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Archive for the ‘Colin Meloy’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: STEVEN PAGE-Heal Thyself Pt. 1 : Instinct (2016).

This is Steven Page’s second solo album since leaving Barenaked Ladies.  This one features his voice sounding utterly fantastic amid a large variety of styles of music.

“There’s a Melody” opens with a tiny harmonium sound.  It’s a one minute song that has this fascinating lyric:

There’s a melody somewhere inside of me,
I can hear it but can’t get it out of me,
In my head it soaring but when it comes out it is all the same note

Ironically it is sung to a terrific melody and it will be revisited later in the Reprise which builds and builds with full orchestra.

On Page’s previous album he played around with dance sounds and that continues on this record with “The Work at Hand.”  It opens with crazy electronic noises and then shifts to a soaring dance number.   The chorus sounds a bit like Pet Shop Boys (although not in the vocals).

“Here’s What It Takes” is a fast shuffle with prominent trumpets in the melody.  It’s catchy and was the first single.  But I’m more focused on the lyrics again.  For such a peppy song the lyrics are really dark:

An 8-ball of coke / You’re angry and broke / My Mother misspoke / by telling me the truth
Here’s what it takes to believe  / Drink down the Drano ’til the demons all leave
The fridge door was open again / There’s leftover blame / You’re eating your shame / and choking on the truth

What was funny was that I heard this couplet first and thought it was an amusing song before digging deeper:

What we once kept hidden from our parents / Now we keep it hidden from our kids

That’s a great line and it’s even darker with the above verses.

“I Can See My House From Here”  is a funny/dark song about Jesus, or at least a self-identified messiah.

Jesus came to me last night
To tell me everything will be alright
He said, “Thank you for rolling the stone,
but you’re gonna have to go it alone”

Hey, have you heard the Good News?
We’re gonna make you King of the Jew

But it’s also chock full of nods to the Beatles.  Both in the backing vocals (the Hallelujah and Hare Krishna below) but also in unexpected ways

[Hallelujah] Mother Mary
[Heal Thyself] You had me
[Hare Krishna] And no religion
[Hope that helps] So Let It Be

As he sings this section, it plays with the melody of “My Sweet Lord”

And if you can’t then you know it’s a lie
Goodbye my Lord, goodbye my Lord

and he even sings the next line “I really want to…” as if it were part of “My Sweet Lord” before jumping back to the melody of the song.

It end with the guitar melody of The Beatles’ “The Two of Us” and him singing “we’re on our way home.”

The best song around is “Manchild” which features Page’s soaring vocals and terrific self-deprecating lyrics that morph over the song

Darling, you’re talking to a man now / You’re talking to a man, now, child /
Speak slowly, speak slowly
Darling, you’re talking to a manchild / You’re talking to a manchild now /
Speak slowly, speak slowly

But the album is not all big powerful songs, “If That’s Your Way” (“If that’s your way of saying you’re sorry – I don’t mind”) and “Hole In the Moonlight” are both ballads with piano and strings.

“Mama” is a kind of almost reggae romp with some excellent snark in the lyrics.  And “Surprise Surprise” was the lead single and does a great job rhyming

I was feeling shamed / you were feeling stupid
because I knew what was wrong with me / long before you did

“Linda Ronstadt In the 70s” has a harpsichord and a chamber pop feel with an emphasis on pop.  I had no idea of the origin of the song.  It was apparently written because Colin Meloy requested people write songs about Linda Ronstadt.  You can see the original acoustic version here.

“No Song Left to Save Me” ends the disc with the unmistakable bass line of “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” but the song quickly changes tempo and direction with swinging horns and big old catchy Steven Page chorus.

This is an excellent, fun disc and really shows the range that Page is willing to experiment with.  I wish Barenaked Ladies would take more chances like this, too.  But I am especially excited to see Page next month with the Art of Time Ensemble.

[READ: March 25, 2016] “My Holocaust Memoir”

You don’t expect something funny to have a title like this.  Of course once you see that the first line is “Dear Ms Winfrey,” you can expect to not take this seriously,

Greenman begins his letter to Ms Winfrey by saying how much he admires the show, although he doesn’t watch every day).  He says he was watching “Best Life Week ” (is that really the name of segment?) in which guests discussed the challenges they’ve overcome.  He says that he has had some challenges–which he is currently putting into book form.  And he would like her to take a look at them.

It begins: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BEATLES-Let It Be (1970).

letI wrote about this album back in 2015.

Of all the fascinating details about Beatles releases, I don’t think any are more fascinating than the details about Let It Be.  I’m not even close to understanding everything that went on here.  But in a nutshell, it seems that they went into the studio to record an album called Get Back. They were even going to film the whole things.  It got scrapped.  Some members quit the band then rejoined.  And then they recorded Abbey Road.

And then the band did a concert on a rooftop (almost exactly 46 years ago!).  And soon after they broke up. Then some producers decided to release Let It Be as a soundtrack to the documentary made about their recording.  They used some of the material from Get Back and some from the rooftop concert and then Phil Spector got involved and put all kinds of strings on everything and then the album was released in the UK on my first birthday.

There’s lots of snippets of dialogue which seem designed to make it feel like a soundtrack (which it doesn’t).  There’s really short snippets of songs, there’s raw live songs, there’s overproduced string laden songs.  It’s kind of a mess.  But in there are some good songs too.

“Two of Us” is a pretty folkie number that I like quite a lot although I first became familiar with it from a Guster cover (which is pretty fine).  I never quite understood the title of “Dig a Pony,” but it’s a big weird sloppy song. It’s kind of fun to sing along to—especially the falsetto “Beeeecause.”  This song was recorded from their rooftop concert and it feels rawer than some of the other songs.

“Across the Universe” is a lovely song.  Evidently Lennon didn’t contribute much to Let It Be, so they threw this on to give him more content.  I actually know this more from the Fiona Apple version (which I think is actually better than this processed version). I don’t really care for the strings and echoes feel on this version. “Dig It” is a short piece of nonsense. It was exerted from a lengthy jam but for some reason only this little snippet was included on the record–it sounds odd here.

“Let it Be” is quite a lovely song. I don’t really care for the Phil Spectorisms that were done to it—the strings and choruses seem a bit cheesy.  At the same time, the guitar solo (which is quite good) sounds too raw and harsh for the song.  “Maggie Mae” is a traditional song, another bit of fun nonsense.  I like “I Me Mine,” it’s rather dark and the chorus just rocks out.  “I’ve Got a Feeling”, was also recorded on the roof, so it feels raw.  There’s some great guitars sounds on it. Evidently it was initially two songs, and Lennon’s part (the repeated “everybody” section) was added to it.

“One After 909” sounds so much like an early Beatles song–very traditional rock and roll (which means I don’t really like it).  Although the version is raw sounding (it was also recorded from the rooftop) so that’s kind of cool. Huh, Wikipedia says “the song was written no later than spring 1960 and perhaps as early as 1957, and is one of the first Lennon–McCartney compositions.”   “The Long and Winding Road” is where all the controversy comes from.  McCartney hated what Phil Spector did to his song.  He HATED it.  And I have to agree.  It sounds nothing like the Beatles–it sounds very treacly and almost muzaky.  It feels endless.  At the same time, I’m not even sure if the song is that good–it’s so hard to tell after all these years. I think it kind of rips off the transition in “Hey Jude” which was used to much better effect.

“For You Blue” is a simple blues. I like it better than most of the Beatles’ blues, perhaps because of John’s slide guitar (and the funny comments through the song–which makes it seem like the band actually liked each other).  “Get Back” ends the disc as a fun rollicking romp.  I really like this song, although I’m surprised at how short it seems–I thought there was a lengthy outro.  The end of the song (and the disc) has John asking if they passed the audition–lots of fun going on in this contentious recording session.

So it’s not the best career ending disc, although I guess as a soundtrack it’s pretty good.  I’ve never seen the film, and I’m kind of curious to after having walked through all of these Beatles albums.

[READ: September 1, 2016] Let It Be

After reading Colin Meloy’s take on The Replacements’ Let It Be, Steve Matteo’s take on The Beatles’ Let It Be is really different.

Matteo did a ton of research into the recording of this record.  Indeed, this book feels really long (and it drags occasionally).  I have to assume that anyone who is a big fan of The Beatles will know much of what he covers here.  I didn’t, so this works as a pretty thorough introduction for me.  And, as my review of the record above notes: I didn’t know much about the recording in the first place.  So this filled in some gaps (more gaps than I cared about actually).

The book begins with the earth shattering announcement that in 2003 police had recovered more than 500 hours of stolen tapes from the Let It Be sessions (I hadn’t heard about that, so I guess it didn’t shatter the earth all that much).

Rather than talking about this record itself, Matteo talks all about what went into the creation of the record.  And, admittedly, it is a fascinating mix of ego, talent, angst, friendship, overworked-ness and nearly everything else. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE REPLACEMENTS-Let It Be (1984).

letitbeI had posted about this record back in 2009.  This is what I write nearly ten years ago, and I’m pretty okay with it.

This is the final album the Replacements made before they moved to the majors.  This disc represents the culmination of their pre-major label sound and is one of my favorite “college albums” of the era.

The disc retains a lot of their sloppy/punk sound of the time, but the songwriting moves forward a little further.  Westerberg wrote some timeless anthems for this disc (“I Will Dare,” “Unsatisfied”).   But, they also sprinkle the disc with silly tracks…not filler exactly…more like balance.  This keeps the disc from being too ponderous.

“I Will Dare” opens the disc. It is bouncy and poppy with an irresistible chorus.   But the bulk of the album is faster and more rocking.  Unlike on their their first two discs, however, the songs run a little bit longer, and they don’t attempt the hardcore feel quite as much.

In fact, there are a few songs that are quite clearly ballads.  “Androgynous” is a piano ballad (!) that could have easily been written by Tom Waits.  “Unsatisfied” is another ballad, although this one has more instrumentation.  Nevertheless, the feeling of yearning is palpable in Westerberg’s voice.  Finally, “Answering Machine” is another flanged-guitar filled song about romance in the age of modern technology (circa 1984).

These relatively light (musically, not emotionally) songs are balanced out quite nicely by the pair of punk/nonsense songs: “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Gary’s Got a Boner.”  They add some (more) levity to the disc.  As well as some rocking guitars.

But perhaps the most surprising song is the cover of Kiss’ “Black Diamond.”  It is surprisingly faithful to the original, (at a time when Kiss was not even ironically cool) and it rocks just as hard.

This album showcases the diverse aspects of The Replacements perfectly.  While some people say their next album Tim is their masterpiece, I am more inclined to go with Let It Be.  And, for some reason, I really like the cover.

[READ: July 1, 2016] Let It Be

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.

But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This was an interesting book to start with because it really set the tone for the series, by which I mean, as far as I can tell, anything goes.

Colin Meloy (this was written when The Decemberists were just starting to get a buzz around them.  In fact he references his girlfriend who is now his wife) makes this a very personal account about his childhood and his exposure to this album (and others) from his uncle.  So this book is a lot more about (young) Colin and his friend than the ‘Mats, but it’s obvious that the ‘Mats made Meloy who he is.   There’s very little in the way of production information or “research” (until the end).  Rather, it’s just a good story–from a future storyteller. (more…)

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[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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