Friday, September 23, 2016

Dazed and overloaded

Eric Bachmann makes some of the best background music for writing academic articles.  I mean, I know that's not his goal, but it's true nonetheless.  It's not that his music blends into the background - just the opposite.  It's music that keeps me alert.  It doesn't allow me to become mindless.  It's catchy and thoughtful, but it also tends to be low-key enough that it's overpowering my senses.

The song above got stuck in my head for a long time.  The whole album, actually.  It coincidentally came out right about the time North Carolina decided to give a middle finger to compassion and civil rights by passing HB2.  It was accidental timing, but North Carolina was injured and needed to know that people still loved it.  I've been away for a long time and I only have a smattering of friends left there, but it's the place where my childhood was.  It's where I keep my memories.  I guess that makes it home?  Either way, I still have a love for it, and this song was the warm hug and band-aid the state needed.

Also, can we (I) talk about how fucking amazing this song is?  Holy shit.  The lyrical content could have taken this song anywhere - it could be one of those slow, non-crazy Tom Waits almost-torch-songs ("Alice.")  It could have been sung at a bar, drunken and dark, by a slow, piercing piano.  Instead, it's lively.  It's powerful.  It's still unimaginably dark.  It's an emotional state all to itself.  Like many of his songs, I'll be puzzling over the music for years.  See my earlier post about 'New Drink for the Old Drunk.'

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Turn your face to the moonlight

When I was in my mid/late 20s, I had a job that stressed me out immensely.  It was a 12 hour shift in a locked facility, so during the winter months I'd completely miss the daylight hours.  If you've ever regularly shown up for work at a stressful job while it's dark, this is the album you shouldn't listen to.  For a period of months, I regularly listened to this album on the way to work as I felt like it was a good way to try to calm myself down before work.  I'm a lot of things, but under it all I'm an anxious wreck.  In the end, I'd developed some sort of Pavlovian response to this album.  When it comes on, I'm immediately stressed out and think about that drive to a job that used to give me stomach pains. 

On the plus side, it's made me think about the ability for music to transport you back to a different time and place.  I know it's true for me, so I imagine it's also true for others, that there are albums or songs that we relate to specific emotional memories and moments.  These memories are sometimes so emotionally powerful that we can lose those songs if the memory itself is too painful.  Even songs tied to good memories can be too much.  I don't keep track, because why would I do that? - but if the album is important enough or the memory is one that no longer deserves top-shelf status, I'll listen to the album again to try to get those songs back.

This is one of the few albums I've lost that I've never tried to reclaim.  It's too stressful and that's not a place I like to go back to very often.  At the Drive-In's '198d' is another for me, as it's tied to the memory of me driving around when I was 21 after I got a call saying that my mom was probably going to die (she didn't, but I don't need to go to that place again.)

Some are random and goofy.  Mike and the Mechanics' 'The Living Years' takes me back to listening to the radio as a kid in one of my childhood bedrooms.  Jon Secada's 'Just Another Day' puts me on a series of plane flights in the 90s.  Weird stuff.

This has been such a trend in my life that I've learned to be selective about what I listen to and when.  For the couple months leading up to my candidacy defense, I planned on listening to Japandroids 'The House that Heaven Built' right afterwards as some sort of anthemic, memorable cheer.  I did that, and it nearly brought me to tears - but now I just have the memory of planning to listen to that song, because it's such a goofball thing to do (and a ridiculously anthemic cheer song.)

As my mom says, 'you plan, god laughs.'  Maybe it's better not to plan these things, but to just let the music do its thing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

I had a t-shirt with this cute guy for like a decade

Youtube suggested Pedro the Lion while listening to Bats and Mice.  It's apt.

Remember 90s punk bands?  Ben Nichols of Lucero was heading up this one.  I liked punk rock of this style back in the mid/late 90s, but had wandered off into the indie rock woods in my early 20s.  I think I found out about this band a couple years after getting into Lucero.  So, this always felt like a little throwback for me, although it was always fun to consider the parallels between this band and Lucero.  It's fun to see Lucero playing 'The Outsiders' (starts at around 9:50 in the video) now and then.

Listening to their songs now, I'm stuck by how much 'Unfun'-era Jawbreaker shows up in this.  Particularly those basslines.  It's more 'fun' than 'intense' but you can tell how much of a Jawbreaker fan Ben was.  Although Ben could never hit Blake's lyrical styling, it's never bothered me much because he's always singing from the heart.

The above is the 7", but there's a full album floating around the internet that's worth a listen if you dig those 90s Gilman Street style bands.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Man, I do NOT like No Knife

I was so excited when I first heard about No Knife.  Or saw about them, I guess.  It was their sticker on some piece of equipment at an At the Drive-In show in 2000.  I remembered the name as being hip and edgy and within a day or two I had downloaded everything I could find of theirs (Napster?  Audiogalaxy?  Whatever we used back then.)

I tried to like them.  Oh, how I tried.  Other bands I really liked loved No Knife and toured with them a lot.  They were angular, they were edgy.  They were catchy?  I tried to share them with everyone I knew, just to get some dialogue going about this band.  Maybe if others liked them, I'd like them more?  I don't know.  In the end, I gave up.  I just didn't like them, but I couldn't explain why.

There's just this dullness in their sound that completely turns me off.  You know if you have some piece of fruit -- let's say some yummy blackberries -- and one of them is kind of moldy?  Throwing just the one out isn't an option, you're turned off to the whole pile of fruit.  Best just to throw it all out and get some new ones.  That's how I feel about ALL of No Knife's songs.  They're the moldy piece of fruit.  It's just something in your gut that says, 'oh, gross, no.'

I fucking love me some blackberries, but moldy ones turn me off.  Nothing against mold, it just doesn't fit in with my whole schema, alright?  This is the worst analogy ever, but damned if my feelings about No Knife aren't the same feelings that I have about spoiled food.  Oh, the lost potential!

Some years later, I heard Mission of Burma's "Academy Fight Song" and it made me wonder why/how No Knife has a song called "Academy Fight Song" and it's not a cover, but a totally different song.  They knew, right?  Mission of Burma was pretty popular.  And it's a great fucking song.  How'd they make a song with the same specific name, particularly when their band fits in, at least tangentially, to a scene that's greatly inspired by MoB?

I'm going to listen to that old one to get the taste of spoiled fruit out of my head.  Not sure why I'd share something I don't like on here.  Maybe it's because I'm really supposed to be working on this actual scientific paper, but I don't like it one, either.  It's spoiled fruit of my own making.  Bitter, man.

Other Side of Night

I don't remember when this came out.  2006?  It was some point in what appeared to be Small Brown Bike's break-up that one of the singers, as well as the singer of another Michigan band called Charlevoix, teamed up and put out a demo for this song under the name 'Shipwrecked.'  Somewhere in there, the two singers got married, and not long after, they became LaSalle and released two albums.  Neither album became very popular.  They were decent albums, but not particularly enthralling.  Except for this song.  I prefer the demo, but I'm too lazy at the moment to craft it youtube-style.

There's something about this song that was such a different direction from either of the previous bands.  Small Brown Bike wasn't quite a hardcore band, but too hard for the stuff we called 'emo' back then.  Clearly, the songs were all anger-sad and about all those angsty young-adult problems, but man, at 20 years old, Small Brown Bike was such a relief.  Around those times, I was a commuter student with at least a 45 minute drive to school.  I would scream along to the Bike, hoarse by the time I got home.  Their first albums were quite cathartic, if given the right attention, but I think to most passersby, they sounded like a more ramshackle Hot Water Music, but I prefer to think that Small Brown Bike preferred the blurry space between the lines.  Charlevoix was in the same vein and a bit more angular and clean.

And then this song came out and went a completely different direction.  It's soft.  It's obviously sad.  Why is it so sad? The singers had just put out these hard albums and here comes this soft, delicate number to cry in the rain to.  A couple years later, they put out their second album, then I guess faded into obscurity as Small Brown Bike put out a couple more albums.  I still prefer the Bike, but I miss this sort of departure.  It makes me wonder what other musicians would put out if they had time to take a breath.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fucking bonkers

While I'm thinking about Kat Brock's music, have you listened to Dixie Dirt?  How that band didn't become the next Sonic Youth, I'll never understand.  Their songs bounced between delicate and rough with such ease, it almost has a jazz feel to it.  This is one of a few bands that I have real trouble classifying as anything.  Sure, they're a rock band.  A rock band that plays 9 minute songs.  A band that's not scared to use repetition and silence or to have a single instrument holding up as the backbone of a song.

Every last one of their songs feels like a southern summer night memory.  If I had to describe the memories of my emotional state from 18 to 22, I'd just point to Dixie Dirt.  I used to drive around a lot at night during the summer, particularly when I was around 19 or 20.  I'd crank music, roll the windows down, and drive around in the humid darkness, thinking about girls, loneliness, and the future, probably.  I think the best term for that is "Dixie Dirting," even if they weren't around back then.  Maybe "Dixie Dirting" is the term for the act of recalling driving around on summer nights when I was 20, rather than the driving around itself.  Does Dixie Dirt sound more like the action or the memory of the action?  Are they the summer nights or the memories of the southern nights?  The fuck am I talking about?

I have a desperate longing for Dixie Dirt's "Posthumous" album to finally get released after all these years.  C'mon already.  Please?  C'mon.  I still listen regularly to the unreleased songs I stole off their website by mining the source code of their streaming player for mp3s.  For funsies, here's one of them.  Fucking bonkers.  How did this not get released?

Fucked up kids

After more than a year, I can't get over how amazing this EP is.  It's probably 90% because of Kat Brock.  It's moody, hopeful, reserved.  It rocks out when it needs to, not just because it's a rock album.  It's one of those releases that perhaps won't live up to commercial standards, but all the parts are here.  Not that it needs it, but for some reason I'd love to hear these songs put through a Capitol Records overproduction thing.  Hired violins and bells and shit.  The source material is strong.

Much like everything by Dixie Dirt, this won't get the critical or commercial reception it deserves and is likely limited to a scattering of loyal Knoxville devotees.  While there's something to be said for being loyal to the local, I'd love to see this band blow up everywhere.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A reminder that most of Washington state is brown and/or farmland.

I don't take a lot of photos, but I was proud of this one.  Not bad for a nearly 5 year old phone. On the Washington side of the WA/OR border, on the east-west length of highway 221 before turning south toward Paterson and the Columbia river.  I wanted to capture the stark lines between browns in the fields.  A little success, I think.

Edit: I'm on a never-ending quest to get me some of that Rhein II money.  Someday.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

I've long thought that if ever I actually got into music, I'd end up a lot like Damien Jurado.  His recordings reflect his mood, which, like most of us, bounces around like a bumpy road.  Some songs are really upbeat, most are downtrodden.  I can't tell if his tunes are confessional, as a release, or more about trying to put a face to a feeling.  Tales of suicide, cheating, running away all suggest he's trying to evince some storied pain from his life, but perhaps it's more that his dark feelings make sense as a song about suicide, relationship issues come out as stories of cheating, feelings of entrapment create stories about running away (or toward.)  It's hard to tell, but whatever it is, it's heartfelt.

Damien Jurado's made up the soundtrack to much of my adult life.  I caught him opening for someone maybe around 2002 or 2003?  He opened either for Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co. or Baptist Generals?  Or maybe it was two separate shows or some combination?  My memory's not so good anymore.  Either way, it wasn't particularly captivating or memorable, likely because I was a dumb kid who hadn't actually experienced anything in life. I nevertheless was compelled to get a copy of his rock album "Gathered in Song."  On a lark, I put it on one day while driving and it just fit.   Upbeat, rocking, catchy.  I listened to it dozens of times over the next couple of weeks.  I found his other albums and listened to them while I worked.

His voice isn't fabulous.  Although from the northwest, there's a steel-belt rustiness to his work. Typically, he employs only a folk-singer's tools with little embellishment.  Simple, classic, but aiming right for the heart.  His first album, 'Waters Ave S.' starts off with a failed engagement.  Damien's voice struggles to maintain tonality; this is clearly a guy who HAS to sing this song.  To say it's a catchy song about "heartbreak" misses the point. This is really a catchy song about the aftermath.  The emotionality and changing of tones, the lost future and the struggle with finality.  It's a painful, simple song that I've both listened to, and experienced, a thousand times.  Fast forward to a light-hearted, almost joke song about a "space age mom."  Bouncing down the bumpy road.

Next album starts off with an abandoned girl traveling to see her mother ("Ohio," perhaps Jurado's best known early song.)  Fast forward to "Honey Baby," a jangly ode to love, if nothing else.  These songs are experiences, tales of life.  They go to dark places, they tell of inescapable contrasts and tragedy, they're frantic, they're fraught; they're catchy, upbeat; they beat you over the head and pick you up.  Then 'Ghost of David' comes out and is the essential soundtrack to sadness.

It's hard to retell a long career and its meaning to me at each step.  Damien's latest work has been far more complex, all apparently related to a complex, rough dream he had.  Can't say we all haven't been there - but he's spent a couple albums now telling the tale and working through the meaning, to wonderfully colorful, vast results.  It's tough to do that with a guitar and simple band, so these have been nearly psychedelic albums.  I'd say that's a departure, but really, it's life.  Some things in life have to be dealt with at their level, not from the place where we're most comfortable, which is pretty much the only analogy I can come up with for Damien's music.  Gotta work through some shit?  Spend an evening writing and rambling and listening to Damien Jurado.

Oh, yes, this is on my mind because Damien's coming back to the St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle later this fall.  Tickets are probably cheap.  There's no better place to hear, well, anyone.  Last time, his son played piano and it was quite moving.