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Archive for the ‘Colin Meloy’ Category

[ATTENDED: April 14, 2017] The Decemberists

Two years ago Sarah and I went to The Decemberists concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. It was spectacular.  A great venue, a dignified crowd and a great set deign.  The only complaint we had at all was that we couldn’t stand up and dance (well, we could, but we try to be considerate of those around us).

We knew we’d want to see them again, so when they announced another show in Philly–this time at the Fillmore, we were super psyched.  We love the venue, the sound is great and best of all, you can dance.

I was telling Sarah that I have become spoiled by smaller venues like Union Transfer, which holds about 1,000 fewer people than the Fillmore, because I can get up really close.  Well, this show was sold out big time (we were packed in a little too tightly for my liking).  I wanted to try to get there as early as possible, but a few things led us to getting there about ten minutes later than I had hoped.  And as such we were just a little too far out for my liking–the tall people seemed to have a wall set up about five rows of people ahead of us and we just couldn’t break through it.

So that meant a lot of leaning side to side depending on who you wanted to watch and, of course, terrible pictures.  But wow did they sound great.  This tour was a little less elaborate than the previous one. There was no real “set,” just lights.  And that’s fine because the focus was on the music! (more…)

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boilenSOUNDTRACK: ANGEL OLSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #333 (January 27, 2014).

angelBob Boilen has liked Angel Olsen for some time, so when she did her Tiny Desk and most of us had never heard of her, he was already a fan.

Olsen plays a long set but with four songs.

She sits very still, strumming with her thumb and singing kind of low–not unlike Sharon van Etten.  The first song, “Unfucktheworld” is only two ans a half minutes.  The second song, “Iota,” is a little longer.  She sings in an affected almost falsetto style, although the guitar remains very spare.

Between these songs, she is coy about the title of the new record although she is quick to say the first word of the title “burn.”  Later she admits that the final song contains the title of the album, if we wanted to spend time figuring it out.

I marvelled at how high the chords were that she played on “Enemy,”  She seems to eschew any bass for this song.  This one is five and a half minutes long and is just as slow as the others.

Before the final song they talk about whether this is the most awkward show she has done.  She says everyone is very alert–and indeed you can hear utter silence between songs.  But then they talk about the storm outside (and potential tornado) and how this show may never air if the storm is really bad.

“White Fire” is an 8 minute story song.  She does use the whole guitar for this one, which has many many verses.   Since I don’t really know Olsen’s stuff that well, I don’t know if this was a good example of her show or a fun treat to hear her in such an intimate way.

[READ: May 10, 2016] Your Song Changed My Life

This site is all about music and books, but you may be surprised to know that I don’t really like books about music all that much.  I have read a number of them—biographies, autobiography or whatever, and I don’t love them wholesale. Some are fine, but in general musicians aren’t really as interesting as they may seem.

What I do like however, is hearing a decent interview with musicians to find out some details about them–something that will flesh out my interest in them or perhaps make me interested in someone I previously wasn’t.  Not a whole book, maybe just an article, I guess.

I also really like Bob Boilen. I think he’s a great advocate of music and new bands.  I have been listening to his shows on NPR for years and obvious I have been talking about hundreds of the Tiny Desk Concerts that he originated.  I also really like his taste in music.  So I was pretty psyched when Sarah got me this book for my birthday.

I read it really quickly–just devoured the whole thing.  And it was really enjoyable. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TARKIO-Sea Songs for Landlocked Sailors (1999).

Tarkio was Colin Meloy’s band before he formed the Decemberists.  My first reaction to the name Tarkio was that it sounded like Tarkus, the album by Emerson lake and Palmer.  And, since I heard about it during The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife album, which is proggy, I assumed Tarkio would be a prog rock band.  Little did I know that the real name of Tarkio comes from a train stop in Montana and that the real (at least to me) forerunner for this album is Tarkio by folkies Brewer & Shipley which featured the song “One Toke Over the Line.”

All of Tarkio’s music was collected in 1995 on the album OmnibusOmnibus contains their album I Guess I was Hoping for Something More, this EP, and various other unreleased tracks.

This EP actually came out after Tarkio’s debut album (when I decided to write this first I assumed it came first).  It seems especially surprising to me because the opening song sounds very different from anything on the LP.  Not worse, just like a direction they chose not to go in.  His voice is kind of processed and sounds, yes, funny.  Although I have to admit I rather like it—it’s much more alt sounding than the rest of the disc, which has a more folkie charm.  This disc was self released.  And I cannot believe that there are no images of it online anywhere.  Decemberists fans are crazy intense and no one has a copy of this CD?  Weird.

So as I said, the first song, “Devil’s Elbow” is full of vibrato and sounds like an alt rock song circa the mid 90s.  The solo sounds like it could be done by Robert Smith.  “Weight of the World” sounds more alt-folkie, big guitars and whatnot.  And the chorus sounds very much like a Decemberists song.  And check out these lyrics: “we hear the homeless philharmonic singing all the Charlies Angels to their heavenly convergence in the sky.” Pure Colin.

If you had any doubt that this was Colin Meloy’s band (which you wouldn’t, but if you did), this song title will tell you all you need: “My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist.”  Lyrically it is pure Meloy, although musically it’s more spare.  Decemberists fans will recognize this song from Castaways and Cutouts (that version is over a minute longer).  The Tarkio version has louder guitars as the song progresses, although the Decemberists’ version has more interesting instrumentation.  “Mountains of Mourne,” is a sad ballad played mostly on banjo.  “Never Will Marry” is a slow dirgelike song–very traditionally folk-sounding.

I really don’t know much about why Tarkio broke up.  This EP shows a band experimenting with their more ballad-y side.  Probably not destined to be a big seller, it works as a nice companion to their debut.

[READ: May 26, 2012] “The Region of Unlikeness”

This was the last short story I found by Galchen and I was really excited to read it.  It starts off a little oddly—it’s one of those stories where there are two characters spoken about and they are inseparable and it’s not always clear which is which.  Especially when the opening is as peculiar as this, “Ilan used to call Jacob ‘my cousin from Outer Swabia’”  Originally the narrator thinks it a joke, but she later decides it’s a sort of a clue.  She met the two of them by chance.  They were talking loudly and boisterously about Wuthering Heights in a coffee shop.  And that intrigued her to no end.  So she chimed in, and the three of them ended up talking for a while.  The crazy thing about them was that Jacob had a daughter. He seemed so carefree and like he had no responsibilities.   She never met the daughter, he barely mentioned his family, and yet she was always there in the back of his mind.

And she fell hard for Ilan—he seemed antiquated and resourceful like “fancy coffee and bright-colored smutty flyers.”  Of course all of her friends found the two of them arrogant and pathetic, but the narrator could not be drawn away from them.  Although really she was drawn to Ilan, who was generous with praise, while Jacob was kind of sulky and dark and was “jealous of Ilan’s easy pleasures.”  The narrator felt Jacob was pedantic.  All of this makes it surprising that the bulk of the story is about the narrator and Jacob.

And then she stopped seeing them.  Literally, they were nowhere to be found. (more…)

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[WATCHED: August 22, 2011] “The Calamity Song”

I woke yesterday to the news that one of my favorite bands had made a music video which was a tribute to one of my favorite books, Infinite Jest. Colin Meloy was a reader during the Infinite Summer project (one of the more high profile readers, although he didn’t really contribute beyond the first week).  When I saw him at BEA, I asked him if he finished the book and he said that indeed he had. Weill according to this story from The New York Times, Colin liked the book so much that he wanted to use one of the great scenes from the book as the basis of a music video.  And since The Calamity Song has the line “In the Year of the Chewable Ambien Tab” which is an allusion to Infinite Jest‘s Subsidized Time, well why not use that as the song.

The video was directed by Michael Schur (a huge Infinite Jest fan) who is a major figure behind Parks and Recreation. The video is a bare-bones retelling of the Eschaton sequence from the novel. For those who have not gotten to that scene yet, Eschaton is a game of global annihilation played on a tennis court. There are strategic places you are supposed to hit from across the court (so it’s a physical game, not just an academic one) with your 5 megaton tennis balls.   The scene is challenging to read because there’s so much going on, but the video does a very good job of giving you the essence.

Sure, diehards will have lots to quibble about (it’s raining, not snowing; Ann Kittenplan (the girl who gets hit with the ball) is totally hot–not so much in the book; and the scene doesn’t end with someone’s head crashing through a computer monitor).  Most of the quibbles are addressed in the Times article but some are easily answered anyhow–it was filmed in two days, it’s a flat screen monitor (you can’t put your head through that), and why not have a hot Ann Kittenplan, it’s a music video, right?   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAM COOKE-Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 (2003).

After reviewing Colin Meloy Sings Sam Cooke, I decided to check out Sam Cooke himself, since I said I didn’t know anything about him.  Well, it turns out that I was totally wrong about that.  I checked out this disc from the library and was rather surprised to realize that I knew at least a dozen songs by Cooke.  And not just that he sang songs which I knew–they were his versions that I knew.

Granted some of my knowledge comes from Animal House, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m not even sure what to classify Cooke’s music as, and maybe it’s not necessary to do so.  Back in the day it would have been played on oldies stations (but they seem to play songs from the 60s and 70s now).  Is it soul, R&B, rock?  I dunno.

So, Sam Cooke sang “You Send Me” (darling, you) “Cupid” (draw back your bow); “(What a) Wonderful World” (don’t know much about history); “Chain Gang” (that’s the sound of the men working on the).  And later songs like “Twisting the Night Away.”

And big surprise, who knew he wrote the great Cat Stevens hit: “Another Saturday Night” and the party anthem “Having a Party” (hey mr dj keep those records playing).

This disc has 30 song and runs about 80 minutes, and I admit that at least half of them were just okay.  The genre really doesn’t appeal to me all that much (although I can clearly tell that he was a pioneer writer (with a great voice to boot)).  I could see myself listening to (and enjoying) this disc as background music, and little else.

Nevertheless, it was really cool to learn that it was the same guy who sang all those songs, and I can now put a name to the songs in Animal House and other 50’s era movies.

[READ: Week of February 8, 2010] 2666 [pg 163-228]

This week’s read is all about Amalfitano.  In fact, this week’s read was an entire “Part” and to learn all about Amalfitano in one go.  This Part exists irrespective of the previous part, although there will be one single item that we saw in Book 1 that indicates that this Part is set before the action of Part 1.  Well, actually, it is all clearly set before Part 1, but there is one detail that carriers over from there.

As the book opens, Amalfitano wonders what the hell he is doing in Santa Teresa.  And that question is never really answered satisfactorily for him or for us (we learn why he is currently there, but he seems to dislike it so much there’s no really compelling reason why he stays). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN MELOY-Sings Sam Cooke (2008).

I ordered this CD from the Decemberists website.  (Sadly Colin singing Morrissey is no longer available).   This is, as the title states, Colin Meloy singing Sam Cooke songs.

I don’t know much about Sam Cooke (although I knew a few tunes from this disc).  And, in my head, Sam Cooke doesn’t have a “catalog” of songs, like, say, Morrissey does. So, this came across as a disc of standards.  And as such it’s very good.

If you like Meloy, you’ll like this.  If you don’t, this isn’t going to covert you.  It’s basically just him and his acoustic guitar (and an occasional backing vocal) singing these songs.

I have always liked “Cupid” so it’s nice to have a rendition of it.  As for “Summertime,” I’m not sure why that’s considered a Sam Cooke song since it comes from Porgy and Bess.  I didn’t know the other three songs, but they’re all quite good, uptempo jazzy numbers.

This EP makes me want to investigate a Sam Cooke Greatest Hits, to see what I’ve been missing.  And maybe that was Meloy’s point all along.

[READ: January-February 2010] Shite’s Unoriginal Miscellany

I had ordered a couple of Schott’s Almanacs from the UK, because I thought it would be fun to see what was different about them from the U.S. versions (quite a lot actually).  And while browsing for them, I found this parody of the series.  So, for a few dollars used, I ordered it too.

Now any book that bills itself as “extensively researched, eccentrically compiled and irresponsibly written” pretty much lets you know what you’re getting.   And it does conclude its summary by saying, “more than 250 pieces of useless, misleading and possibly dangerous information.”  So, what might you expect?

This is a very strange parody of the series because it does three things at the same time:  1) It provides actual lists of actual things (which are, indeed, useless and silly).  2) It provides nonsensical/hypothetical questions (more on that shortly).  And 3) It has stuff that is clearly made up and intended to be funny (but often isn’t) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Believer June 2005 Music Issue CD (2005).

The second annual Believer CD ups the ante from the first by featuring all previously unreleased songs. And, just to put more of a twist on things, the artists were asked to do covers of songs that they have been listening to lately. There was only one song that I knew the original of (The Constantines’ track), so I can’t say a thing about how well the covers were covered.

This becomes something of a fun rarities mix CD. As with the previous one, there’s not a huge amount of diversity in the musicians, but given the target audience of The Believer, it all seems to make sense.

We get The Decemberists (actually Colin Meloy solo) covering Joanna Newsom (who I don’t know but whose song I liked quite a bit). The most interesting track to me was by a band called CocoRosie who I’m totally unfamiliar with. The song is recorded as if it they were using a 19th century recording machine. It sounds so far away and yet it feels modern at the same time. I have no idea what they normally sound like, but I’m certainly intrigued.

There’s a few parings that are practically predestined: The Mountain Goats cover The Silver Jews, The Shins cover The Postal Service and Devandra Banhart covers Antony & the Johnsons. There’s also a track from Wolf Parade, a band I have recently gotten into. Only two bands perform and are covered on the disc: Ida and The Constantines.

It’s an interesting assortment of songs. As with any cover, it’s hard to know if you would like the original artist or if you just enjoy the new artist’s’ interpretation. But a song like “Surprise, AZ” by Richard Buckner is so well written that I don’t think it matters what Cynthia G. Mason’s cover sounds like (which is quite good).

The disc is largely folky/alt-rock, but once again, it’s a good distillation of the genre, and a very enjoyable collection.  The track listing is available here.

[READ: December 10, 2009] “Kawabata”

This story had the (in my estimation) fascinating attribute of reading as if it were written a long time ago. The writing was very formal. It also centered around a man and a woman who meet at a bed and breakfast and do little more than walk around town. Since no real clues as to the time it is set are ever given, I could imagine them dressed in nearly turn of the (20th) century garb.

A few things do dispel this fantasy: the use of the word “tits” for one, and the fact that no married woman would have been seen out with a widower while her husband was away. But despite that, I enjoyed the formality of the story. (more…)

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