31 July, 2008

"If You Forget Me" by Pablo Neruda

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

This is a song. The music is in the cadence of the lines.

30 July, 2008

Encouraged Listening (and reading)

I'm not a big fan of requirements. Usually, I put my entire cache of stubbornness into avoiding completing the things I'm required to complete. That said, I still think there are books that everyone should read. I would never require these books, because I firmly believe that if you come to something on your own, you'll enjoy it more and take more from the reading. So, I encourage my readers and my friends to pick up the books and very often the albums that I find particularly world-view altering.

That said, you should listen to The Third World by Immortal Technique. It's a manifesto for those who wish to challenge inequities, and a laundry list of the things that are wrong with the world today. It sounds pretty depressing, right? Well, it can be depressing, but it can alternately be immensely empowering.

Here's a little anecdote for my readers. I was in an environmental science class in 2007, and my teacher was amazing. He used to go on these seemingly random tangents before, after, and during class. He would just tell stories about people - funny stories- and by the time you got to the end of the story you could see that he was really just highlighting a point for you. It made me realize that environmental science was overwhelmingly connected to everything in my life. There's not one part of my life that's not tied to my environment in some way. It was a great way to teach. One time, he was talking about his choice to become a teacher. He had been involved in a trade (I can't remember what exactly), and he made good money, but he never had any time. He realized that even when he wasn't working, he was feeling the effects of work or thinking about work, and since he didn't love his job, he was just kind of wasting all of this time for money. Now, he came to the conclusion that time is worth more than money, in the long run. Time is not infinite for a single human being.

He said this once (I'm paraphrasing, because this was over a year ago): "The people in charge don't want you to realize that time is more important than money. If they keep you working, and even more importantly keep you afraid of not working, then they can get you to step in line with everyone else and prevent you from thinking outside of the box. But what happens to your quality of life at this point? You become dissatisfied, because you have neither the time nor the energy to do the things you really care about, and a lot of people end up equating this dissatisfaction with the idea that they're not making enough money. They work more. They become more unhappy. Usually, they don't even recognize that they've wasted their time, and this is the key to their dissatisfaction."

What does this have to do with Immortal Technique? Well, his music is enlightening in the same way, and he's calling on people to break free from the mental chains that have been imposed (and that they have imposed) upon their thought processes. It's time to open your eyes, get pissed off, and then change things. For too long, the major artists in the hip-hop community have been buying in (punny, I know) to the idea that money is what will make you happier. To a certain point, I agree, you need a certain amount of money in this world to live in such a way that your basic needs are satisfied (unless you choose to live completely off the grid, but then you negate your ability to change the system from within). I'm certainly not saying that children in Nairobi don't need to eat, or that the people affected by Hurricane Katrina can live without a stable shelter. Instead, I think it's important to realize that all the money in the world will not balance the inequities and injustices that are carried out daily. To change things, to really alter the system, you need time and a certain enlightenment from fear. You need to be willing to alter your lifestyle and to dedicate yourself to the changes that will really make you happy. This is freedom. Money is just another master.

Oh, and here's a little recommended reading for all of the people who want to know a little more about Immortal Technique: "More Articulate, Politically Charged Flame-Throwing From Immortal Technique" by Raquel Cepeda

29 July, 2008

"16 Military Wives" by the Decemberists

This is so funny.

"Electric Feel (LIVE)" by MGMT

I love this song.

Clueless and Extraordinary

I watched the movie Clueless this weekend, and although it's fluffy and undeniably Southern California, it's also pretty damn funny. The cliches are so heavy-handed, stacked so unbearably high, that you can't help but enjoy the fun. Cher's inanity and self-absorbed charity are over the top, but you have to admire some of her spunk: she's absolutely the Elle Woods of the nineties, albeit one who's a little less fit for Harvard Law School.

As I was watching the movie, I found myself thinking about Liz Phair, and although this digression may seem inexplicable, it made sense in my own mind. First of all, Liz Phair and Alicia Silverstone look alike! They're both blonde and conventionally gorgeous, but they also both strike me as "anti-blondes" who get their kicks out of playing roles that are beautifully sarcastic. Clueless was probably the peak of this popular subversion for Silverstone, while Exile In Guyville was Phair's early subversive peak. Since these career high points, they've both kind of done work that had to be done. You have to make a living, right? So, maybe we can forgive Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and "Why Can't I?", and sometimes even enjoy these blockbuster bumps when we're feeling tired or goofy. The low-points shouldn't necessarily define the careers of two strong and sarcastic women. The "anti-blonde" is probably still burning underneath the streamlined surface, so we can overlook some missteps and just enjoy the perfect sarcastic candy that Silverstone and Phair released at their peak.

28 July, 2008

"Hanging By A Moment" - Lifehouse

Lifehouse was an album-on-repeat band for ages. I <3 Stanley Climbfall and No Name Face. This has to be one of my all-time favorite songs. It's one of the few songs that I've grown with, and the lyrics twist to fit whatever situation I'm in.

Desperate for changing
Starving for truth
I'm closer to where I started
Chasing after you
I'm falling even more in love with you
Letting go of all I've held onto
I'm standing here until you make me move
I'm hanging by a moment here with you

Forgetting all I'm lacking
Completely incomplete
I'll take your invitation
You take all of me now...

I'm falling even more in love with you
Letting go of all I've held onto
I'm standing here until you make me move
I'm hanging by a moment here with you
I'm living for the only thing I know
I'm running and not quite sure where to go
And I don't know what I'm diving into
Just hanging by a moment here with you

There's nothing else to lose
There's nothing else to find
There's nothing in the world
That can change my mind
There is nothing else
There is nothing else
There is nothing else

Desperate for changing
Starving for truth
I'm closer to where I started
Chasing after you....

I'm falling even more in love with you
Letting go of all I've held onto
I'm standing here until you make me move
I'm hanging by a moment here with you
I'm living for the only thing I know
I'm running and not quite sure where to go
And I don't know what I'm diving into
Just hanging by a moment here with you

Just hanging by a moment (here with you)
Hanging by a moment (here with you)
Hanging by a moment here with you

24 July, 2008

I'm not joiking around (but maybe I should be)

Joik (Yoik): An indigenous song/chant of the Sami people of Northern Europe that is usually improvisational and cyclical, having neither a beginning nor an end. Often performed a cappella, these songs are also usually very personal, meaning that the theme is to some extent biographical. Yet a joik is not "about" the subject, a song that objectively witnesses an event, but in fact is dynamically and affectively shaping the subject as it is sung. Land, animals, and people can all be joiked, and this is actually as integral and spiritually important as the process of naming. Most interesting and important of all, a joik is not created once and forever. Instead, joiks are necessarily dynamic and constantly shifting which is one reason why the human voice is the instrument of choice for joiking.

I've listened to a little (very little) joiking, and it musically reminds me of a round performed solo. I realize that the very definition of a round requires that it not be performed solo, and yet the Sami singers that I've listened to have this amazing and enchanting ability to throw their voices in a way that makes them sound like they're harmonizing with themselves. Repetition is ubiquitous, as are surprising endings and fades that pop up in the middle of the chants at unexpected times.

I love the music. It sounds like the babbling and play-singing of children learning how to speak, and of adults who are carefree enough to hum without boundaries. It also has somewhat of a musical sister in scat-singing, which can be extremely playful, celebratory, and personal. It is closer to free poetry than storytelling, because of the large gaps and unexpected endings that leave the listener to continue the story at a later point. The songs are not perfect circles by any stretch of the imagination, but more like winding country roads that move in a way most comfortable for the land.

Creativity is unbound because the joik was not first created to be "art", but to be a social bonding and communal experience, a celebration of indigenous history, and an opportunity to be creative. For this reason there are very few "rules" to joiking, except that for expression's sake musical instruments are usually set aside and the chants should have no beginning or end.

I find this all extremely interesting, but I really am just beginning to learn about this music. Here are a few sites with more information than I can offer at this time.

The Sami Yoik

"The Joy of Joiking"

The Complete Guide to Sami Music and Joiking Online

"Joik and the theory of knowledge" by Ande Somby

If you're interested, then you can also pick up an album containing 58 joiks on iTunes. It's called Lappish Joik Songs From Northern Norway, and contains various intriguing performances.

When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Steampunk/Magic Realist

I keep a file of my favorite quotations from books that I may forget I ever read. Sometimes I forget to update this file, but just the other day I found a quotation so perfect, I couldn't wait to rewrite it. It was in an essay by Daniel Samuels entitled "Marginal Notes" which is his stripped-to-the-soul honest ode to J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey.

Here's the line:

Reading requires a loner’s temperament, a high tolerance for silence, and an unhealthy preference for the company of people who are imaginary or dead.

Isn't that great? He goes on to explain his theory about people who become bibliophiles as children. It's not particularly complimentary, but the honesty is chilling and poetic. For one thing, reading is touted as the absolute form of escapism. It's something you can do for free if you live near a library, and you can do it completely alone. Yet, Samuels also makes the point that you're never really alone, and this is what makes reading so incredibly addictive for people who enjoy the idea of perfect social situations without all the complications of conversing with real people. It's very easy to want to be Harry Potter's best friend when you don't have to love him during his shitty moods. Another great point made in "Marginal Notes" is the connection between reading and acceptance. People who for one reason or another never quite fit in, often become voracious readers, and then look for some semblance of normalcy in copying their favorite characters. By "people" I'm talking about myself too, if you didn't pick up on my little word choice sleight of hand.

The truth is that there's a vast underground of bookish people. We're not as obvious as you might at first imagine, but you can tell us by our constantly carried reading material or the fact that we're the first to ask you what you're reading. We crave that connection that's solidified by quiet conversation about our favorite books over strong tea (or coffee, or superjuice. I won't judge.) We're also the ones who are excited by a pile of untouched reading material, and we paw through stacks at libraries, bookstores, and yard-sales looking for that story that will let us get our fix, until our favorite author releases once again. For those uninitiated it can be hard to understand.

Within the clan there are factions, of course. Nonfiction and Fiction are often battling for supremacy in an unending war like that which has long been fought between herpetologists and ornithologists. There's no way to win, but those who are dedicated continue to fight. Then there are the people who only read realistic fiction, scorning sci-fi and fantasy readers. Sci-fi readers are generally very dedicated, but even within that genre we have those who will only read hard science fiction. Many people will leave comic books and graphic novels out of the entire literary canon altogether (a big mistake in my opinion), while children's books don't often receive the praise or the readership they deserve outside of the youth community. Even I have preferences and predilections. I don't usually read books in large series because of time constraints, and I dislike stories where children are hurt (Roald Dahl was certainly pushing it, but Esio Trot has long had a soft-spot in my heart).

Bibliophiles unite.

22 July, 2008

Time Machine

Did you ever notice that A Tribe Called Quest's song "Can I Kick It?" samples the bass from Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side"? It's a perfectly placed homage, and instantly evokes the themes of drug use and addiction, and sexual confusion. Underneath the slamming drum beats, you can hear the steady bouncing vocals that meld into all the other sounds and support the song. The bass dips into the mix, and is never out of place, it bobs and floats throughout the song.

"Can I Kick It?" is the eighth song on the new soundtrack to the movie The Wackness, which is supposed to transport you back to the nineties. This tag-line makes me feel old. I'm a child of the nineties, raised on Salt 'N' Pepper, Alanis Morisette, Green Day, and Nirvana. I remember hearing Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" played incessantly on popular radio after the release of Batman Forever (the one with Val Kilmer that was released in 1995). Hell, I remember when the movie Titanic was released (1997). Although I begged to go I was (with good reason, since it's a shitty movie anyway) not allowed to see Titanic in theatres, but it did become the first rated R movie I ever watched at home (that I can recall). The Celine Dion album with "My Heart Will Go On" in the tracklist was one of the very first albums that I personally owned. Power rangers, Captain Planet, and the good Ninja Turtles shows mingle lightly with the sounds of Duncan Sheik's "Barely Breathing" and Deep Blue Something's "Breakfast At Tiffany's". Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake used to date! Does anyone remember that? Those were the days when we didn't know that Britney was crazy. There were some sounds that I actually enjoyed. I liked Blink-182 (I'll admit it). I used to watch the videos for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M. on MTV (when they actually played videos).

So here's what I want to know? How did all of that time move so fast, how did everything change so drastically without my knowledge? I guess I didn't notice because I changed with it, slowly but surely realizing that the big budget chick flicks are just not my cup of tea, and that I greatly prefer the clever lyrics of Kurt Cobain to the gushy hook-filled pastries that the Backstreet Boys release. I can look back and be nostalgic, but it's good to know that change is a constant. It's the difference between living your entire life in one dimension, and moving through infinite dimensions holding on to the things and the people you love and letting go of everything superfluous.

The Wackness is about a boy going through this same crisis in the early nineties. New York has not yet been "cleaned up" by Giuliani. Tupac and Biggy are not dead, but some of the promise of youth has been washed away in an instant (Cobain is gone. Already, the wheels turn in Rudy's head that say "no" to boom boxes and "yes" to imprisoning the homeless. You can tell I'm not a big fan.) Everything seems on the verge of completely and utterly breaking down. The thing is that these sensations are ubiquitous throughout history. Substitute Cobain with Ledger, Giuliani with Bush and you have the same feelings felt toward different people. The names change, the clothes change, the sounds on the radio and the actors who play Batman change, but the truly tangible feelings and uncertainties are left exactly the same. The Wackness can be released in 2008 and it can be enjoyed by anyone who has ever felt apathetic, neurotic, and uncertain. These feelings are not unique to the nineties, although during the nineties musicians became very good at expressing them. You can, of course, hear the same strains and themes in "Walk on the Wild Side" which was released in 1972 by a man who was born thirty years earlier.

18 July, 2008

"Buy the Ticket. Take the Ride."

That's Hunter Thompson in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and this summer I find myself associating with that book (along with the essay The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved) more than anything else I've read. Sometimes it's just a bubbling pool of incoherent stream of consciousness writing, with associations and realizations that often have very little to do with the events Thompson is supposed to be covering; and yet always his writing gets to the deepest, darkest soul of the issue. It's some of the most refreshing writing I have ever read.

When I was nine or ten I wanted to be a journalist. This was in between wanting to be a carpenter and realizing that I would probably need to know math (I hated math then, but now I'm kind of a big fan. Funny how you change over time.) and wanting to write fantasy novels. Journalism seemed to be such a freeing career, at least in my mind. Freelance journalism took the cake, while regular current events columns in "big" newspapers came in a not-so-close second. I craved the ability to exercise my superhero muscles by showing people (through my writing) who the bad guys really were. I wanted to "muckrake", in the best sense of the word. Uphold the principles of truth and justice, and...well, then I lost some of my innocence and realized how unhelpful the media can really be. Far from being free of subjectivity, the subjectivity is rampant and often out of control, but is also hidden by the dressing that slimes up most "news" writing. Very rarely is an article clear or coherent, and very often it's a jumbled mess. In this kind of writing, everything is about "the scandal" or the next thing that hearkens the "end of the world as we know it". First, I'm not so sure I'm that attached to the world as it is now. There are certainly aspects of it that I love with all of my heart, but there are many things I would change; many inequities I would eliminate. Secondly, scandals and fear often cover up the roots of the issue, and they also lead unsurprisingly to hysteria (which is never helpful when it comes to getting anything real accomplished.) There's a fine line between clearly reporting helpful information and important events and fear-mongering, and the line is too often crossed in contemporary journalism.

Now, Hunter Thompson was no stranger to fear. In fact, he published two books with fear in the title. What he seemed to understand though, is that people are not helping others by spreading fear and people are not helping themselves by being afraid. The world is scary enough (if you keep your eyes open) that you don't have to invent new things to fear, in fact it's more helpful to slowly but surely educate yourself about the old things. With this approach, even if you're still afraid, at the very least you will be prepared to face your fears with all of the tools at your disposal. Education and knowledge are the things that should free you from fear, not imprison you further. The other thing that helps is humor (and let me tell you, it's a big help). Thompson produced Gonzo journalism which is inherently subjective. In Gonzon journalism the journalist is generally the center of the entire story. He made precise and cutting observations about human character and post-WWII American culture, and he talked about big issues: poverty; inequity; the oppressive nature of the government; the awful things that humans can do to each other; and of course sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Nothing was too risque, nothing too disgusting or too visceral. He acknowledged that it is the visceral nature of our time on Earth that makes us human, and at the same time makes us animals.

After reading Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, I couldn't look at people without thinking: how would you behave in this situation? How would you react when confronted with A, B, and C? My worldview was turned on its side just enough to make my world a little weirder. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that my world is already pretty weird. I suppose you could call this a revelation, although I've done very few things religiously in my life. In my mind, it's more of an inspiration to spend a good portion of my time tuning in to the events that occur around me, and noticing all of the horrifying, beautiful, and strange facets of life. I'd really like to write about these things I witness, and you might see some of that in this blog in the future. If I get to the point where I'm writing more about the man on the subway than the music in my headphones, I may have to create a sister blog where I can run into my phone booth and put on the costume of my alter ego. I guess only time will tell how well this experiment will succeed or fail, but as anyone who's read Thompson can attest, the journey is always more important than the conclusion.

Stay classy San Diego.

17 July, 2008

"La La Lie" by Jack's Mannequin

Guess what, I'm done writing you songs
You'll give up your job at the bank
Proving money's not fun when you're gone
So this is the first verse
It's not very long
But I'm ready to move on

Guess what, I'm done writing your book
The ending got twisted around
But for all of the hell that it took
The electrical wires
They'll hum in the walls
In the room that I rent now

Well actually I've got friends who (la la lie)
Will help me pull through (la la la lie la la la lie)
The spaceman that can't get high
I'm coming back to my girl by July
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

That's right.

So, guess what, I'm done drawing you pictures
I'm dulling the day with a drink
In the parking garage by the theater
We met for a movie
Every scene was a sign
We made out through their meaning

Well I've got friends who (la la lie)
Will help me pull through (la la la lie la la la lie)
The spaceman that can't get high
I'm coming back to my girl by July
Yeah, yeah, yeah!


Guess what? I'm done writing you songs
I'm far too unstable to settle
I doubt that the doctors are wrong
So I'll wait by a palm tree, a palm tree, a palm tree

Well I've got friends who (la la lie)
To help me pull through (la la la lie la la la lie)
The spaceman can't get high
I'm coming back to my girl by July
Well I've got friends who (la la lie)
Oh she'll help me to pull trough (la la la lie la la la lie)

The song for a long goodbye
I'm coming back ,I'm coming back to my girl
La la la lie, back to my girl (la la la lie la la lie)
The song for a long goodbye
I'm coming back to my girl by July

"I Thought of You" by Johnny Gallagher Jr.

15 July, 2008

More reasons to like Damon Albarn

This article in the Village Voice is really excellent: Damon Albarn and his Adventurous Honest Jon's Label

It's all about this great hole in the wall record store in Notting Hill (Honest Jon's) which has specialized in selling "possession music" since 1974. "Possession music" is loosely translated as the music of the former British colonies, and historically it has a similar background to that of blues and soul music which grew out of the working songs and protest songs of African slaves in the United States. Many of the musicians were repressed and functionally silenced outside of their home countries by the British government, but some of the recordings were saved and are now being released on treasure chest compilations by Honest Jon's record label.

The story is great, and the music is even better. I would recommend picking up a compilation like Lagos Shake - A Tony Allen Chop-Up or Living Is Hard: West African Music in Britain, 1927-1929 to add to your music library.

"Frankie's Gun (LIVE)" by the Felice Brothers

"Waiting" by Green Day

This song popped up on "shuffle" the other day. I hadn't heard it in a year, maybe two. I <3 Green Day.

I've been waiting a long time
for this moment to come
I'm destined for anything at all
Downtown lights will be shining
On me like a new diamond
Ring out under the midnight hour
No one can touch me now
And I can't turn my back
It's too late ready or not at all

Well I'm so much closer than
I have ever known
Wake up

Dawning of a new era
Calling... don't let it catch ya falling
Ready or not at all
So close enough to taste it
Almost... I can embrace this
Feeling...on the tip of my tongue

Well I'm so much closer than
I have ever known...
Wake up
Better thank your lucky stars
Shey hey hey

I've been waiting a lifetime
For this moment to come
I'm destined for anything at all

Color me stupid
Good luck
You're gonna need it
Where I'm going if I get there at all
Wake uuuuuuuuuup
Better thank your lucky stars

Live music delivered by AT&T

That's what I saw advertised underneath iTunes' Lollapalooza playlist this morning. It's kind of a morbid thought really, and it starts me wondering if every setlist at the festival has some unique tie-in with cell phone service.

It starts out small: free pictures of you and your friends (in front of a giant cell phone) provided by AT&T; free drinks if you stop by the kiosk and hear about the new phone service; and then before you know it, Jack White is dressed up as a cell phone and forced to play his guitar while advertising. It's a form of slavery really. Small enough even that the little acts don't realize what's happening, until crouching around Thom Yorke back at the van park they start to hear the horror stories. There was that one time when every appearing band was paid only in rollover minutes (small print in the contract), and then in order to salvage their careers after such an unprofitable tour, they were forced to sell their songs for television ads. It happens all too often, but the companies are always trying to hush it up.

On that note, maybe you feel like purchasing some new music? I know I enjoy being a consumer whore after hearing about how other people are being screwed over (even if the story is completely fabricated). I wouldn't put it past AT&T, but at this point I have no story except that they seem to now be in the business of "delivering" live music to the masses. Something about this situation does not bode well for the future, at least in my mind. Even the wording, "delivery" is icky. Why would you need such a huge company to just deliver something? Still, the Lollapalooza lineup isn't completely trashed. There's a nice mix of big and small names performing at the three day festival.

The Postelles, for instance, are one of a couple of bands who have only released extended plays. Their music sounds very 1950s early rock 'n' roll, then you start listening to their lyrics and you notice that they have more in common with the tongue in cheek of the Ramones (who were also big fans of 1950s rock 'n' roll) than with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. "Boy's Best Friend" is about a case of mistaken sexual orientation, and it makes it clear that you can no longer assume that guys like girls and girls like guys, and that if you do...well...it can lead to emotional complications. "Mr. Used to Be" is about a boy who "used to be" on top, but now is basically being ignored. "Blue Room" is a song of reassurance, unfortunately lacking in much weight. "Stella", on the other hand, is a perfectly romantic and understated song. It's an upbeat lullaby of love, outfitted with a little guitar break to banish monotony. Not that this song could be considered monotonous for a minute. It's a completely accessible and fitting song for Summer escapades and adventures. "Hey Little Sister" is a little whiny, and I find my mind drifting away from the music and thinking about other things. "White Night" moves in the opposite direction. It's captivating, and sounds like surf rock. Yet again there's a guitar solo, and the vocals stay away from whining and are closer to pleading pitch (a subtle difference that saves the ears). The eponymous extended play has high and low points. About half of the album really rocks, and the other half falls short of even really rolling, but there's definitely hope for the Postelles. Maybe Lollapalooza will be their place to shine. Who knows, maybe AT&T will offer them a commercial deal and they won't have to barter for food with rollover minutes. It could happen.

14 July, 2008

You won't fool the children of the revolution

The last few days have been full of anachronisms. I finally got around to watching Moulin Rouge, which has been on my list since 2001. I was so tired, I had to stop halfway through the movie. For those few people who haven't watched the movie yet, it's pretty trippy. I would even go as far as saying that it's weirder than Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which sent my head spinning in all of its IMAX glory.

Absinthe is big in this movie, as is the unorthodox Bohemian lifestyle which embraces artistic, sexual, financial, political, and personal freedoms above all else. Yet, Ewan Macgregor's character longs to be inextricably tied to another person by "true love", which wouldn't be very Bohemian at all if it weren't for the fact that the girl he loves is a famous prostitute who's dying of consumption. Snap.

The music in the film is edgy. If you aren't a fan of musical theatre, then you've probably only heard the famous cover of "Lady Marmalade", but there's an electronic (psychedelic) can-can by Fatboy Slim ("Because We Can"); a slow and sleazy cover of "Children of the Revolution" by Bono, Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer; and the "Elephant Love Medley" which samples a plethora of contemporary love songs. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "The Sound of Music" make their way into the film as well. It's like a smorgasbord of creativity: light, color, texture, and sound are all whirled together and randomly extraordinary things keep occurring. During the "Elephant Love Medley" a metal arch shaped like a heart suddenly explodes into fireworks, and the sky starts raining glitter (which prompted my friend to say: "Love should be just like this! There should be glitter rain, and hearts everywhere, and it should all happen inside a giant elephant's head!" I tend to agree with her.)

If you are like me, and have neglected all of the pop culture cues to see Moulin Rouge, then there's no better time to embrace this fantastic movie than the present. If you haven't seen the movie for five, or six, or seven years, then maybe it's time to pick it up again, or at the very least listen to the soundtrack.

Keyhole Gardens

I think this is amazing!! (I've been writing/saying that a lot lately.)

13 July, 2008

"Middle of Nowhere" by Hot Hot Heat

This was my theme song in 2005.

Don’t get mad
If I’m laughing
Blame the caffeine
For all the 5am phone calls

I haven’t slept a single night in over a month
Not even once did you start to make sense to me
Well maybe I’m a little bit slow
I’m just consistently inconsistent
She said unpredictability’s my responsibility baby

But you’re waiting at the door
Where everybody’s hanging out just like they hung out before
You didn’t have to do it but you did it to say
That you didn’t have to do it but you would anyway

To give you something to go on
When I go off
Back to the middle of nowhere

They chewed me up
And then they spit me out
And I’m not supposed to let it bother me

But maybe I’m a little bit weak
I let my frailty take the wheel
She said maybe there’s a bit of me
Waiting for a bit of you baby

But you’re waiting at the door
Where everybody’s hanging out just like they hung out before
You didn’t have to do it but you did it to say
That you didn’t have to do it but you would anyway

To give you something to go on
When I go off
Back to the middle of nowhere

But you’re waiting at the door
Where everybody’s hanging out just like they hung out before
You didn’t have to do it but you did it to say
That you didn’t have to do it but you would anyway

To give you something to go on
When I go off
Back to the middle of nowhere

To give you something to go on
To go on
Back to the middle of nowhere

Criss Cross Circus Trailer

This looks amazing. I'm kind of speechless. It was never my dream to run away and join the circus, but now I'm kind of wishing I had a special talent so I could join these guys and travel across the country.

12 July, 2008

"Loose Lips (LIVE)" by Kimya Dawson

Rethinking my position on Death Cab For Cutie

I was never very thrilled with DCFC when they were making music that kept popping up on the O.C., and the video for "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" just succeeded in creeping me out. In fact, while many of my friends were hearting Ben Gibbard for songs like "The Sound of Settling" and "Crooked Teeth", I was finding myself enamored with his cool and collected turns with The Postal Service (I still think that "Such Great Heights" has some of the most beautiful lyrics ever written). Still, I'm rethinking a lot of my feelings and preconceived notions lately, grasping for the decisions and conclusions that make me the person I want to be. I certainly don't want to be the kind of person who writes off an entire band for one unlucky turn on a horrible television show, so I'm taking the time to listen to Death Cab For Cutie's latest album, Narrow Stairs.

However hard I try I can't get past the feeling that "I Will Possess Your Heart" is a totally creepy-stalker song. Just the choice of words in the very title makes me cringe. Hearts are NOT possessions! Still, the cranking bass intro reminds me of the Temptations, and then drums shuffle into place and the guitars buzz in the background, while the piano moves into position. It's all very calculated, and there's something beautiful about the way it's written so carefully, and seemingly with one particular person in mind. Based on some conversations I've had recently, I'm starting to get this feeling that all of us fall into that creepy-stalker role once in awhile, and maybe Ben Gibbard just decided it was time to go public with his obsession. When the vocals move into the picture, everything else fades into the background, and Gibbard never sounds like a real creep just like a boy who has jumped into love with both feet. At eight minutes long, the song never feels boring or like it's carrying on after it should have ended. In fact, everything feels perfectly proportioned for a single.

"Bixby Canyon Bridge" reminds me of Something Corporate's songs of uncertainty and longing. Who doesn't hope for a trace of something good that has long-since disappeared? The smell of Summer in the Winter time, or that feeling you got the first time you listened to your favorite album, or the first time you fell in love. That's what this song is about. It's about that place between decisions, where all you really want is to feel that way about something again, because then you'd have a clear answer as to which path you should follow. Gut feelings are sometimes the hardest thing for a rational mind to recognize, but they're also some of the most important things for anyone to recognize. I think this song is about searching for that balance between practicality and happiness, and wishing all along that you could just feel those butterflies in your stomach and know that things could still be vibrant; that feelings could still be strong; that apathy hadn't left everything hazy and unclear forever.

"No Sunlight" comes from a similar place, full of strong longing for the optimism and certainty of youth. I'm starting to see a theme on this album: dissatisfaction with growing up and a growing craving for a cause (possibly love) that will make you feel optimistic and idealistic once more. It's a theme I can definitely understand, and one that makes the album feel comfortable to my ears. Gibbard is singing some of the feelings and ideas that go whirling around my head.

"Cath..." discusses the big decision making that seems too often to follow adult uncertainty. It's all about "Cath" who got married because "her heart was dying fast", and it's actually a really sad song. I think it's important though, because these things happen all too often. There are people who have a hard time making any decisions at all because they can't feel strongly about one path, and then there are also people who decide without really thinking about their other options because they're trying to hold onto a feeling that probably won't last.

Possession seems to be another major theme on Narrow Stairs, and one that's continued on the song "Talking Bird". One of the biggest adult lessons you ever learn is that you don't/can't own other people. However much you love someone, you can never really possess them. Part of loving that person is realizing that you want them to be happy even if they need to be happy far away from you. It's much more difficult than it sounds. You have to give up some control, and learn to trust them to love you in return, and this is what "Talking Bird" is about. Deep, I know.

"You Can Do Better Than Me" is kind of a scary song in some ways. It's definitely not your stereotypical love song, because it's a song about doubts. He's tired of the person he's with (sometimes), but he's realizing that there might not ever be anyone better in his life. It's a neurotic thought, and it's set to pop music that reminds me of the Beatles. At the same time, there's something kind of sweet about the sentiment. I think everyone wonders about their choices, until they remember that the person they're with is really amazing and that they're lucky to be loved by them.

"Grapevine Fires" has macabre but brilliant imagery painted with Gibbard's soft "accountant" vocals (he reminds me of an accountant, although the long hair has made him a little softer around the edges). It's somewhat unnerving to hear him coo lines about watching the fires burn things away, but at the same time it's comforting to think of a child dancing in a cemetery (I've never thought that happiness around death was disrespectful. Happiness regarding death is completely different from happiness and the celebration of life happening near death). Then there are the final lines:

The firemen worked in double shifts,
With prayers for rain on their lips
And they knew it was only a matter of time.

I think it's important to accept that things will happen in their own time, and these last lines sum up this idea for me.

"Your New Twin Sized Bed" is full of wonderful metaphors. In the song queen-sized beds are traded in for twins, and old boys are traded in for those who might be more likely to commit. But what do you lose in the process? Well, possibilities for one thing, and patience, and hope, and idealism. They are all sacrificed for an idea of what might make you happy at some point in the future.

"Long Division" is almost stream of consciousness, but the overwhelming thought is that people don't want to be the "remainder" of their past. They're burning their bridges and their memories so fast because they don't want to be left behind in the dust and ash of their youth. It reminds me of Garden State, as does the whole album really. It's bridging that space between youth and adulthood, with all of the uncertainty and awkwardness that is so unbearably human.

"Pity and Fear" has strong Asian musical influences (Ravi Shankar anyone?), and the lyrics are even a little zen, although they're introspective and self-centered in a way that is very Western. About a minute before the end of the song, there's a rock and roll guitar solo that is very out of character for Death Cab for Cutie. It's almost messy, but it perfectly matches the conjured lyrical images. It's the kind of song that says "I've fucked up everything" in a way that's a bit less profane.

The ultimate manifestation of every major theme on Narrow Stairs is "The Ice Is Getting Thinner", which finishes the album. It's half mourning-song, and half song of adult resignation. There's no weeping or dramatic pronouncements, just a recognition that things won't be the same again and that some things are finished (including the album). It's not a particularly happy note on which to end, but it seems appropriate given the tone of the rest of the album. There are no easy fixes anymore, and sometimes you just have to bandage your wounds, make a hard decision, let the people you love be, and move forward with your life.

"Fishies" by The Cat Empire

Time to Get the Party Started

So Many Nights by the Australian band The Cat Empire, is a pumping party album. There are fifteen songs that set the mood for a night of swinging, swaying, and carousing.

Start with the title track, which bumps and and bounces like the best R&B and Soul music. Then try channeling the sensibility of "Panama", a laid-back summer song that would perfectly soundtrack the final hours of a beach party. "Fishies" has a strong Cuban flavor, but also reminds me of the slickness of the 1950s with zoot suits and big, shiny cars. "Sunny Moon" is a song full of contrasting textures. The horns pump in at full-blast, but are then replaced by rhythmic and monotone vocals. "Til The Ocean Takes Us All" has the deep groove of Sublime's best songs, but the vocals have a completely different sonic texture. The sounds are relaxed, but they aren't mellow. "No Mountain" has a reggae loop, and a bass line that rises and falls like the ocean on a calm day. "So Long" is anything but calm, it's a smashing sign off with heavy brass and an insane organ/percussion mix. "No Longer There" is a soft song where crying guitars, piano melodies, and vocal harmonies meld to form a nice song for the quiet hours of the night. This song would make nice sleeping music, but it's one of only a few on the album that really chills out. "Lonely Moon" feels very calypso, while "Radio Song" has undoubted roots in Latin American music and Afro-pop. The rhythm is so strong on these songs, and on most of the songs on the album, that you have to give great credit to the percussion section (Felix Riebl, Will Hull Brown, and Jamshid Khadiwhala) and the bassist (Ryan Monro) who keep everything grooving with precision. "The Darkness" is very experimental, with Middle Eastern and Asian musical influences found alongside hard rock and hip-hop vibes. "Voodoo Cowboy" combines klezmer, swing, psychedelic rock, and American Western style music. It's an amazing explosion of sound-flavors, and it's also very catchy. "Strong Coffee" can keep the party going into the wee hours of the morning, with a punchy melody and a slamming horn solo. "Won't Be Afraid" slides and whirls around a chorus that's boosted by the perfect horn play. The Cat Empire masters of brass are Harry James Angus (full-time member) and Kieran Conrau and Ross Irwin (basically full-time members, who aren't listed as such for reasons I do not know). As a group, they seamlessly weave their horns together, sliding inside and outside of the rhythm and guiding the melodies of the songs. "Wanted to Write A Love Song" starts off like "King of Bongo" by Mano Negra, but then soars into a strong chorus that tangos until the last notes of the album.

So Many Nights never stops being fun or interesting. There's enough continuity to make the songs cohesive, but enough experimentation to keep the listener far from boredom. These are the traits that make So Many Nights such a great party album, but it's the perfect combination of horns, rhythm, and guitar and piano melodies that will keep you dancing from the time the sun sets until the time the sun rises again.

11 July, 2008

A Matter of Personal Preference

There isn't a lot of screamo, neu-hardcore, and metal that I absolutely love. This is probably a shortcoming on my part, I'm certainly willing to admit the possibility. For some reason, I have a difficult time enjoying unintelligible screaming over shredded guitars. I guess it just bumps up too closely with noise-rock, which is a genre that I usually can't listen to at all. I get headaches. The major exception to this rule (before today) was Killswitch Engage. It may be that the combined screaming and singing is more palatable to me than just straight-up screaming. They also usually have some definable structural qualities to their songs; melody applied to the theme of verses and choruses isn't too much of a stretch for Killswitch Engage. To be completely clear from the outset, I am certain there are other bands that are amazingly talented and enjoyable, and that fall into the genres (or some amalgamation of the genres) listed above. I can say with all honesty that I have not spent much of my time searching. This is an unforgivable gap in my musical education, and if my lovely readers have any recommendations for me (leave them in the comment window), then I would really be pleased to spend some careful listening time in the super-hard rock department. Until this point, I have been a little wary of wandering without any guidance, so I really would appreciate your help.

On that note, I want to mention a fairly new band called Emarosa. They dropped their first album/EP - This Is Your Way Out - in 2007, then had one major member shift: their vocalist left. For a hardcore band, your vocalist can be your biggest tie with the audience, and basically the translator for the sound of the entire band. Emarosa could have been finished before they even really got started, but fortunately Johnny Craig (formerly of the screamo/prog band Dance Gavin Dance) has undertaken this important duty for Emarosa.

The band's first full-length - Relativity - was released this week. I was most attracted to the album cover art at 8:15 this morning, which consists of a photograph of a spiky seed casing (one of those burrs that so influenced the invention of Velcro) and looks like it has been filtered to appear washed out in pinks and yellows. It's kind of a twisted photograph that reminds me most of the '90s bands who seemed so enthralled with filtered photos (Nirvana, Bush, Pearl Jam, and Alanis Morisette all experimented with oddly filtered album art).

When I finally get to the music, it's a pleasant surprise. "The Past Should Stay Dead" screams and swirls with Van Halenesque guitar runs, while Craig's vocals don't lose themselves by screaming into the melee, but instead whisper around the storm and then explode. "Just Another Marionette" finds perfect harmony between all disparate and chaotic elements of the song. Rhythm and melody duet seamlessly, while the vocalization frosts the entire song. "What's A Clock Without the Batteries?" has a start-stop rhythm that gives way to precision percussion, and this makes the whole song feel like a day that will never end sprinkled with moments that fly away (you know the kind of days I'm talking about.) "Heads or Tails? Real or Not" is climactic and dramatic, but again the whispering vocals are perfectly paired with disorder. It makes more sense to me to whisper behind all of the noise and have your voice separated from the sound, than to scream into it and lose everything that you have to say. Craig finds the balance where some screaming propels the song to new levels, but is never just an exercise in futility.

The psychedelic effects are easy to distinguish on "Even Bad Men Love Their Mothers", which strikes me as an album interlude. If we skip ahead a song to "Set It Off Like Napalm", you'll find a hook-laden, head-banging hit in the making. If I owned this album (which I'm sure I will shortly) this song would be on repeat for its sonic intensity alone. "Pretend. Release. The Close" is like a sun-shower of epic proportions. If there were such a thing as a sun tornado, this song would be the musical equivalent. It feels hopeful, and at the same time frustrated and full of anxious energy. "It's Cold In the Shade, Let's Move to the Sun..." is the "exitlude", but it's followed by two half songs that complete each other. "I Still Feel Her, Pt. 1" puts the emo in emetic, in many ways. It's a little slice of soul-crushing heartbreak, with that euphoria of remembering "her" like the sun setting on the horizon. The final song is "A City Called Coma, Pt. 2", and it stumbles through darkness like some kind of Gothic beast. I wish the songs had been reversed at the very least, because "Pt. 1" makes a little room for hope and the possibility of a happy ending (at some point in the future), while "Pt. 2" feels very final and dark. Oh well, there should always be a place to talk about the darkness, even while we're hoping for happy endings, and Emarosa have created a very comfortable place indeed. I wouldn't immerse myself in the music, but when you're in the mood for catharsis Relativity is a good bet.

10 July, 2008

"Rebel Side of Heaven" by Langhorne Smith

I can't decide how I feel about this guy's voice, but I definitely like the music.

All in "the City of Love" is fair

An original musical that goes straight to film? Is that something worth watching? Is it even something with which you really want to be associated?

Love Songs (Les Chansons d'Amour) is just such a movie. Written and directed by Christophe Honore, the film was released in France in 2007, but the soundtrack was just released in the United States a couple months back. The story follows the entanglements of three people (sometimes four) who are in a relationship. Yep, you read that correctly: one relationship with three (sometimes four) people. It's called polyamory, and it forms the foundation on which the drama of Love Songs plays out.

Here's the basic plot. Ismael is in a relationship with Julie, but they both decide that Alice should join them (now I haven't seen the movie, but I get the feeling that this is about more than just sex, although sex seems to play a big role.) It gets more confusing when Julie sleeps with a random guy, whose name I cannot recall now, Ismael is hurt and decides that it might be a good time for him to find someone else as well. Enter Erwann (in case you were wondering, Erwann is a guy). So, I'm pretty open-minded, but at this point I'm also pretty confused. Love Songs has all of the potential to be more confusing than Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, and probably less visually pleasing (although it does take place in Paris). I'm still willing to give it a shot at some point, but for now I think I'll stick to the soundtrack.

It starts with "De bonne raisons" which is Belle & Sebastian meets Carla Bruni. It's a rock song in composition, but in execution it's much too soft to be a "rock" song, and it kind of trickles into folk-rock territory. "Inventaire" reminds me of some of the music from RENT. It's more spoken than sung, and the melody bounces from edgy and dramatic to coy and almost twee. It's a story driving song, and you can tell that it loses some of its character outside of the story. "La Bastille" is morose and pretty, while "Je n'aime que toi" is a song of possibility (as you can probably guess from the title). "Il faut se taire" is gentle and sad, as is "Au parc". In fact, following "Je n'aime que toi" every song has an air of sadness and regret mixed with a smattering of other emotions. It gives me the feeling that this movie does not have a happy ending.

One interesting thing to note about this album, is that the "musical theatre" style music seems to flow much more smoothly in the French language than it does in English. Don't get me wrong, I love musicals, but I often must suspend my disbelief in order to enjoy the seemingly random group singing. It may be that French is a more musical language than English (which I believe it is), and therefore it is more difficult to hear the difference between singing and speaking. To me, it almost always sounds like the French language is being sung, and placing music in the background is altogether natural. There's no doubt in my mind that you could play this album for a friend and not have them realize that it is the soundtrack to a musical. At the same time, I wouldn't recommend listening to the whole album unless you're in the mood for something melancholy. The great soundtrack to a rainy day in Paris is not always synonymous with the soundtrack to a sunny summer day in New England.

09 July, 2008

DJ Sussex - Mashups & Demos

DJ Sussex - Mashups & Demos

I had to share. They're pretty yummy mashups.

Here's one of my favorites:

Damien Marley's "Jamrock" + The Pharcyde's "Passing Me By"

Forced to Sin

Emmanuel Jal's new hip-hop album Warchild is an amazingly powerful work of art. Recruited into the Sudan People's Liberation Army as a child, Jal was forced to witness and perform unbearable acts. He eventually escaped the army with other child soldiers, making his way to Nairobi where he attended school.

Warchild mixes many musical styles. Hip-hop and reggae were hugely influential styles in the creation of the album, while African music is woven in beautifully. The first track "Warchild" is powerful, angry, and cathartic. It reminds me of Kanye West's "Jesus Walks", a pounding gospel chorus layered over a military beat. The difference is in the sentiment. Jal's sadness, anger, and overwhelming need to forgive and be forgiven are the emotions that propel "Warchild" from party song status to work of art. It's often very painful to listen to this album, but it's also very important. "Forced to Sin" is a beautiful song that puts me in mind of the Fugees and some of M.I.A.'s more intense work. The song's musical element is light and almost sunshiny, but the vocal work feels beaten down and forced into submission matching perfectly the story in the lyrics. "Many Rivers to Cross" highlights the malleability of Jal's voice, which stretches and soars on this song of escape. He has "many rivers to cross" but he is both lonely and weary, mentally and physically exhausted and haunted by his past and what could be his future. The piano is strongly tied to the calypso beat, and it turns this song into a lullaby of sorts, or maybe more of a mantra. "Baaki Wara" has both beauty and hysteria in its presentation. The repetition of sounds and phrases makes it hypnotizing, but there's an underlying feeling of fear and chaos. Then we get to "Shadow of Death" with peels of thunder, and the imagery of demons and darkness swirling throughout Jal's lyrics. "Vagina" first takes the point of view of an Africa woman, but quickly transitions to lyrics about Africa as a woman who is regularly raped by other countries. It's an interesting and poignant metaphor; Africa is the birthplace of humanity and yet the continent always seems to be in turmoil, abused from within and without. "Hai" is the last song for a little while that has strong ties to African music, and it seems to be the song where Jal recounts his difficulty in escaping Sudan. We then have the trio "No Bling", "Skirt Too Short", and "50 Cent" that deal with very Western issues. "50 Cent" is my favorite. It's a letter of warning to the rapper 50 Cent, and the main point is that he's being "played by the man". He's being used to support stereotypes, while his work is just another form of brainwashing with its own repeated mantra: consuming and being consumed are the only actions worthy of your time. "Ninth Ward" speaks eloquently of Katrina, thoughtfully comparing the American catastrophe with those that happen all too frequently in Africa. "Stronger" carries the message of the whole album: what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, and hopefully instills you with enough strength to fight against it in the future. "Emma" is a dedication the the woman who saved Jal and smuggled him into Nairobi, her name was Emma McCune and she was unfortunately killed in a road accident shortly after bringing Jal to Nairobi. The song is a celebration of rebirth, and of the opportunities that life-changing experiences can give you, and this is really what the album is as well. It's a story of some of the most awful pain and suffering a person could ever experience, but how such experiences can be transcended and applied to actions that could change the world forever. This is a powerful message that should be spread far and wide, and that deserve much more attention than anything I've heard from 50 Cent.

08 July, 2008

"Us" by Regina Spektor

I forgot to post this the other day. It's amazing!

...And Out Come the Wolves

I never really listened to Wolf Parade's Apologies to Queen Mary, which was a real lapse on my part. I'm usually a very thorough listener, but somehow their first album snuck right by my ears and into more enlightened cd players everywhere. With this oversight in mind, I've taken it upon myself to write a thoroughly enlightened review of At Mount Zoomer, Wolf Parade's decidedly shorter sophomore album. I've read that it was recorded in Montreal at the church owned by Arcade Fire. Maybe I'll hear ghosts and hallelujah choruses. I can only hope.

"Soldier's Grin" zooms through your ears with computerized sound effects. Circuit bending is obviously a technique that has found its place close to the hearts of Wolf Parade. I also hear the grit and the intensity of early Springsteen in this song. Grit and intensity that can really be defined as the fear at the heart of the 1970s and 1980s exponentially magnified by the uncertain energy of youth (It's like diluted Hunter S. Thompson. It's scary shit, but you're numbed to it by your own inadequacy in a world that's so huge.)

"Call It A Ritual" stretches its mumbled lyrics over tight drums and piano, then slides the whole mixture over some static guitar riffs. Listening to the song is a bit overwhelming mentally; in fact, trying to sort out all of the disparate elements made me dizzy. It's better, with this kind of song, to let the whole thing wash over you and just enjoy the full package. The way the vocalists (Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug) duet with the guitar is really beautiful, and even entrancing when you let yourself go.

"Language City" has circuit bent keyboards and piano applied to a simple melody, creating a feeling that spans at least a century of music. It's a time-warped song, because it doesn't let you feel like you're truly trapped in any one era of music. It transcends genrefication, but is still a catchy song.

"Bang Your Drum" immediately puts me in mind of David Bowie. The vocals are a nice mimicry of Bowie's, but the music sounds classically influenced with only a hint of glam rock. It's like chamber music meets the 1980s, which is a fantastic and unusual combo that before now only Sofia Coppola seemed to really notice (if you watch Marie Antoinette you will also notice the surprising compatibility of 1980s pop/rock with 18th century style classical.)

"California Dreamer" stretches out like a desert. Its defining characteristic is the holes in the song, the empty spaces that make the musical surprises so enjoyable. There's nothing really consistent, except for the pounding drums, but the surprise organ swirls and the guitar and bass transitioning perfectly into keyboard lines. The song is spare, but very well-designed.

"The Grey Estates" hits the highest notes of post-punk perfection. Meld the Strokes most appealing songs with those of the Postal Service and more than a touch of "The Comeback" era Shout Out Louds, and you have this perfectly proportioned dance song. (The real question is, can you even put the Shout Out Louds in their own era? Riddle me this, batman.)

"Fine Young Cannibals" really doesn't invoke the band at all, but it happens to be my favorite song on the whole album. The guitar strikes a nostalgic chord, and makes me think of 1950s rock bands who rumbled along with seemingly no thought to the whole soloing business. (I love this music, but I have a hard time trying to put myself in their frame of mind. Was creativity a dirt word?) Anyway, Wolf Parade shakes everything up with echoing and wailing vocals, and some soft piano playing that haunts and shakes the precision of the song.

"An Animal In Your Care" is Violent Femmes meets the most trippy Velvet Underground music. In one word, it's bizarre. The vocals are purposefully weak and reedy, while the music kind of wavers, exploding in puffs of sound in the background. It is all incoherent, and slightly melodramatic.

This is how we make our way to "Kissing the Beehive", the almost eleven minute long finale to the album. The timing on this song sounds both fast and slow in the beginning, and I'm not quite sure how they managed this effect. However they did it, Wolf Parade created a climactic song, with screaming guitars and harmonized vocal howling giving way to a marching beat, and then an explosion of sound. It's a fireworks display or a meteor shower that you can sit underneath with your mouth hanging open in awe. At seven minutes you think it's over, but the song turns around and wails in the other direction for another four minutes. The pounding and the swirling, the unleashed ferocity of the song take their toll. It's a tiring listen, like replaying the final two minutes of "Stairway to Heaven" for eleven minutes (which I know from experience can actually be very fun!) Still, in the end, it's a gratifying listen. Actually, the whole album is a gratifying listen, and not an experience you should skip if you're anywhere near a music store.

07 July, 2008

Happy Birthday Marc Chagall!

These are some of my Chagall favorites.

I really Lykke you

(Please don't shoot me. Wordplay is my kryptonite - along with laughter.)

I really do like Lykke Li. She hails from Stockholm, Sweden and her simple indie folk songs are enchanting in their way. They're mellow, with random (and often perfect) instrumentation that reminds me of Bjork's music. At the same time, the sound is folk with very clean lines (very Swedish in this regard). I have to wait until August for Youth Novels to be released in the United States; so, until then, I will live with the Little Bit - EP.

Here's the break down. There are four songs, beginning with "Little Bit". The first lyric captured me immediately:

Hands down I'm too proud for love, but with eyes shut it's you I'm thinking of.

It sounds like there's cowbell in the background along with plenty of other percussive noises. The melody stays fairly electronic on "Little Bit", and I find myself following Li's voice like an instrument. There are some vocal quirks that add personality to the song. For example, she draws out the "la" in love, turning it into a "la la la la love".

"Dance Dance Dance" bounces with more of that unpredictable percussion, and espouses the sentiment of T. Rex's "Cosmic Dancer" (it's okay, in fact, it's IMPORTANT to dance when you feel like it). "Words could never make up for what you do" is the line that really says it all. If your hips aren't moving, do you really like the song?

"Everybody But Me" pulls in some regal sounding horns over Lykke harmonizing with...well...Lykke. The layering gives a fairly black and white song all of its shades of grey, adding distinction to a tune that could easily be lost in the midst of all the other shiny tunes floating across the Atlantic.

"Time Flies" uses the highest, most ethereal of Li's vocals over heavy piano to create something that sounds like it was crafted by faeries. The drums and piano have a finality that is only slightly noticeable in Li's tiny voice.

In the end, Little Bit - EP is consistent and distinctive without sounding too strange to be enjoyable. I would definitely be shaking my hips to a couple of the songs, while alternately laughing and shaking my head at the others. In August, we'll see if Youth Novels can outdo this extended play, and if Lykke can step out of the shadow of other Swedish alternative acts and play to her strengths: witty lyrics and unpredictable instrumentation.

06 July, 2008

"All I Really Want" by Alanis Morissette

Do I stress you out?
My sweater is on backwards and inside out
And you say how appropriate
I don't like to dissect everything today
I don't mean to pick you apart you see
But I can't help it

And there I go jumping before the gunshot has gone off
Slap me with a splintered ruler
And it would knock me to the floor if I wasn't there already
If only I could hunt the hunter

And all I really want is some patience
A way to calm the angry voice
And all I really want is deliverance

Do I wear you out?
You must wonder why I'm relentless and all strung out
I'm consumed by the chill of solitary
I'm like estella
I like to reel it in and then spit it out
I'm frustrated by your apathy
And I am frightened by the corrupted ways of this land
If only I could meet the maker
And I am fascinated by the spiritual man
I'm humbled by his humble nature

And what I wouldn't give to find a soulmate
Someone else to catch this drift
And what I wouldn't give to meet a kindred

Enough about me, let's talk about you for a minute
Enough about you, let's talk about life for a while
The conflicts, the craziness and the sound of pretenses
Falling all around... all around

Why are you so petrified of silence?
Here can you handle this?

Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines
Or when you think you're gonna die
Or did you olong for the next distraction
And all I need now is intellectual intercourse
A soul to dig the hole much deeper
And I have no concept of time other than it is flying
If only I could kill the killer

And all I really want is some peace man
A place to find a common ground
And all I really want is a wavelength
All I really want is some comfort
A way to get my hands untied
And all I really want is some justice

Living in a Den of Thieves

I heard "Us" by Regina Spektor at 4:53 a.m. (I know because I checked the WERS playlist). The song is from Spektor's second album Soviet Kitsch, and it could probably be called her first underground hit. On the cover of Soviet Kitsch, Spektor is shown in black and white over a background of matryoshka dolls. She looks into the camera with emotion somewhere between humor and sadness, as she swallows a bottle of alcohol (presumably vodka, but you can never really presume with Spektor). It is on Soviet Kitsch that Spektor comes to terms with herself, and really flourishes as a creative individual.
Her debut - 11:11 - showed the talented vocals and the musicality of the young musician. On a few songs Spektor even showed her lyrical playfulness. The majority of the songs on 11:11 however, strike me as very good Fiona Apple impersonations.

Soviet Kitsch broke free from any singer-songwriter cliches that had Spektor hung up, and as a result it strikes me as a much more personal effort. The cover photograph gives you a sense of what's to be found on the album. Spektor mixes humor and sadness in liberal quantities, dropping quirky anecdotes and unique observations into her lyrics to mix things up a little. Vocally Spektor shows amazing control. She can vibrate a note or phrase in a way that makes the entire song more beautiful. This vocal maturity gives Soviet Kitsch a musical patina, and classical credence. Spektor's humorous insights, and obvious musical playfulness keep the songs from growing stale. It seems as if there's always a new play on words or play on sound that captures me as I'm listening. The layers are ubiquitous, like the matryoshka dolls on the cover.

At 4:53 this morning, I had a bit of an epiphany. I didn't find religion, per se, but on the brink of sleep I did begin to realize my own interpretation of the lyrics in "Us". I try not to force meanings onto lyrics; so it is that after four years of listening to this song, I've finally realized what it means to me.

It all begins with a repetitive piano line that waltzes from major to minor notes.

They made a statue of us
and put it on a mountaintop
Now tourists come and stare at us
Blow bubbles with their gum, take photographs of fun
have fun

They'll name a city after us
and later say it's all our fault
then they'll give us a talking to
then they'll give us a talking to
cause they've got years of experience

The statue, in my mind, is the statue of Liberty. That undeniable symbol of the American immigrant. The city is New York, where Spektor came with her family, and where Spektor lives and works today. The last two lines make more sense when coupled with the chorus.

We're living in a den of thieves
rummaging for answers in the pages
we're living in a den of thieves
and it's contagious

America is a den of thieves. Our entire history began with stolen land, and it is too soon that we forget our own past (our own present, for some) and chastise others for trying to "steal our land". The experienced thieves have seemingly earned the right to ignore their own past and instead place blame on others. This is an interesting thought and one that is pushed even further by the contagiousness of the American dream: freedom. How did we gain our freedom in the first place? By subjugating other people, and by inhibiting and abusing their freedoms. So we move to the next section.

We wear our scarves just like a noose
but not cause we want eternal sleep
and though our parts are slightly used
new ones are slave labor you can keep

I'm still a bit uncertain about the first two lines, although I can guess that Spektor is writing and singing about hiding the clues of immigration behind scarves that are like nooses. They're hanging themselves so they will not be hung by the previous generations of immigrants. The last two lines tie into the subjugation and utilization of people whose backs this country was built upon. Immigrants in this country often become the "slave labor you can keep", and those who refuse to be quietly subjugated are "hung" publicly and openly chastised for being "thieves". The song goes on for awhile longer, although most of the lines are repeated. Spektor has tapped into the great American paradox and one of the most significant examples of our own hypocrisy. How can we preach freedom when we are still building our country on a foundation of slavery? How can we berate others for wanting a piece of the land we stole for ourselves?

"Us" is an excellent song that makes some truly insightful points. It happens to reside on an album that is full of these awesome insights. Keep your eyes on Regina Spektor, and allow her songs to percolate in your mind until you gain some of her insight. She's making modern classics.

05 July, 2008

"1234 (LIVE)" by Feist

This is an excellent performance. I think this song is better live, than it is recorded.

Tapping a new vein (turning over a new page?)

In any event, it is high time for a change.

I looked through my playlists the other day, only to find that I keep repeating myself musically. For one thing, "Little Wing" seems to pop up everywhere. I love the song, and I do have alternate versions (a live version, a Derek and the Dominoes cover), but how many mixes are really in need of "Little Wing"? I don't want to become musically redundant. ZOX, the Replacements, Peter Gabriel, Rancid, and The Specials can be found consistently in my personal mixes. They're comfort food, I know, but I need to start "mixing" it up a little and playing some of my less loved albums. There's a lot of good music that I have ignored for far too long.

When I'm feeling less then unique, I will often pull a Garden State (for those who haven't seen the movie, 1. It's basically when you perform an action or say something that you're pretty certain no one has EVER said in the same place you are saying it and in the same way; and 2. Go see the movie!!). There are other times when I'm feeling a little more introverted and a bit more vulnerable, so I build a pillow fort in my "bat cave" (a.k.a. my bedroom), I plug in the headphones, and I treasure hunt for new music. Live music venues are excellent for this purpose, along with Myspace, other music blogs, iTunes, and the great alternative radio stations (KEXP, WERS, KCRW). Today, I hit up KEXP to see if they had any new band recommendations, and I found the Cave Singers.

The name conjures hunter-gatherer imagery for some reason, along with smoky fires and Lascaux style artwork. I have in my mind something vaguely primal, and Invitation Songs does buzz with an energy current all its own. There's a tension to the songs that is undeniable, and it's not computer generated or based around the technology inherent in the instruments. The tension is something altogether more natural, like the feeling I have before a thunderstorm. On "Seeds of Night" the Cave Singers strum and percuss like they're in the midst of a sun-shower. The song is warm and playful, and lacking in any sort of artistic pretension. "Helen" is less relaxed and more insistent, but certainly just as enjoyable. It's a rock song with the consistency and stripped-down punk aesthetic of the Replacements' best material. However, where the Replacements have always made dirty, city music, "Helen" is as clean as fresh cut grass. "Dancing On Our Graves" is the evident single, with a rustling, rhythmic melody. "Cold Eye" is very soft, twilight music. The song circles around Pete Quirk's vocals, which are a bundle of contrasts. Quirk's voice has an underlying harsh quality (think braying wolves) that somehow fits in beautifully with the softest songs on the album, "Cold Eye" included. When I listen to "Elephant Clouds" I can just imagine that feeling of lying on the grass and watching clouds hustle by, morphing from dragons into butterflies as they're pushed across the sky. I am a big fan of cloud watching, and "Elephant Clouds" is absolutely perfect soundtrack music. On "New Monuments" the percussion takes center stage (the drums are mic'ed louder than any of the other instrumentals) and lends a harder, more dangerous quality to the song. "Oh Christine" on the other hand is driven by a wailing harmonica that sounds very comfortable in the midst of the basic drum and guitar melody; and "Bricks of Our Home" is a beautiful song that also plays up the harmonica. The bonus track - "Backyards" - is worth mentioning if only for the emotion that it expresses. On much of the album, emotional sincerity is visible (everything seems stripped to its foundation) but the cracking of Quirk's voice as he sings the line "all I want to do is stay here with you" on "Backyards" sends shivers down my spine.

04 July, 2008

"Blister In The Sun (LIVE)" by the Violent Femmes

"I Fought The Law (LIVE)" by The Clash

Breakin' rocks in the hot sun
I fought the law and the law won (twice)
I needed money 'cause I had none
I fought the law and the law won (twice)

I left my baby and it feels so bad
Guess my race is run
She's the best girl that I ever had
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the

Robbin' people with a six-gun
I fought the law and the law won (twice)
I lost my girl and I lost my fun,
I fought the law and the law won (twice)

I left my baby and it feels so bad
I guess my race is run
She's the best girl that I ever had
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the

I fought the law and the law won (7 times)
I fought the law and the

It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing

Some people may think that it's odd for me to write about an musician from Argentina on the anniversary of our nation's birth. Given the fact that jazz music is the quintessential American art form, and given the plurality of our heritage, I think Oscar Aleman is the perfect musician to celebrate.

Aleman was born in Argentina in 1909. He was a performer from an extremely young age. First, he played with his family, but by the time he was ten he was performing through necessity: an orphan street musician. The back story of many jazz musicians is dark and cloudy (I think this is often true of artists in general). Traumatic events often seem to bubble below the surface of certain types of people. They shape their personalities indelibly, but sometimes only manifest themselves in unorthodox ways, bursting to the surface in fireworks of genius like Kerouac's roman candles. Piaff, Reinhardt, and Aleman all seem to be these kinds of musicians, creating from necessity. Aleman played Gypsy Jazz similar to Reinhardt and Grappelli, at one point even playing in France. He was friends with Django, and had the opportunity to perform with many American musicians during his French tenure. In the 1940s, Aleman returned to Argentina where he would live for the rest of his life, always teaching and performing music.

If you listen to Aleman's recordings, you will get a good sense of his talent and his originality. His "gypsy jazz" was unlike the popular jazz of France and America, and even differed from mainstream "gypsy jazz" itself. Listen to his cover of "Limehouse Blues" and compare it Reinhardt's version. You'll notice that where Reinhardt hustles, bustles, and swings, Aleman strolls and meanders at a jaunty pace that lacks the rush of city life. Reinhardt played fast and loose, but Aleman played with a little more care and a more subtly nomadic swing. "Whispering" is a layered lullaby of the highest sonic quality. It's an eccentric creation that does not have an easily definable melody and because the guitar really stands on its own, but it captures an emotion, movement, and softness that is highly sophisticated for a song so stripped to its foundation. "Besame Mucho" on the other hand, is a more angular song that's full of twists, turns, and short stops. It could be the best theme music for PBS's MYSTERY!. Listen to "Swingin' On A Star" (a song I've always enjoyed) and you'll hear Aleman stretching the melody with his guitar solos. His solos are malleable and dynamic like those of Santana and Hendrix, if not quite as dramatic. "Delicado" incorporates- more noticeably - the Latin American element, than any of the other Aleman songs I've heard. It is delicate, but with strong syncopation and a traveling melody that drifts away from the center and back again. Last, but not least, "Pere Mi Eres Devina" is intensely edgy for jazz music of its time. It honestly reminds me of some of the Doors' more winding, jazzy compositions. There's drama, distinction, and heady swing on this song, and it has to be one of my Aleman favorites.

Happy 4th!

This is my anthem. :)

01 July, 2008

"What Makes A Man (LIVE)" by City and Colour

Hoping the sun won't melt my wings

The new album by electronic music master Daedelus (Andrew Weisberg-Roberts) was released today on iTunes. Daedelus has been around for awhile, crafting fine computer based tunes. Love to Make Music to - besides the fact that it works as great wordplay - is also a slamming album.

I'm often very picky about my electronic music. I feel that music without lyrics is missing an irreplaceable half, unless the music itself is so well-written that it can encompass all of the nuances of great lyrics. In my own mind, Mozart would be overwhelming with lyrics (the complexity of the music itself is already overwhelming). I could also listen to Jimi Hendrix solos for hours at a time without requiring any lyrics at all; despite the fact that Jimi's lyrics are pretty friggin' amazing. Anyway, I guess my point is that I'm not often grabbed by electronic music, which is why I was a little amazed at my own immediate enjoyment of Love to Make Music to.

"Fair Weather Friends" is the first track, and also the first single. It reminds me of The Go! Team and also of Her Space Holiday. The song is circuit-bent to the max, but there's also a lot of cheering going on in the background. Gaming music geeks and cheerleaders maybe seem diametrically opposed, but they're extremely compatible in "Fair Weather Friends". "Touchstone" follows with cameo appearances by Paperboy and Taz Arnold. There are echo sound effects and random guitar licks, and although the lyrics are fairly standard for hip-hop, the song feels futuristic. "Twist the Kids" featuring N'fa also has a futuristic feeling, but the rhythmic beats make it highly dance-worthy (N'fa's flow is also impeccable.) I'm going to skip ahead a few songs to "Make It So" which is surprisingly free of Star Trek musical references. It actually sounds a lot like an eighties dance song, but it isn't obnoxious like most of the real eighties dance songs. "Only For the Heart Strings" rumbles like a dark cloud of static, with it's own electronic heartbeat. "I Took Two" borders on Blue Man Group territory. It has a cavernous sound, that's also very precise and rhythmic. "Hrs:Mins:Secs" would fit right on the soundtrack to Tron. It's dramatically computerized, down to the last note. "Drummery Jam" is my favorite song on the whole album. It runs a piano line up and down, with syncopation exploding in the background. "Drummery Jam" finds a happy place musically; a spot where the music of the last century happily coexists (and cohabits, as it were) with the music of the 21st century. The final song on the album is "You're The One" featuring Om'Mas Keith. It shifts and rearranges itself, with patchwork pieces of music sprinkled underneath the marching band drums.

Overall, Love to Make Music to covers a lot of territory for a fifteen song album. It stretches the very parameters of electronic music, with jazz, pop, latin, and hip-hop inspired songs. I will be listening to this album for awhile, I think. I need some time to digest all of the layers.