29 April, 2008

Radiohead? No, Portishead!

As Radiohead has moved progressively farther from pure rock (and yet continued to retain their musical perfection through almost every innovation), Portishead has moved closer to pure electronic music. When you look back through their respective catalogs, this evolution is not as surprising as it may appear at first.

On Pablo Honey, Radiohead made English grunge (that was more refined than it's American counterpart), but played with different ideas and sound patterns. "Thinking About You", "You", and "Prove Yourself" all contain elements of various genres - musical and lyrical explorations, if you will - that will be furthered on later Radiohead albums.

Dummy, Portishead's debut, is the genius integration of Massive Attack, Moby, and Mazzy Star. In other words, we have creepy, cool, and incredibly beautiful sounds being created by Portishead in the early nineties. Yet, although the album is full of electronic music (with the requisite repeated beats and samples, and computer-generated sounds) there's much more to this album. Five of the eleven songs have strong Jazz undertones, in both the lyrical design and the actual musical sound. Tin Pan Alley and the dirty streets of "unfriendly cities can be heard in the most popular songs on the album: "Sour Times" and "Glory Box". This is not 1980s electronic music, with clean synthetic noises and fake-sounding drum machines, this album is layered and a little messy. Still, all of the elements of electronic music are available, they just aren't being consistently utilized by the band.

The potential was always there, and the bands took advantage of their potential, moving ever closer to each other and farther from their starting points. Listen to In Rainbows and you'll hear a lot of piano, and some definite electronic influence. Radiohead's sound is still "refined" and far from messy, but they are now even closer to Portishead and quite far from Pearl Jam. "15 Step", "Numb", and "Videotape" each repeat one or multiple "hooks", taking advantage of a longstanding trait of electronic music. Piano sounds also come out in full force on In Rainbows.

Third by Portishead (a band that has been quite less prolific than Radiohead) was released today, and has a slower tempo and a darker tone than Portishead's previous albums. "Nylon Smile" wanders and has little lyrical structure. It is pure lament, albeit with a crackling backbeat. "The Rip" is almost freak-folk, and quite as haunting as the In Rainbows equivalent, "Videotape". "We Carry On" and "Deep Water" are musical opposites. One is long, the other short. One is fast and anxious, the other is slow and meandering. "We Carry On" has a beat that is constantly defined, and is the backbone of the song. "Deep Water" is the more melodic home to a humming chorus. "Machine Gun" sounds incredibly computerized, and quite precise. It is probably the song that breaks most from Portishead tradition, and it makes me wonder if the reason Radiohead and Portishead are sounding more alike has more to do with the emotional tangibility of the times (these are scary, hectic, anxious times), than the "natural" evolution of the artists.

Whatever the reason, Portishead and Radiohead have created albums that are complementary. They both tap into anxiety, fear, violence, and creepiness; they both question the value and purpose of the individual; and they both tap into a repetitiveness of structure that is the foundation of most electronic music. They're also both worth a listen, if you have the time and the inclination.

27 April, 2008

Augustus Gloop

The weather affected my mood, my mood affected my music choice, my music choice affected my mood...

Weather: Gloomy. Actually, strike that, gloopy. The sky reminds me of that glue that hardens on the side of the glue bottle, and then gets progressively more linty as it spends more time in the craft bag with pom-pom balls and pipe cleaners (chenille stems! I almost forgot about that conversation.) Anyway, it's not pleasant. I think it would make a good backdrop for a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Mental note: The next time it rains like this, try to write a mystery!

Music Choice: Well, I began the morning with a homemade soundtrack to battle! I guess it's not technically battle, but what I'm doing will sure be messy. It consisted of some harsh music; rock for angry teenagers, techno for role-playing gamers, and your basic "slightly depressing" soundtrack music. I've upgraded to Alanis Morisette (Jagged Little Pill) and the soundtrack to Grosse Pointe Blank.

Mood: Uncertain, as of yet. Actually, I've been see-sawing between overwhelmingly excited/elated and depressed. What has cheered my spirits (along with eggplant pizza, ratemyprofessor.com, and Ecotone magazine) is Neil Gaiman's blog. That man is awesome! Take, just for example, this one section in his latest blog post ("Entertainers All..."):

If I hadn't slept I would have read -- I'm currently reading Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road. It's wonderful -- a [Chabonesque] [Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser]-ish story, filled with swordfights and intrigue and people in disguise. (I just edited that sentence -- I'd written "currently reading for pleasure" as if there was some other kind of reading -- the sort you endure, I imagine.)

Hahah, you just summed up what I've been trying to express for years! I don't understand the concept of reading for anything but pleasure. :)

24 April, 2008

Thomas Dybdahl

I've been listening to his music today, and I like it, but I'm unsure about the music videos. Watch a couple, and let me know what you think:

Love Story

From Grace

Tomorrow Stays the Same

Miscellany in the April sunshine

At this very moment, I'm listening to "You'd Rather Run" by Jaymay (which has this amazing line thrown into the middle of her weary evisceration of an ex: "your girlfriend's a spy". Really, doesn't that just sum up everything? Add, "it's funny what you miss, it's funny what you don't", and you already have a song with great lyrics.) The whole album Autumn Falling has had the difficult job of mimicking my mental state since last November, and somehow it has lived up to all of my hopes (dreams, and fears). Listen if you're in the mood for a journey, but also if you just want to hear some undeniably sweet music.

There's an article in the Education section of the New York Times today about the Grateful Dead. "A Deadhead's Dream For A Campus Archive" by Jesse McKinley is a funny little article. It's not particularly exciting to read, but the content is interesting. For those of my readers who dislike reading more than they absolutely have to, I'll sum up the main points. The University of California, Santa Cruz - which is located in an apparently hippy-friendly city - will be compiling an archive of Grateful Dead "paraphernalia" (apparently nothing illegal, although the word choice is suspicious). This University happens to be the home of quite few Neo-Dead Heads and even has a popular class for undergraduates on the Dead's music.

Here are some incredibly cool pictures that NASA released to commemorate the Hubble Telescope's 18th Birthday (WOOOT HUBBLE!): "New Galaxy Images Released for Hubble's 18th Birthday" by Alex Madrigal. They show galaxies colliding, and look almost as convincing as the special effects on the latest Star Wars movie. My mind is completely blown away by these pictures. They are amazing.

Last but not least, one of my childhood heroes has "passed the torch" to my generation. In celebration of Earth Day, Jane Goodall symbolically passed the torch of activism saying (according to Scientific American):

"'The 100 (young people) who are here represent hundreds of thousands of others,'...'You hear them debate some of the problems of the world, and you know there is hope for the future.'"

Wow. These are some big shoes to fill. I'm a fan of Jane Goodall (despite the fact that she named her child Grub), and I even have her words painted on a wall in my house. I guess it's time to start changing the world. Here's the full article, if you guys are interested in reading anything besides my blog:

"Jane Goodall passes activist torch to world's youth"

22 April, 2008

"Hands" - The Raconteurs

That Previously Mentioned Museum Playlist

I placed these songs together not because they remind me of museums, but because I think they'd be hella sick to listen to in a museum. I'd probably get thrown out of the museum for dancing like a fool, but I don't think I would mind.

"Adouma" - Angelique Kidjo

"Good Morning Good Morning" - The Beatles

"Dirty Harry" - Gorillaz

"Amazon" - M.I.A.

"Summer In The City" - Regina Spektor

"Bug Eyes" - Dredg

"Run (I'm A Natural Disaster)" - Gnarls Barkley

"The River Of Dreams" - Billy Joel

"What's Going On" - Marvin Gaye

"All Of Me/ The Peanut Vendor" - Dick Hyman Group

"Take Five" - Dave Brubeck

"The Enemy Guns" - Devotchka

"Steady As She Goes" - The Raconteurs

Ramblings of an Addict

I don't think of myself as being very high maintenance. In fact, I would say that at least outwardly I'm extremely low maintenance. Right now, I'm sprawling on my bed in a white hippy skirt that has a number of holes and at least two stains. After egregiously neglecting to wear sunscreen the other day, I have a patchy pink burn on my arms and legs, my toe-nail polish is chipping, and my hair has been unceremoniously stuffed beneath a pair of headphones. This is classic me, and I don't care. I do care intensely about the music being piped through those headphones. It's an addiction, and though it isn't always as obnoxious as a shopping addiction or a compulsive craving for spray-tanning, it can be just as physically and mentally ravaging.

The amount, texture, quality, and consistency of the music that I hear can affect my mood for the entire day. If I wake up and Elliott Smith's "Everything Reminds Me of Her" is streaming from my radio, then my blue sky will most likely be tinged with a few gray clouds. If I wake up to the Grateful Dead, then I will have an almost insatiable desire to play outside, a.k.a. hug trees and roll in the grass. At the same time, most of my music has an indelible connection to the people who are currently part of and have been part of my life. Best friends, ex-boyfriends, old friends, and new friends are all tied to songs, as is the majority of my emotional baggage. "Time Bomb" by Rancid will always remind me of the summer of 2004; "Good Riddance" by Green Day of 2005; "Something To Do With My Hands" by Her Space Holiday of 2006; "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" by the Counting Crows of 2007; and 2008, well, I'm don't know yet. Led Zeppelin will always make me think of Spring 2002, but is that a good thing?

It's a gift to know that there's something in this world that I can completely lose myself in, but a curse to know that I can be lost so easily. It's wonderful to feel that you aren't alone in the universe in the existential sense, but at the same time it hurts to know that there will never be quite enough music to categorize and contemplate your personal anxieties and uncertainties, hopes and fears. Sometimes you have to compose your own soundtrack.

So here I sit with my sunburn and my messy hair, listening to Joel after Dylan and ZOX after Mason Jennings, arranging, rearranging, and researching sounds. It's not glamorous to happen upon a "Museum Playlist" from iTunes, and it's not particularly cool to sit here and ponder the connection between a live version of "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and "Sayuri's Theme" by John Willams (And what any of it has to do with museums? And why it all has to be so sad?). The coolness factor, however, has very little to do with the fact that this is exactly what I'm doing at this very moment. At the same time, I'm mentally designing my own museum playlist, and wondering which museum I'll inhabit next; and, I'm also hoping that some of the people who read this post will be inspired to do the same. In the end, the soundtrack of your life (and your life itself) is all what you make of it. Why not make it shine?

"Floetic" - Floetry

The picture quality is crummy, but the song is killer.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" - Gil Scott-Heron

Integrity Playlist

"Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day...He has no time to be anything but a machine. How can he remember well his own ignorance - which his growth requires - who has so often to use his knowledge?"

- Walden, Henry David Thoreau.

I started Walden yesterday. I'm only about six pages into the story, but it's great. I already have about twenty quotations written on a piece of paper. Thoreau tested himself, tested his integrity, and tested the parameters of society and its intersection with human survival. You don't know where the edge is, until you've been over it.

"Reckoner" - Radiohead
From the already famous In Rainbows, this song hovers with looped percussion and Gospel-style harmonized vocals. They are absolutely the band that will be playing when the world - as we know it - comes to an end. Thom York is already there; he's already writing his songs on a different wavelength.

"Electric Bird" - Sia
This song has the benefit of a chorus that rises progressively, and a body that's perfectly understated. It finds the edge and balances perfectly on the knife blade, while breaking free of every constraint that Sia created for her own music on her first album. The song in itself is about constraints, and uses a caged bird (albeit a caged "electric bird") as a metaphor for art that has been boxed into a category.

"24 Preludes, Op. 28: No. 1 in C Major" - Rafal Blechacz (Chopin)
Classical music enchants me. It's the only genre of music that consistently occupies my whole mind when I listen, and I find it difficult to think of other things when it's in the background. This song has an energy, an almost soft anxiety that builds as the song progresses, and then drifts away. It reminds me of cherry blossoms being swept from a tree by the wind, and then swirling in a pond. Cathartic.

"Bertha" - Grateful Dead
"I had to move, really had to move..." basically says it all.

"Freedom Day" - Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach
Snap your fingers in the smoky catacombs of jazz basements, and feel the sound of revolution.

15 April, 2008

"Stratosphere" - Photon Band

"When our hearts are full, we need much less..."

Honeysuckle Weeks is that rare sophomore album that outdoes the debut. On the album, the Submarines become massive musical personalities, flex their lyrical muscles to the point of inspiration, and take instrumental risks in the pursuit of grandeur. It's partially luck, and partially talent the ensures that it all comes together so nicely. In the end, what sticks with the listener are the ten songs with incredibly positive and hopeful lyrics dressed in the costumes of the book of Revelations. These songs acknowledge pain, hate, deception, greed, apathy, and the possibility of ultimate self-destruction, but all in a way that doesn't discount the overwhelming power of love to conquer all (and no matter you believe, this is something that everyone should believe. It's one of the few things worth believing in!).

We'll begin at the beginning with "Submarine Symphonika" which has faux-Operatic intentions. Blake Hazzard croons about burning cities and broken hearts, but turns it around with that unforgettably redemptive quality of love: you can't help falling into it, even when you've been hurt. The instrumental progression of the song is less enchanting than the lyrics, but even here I find something attractive in the playfulness. These songs deal with intense subjects, but they steer clear of sounds that are either too precious or too common, and come up with a blend that never gets tiring for very long. "Thorny Thicket" combines hip-hop beats and the Baroque sounds of Henry Purcell, under a vocal celebration of (what else?) love. The third song on the album ends up being the best however. "You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie" is explores the guilt of living in "the center of the first world". Hazzard again asks a thought-provoking question "who are we to break down?", and counters with the assertion that:

"Everyday we wake up. We choose love, we choose light, and we try. It's too easy just to fall apart."

And it is, isn't it? Even with all of our stuff, even with all of our opportunities, and all kinds of experiences laid out before us, it is human nature to be unsatisfied and to forget all of the things we have. "1940" follows with a southern Pacific island feeling, and a beat similar to a pack of wandering elephants. It's probably the most interesting song on the album musically, and even lyrically it verges on a dreamlike state of enlightenment (albeit, one that sounds rather drug-induced). "The Wake Up Song" follows with the zipping, buzzing intensity of life being lived. The vocal delivery see-saws between "breaking news" and the voice inside your head, and the lyrics are clock-like in their persistence. "Swimming Pool" utilizes those indelible metaphors of swimming in the deep end, and being saved by love. "Maybe" follows "Swimming Pool" with a main vocal by Hazzard's fellow submarine John Dragonetti, who sings a song about unknowns and variables. "Xavia" celebrates the fact that everyone has troubles, and that we're all united by our uncertainty; while "Fern Beard" is a slightly melancholy description of an overgrown city and the most computerized-sounding of any song on the album. We're lucky that the album doesn't finish with "Fern Beard", but with "Brightest Hour" which strikes me as a slightly more positive song. It still carries the sadness and finality of the end of any good story, but "Brightest Hour" also has the features of a happy ending, and is a perfect choice for the conclusion of Honeysuckle Weeks.

In the next few weeks, you'll probably read a lot about the Submarines and their new album. Their music has already had a write-up in Spin, and as the album's release date gets closer, it's evident (to me at least) that there will be quite a lot of buzz surrounding Honeysuckle Weeks. Remember that the good, the bad, and the ugly that you read, is only ever a shadow of the music that you hear. Try to listen with open ears; and whatever you do, try to enjoy.

14 April, 2008

"Uncle John's Band" - the Grateful Dead

Well the first days are the hardest days,
don't you worry anymore,
' Cause when life looks like Easy Street,
there is danger at your door.
Think this through with me,
let me know your MIND,
Whoa-oh, what I want to know,
is are you kind?

It's a buck dancer's choice, my friends,
better take my advice.
You know all the rules by now
and the fire from the ice.
Will you come with me?
Won't you come with me?
Whoa-oh, what I want to know,
will you come with me?

Goddamn, I declare,
have you seen the light?
Their walls are built of cannonballs,
their motto is "Don't tread on me".
Come hear Uncle John's Band
by the riverside,
Got some things to talk about
here beside the rising tide.

It's the same story the crow told me;
it's the only one he know.
Like the morning sun you come
and like the wind you go.
Ain't no time to hate,
barely time to wait,
Whoa-oh, what I want to know,
where does the time go?

I live in a silver mine
and I call it Beggar's Tomb;
I got me a violin
and I beg you call the tune,
Anybody's choice,
I can hear your voice.
Whoa-oh, what I want to know,
how does the song go?

Come hear Uncle John's Band
by the riverside,
Got some things to talk about
here beside the rising tide.
Come hear Uncle John's Band
playing to the tide.
Come on along or go alone
he's come to take his children home.

Whoa-oh, what I want to know,
how does the song go?
Come hear Uncle John's Band
by the riverside,
Got some things to talk about
here beside the rising tide.
Come hear Uncle John's Band
playing to the tide.
Come on along or go alone
he's come to take his children home.

"Gospel With No Lord" - Camille

I love seemingly random performance art. It's surreal when she sings "hampster-in-law". Yup, that's probably my favorite part.

"Piano Concerto No. 3" - Sergei Rachmaninoff (played by Dimitris Sgouros)

"Me Cai" - Pacifika

Chill World

I was bouncing around Barnes & Noble yesterday, and I wandered into the media section. My local B&N has a decent selection, with a middling to large classical and soundtrack department, an understandably large pop/rock section, and a smallish collection of world music that nevertheless encompasses more than your average Youssou N'Dour and Angelique Kidjo coffee-house blends.

Anyway, I came across two albums of new music that could be classified as world music, I suppose, although that genre title never seems to really mean anything. The first was the album Asuncion by Pacifika; the second, Fraise Vanille by Helena. They're albums that come from two distinct areas and have two very distinct textures, but are both very relaxing, yet also energizing. I think they're both very zen albums, and by that I mean that they allow me to relax to the point where I can access energy that I might not have realized that I had.

Pacifika begin their album with "Sol", a chanted song over strings, and follow that with "Me Cai" which is layered and rhythmic. "Me Cai" is a perfect summer song, with a lush acoustic quality. "Chiquita" takes the third spot on Asuncion, and flickers and strobes like a bonfire. "Sweet" is the token English-language song, and although it doesn't achieve much beyond its album siblings, it's still a fine song in its own right, with a fair amount of the sweetness that inspires its title. "Paloma" is a party song with an intense Latin flavor and sensuality that make it intoxicating; and, "Mas Y Mas" is a ballad with grungey backing guitars, that lend an attractively unorthodox distortion to Silvana Kane's vocals. "Estrellas de Miel" sounds gypsy-jazz influenced, and the guitars achieve an exquisite backdrop that often sounds like falling raindrops. "Libertad" circles upon itself, as the lyrics argue and debate the sanity of love, and finally just give in to its inevitability. "Cuatro Hijas" is a lullaby tinged with sadness, and "Oyeme" is purely joyful and celebratory. The final track - "Las Olas" - contains some finality, a stain of melancholy, and a bouquet of hope for more music in the near future. Pacifika is quite a band, and they expertly control the mood of their new album Asuncion. Listen and be soothed.

Then of course we have Helena, whose album is pure French pop. The delivery is sunshine and lollipops and flowers in the French countryside, with only a handful of songs hinting at even the concept of Parisian night-life. This is far from the Moulin Rouge. "Le Tourbillon" starts with the album with a perfect highlight of the softness and musical quality of French. With only a flute accompanying her voice at an echoing distance, Helena sounds just the way I imagine Vianne, in Chocolat. Skip ahead to "Adieu Ma Vie", and hear neither sadness nor bitterness in this goodbye, only soft and certain surrender. "Tout Morose" is the fifth song on the album, and wanders carnivalesque through your mind without seeming to have an absolute direction in mind. It's a laid-back song that asks you to take a journey that is important only because of the experience of traveling, not because of the destination. "La Vie De Cocagne" has a vampy horn and percussion sound, while "J'ai La Memoire Qui Flanche" floats down a river of memories in a jaunty little boat. "Caresse-moi J'adore Ca" is enchanting and simple, and the final song - "Minuit Orly" - is a sweet finish to an equally sweet album. Helena sings well, but also has a way of making these songs glow and flow smoothly through your mind. Maybe she has an amazing producer, or maybe she's just an amazing talent. Whatever the reason, Fraise Vanille is an amazingly relaxing album.

13 April, 2008

"Young Love" - Mystery Jets featuring Laura Marling


Eidolon is the Greek word for a spiritual double or phantom. I think it's an extremely pretty word, that conveys something transient and haunting, and slightly melancholy. The eighteen year old songstress Laura Marling is a personification of eidolon. She's a physically striking pale complexioned blond, who looks as if she should have been placed in a Jane Austen novel as the aristocratic girl with a somewhat dreamy personality and wispy romantic ideals. Those ideals are carefully expressed with her guitar and voice compositions that whisper and wander, but never stray far from the bittersweetness of young love. Laura's voice is haunting in its own way, especially with the echo effect that can be found on many of her songs.

Listen to her new extended play My Manic and I, and you can hear Marling's talent. "New Romantic" (video below) hits many high notes, with it's simple folk trappings and lyrical honesty. It's a raw song with the repeated lyrics: "I will never love a man, cause love and pain go hand in hand, and I can't do it again." Part of Laura's charm is in her ability to acknowledge her inexperience and uncertainty when it comes to love, and her ability to convey this without weakening the sentiment of her songs. She does this well in "Night Terror", which superbly creates the emotional intensity of a nightmare. The backing track is slightly cloying and suffocating, creating that urgent anxiety that typifies nightmares. The title track is rhythmically enchanting, and the lyrical refrain "...and I don't believe him..." is almost a mantra that propels the song forward. "Typical" hits its Regina Spektor-like stride with a laundry-list of disparate ideas that somehow form a coherent picture.

There are only four songs on the extended play, but each song has its own personality and especially beautiful traits. Consistently, Laura Marling demonstrates that age has little to do with ability or emotional depth and insight. My Manic and I is haunting, deep, and quite gorgeous, and it's taken me a month to find a word to describe it: eidolonic.

10 April, 2008

Jailhouse Blues

When I think of live albums recorded in prisons, well, I actually only think of one album: Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. Forever memorialized in Walk The Line, with Joaquin Phoenix's man in black brooding over a glass of dirty prison water. The album encompasses a fierce country/blues performance in an unorthodox, but appropriate location.

There is another live prison album which deserves just as much of a musical nod as Live at Folsom Prison, and this is Big Mama Thornton's transparently titled Jail. Recorded at two prisons in the 1970s, the album is only seven songs long. Still, it's truly a piece of art, performed with verve by the woman who wrote songs that are now considered some of Elvis Presley's and Janis Joplin's hits.

Jail begins with a rustling harmonica solo, and then the blues rumble hits the ground running. It's "Little Red Rooster", and Big Mama Thornton sings the blues with just as much energy as the harmonica. "Ball 'N' Chain" is the second song, and the one most notably attributed to Janis Joplin. I'm a huge fan of Joplin's work, and I think her voice is an amazing instrument. However, listening to Big Mama Thornton's vocal control over the soft and hard syllables, and her ability to make a song sound variously harsh and sweet, has me convinces that Joplin must have spent hours trying to mimic her. The similarities in delivery are uncanny. The title song rumbles into the third spot, chronicling the boredom, anxiety, and malaise that anyone can imagine taking hold after days spent in jail. We have "Hound Dog" in the fourth spot, and it's notably more jazzy than the Presley version. Listening to Big Mama Thornton belt the song along with the horn line, I felt like I was hearing it the way it was meant to played, and that is an intensely satisfying experience. "Rock Me Baby" has a sloppy quality, that matches Thornton's slurred vocal delivery. "Sheriff O.E. and Me" is carefree, and seems to have a few blugrass elements, although the blues is still strong and the song is far from direction less. Thornton finishes her concert with "Oh Happy Day", which is quite uplifting and spiritually positive.

The greatest quality of Jail, is not the wonderful music it holds, but the genius that guides the organization of the music on the album. The progress of the songs is as delineated as a well-written story. From the wakeup call of "Little Red Rooster", to "Jail"s very own dramatic plateau that corresponds with the middle of the album, and then the grand finale of "Oh Happy Day" that finishes the album with hope. The album succeeds in conjuring various emotions, and focusing on various topics, but never does it become loaded down with bitterness or inappropriate levels of happiness for the occasion. It's a thoughtful album, and it should garner true artistic status along with Live at Folsom Prison.

08 April, 2008

Synesthesia, Part II

Synesthesia is otherwise known as the neurological disorder characterized by a crossing of the senses. Often, a person with synesthesia will hear smells, or see sounds, and sometimes words have textures and tastes. It's basically my favorite neurological disorder, which sounds awful when I write it that way. I guess my point is that I'm completely fascinated by synesthesia and synesthetes. Interesting then, to read about Guitarati in WIRED magazine. You've got to check this site out for yourself, because this concept is just too cool to try to explain in words without texture or taste.


"Queen Bitch" - David Bowie

Probably my favorite song by David Bowie. :)

Musings and the First (Real) Day of Spring

I stood today, with my face and arms and abdomen pressed against a glass door. *Sigh*, It was basically heaven, with the sun warming the glass so much, that I actually got hot. I think I'll count this as the first real day of Spring. I walked by the ocean today. The tide was high and it was chilly enough that I wanted my jacket (so I wore it), but I didn't really need to wear it. In other words, it wasn't like I was going to get pneumonia and die if I left the hood down. It's a really nice feeling, and something I think I'd really miss if I lived in an area where the seasonal weather was less defined. The changes (and the constant knowledge that there will be changes) really make life worth living.

I don't have pages to write about music. Lately, my mind has been elsewhere, and I think it's good that my topics of interest are becoming more varied. I'm currently reading three books. The first one is called The Universe In A Single Atom, and it was written by the Dalai Lama in 2005. I should say that it was written by "His Holiness the Dalai Lama", because that's what is written on the cover. Sidenote: Wouldn't it be awesome if you could just sign things like that? For example, let's say "Jack" decides to sign all of his emails "His Holiness Jack". Or what if "Maureen" concludes that instead of the Ms/Mrs/Miss title fiasco, her checks will just read "Her Holiness". Just a thought, and I'm guessing that would be pretty freaking cool.

To get back on track, the Dalai Lama's book is about the convergence of science and spirituality. The spirituality aspect consistently revolves around Buddhism, which makes sense because this is what the Dalai Lama knows best. The scientific aspect however, has consistently focused on the most controversial aspects of contemporary physics. The most interesting thing that I have discovered, is how close the logic of science and Buddhism can be. It's interesting to think of religion and science as two different ways to reckon with the mysteries surrounding you, but even more interesting to think that they can actually be integrated in a way that strikes a particularly wholesome balance.

The second book I'm reading is a travel/guidebook to Taiwan. Random, I know, but I've always loved reading about other countries. The fact that the format is pretty standard, does nothing to cripple my enthusiasm. In fact, the color photographs and paragraph descriptions of local cultural events take me places in my mind where I hope to someday travel in my body. Until then, keep the travel books coming. If you're also stricken by wanderlust and keen on discovering "...the most underrated tourist destination in Asia...", then you should read The Rough Guide to Taiwan by Stephen Keeling and Brice Minnigh. The first edition was published in April of 2007, and the format is fabulous.

Behind door number three...Zeus:A Journey through Greece, in the footsteps of a God by Tom Stone. I've only just begun, but it seems like the story is going to be an interesting mix of mythological archaeology and full-out praisegush, for Greece. It's another country I've always wanted to visit. There's something about those little houses built into the coast, with their blue domes. I guess there's really just something fantastic about the whole Mediterranean atmosphere. Fantastic and delicious.

I'm currently listening to Colin Meloy Sings Live!. Yes, it's Colin Meloy, the warbly-voiced lead singer of the Decemberists, who happens to make Canada, and the pairing of emo hairstyles and facial hair supremely cool (let's face it, Canada was already pretty cool). I remember hearing "16 Military Wives" in 2005, and thinking: this is the reason I should go to the Warped Tour. Did I end up going? No. Did I end up liking The Decemberists? Yes. Picaresque and The Crane Wife are both gorgeous albums, and now we have Colin Meloy's very own live album. Listen to "We Both Go Down Together", and hear the tenacity and certainty of lovers in unfortunately dissimilar circumstances. It's a real love story. There's also "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect/Dreams" which is an unsteady song with a steady melody. It's followed by "Dracula's Daughter", a jokey number that begins with the lines "Dracula's daughter got it bad". There are seventeen songs on Colin Meloy Sings Live!, and all of them are well-played, well-written, and consistently fun for the ears. What makes the album special, however, is Meloy's witty audience-directed banter. I would usually say that banter was something that went on between two or more people, a collaborative effort in teasing. What Colin Meloy does on his live album can be defined as all of those things, despite the fact that the audience does little more than giggle or sing a few lines. He's a live artist, someone who has the chops and the improvisational ability to groove with the audience or bend them to his will, at will. Although the album makes you long to see Colin Meloy and possibly the Decemberists live, it also stands very nicely on its own, and would be a distinctive addition to anyone's collection.

That's all for now, folks! Peace, love, and all that jazz.

"How To Be Blue" - Nik Freitas

The picture quality is lacking, but the sound is right there. Enjoy!

"It seems the world at any second could be a memory..."

The title of this post is a particularly poetic line from the song "Sun Down" on Nik Freitas' new album Sun Down. I like this music, with its uncertain blend of Elliot Smith, Mason Jennings, and the Beatles. It's spring-time music, and it helps the listener thaw out without losing any of its intelligence.

"Sun Down" mellowly melodizes, while Freitas' voice lightly wavers over words that flow "...off, like endless rain into a paper cup...". "Oh My God" follows with a bursting Gospel feeling, replete with humming chorus and a crescendo of piano drama. Freitas' lyrics are again poetic and also fairly clear. He sings: "My heart's been living inside of me. My heart's been drawing pictures you don't want to see." The concepts elucidated in these lyrics are far from archaic, and are actually incredibly accessible. "All The Way Down" is the Broadway show-stopper, that hits all of the high notes imaginable; while, the gentle "What You Become" is resignedly melancholy, albeit with a spark of hope. Songs named after girls are generally kind of mundane, but "Sophie" rumbles like early, electric Dylan (who just won a Pulitzer, by the way) and shuffles like an addict on a Lou Reed kick. Hit the psychedelic notes with "Love Around", a song that would've made Woodstock proud; and then "It Ain't Like That" follows with a marching precision, and a consistency that is a far stretch from trippy. The final triad is comprised of "See Me There", "Comes To Me", and "Shhhh". "See Me There" is soft and piano driven, but nothing wowing. "Comes To Me", on the other hand, is probably my favorite track on the whole album. Yet again, I am blown away by a single line: "...When you've been skipping stones against decisions you've made..." That imagery is fantastic, and at the same time we hear shuffling percussion, and intermittent, echoing piano. "Shhhh" is a circular piece, that ties in nicely with the rest of the album and finishes Sun Down with a whisper.

Nik Freitas has four albums that I can find, but I would recommend starting with Sun Down, and working your way back. It's a gorgeous album, and it deserves to get significant play in anyone's stereo.

04 April, 2008

"African Alphabet (Muppets Tribute)" - The Crazy Pitches

"A New England" - Billy Bragg

I was twenty one years when I wrote this song
I'm twenty two now, but I won't be for long
People ask when will you grow up to be a man
But all the girls I loved at school
are already pushing prams

I loved you then as I love you still
Though I put you on a pedestal,
They put you on the pill
I don't feel bad about letting you go
I just feel sad about letting you know

I don't want to change the world
I'm not looking for a new England
I'm just looking for another girl
I don't want to change the world
I'm not looking for a new England
I'm just looking for another girl

I loved the words you wrote to me
But that was bloody yesterday
I can't survive on what you send
Every time you need a friend

I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care

I don't want to change the world
I'm not looking for a new England
I'm just looking for another girl
(Looking for another girl)
(Looking for another girl)
(Looking for another gi-rl)

Beauty in the Everyday

I started listening to Ames Room by Silje Nes just a few minutes ago, and I already feel completely and unequivocally relaxed. It's like I'm back in the womb, rocking gently in amniotic fluid (only not as disgusting). iTunes somehow gets away with categorizing Ames Room as electronic music, but that is almost diametrically opposed to what I feel when I listen. The sound is intensely organic, sometimes echoing a human heartbeat, and sometimes percussing like a heavy rainstorm. When I think electronic, I think sterile, black and white and grey; I think computer chips and synthesizers and drum-machines. When I think Silje Nes (not that I've often done this), I think of nature and our ever-present, ever-changing connection to the living, breathing pores of the Earth.

The song "Ames Room" is a perfect example of this organic musical exploration. Dripping noises sit innocuously in front of the beating drum, like a leaky tin roof, and Silje's voice is a soft and breathy wind. Listen then to "Drown" with its melancholy Radiohead guitar, and you can almost feel stifled and overwhelmed by the certainty that the melody espouses; but, then you hear that soft heartbeat underlying everything, and the occasional sound of a wooden wind-chime. "Dizzy Street" has a stop-start quality that hesitates like I do when I'm feeling sensory overload in a big city. There's also "Escape", a lullaby lacking in repetition, and "No Bird Can", which lazily explores wind instruments as a grand finale to the whole album.

The disjointed songs where Silje Nes's sound doesn't work, are far and few between, and mostly succeed in making the rest of the album sound more relaxing. "Shapes, Electric" gets a little too spooky and precious for even my unique tastes. I find that the song sounds rather alien, almost extraterrestrial in fact, to the point where I lose my connection to the organic roots, and start floating through the dark and lonely universe. "Searching, White" is a white noise monstrosity that tries too hard to incorporate distortion and a marching rhythm to abstract lyrics. These two songs are really the only uncomfortable pieces on the entire album, which is quite a feat when you realize that it's fourteen songs long.

Overall, I would not hesitate to see Silje Nes in concert, and I would absolutely purchase Ames Room. It's not a breathtaking work of art that you would find in the Louvre, but it's a rooted album that sounds natural and consistent.

"Dandelion" - Antje Duvekot

I may have posted this before, but it's worth watching again.

"When Harry met Sally it was settled
That Mary Jane would fall for Spiderman
The story was set in stone like
Tarzan and Jane, Yoko and John
You were like my Hollywood movie
The butterflies and Central Park kiss
Of course you would pursue me, I was Julia Roberts
I mean, how could you resist?

Well, I am the Fourth of July
I'm throwing you a fire in the sky
You could go blind in my light
But you were looking for an orchid
And I will always be a dandelion

So I put on the best of my Warhols
I could have been your Marilyn Monroe
But you had only eyes for the Mona Lisa
You shared my cab ride all the way home

But I am the Fourth of July
I'm throwing you a fire in the sky
You could go blind in my light
But you were looking for an orchid
And I will always be a dandelion

I am a middle class home, I am a worn out banjo
I'll never dance in Swan Lake, I'll never play the cello
I am the Northern Lights, I am invisible
I am a dandelion, I am forever wild

I am the Fourth of July
I'm throwing you a fire in the sky
You could go blind in my light
But you were looking for an orchid
And I will always be

You were looking for a tea light
And I will always be a forest fire

A dandelion..."

01 April, 2008

Fools Rush In

I'm sitting here trying to find a way to fool all of my blog readers, but nothing's coming to me. I guess I'll just shuffle off into my musical cave and search for gold. Before you continue to read my musings, this is a list that no one with a sense of humor should be deprived of today: 10 Best: April Fools' Gags (the Web is Closing for Spring Cleaning!)

Here's my April 1st, 2008 playlist:

"Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" - Jay-Z

If it weren't for the fact that Jay-Z is so hardcore, this song would really make me laugh. To be honest, it makes me laugh just to imagine how silly I look rocking out to this slang-filled joint.

"Time to Start" - Blue Man Group

With instructions for dancing at a rock concert delivered in a banal P.S.A. manner and perfectly juxtaposed with the undeniable percussion, BMG does it again. All I need is some toilet-paper, and I'm ready to rock.

"Phyliss" - Apollo Sunshine

Just the fact that this song was written about a pet rabbit makes it amazing. The lyrics just add to that: "Well if the universe ends, then how does it end? And if it doesn't end, well then how is that possible?" Let's get metaphysical with Apollo Sunshine.

"Hot Hot Hot" - Bina Mistry

There were a couple of things I noticed the other night when I rewatched Bend It Like Beckham. The first was the depth and absolute gorgeousness of Jonathan Rhys Meyers' eyes (collective "awww" from the female viewers. Yeah, he's just that damn cute). The other thing I noticed was how happy and fun Bollywood music is, this song included.

"Brick House" - The Commodores

"36-24-36, ow, what a winning hand!"

"Move On Up" - Curtis Mayfield

My new favorite song. That horn is addictive and the lyrics are beautiful.

"Burnout" - Green Day

"Apathy has rained on me, and now I'm feeling like a soggy dream. So close to drowning, but I don't mind."

"Jump Around" - House Of Pain

The appeal of this song is purely nostalgic. I feel like I've been sent back to the '90s.

"Do Your Thing" - Basement Jaxx

This is a banging track. "All I need is a bopping beat to bop away my blues..."

"Wannabe" - Spice Girls

Sue me.

"Deceptacon" - Le Tigre

The lyrics are so sweetly angry, I love the acerbic wit of Kathleen Hanna and the rest of the crew.

"For Now" - Original Cast of Avenue Q

Probably the most clever show to hit Broadway in a long time. It tore up all of your preconceived notions about musicals and about propriety, spit them in your face, and then applied all of them in its own way. Genius.