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Archive for the ‘Calexico’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT-The Lion’s Roar (2012).

This album was my first exposure to First Aid Kit and I immediately loved the harmonies and the dark but positive-sounding vocals.

I’m probably one of ten people on earth who doesn’t love Bright Eyes, but I love the production by Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis (with contributions from Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott and band leader Conor Oberst–maybe I need to re-listen to Bright Eyes).

The first song I’d heard was the opening cut “The Lion’s Roar.”  The song starts with a minor key guitar chord progression and “electronic flute.”  It’s atmospheric and a bit spooky-sounding, but when they come in with the chorus “And I’m a goddamn coward, but then again so are you” in wonderful harmony that is at times right on and other times kind of dissonant, it’s goose-bump-inducing.  Oh wow. what a moment

Pitchfork describes that electronic flute as “one deeply eerie flute tone that lingers throughout, floating in and out of scenes like a sly specter” and that’s pretty accurate.

It’s followed by “Emmylou” the most gorgeous country song I’ve ever heard, complete with pedal steel guitar and a wonderfully evocative chorus: “I’ll be your Emmylou, and I’ll be your June/ If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny, too,” (do watch them sing it to Emmylou Harris at an award ceremony and watch her brought to tears).

“In The Hearts Of Men” slows things down with some wonderful moments as the sisters sing the “la la las” throughout the chorus.  Once again, there’s surprisingly dark lyrics for two women around 23 and 21.  And speaking of dark lyrics, the pretty xylophone and guitar play a chirpy melody in “Blue” which has this stark and dark verse:

And the only man you ever loved / You thought was gonna marry you / Died in a car accident when he was only 22 / Then you just decided, love wasn’t for you / And every year since then / Has proved it to be true

Damn.  How does a song with that lyrics have a beautiful soaring chorus that is so uplifting and Abba-esque and yet again lyrically:

But you’re just a shell of / Your former you / That stranger in the mirror / Oh, that’s you / Why’d you look so blue?

“This Old Routine” features more of that uncanny, how are you only 21 years old lyrics sung with such beautiful harmony (and delicate mandolin sprinkled in):

This old routine will drive you mad
It’s just a mumble never spoken out loud
And sometimes you don’t even know why you loved her.
Well you look at her now, and you see why.

The second half of the song has strings and such, playing a simple five note melody.  There’s a moment near the end where the strings play that five note riff and its followed by the mandolin playing the same melody one step up and it’s just gorgeous.

“To a Poet” has a fast tight guitar melody.  As the song builds, a harmonium is added.  The chorus goes in a high register until the simple catchy end line: “There’s nothing more to it / I just get through it.”  The poet in question is Frank O’Hara

But Frank put it best when he said
“You can’t plan on the heart”
Those words keep me on my feet
When I think I might just fall apart

The string section ending is bit of a surprise since neither one of them palsy on it but it does add some nice texture to this song that has just grown from a tiny guitar to full orchestration over the course of 6 minutes.

That cool flute sound returns on “I Found a Way,” as it runs through the falsetto-filled chorus.  “Dance To Another Tune” slows things down for a while until the middle features another string section.  This time the sisters add their “bah bah bahs” to it and it sound terrific.

“New Year’s Eve” brings back the autoharp (you can really hear the plectrum zipping along the strings–something I’ve never noticed when others play it).  It’s a suitably quiet song with a gentle harmony on the final line of the chorus: “that’s what’s going to save me.”  And I love that no other instrumentation is added.

The end of the record is quite different from anything else.  “King of the World’ is a dynamic romp, easily their fastest, loudest, stompingest song.  It’s got a full band behind them and a vocal turn from Conor Oberst.  There’s all kinds of strings and mandolin tucked in the corners that peek out here and there.  There’s even horns which sound a bit like Calexico.

This album is just fantastic.  And their harmonies get better and more confident with each album.

[READ: January 22, 2018] “Writing Teacher”

I have not really enjoyed any of the stories I’ve read by Wideman.  This was the first one that I felt was on the right path to my enjoyment.  And then it kind of drifted away from me at the end.

It also features one of the things I hate most in stories–more on that in a moment.

This is the story of a writing teacher.  He is reading and reviewing a story by a student, Teresa McConnell who, “wants to help other people.”  The story “wishes to save the life of its main character, a young woman of color, a few years out of high school, single, child to support, no money, shitty job, living with her mother who never misses an I-told-you-so chance to criticize her daughter’s choices.”

What I hate most in stories comes a few sentences later: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-Peaceful Ghosts (2016).

Six years after the release of the Brussels live album (and 13 years after recording it!), Nada Surf released another live album.  This one featuring an orchestra.  Apparently Austrian radio station FM4 offered the band the yearly slot they give to a rock outfit to be backed by an orchestra for a whole concert. A similar session with Radio Eins in Berlin enabled the band to extend the collaboration with the Babelsberg Film Orchestra over two shows.  It is the show with Babelsberg on June 21 that was recorded.

I have often wondered what makes a band play with an orchestra.  So it’s interesting to learn that they were invited. What made the orchestra choose them is something else entirely.  Caws says that they were recording their new album when they got the call for this, so they sent over their friend (and occasional touring member) Martin Wenk (of Calexico) to supervise the project with composer Max Knuth.

So perhaps because the band didn’t participate entirely, or maybe just because that’s what they wanted to do, this recording is not a rework of the songs. Rather, it’s Nada Surf with an orchestral backing.  But Caws’ songs and voice are quite suited to this treatment.  They avoid their heavier songs and stay with primarily their mid-tempo stuff (wisely avoiding an orchestral version of “Popular”).  This gives the performance a bit of a samey quality, but each song sounds lovely.  Sometimes the strings are just there to accentuate the songs, but other times they really add power to the emotions.  They had recently added former Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard to the lineup (“we hope to never be a trio again”) but despite his occasional solos, the flourishes comes from horns and strings more than guitars.

The album almost feels like a Storytellers session with Matthew Caws telling origins stories before each song.  Some of the stories are really quite fascinating.  Some just give some nice insights into the songs.  My favorite was the one before “Blizzard of ’77.”

It’s expensive to rehearse in New York.  No one has a garage and there are no basements, so they rehearsed in a space that cost $20/hr.  When they were in high school they could only afford two times a week.  So they played loud and fast to get everything out.  Later, they were touring in Amsterdam sharing a hotel room with Daniel.  He didn’t want to wake up Daniel so he went into the bathroom to write and that’s how their first quiet song came out. (it’s fascinating how short it is too).

The somewhat more unlikely story is for “Rushing” in which he says that a relationship can sometimes make you forget your own body dysmorphia:  “You come rushing at me and I forget my body.”

The best use of the orchestra is on the awesome minor key song “The Fox.”  He opens, “After all this joy, we’ll go somewhere dark.  American television.  Cable news.  FOX TV.  A fox is a clever animal–good at manipulating other animals.”  This is one of my favorite Nada Surf song anyhow (even before I knew what it was about), the bass line is just sublime.  And the dramatic buildup towards the end with the horns and flutes is really great.

There’s some nice orchestral hits and swells on “Believe You’re Mine” and “Beautiful Beat” has a pretty guitar melody that is nicely appointed to strings.  “Out of the Dark opens with the orchestra which is a nice change and the xylophone sounds quite pretty as well.

Before “80 Windows” he explains about visiting a friend in Sweden and how in the summer it is warm and dreamy, but in winter, he slept until 2 because of jetlag, and the day was over.  So he counted windows in the apartment across the street.  Knowing that really makes the lyrics more effective, I can really picture it.  There’s some great use of orchestra at the end of this song as well.

Between this album and the previous live album they repeat three songs (marked with a * below).  This is not an essential release, and I hope they rock a bit more when I see them in March.  But it’s a nice overall experience of the band.

Comes A Time                  The Fox                              Out Of The Dark
Believe You’re Mine        Blonde On Blonde*     When I Was Young
Beautiful Beat                  80 Windows                                       Animal
Blizzard of ’77*                 Inside Of Love*           Are You Lightning?
Rushing

[READ: March 25, 2016] “The Limner”

I really enjoyed the way this story unfolded.  I was especially intrigued at the details of the painter’s disability and how we didn’t learn of it until several pages in.

So this story is about a painter, Wadsworth.  I’m not exactly certain when this is set, but suffice it to say it is set when a portrait was the only way of guaranteeing your image would live n in posterity).  Wadsworth is painting a man, Mr. Tuttle. Tuttle is quite cheap (he is arguing about the fee–$12).

Wadsworth says that he has written Tuttle’s comments in a book–the book that every patron writes in–and that Tuttles’ comments are just as obvious and repetitive as all the previous patrons were.

Turns out that Wadsworth is an itinerant painter.  He moves into a town, puts an ad in the paper and if he has no customers in 5 days he moves on.  Some patrons give him lodging–some are even more generous. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKHOLIDAYS RULE (2012).

This collection is fairly new (a second volume has just come out this year).  It was curated by Chris Funk from The Decemberists.  It’s a nice mix of contemporary bands and classic songs.  The disc is mostly fun–it gets a little bogged down in the middle–and upbeat.

FUN-“Sleigh Ride”
The first time I heard this  had no idea who it was (I didn’t look at the disc).  I actually thought it was a female pop singer.  After listening a few times I’m mixed but favorable on it.  I love the sound effects in the background.  It’s fun, even with the autotune.

THE SHINS-“Wonderful Christmastime”
This is one of my least favorite Christmas songs, but I like this version better than Pauls’s.  It doesn’t sound especially like The Shins to me though.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT AND SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
I love Rufus’ distinctive voice–he does louche so well.  Sharon is somewhat indistinct here but she is well-matched with him.

PAUL McCARTNEY-“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”
This might be the only disc I have where someone covers a song by an artist on the disc.  His version of this is way too slow.  But I am intrigued that he says “some holly and some mistletoe” (Because he’s vegetarian).

BLACK PRAIRIE featuring SALLIE FORD-“(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag”
I typically don’t care for this song, but I love this bluegrassy version.  It’s stomping and fun (and Chris Funk plays on it).

THE CIVIL WARS-“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
The Civil Wars are downbeat folk artists but, man, their voices together are so lovely.  Their harmonies make this song essential despite the less than upbeat rhythms.

CALEXICO-“Green Grows the Holly”
This song sounds so wonderfully Calexico.  I love it and would even have assumed it was an original of theirs if I didn’t know better,

AGESANDAGES-“We Need A Little Christmas”
I’m torn about this song.  They modify the delivery and I think I like it.  It’s also pretty infrequently played so it gets extra points.  But it feels like a real downer when you can hear the lyrics so clearly.

HOLLY GOLIGHTLY-“That’s What I Want for Christmas”
I don’t know who this is. And I don’t really care for this song which is kind of slow and ponderous even if the message is a good one.

IRMA THOMAS WITH PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND-“May Ev’ry Day be Christmas”
This is big brassy version of the song which sounds like it could be quite old with Thomas’ husky voice.

HEARTLESS BASTARDS-“Blue Christmas”
I dislike this song to begin with, so making a countryish version certainly doesn’t help.

ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER-“Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me”
So this song is interesting with its strange chord choices and themes.  And it would be great if it were like 2 minutes long.  It seems to end quite naturally at that time, but then some vibes come in and the song gets all slinky.  That would be fine except it just repeats the same line and vibes section for 3 minutes!  WTF Eleanor?

FRUIT BATS-“It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas”
It drives me nuts the way this guys says Creeesmas.  Why does he say it like that?  It’s crazy.  And I can’t get past it because he says it a bunch.

Y LA BAMBA-“Señor Santa”
This song is more or less “Mister Sandman” but sung with the lyrics of Mister Santa.  There’s a wheezy accordion and the great accented voice of the lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza.  I love this and more artists should invent songs like this for the holidays.

PUNCH BROTHERS-“O come, O come, Emmanuel”
The Punch Brothers are awesome and this version of this song terrific.  Chris Thile sings wonderfully as he gets that mandolin worked up.  I love that they turn it into an opportunity to stretch out some, too.

THE HEAD AND THE HEART-“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
A terrific duet with the unmistakable voice of Charity Rose Thielen.  This is a sprightly and fun song and they do a great job.  I love the way she sings “maybe I’m crazy” and the vamping at the end is fantastic.

ANDREW BIRD-“Auld Lang Syne”
Andrew plays some high-spirited violin and sings briskly.  There’s a kind of countryish feel to it, which is quite different for this song.

Overall this is a good collection to add.  Nothing offensive or off-putting and maybe just one or two duds.

[READ: December 21, 2017] “The First Day of Winter”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: XFM-It’s a Cool Cool Christmas (2000).

This is a long Christmas collection (about 72 minutes).  So it’s a bit hit and miss.  But the hits are pretty great.  The problem really is that the disc gets a little bogged down and slow in the back half.  The first half is bright and fun.  Either re-sequnce or add in some peppier songs!  There are a couple that just don’t belong on a Christmas collection.  Remove them, and you’ve got a good one.

GRANDADDY-“Alan Parsons In A Winter Wonderland”
I’ve loved this version of this song ever since I heard it here.  By making the simple substitution of Alan Parsons for Parson Brown (which doesn’t make any sense, really), they are able to make all kinds of weirdo jokes and musical changes to an otherwise completely faithful version of the song.  It’s terrific.

THE DANDY WARHOLS-“Little Drummer Boy”
Generally I don’t like this song.  It’s a little too ponderous and repetitive, but The Dandy Warhols totally rock it out.  It’s not crazy or anything, it’s just super catchy with a cool synth riff and great backing vocals on the “bum bum bum bums.”

THE WEBB BROTHERS-“Every Day is Christmas”
I feel like this compilation is the first I’d heard of this song, but since then I see that others have done it as well.  This version anyway is slow although it’s catchy–particularly the chorus.  I’m not sure I get exactly what the chorus is saying though: “every day is Christmas, if only tonight,”  What does that mean>

EELS-“Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas”
This is a poppy punky track that’s upbeat and fun.  Just before the solo E (the singer) even mutters, “Baby Jesus, born to rock.”

El VEZ-“Feliz Navi-nada”
One of my favorite Christmas songs–rocking and silly but with the spirit still in tact.

MORGAN-“Christmas In Waikiki” [NSFC]
This track opens with a Merry Christmas to the soldiers, in what sounds like Marilyn Monroe’s voice.  It then turns into a keyboard-heavy, almost reggae march through a wah wah instrumental.  Then there’s a quote from, I assume Richard Pryor, who jokes about a 300 pound honky.  This f-bomb dropping joke makes this not safe for Christmas.

DRUGSTORE-“Maybe At Christmas Time”
This a slow song filled with hope for Christmas.

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
I have always been puzzled at the way they change the melody of the song–they sing the “and random captive” part without a pause, so the first line runs right through.  It feels rushed, but is anything but.  Once you get past that though the music sounds lovely with those gentle guitars and voices.”

GIANT SAND-“Thank You Dreaded Black Ice, Thank You” [NSFC]
This is kind of a dark song, spooky and whispered vocals.  Even if there is a happy message, it’s not really a very festive song.

THE FLAMING LIPS-“White Christmas” [NSFC]
Despite my love for The Lips, I never cared for this version.

SAINT ETIENNE-“My Christmas Prayer” [NSFC]
A pretty, moody piece of longing.  Not really anything I want to hear on Christmas.

DEPARTURE LOUNGE-“Christmas Downer” [NSFC]
This is surprisingly catchy for such a downer.  But it is indeed a downer.

SIX BY SEVEN-“I Believe In Father Christmas”
Things pick up with this version of the dark, but wonderful Greg Lake song.

SNOW PATROL-“When I Get Home For Christmas”
This seems like its kind of dark and mopey, bu the sentiment is actually quite nice.  Sounds a bit like Sebadoh.

TITÁN-“Spiritual Guidance” [NSFC]
Titán are a Mexican electronic band.  This instrumental samples a movie which has a guy telling a young woman to remove her panties.  It’s a shame it gets dark like that because the disco Jingle Bells in the middle is good fun.

BIG BOSS MAN-“Christmas Boogaloo”
This is a groovy, funky instrumental with random chants about Christmas.  Its good fun indeed.

TEENAGE FANCLUB-“Christmas Eve”
This is a beautiful guitar based mostly instrumental.  It’s a lovely piece and far too short at only 2 minutes.

CALEXICO-“Gift X-change”
Despite Calexico’s usually bright sound, this song is pretty sad, musically and lyrically.

GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI-“Hwiangerdd Mair”
This is a very pretty song which, if Google Translate is to be believed actually means Mary’s Halloween in Welsh.  But whatever.  Gorky’s always has a great way with a melody.

LOW-“Just Like Christmas”
I actually thought this was Aimee Mann singing. Despite Low’s penchant for slow, broody songs, this one is upbeat, even if it wasn’t just like Christmas at all.  But the big thumping drums keep it moving along nicely.

LAUREN LAVERNE-“In The Bleak Midwinter”
This sounds like a children’s choir very far away.  I’d never heard of her before and I have learned: Lauren Cecilia Fisher, known professionally as Lauren Laverne, is an English radio DJ, model, television presenter, author, singer and comedian.  Wow.  This is pretty neat but could use a bit more oomph.

[READ: December 15, 2017] “The Copy Chief”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I had to play catch up with these earlier stories because this collection arrived late (my fault, not theirs).  I put this one off because it was so long, and yet it turned out to be one of my favorite stories in the collection so far.

Not because of anything flashy or exciting, just because of good writing and compelling characters. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 25, 2015] St. Vincent

2015-07-25 20.41.29I’ve enjoyed all the St. Vincent records–each one more than the previous one.  This past year Bob and Robin from NPR both claimed that the St. Vincent live show was the best that they saw that year.  Since then, I have been hell bent on seeing her (she played NY right after they raved about her but it was sold out).  She has been touring Europe for a while now so I never expected to see her anytime soon.

And then it was announced: St. Vincent AND My Morning Jacket, another band that I’ve been dying to see, would headline this years XPNFEST.  As with last year’s fest, we considered going to the all day show–again, $45 for a 3 day pass (and when I found out that kids can get a day pass for $5–jeez!).  So maybe next year if we don’t like the headliners, we’ll go for the day (I wouldn’t keep the kids up till midnight watching headliners).  But as we saw this year, the venue is shaded, there’s lots to see and lots of free stuff (which the kids love) they even have a Kids Corner section, so next year, if there’s some good bands like this year (Calexico, First Aid Kid, Fly Golden Eagle), it would totally be a fun day out.

But never mind that, we were there for St. Vincent. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Believer June 2006 Music Issue Compilation CD: Famous Shovels in Twain (2006).

The “theme” behind this year’s CD was live recordings.  So all of the songs are live (whether in front of an audience or just live to disc).  Like the previous discs, I had only heard a few of the artists on this disc.  But unlike previous discs, there is quite a lot of diversity on this one.

In fact, the diversity takes them far afield: Neung Phak is a band from Thailand.  They play a fun and crazy call and response rock song (which I assume is sung is Thai).  Juana Molina sings in Spanish.  And Mamadou Diabate is an astonishing soloist on the kora, a 21 stringed instrument (see picture at right).  Mixing things up even more are  Stephen O’Malley with an electronic manipulation type song and Blood on the Wall with the heaviest track thus far on a Believer compilation.

The rest of the disc consists of solid performances by Calexico (you can hear a train pass by the studio), Jim White, with a charming song sung on the front porch of Flannery O’Connor’s house.  Well, maybe the song isn’t charming (although it is catchy), but his attitude towards his guests (captured on tape) certainly is.

Destroyer play one of my favorite songs, “Rubies” in what sounds like a drunken revelry.  El Perro del Mar plays an astonishingly upbeat song and, what is probably the real selling point, Feist plays a demo of “Mushaboom.”  The demo isn’t really that different from the official version, but you can hear that her voice sounds great in this raw form.

This is definitely the most adventurous disc that The Believer has released.  But it’s nice to see they haven’t gone too far away from releasing great alt rock.

You can see the track listing here.

[READ: December 10, 2009] “Breaking Fast”

This very short story was quite enjoyable, but then, as it drew to a close, it confused me. (more…)

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