not uncommon in his songs). Of these songs, Darnielle writes, "I am fond of them; they remind me of old vanished things." This particular tune is ostensibly about going to see a show or performance, and how "we were all made young when he stepped onto the stage, like an animal escaping from his cage," and then sings about how they all were "too dazed to leave when it was over." Mountain Goats play Denver on Friday night with Kaki King, and I'm going to hope for something similar.

I Can't Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt cover)
Denison Witmer
No, really. Listen to this cover, even if you haven't given Bonnie Raitt much thought since you (like my sister) sang this song in Pops Choir in high school. Philadelphia folk artist Denison Witmer loves covers as much as I do, and he's taken to releasing a whole slew of them for free in his achingly stripped-down style. Through his MySpace and a partnership with the ace Cover Lay Down blog, Denison has been giving away free songs on a regular basis, including ones originally by Band of Horses, Oasis, Van Morrison and Red House Painters. This particular one is my favorite of the batch. It starts with a settling in a room; you can hear the grey empty space starkly bouncing back his plaintive, resigned voice. It is an absolutely devastating song, and especially the way he does it -- all void and defeated. Witmer's new album Carry The Weight is out November 11th, and side project alert: check out his River Bends band with Steve Yutzey-Burkey of The Swimmers.

Urban Lull (At Once Charmed)
The Umbrella Sequence
I've said it before, but our local community college radio station is one of the best I've ever listened to. They have turned my ears on to so many things that I previously missed, like The Umbrella Sequence from Minneapolis. This song came over my car speakers the other day and I was instantly addicted and turned it way up. With sunshiney chiming pop melodies that fight valiantly (and occasionally win) through a scratchy wall of fuzz and electronica, they garner comparisons to Flaming Lips and Super Furry Animals. This is the lead-off track from last year's Events (on Princess Records), and like a good aspiring rock star, Ryan Rupprecht sings over and over "We're all getting bored" -- but no, I am definitely not. Great song.

OH, A CLOSING PLEA: Help me think of fabulous Halloween costume ideas, potentially surrounding a long red dress with marvelous sequin trim I found in my basement? I also have a red feather boa, if that helps (or perhaps doesn't). Or suggest something completely different. I'll probably be at the Girl Talk show first that night, so I could go dressed as a hipster in neon sunglasses.

Or just this, I suppose. That would be amazing. [via]

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Members Of Twisted Sister Now Willing To Take It

Although they would prefer not to. Via The Onion.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

New from the Avetts :: Family gospel salvation

It feels like I've been posting about the Avett Brothers a lot, but that's because I've been listening to them a lot. They make my blood hot, and then sometimes they make things shift around loose inside of me. So that's real good.

According to their MySpace page, they hope to have a new release ready for sale at their shows starting November 1. Continuing under the presumption that family members make the best band members, it is a gospel album called Jim Avett and Family. According to a North Carolinian fan on their message boards, the cover photo of the album (above) is the Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church where their dad Jim is a member, the church the brothers grew up in. The same fan also wrote that it was the first place he ever saw the Avett Brothers live, in the fellowship hall for a small donation right after they had signed with Ramseur Records.

I'd imagine that it might sound something like this:

I'll Fly Away - The Avett Brothers

(from the 2002 album Live At The Double Door Inn)

After this gospel foray, the next thing we can look forward to is their Rick Rubin-produced album in 2009, their first on the Columbia imprint American Recordings.


Friday, October 10, 2008

"...Like an addiction -- you gotta do that so you can go home happy" :: One Track Mind surf film & music

Woodshed Films is the surf film collaborative through which brothers Chris and Emmett Malloy (along with Tim Lynch, Jack Johnson, and other artists) have turned out artistic surf culture films like Thicker Than Water, Sprout, Brokedown Melody and Shelter.

I appreciate how their work turns a daring eye towards breathtaking natural cinematography, and captures a raw & pure excitement for surfing that I can catch onto even though those damn surfboards have never cooperated with my specific self. Their films succeed at what good filmmaking is supposed to do (what good anything is supposed to do, really -- writing, music included): they make you feel the way it feels, and they show you why they love it.

In addition to the graceful arcs of the ocean and the powerful control exerted by the surfers they follow, their films are always accompanied by some fantastic soundtracks. Not surprising since The Malloys are also heavily involved with the Brushfire Records label, which began with Jack Johnson as an outcropping of their film soundtracks. Check the trailer for their new film One Track Mind which premieres on Facebook next week.

Is There A Ghost - Band of Horses

How perfectly does that song align?! The visuals demonstrate all my favorite majestic aspects of that song, the way it shimmers and breaks. Here's the rest of the One Track Mind soundtrack:

One Track Mind - Soundtrack

Not too shabby.

When I spoke with Mason Jennings back in May, he mentioned that he was working with the Woodshed guys and James Mercer from The Shins on the 2009 film 180° South about the pristine Patagonia region of South America. I've been waiting eagerly for that collaboration since then (fueled by the bus-singalong video clip Stereogum featured). You can finally hear some of their joint endeavor now -- featuring virtuoso whistling which may or may not be the otherworldy skills of Andrew Bird.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Will Johnson soulful, acoustic: "I, The Kite"

Listening to my friend Dainon's quality eclectic radio show tonight on KRCL.org reminds me of this achingly potent video that he shared with me recently. Shot live in the KRCL Studios in Salt Lake City, it captures Will Johnson (of both Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel), the heartfelt grit in his voice, and the striking literary nature of this song. This live version is a little slower than the album version, and whole heck of a lot sadder.

UPDATE, 6:38AM: Since I woke up and this is the first song I played --on repeat five times before I was even all the way awake-- I think it's safe to call this today's obsession. It's all I want to listen to. I ripped the audio because this live version is so bittersweet and heartbreaking:

I, The Kite (live on KRCL) - Will Johnson

UPDATE, 11:07AM: A reader just pointed me in the direction of a bit more album-faithful but equally fantastic version from Daytrotter a few weeks ago. Will shares, "Written right before the separation with my ex-wife. I was definitely zeroed in on some of that unraveling that was going on with that relationship. I hate to say it, but it’s a souvenir of that." Eh, well that punched me in the gut; I guess it's no wonder that it resonates so heavily with me.

I, The Kite (live on Daytrotter) - Centro-Matic
[full session here]


In the morning we were scorned in some overcrowded dream
With new faces, black erasers, and a D-movie like scream
And you smiled in a way that gets you into casting calls for life
But your blouses of corruption ripped your dreams right out of sight

And we tried innocence and tried formaldehyde
In the end you were left with the string and I, the kite

So we’re older and the soldering iron at your side
Fixed the damage of the organ cutter before he could really start
And you smiled in a way that gets you on the guestlist, say, for life
That’s as useless as a screen door on an operating submarine

And we tried innocence and tried formaldehyde
In the end you were left with the string and I, the kite

[From the 2008 double album Dual Hawks]

RELATED: Check the audio from the South San Gabriel set at Denver's Hi-Dive just a few days later.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"La la laaa laaa" :: Yael Naim live session / contest for Aspen show

The lovely French-Tunisian-Israeli songstress Yael Naim (ah, yes -- from that commercial ... aaand now you're singing it all day) stopped in at the Frontstage Studios in France at the beginning of this year for an absolutely charming, lighthearted set of acoustic tunes. I've been enjoying the casual ukelele vibe of her performance all day. There's some singing in French and a Britney Spears cover, so yeah -- take a listen.

January 2008

New Soul
Find Us
Toxic (Britney Spears cover)

Yael is currently on tour, swinging through the Belly Up in Aspen on Sunday, October 19th. Colorado peeps, would you like to go? I've got a pair of tickets. Leave me a comment, maybe say something nice. It's still random winners but still you can always say something nice.

[audio via deaf indie elephants]

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Pete Yorn's American Blues (with Frank Black)

That scruffy troubadour in the Omaha studio with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes/Saddle Creek) isn't Jim Morrison in the Paris years, nor is it Jesus, we don't think. That is one Pete Yorn back recording new music. The formidable Frank Black of the Pixies has also been joining him in recent months for "new explorations in music," and all the results are expected in the form of an album rumored to be called American Blues.

American Blues, Vol. 1 - Pete Yorn

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Okay, so who wants to go to New Orleans for the Voodoo Music Experience?

Me! I want to go explore New Orleans and see some bands like R.E.M., Nine Inch Nails, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Old 97s, Thievery Corporation, Mars Volta, Ghostland Observatory, and Sharon Jones with her sassy Dap Kings.

The Voodoo Music Experience takes over New Orleans on October 24-25-26th. Fuel/Friends has a pair of tickets to the festival to give to one of you guys because we love you. Please note, transportation no es includio. So get yourself to N'awlins and I'll help you rock. Leave me a comment and tell me something interesting (oh, and how to contact you) and we'll do a random drawing next Monday morning.

Don't know how you do the voodoo that you do, as some wise sage once said.

PS On the contest tip: Two of you still need to claim your Brian Wilson prizes (kouzie and Jamoo, I'm talkin to you).


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