Archive for May, 2013

harpers maySOUNDTRACK: LAURA VEIRS-“Sun Song” (2013).

lauraI know of Laura Veirs from her work with The Decemberists, but as she’s mostly a backup singer (and occasional lead), I couldn’t really say I knew her very well.  So I was delighted to hear this song that she had written and to see just how great it is,.

The song begins with a simple folk guitar and pizzicato pluckings. Veirs’ voice has an innocence that I really love—gentle but clean.  The chorus brings an unexpected harmony vocals and vibrato but nothing prepares you for the feedback squalls that the new electric guitars bring in.

The song doesn’t get faster, just a little noisier—it reminds me of the best Sarah Harmer tracks.   Then the electric guitar goes away and the song feels fuller somehow.  The end of the song introduces a  kind of call and response which adds a cool new element until it all relaxes back into its original mellow style.

I really like this song and need to hear more from Veirs.  And I see that she has released a whole bunch of albums, so there’s a lot to choose from.

[READ: May 30, 2013] “Loyalty”

This story begins with a pretty straightforward sentiment: “As much as I love her, I blame Astrid.  Astrid told my wife, Corinne, that she could achieve happiness if only she’d leave me.”  Indeed, Astrid made a regular suggestion out of it–leave him, be free.  And so finally Corinne did–she left him alone with their son, Jeremy.  Initially Jeremy wrote to Corinne but eventually the replies were fewer and further between and he gave up.

Wes was crushed, but soon after he fell in love with Astrid and they got married.  I love the way it is presented:

The minute Corinne was gone, Astrid showed up. I don’t recall that, prior to that day, we had so much as exchanged a moody, sparking glance. She took me into her expert arms. It was consolation and sympathy at first, I guess. I didn’t question it. In about the time it takes to change the painted background in a photographer’s studio from a woodland scene to a brick wall, she had left her boyfriend and was presenting me with casseroles and opened bottles of cold beer.

We never really learn if Astrid had planned this all along.  It seems like it, but it’s not like Wes is a huge catch.  Corinne’s divorce request went though with no trouble or custody problems.  And soon he and Astrid had a new child, a daughter, Lucy.  Then they saw Corinne on TV, on a show about runaway moms–Wes asks, what would make her do such a thing–and no reasonable answer is given. (more…)


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harpers maySOUNDTRACK: SHEARWATER & SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Stop Dragging My Heart Around” (2013).

Shearwater-Sharon_RSDEverybody knows this song.  It was  way overplayed (overplayed enough that Weird Al parodied it in 1983).  So I can’t say I was all that excited to hear this cover.

What’s nice about it though is that if you’ve heard a song a million times, hearing a slightly (not radically) different version can reintroduce it to you in a new way.

It’s noisy and clunky in the music–giving a more folkie vibe.  And while Sharon sounds a bit like Stevie Nicks—she gives that same raspy quality to it–she’s definitely not trying to be Stevie.  The Shearwater vocalist does moderate mimic of Petty—enough to show that he knows what the original sounds like without duplicating it.  The whole feel has a kind of tossed off, less polished vibe that really works with the lyrics.

It turns out that this version is live and it was released on a  7″ single (but NPR gives it to us for free).  I like this version quite a bit although I do miss the “Ah ha has” and “Hey hey heys” in the bridge.

[READ: May 29, 2013] “The Gift”

This was a very strange little story.

In it, a woman wakes up after her house has flooded.  Not entirely, but there was certainly a few feet of water (she can see the residue marks).  What’s also strange is that she had not left her apartment for five days and she had just spent nearly $90 (the bulk of her grocery money) ordering a box of glacé apricots from Australia–in gold foil at extra cost–no less!

She feels guilty… but they just looked so good in the catalog.  Of course, so did the mosquito netting–but really what use had she for that?

She spent some time thinking about the Australians working in the glacé apricot factory–did they ever steal an apricot?  Were they hungry? Somehow she imagined them enshrouded in the mosquito netting.

She was awoken from her reverie by the water rushing around her living room–and the piglets grunting around in the mud. (more…)

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5.20SOUNDTRACK: SAVAGES-Live at KEXP (May 16, 2013).

savagesI heard some songs from the Savages album, and I loved them–that combination of 80’s punk and goth all wrapped up in current technologies and attitude.  A couple of their songs are some of my favorite of the year so far.  I’d also heard that they were even better live.  So here are four songs played live in the studio from KEXP.  And while the audio is awesome, they are a lot of fun to watch.

In fact, the more I watch the less I know who I am most impressed by–the amazing guitarist?  the great unaffected bassist?  the wild drummer?  They’re all a pleasure to watch.

But it also sounds great.  There’s some great soaring guitar sounds on “City’s Full” which really has a Patti Smith meets Siouxsie vibe.  And there’s that whole goth feel–the bass up front and dominant but with really big guitar chords and cool riffs.  And the drums, man she rocks out in the whole first half of “City’s Full.”   Then listen to the fabulous bass line that runs through “Shut Up.”   I love the way the low bass plays off the high guitars  (and the vocals sound very Siouxsie there).    And the drummer is amazing at the end of the song.

A great 80s echoey riff opens “She Will.”  I love when the song almost stops and it’s all fast cymbals and faster guitar (which is really cool in and of itself) until it builds back up.  And just look at her drumming at 10:20.  Wow. 

And the closer, Husbands” just gets more and more intense.  Like the crazy noisy cymbals.  And the way her voice soars and soars until it just stops.  Wow.

[READ: May 23, 2013] “The Dark Arts”

Julian is sick. Very sick.  So sick, in fact, that American doctors can’t seem to help him, can’t even seem to effectively diagnose him.  So he and his girlfriend Hayley have traveled to Europe for new medicines that the AMA hasn’t approved yet.  They travel to a few places first as a kind of romantic vacation and their ultimate destination is Düsseldorf.  It’s there where Julian will have his bone marrow drawn out, then boiled and tinkered with and then injected back into him.


But there’s been a snag.  On their way to Düsseldorf, they had a fight and Hayley stayed behind.  So Julian went to Düsseldorf to a hostel.  Every day he goes to the train station hoping to see Hayley show up.  He imagines what he must look like to the locals–a skeletal American wearing what must look like a death shroud.  He barely eats, he barely does anything.  In fact, he has more or less given up.

But his father and Hayley, they believe in him, they believe that these cures can help.  Indeed, his father has been so great through all this offering him anything he needs–money they don’t really have and unwavering support.

And then the story gets even more interesting–we find out that American doctors not only couldn’t diagnose him, but actually believed that there as nothing wrong with him. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_05_06_13Schossow.inddSOUNDTRACK: BOY-“Little Numbers” (Live at The Current, April 6, 2013) (2013).

boyI am totally hooked by this single–a song which sounds like the next huge Feist hit.  It’s got a great piano melody that just grabs on and won’t let go.

So how does the song hold up on acoustic guitars?  In a recent interview the two Swiss/German band members, Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass, say that the song was originally written in this slower more acoustic vein.  On first listen this version is not very appealing–there’s something so bubbly and bouncy and joyous about the single version.

The immediacy of the song is gone and the “woah-o” section seems more mournful than joyous.  I suppose it is actually more true to the original intent of the song (I read your name on every wall, is there  cure for me at all).  Although this version features Boy’s beautiful harmonies, especially the concluding moments, I still prefer the more upbeat single version.

[READ: May 21, 2013] “The Gray Goose”

When this story started, I was a little concerned that it was going to be another story about a repressed childhood under the thumb of an oppressive Jewish mother.  It begins by telling us that Miraim’s father left in 1948, when she was little.  One of the only presents she had been given was an album by Burl Ives.  And that album could be played on her family’s hi-fi/radio housed in a rosewood cabinet—“the most fantastical item of furniture in their lives.” Her father hated that they gave into consumerism to buy such a thing, but it was revered.  And all vinyl was held very delicately, as if a breath of air might warp it.

“The Gray Goose” was her favorite song and she listened to it often, trying to scrutinize the songs—just what was this gray goose that could not be killed, Lord, Lord, Lord.  (The traditional meaning of the gray goose that could not be killed appears to have something to do that with the hunter went hunting on the Sabbath, so the goose could not be killed). Although in the story, Miriam’s mother, Rose, says that the goose represents the heart of the working class.  For Rose and her husband, Albert were fiercely Communist.  We learn about Rose and Albert’s marriage—they were passionate about their beliefs, and this passion seemed to transmit to each other.  And then Rose got pregnant, so they married.  And then Rose had a miscarriage, but now they were stuck with each other so they decided to have a child—Miriam.  (His parents didn’t approve of any of it, especially Rose).

Then Albert was offered a job back in Germany—the only Jew to return to Germany so soon, and Rose and Miriam were on their own.  Well, Miriam was on her own, Rose had many many suitors, although none could stay the night.

That’s all back story for the evening of the action—the evening that Miriam and some friends have gone to Greenwich Village to a jazz club.  Miriam is precocious, having finished school a year early and started college (and apparently already dropped out).  She is out with some friends, the wonderfully named Rye Gogan, the horn-rimmed glasses-wearing Porter, assorted girlfriends and Miriam’s boyfriend who is referred to hilariously as Forgettable.  As in “of course Forgettable weighed in with, ‘What?’” (more…)

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2013_05_13_p139SOUNDTRACK: ELEANOR FRIEDBERG-“Stare at the Sun” (2013).

efI don’t know Eleanor Friedberg, who is part of the Fiery Furnaces.  This song is fast and bright.  It’s a pretty standard rock song with bright guitars, and there is definitely folk feel to it.

The real selling point of the song is Friedberg’s voice.  She sounds a bit like a 60’s-era male with a high voice (indeed, she reminds me a little of Russel Mael from Sparks).  Maybe I’ll think of her as a mix of Kirsty MacColl and Sparks.

I like this song.  It’s not amazing, but it has a real bouncy summer feel.  An enjoyable romp that bears repeated listens.

[READ: May 21, 2013] “Art Appreciation”

I read this story in two parts.  And when I finished the first part (about four pages in–the paragraph that ended “and he kissed her there for the first time”), I thought it was a delightful story.  A sweet story of young romance.  True, the main character is a bit of a douche: “Henry Taylor had always known he would have money one day, and this confidence was vindicated when his mother won the lottery.”  But I thought that maybe Eleanor, Ellie, would somehow make him a better person.  And that sweet kiss seemed like a wonderful start.

The year is 1961, the place is Australia (it took me a little time to figure that out).  Henry is a gambler–but a mostly winning gambler–he goes to the dog tracks on Friday nights, the horses on Saturday.  But Henry, who is 28,  is also a working man–a mid-level employee at an insurance firm.  And even after his mother won the lottery he didn’t quit his job (it was of course douchey to assume that his mother would somehow give him the money but that’s what he thought).  Despite his confidence about the money, he also didn’t want to show off about it.

Ellie had recently started working in Henry’s office. She was very attractive and he thought that “now that he had money, he would marry her” (geez, he gets douchier by the minute).  Soon enough he has asked her out.  And she happily accepts.  Ellie is 20.

Finally one Sunday Henry’s mother says that she is moving to Victoria with her sister and giving him the house–she wants to see him settled.  He imagined selling the house and buying something closer to the city.

That night he visited Kath.  Kath is his un-serious girlfriend.  He tells her that their fun is over, that he is dating Ellie now so this will be their last fling.  He also has the douchiness to tell her that he has won the lottery.

Soon we learn what the title refers to, Ellie goes to art appreciation classes on Friday nights.  She asks Henry to walk her to class, which he does.  Henry stays for this one and doesn’t like it.  He sits with another bloke who asks if he was dragged there, too.  But she is so excited by the class, art is her passion.  They have a nice dinner together and they kiss for the first time.

And I thought that was nice.

But there’s more. (more…)

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arborSOUNDTRACK: DAVID BYRNE-uh oh (1992).

uhohI received this CD free when it came out (radio station perk), and I listened to it a few times, but not really all that much.  I never really thought that much about it because I didn’t really like the cover–it looked too babyish.  It’s been a while since I listened to it and I am delighted at what a good, solid, Talking Heads-ish album this is (with David Byrne, you never know exactly what you’ll get from a record, but this is poppy).

“Now I’m Your Mom” opens with an early 90s funky electronic bass and some crazy guitar sounds.  But as soon as the bridge kicks in, the song is pure Byrne/Talking Heads.  And that world music style chorus means that this song could have been huge (even if it is about a transvestite or transgendered person–I didn’t listen that carefully).  However, the extended section at the end makes the song feel a little long.  “Girls on My Mind” is a strange (but good) song from start to finish—a weird cheesy synth sound pervades the song, and yet once again, it’s very Byrne—especially the crazy singing of the chorus.

“Something Ain’t Right” opens with an odd chant but then turns very conventional—with choral voices giving big oohs.  “She’s Mad” opens as a kind of sinister song.  And yet, after some verses about her being mad, the chorus is as bright as anything else on the record—a very schizophrenic song.  “Hanging Upside Down” has a very commercial Talking Heads Feel, like “Stay Up Late.”

“Twistin’ in the Wind” has more of those big choruses of voices to “well well well” up the song.  “The Cowboy Mambo” has another weird sound that circulates through the song, but it’s got a good beat and a great chorus and it would be fun to dance to.  “Monkey man” is a horn-heavy track that opens in a sinister vein once again.  “A Million Miles Away” just gets stuck with you and makes you want to sing along.  “Somebody” ends the disc with more Latin horns and rhythms.  It’s a fun song, and a good ending.

Overall, this is a surprisingly good record.  All of the songs are a little long–Byrne songs should really max out around 4 minutes.  For that extra time, he either tends to repeat himself or add superfluous codas that drag out the end.  But aside from that, this is a real treat, especially for Talking Heads fans.

[READ: May 20 2013] Arboretum

The back of the book describes this as a collection of enigmatic, enchanting mental maps.

And that is kind of what the book is.  It is a collection of drawings–tree and branch-style drawings mostly–that endeavor to map relationships.  But the subject matter is crazily diverse–oftentimes nonsensical or at the very least unparseable.  The good news is that many of the drawings have an explanatory text in the back of the book.  I acknowledge that ideally the drawings should make sense without needing an explanation, but the explanations were really useful–they really give you the frame of mind that Byrne was trying to explain through the pictures. (more…)

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bikesSOUNDTRACK: ARCHIE PELAGO-“Avocado Roller” (2013).

archie-563227e1389d31573229dc9d8c7651d5cda681a0-s1I’d never heard of Archie Pelago (get it?).  This is an instrumental that begins with lots of electronic percussion, creating  complex rhythms and beats. It’s funky, but mildly funky.  Then after about a minute or so, there’s some music thrown on top–layers of sounds that are interesting. Then comes a weird sax solo–is this suddenly smooth jazz?  Then we gets some voices and spoken word, all working to create an instrumental soundscape.

I can see this in a movie, although I wouldn’t choose to listen to it myself.

[READ: May 19, 2013] Bicycles Locked to Poles

I recall when this book came out from McSweeney’s and I remember thinking what a weird idea–a book of pictures of bicycles locked to poles.  I thought it sounded … I don’t know… weird.  So, when I saw it used for a penny I decided to check it out.  And indeed, nearly ten years later it’s still weird.

It is an incredibly audacious book as it is literally just pictures of bicycles locked to poles (and an occasional tree).  The book is broken down into four parts, although there is no difference between the parts–it’s just more pictures.  And there is no text at all.  Except for a chart on the front and back inside cover which shows what pats of the bike were left in the picture (an unusual index which could be useful if you were doing some kind of study of the state of bicycles left to poles, but something which is not terribly useful in this book).  Categories include: Frame, fork, front wheel–spokes, steering–grips, comfort–saddle, options–front basket. (more…)

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