You don’t realize how far you’ve come, how insignificant you are, until you look up and remember—oh yeah! There are things called stars! Two hundred stars are born every second, filling me with the sort of hope too big to be printed across a nation. Stars don’t rise and set—it’s us who blanks them out. And it’s us who links them with lines of light trillions of miles across, making constellations worshipping gods of old.
The Constellations are two bands, both of whom I discovered on the same day. Are they the same band? Oh Zeus! I wish. One featured on Said The Gramophone
, and they have a song called “Oh Captive Princess.” It’s funky, with hundreds of bulbs flashing on intermittently, helping the plants grow as the gardeners drum their fingers on the watering can, wait to feed on the fruit, and begin the whole process again. Enjoying the band so much, I searched more and found another song by The Constellations called “Love Is A Murder” featured on Stereogum
. (The song is in the comments.) The song features a cameo from Cee-Lo, one half of Gnarls Barkley. (I think he’s the Gnarls, and Dangermouse represents the Barkley.) It’s one of those songs I listen to 50 times in 24 hours. Instead of flourishing fruit think feasting on burgers grilled on hot-rod hoods before the big race.
Are they the same band? Could be. How will you tell them apart? How do you tell the stars apart? I don’t. I just listen, watch, and the read the sky, allowing other people’s lines to link everything up into a sometimes good, sometimes bad whole. What is art, except drawing a line somewhere? —Mike Smith
According to McCartney, only two lines on Ram
were aimed at John Lennon: "Too many people preaching practices" and "You took your lucky break and broke it in two." [via
As anyone who’s been to the movies recently, or listened to a radio, or watched another stale episode of supposedly edgy satire (SNL
? Family Guy
? Fill in the blank?) has surely noticed, our cultural arts could now persist for eons untold in a state of half-wakefulness, cannibalizing the more salient aspects of previous human endeavors to continually replicate something new out of something cherished. A self-selecting mash-up, an autochthonous reinterpretation, a covers album. The pertinent question being, yeah, so what? Where’s the problem?
Out of Los Angeles comes a particularly strong argument for putting our creative efforts on auto-pilot: a loose collection of Angeleno musicians covering Paul McCartney’s second (and best) solo album, Ram
, has been curated by the folks over at Aquarium Drunkard
, with requests for donations to No More Landmines
. The original work (recorded, it bears snarky mentioning, in NYC) proved definitively that McCartney could not only succeed but shine following the break-up of the Beatles (a break-up that some of us late-twenty-somethings are still just coming to terms with). The new interpretation, Ram On L.A.
, cobbled from many disparate voices, speaks to the pop brilliance of the original, but of course casts each track in its own distinctly distorted light.
Though Earlimart’s contribution on “Too Many People” is stellar, I’m finding myself more strongly drawn to Secretly Canadian
-signed Bodies of Water’s take on “Dear Boy.” This track, as well as their previous work, is well worth a listen. —Erik Bryan
A thousand American Idol winners singing through a thousand autotune
modulators will never make a Voice, a singer to be reckoned with,
instinctually appreciated, and surrendered to. Very few of our
musicians could just as easily go by the title of singer
which is what makes Neko Case and her dulcet serenades so
Her new album, Middle Cyclone
(which boasts some of the most
seen in a hot minute), is due this coming Tuesday, March 3. As
she bends slowly away from the roots-of-country sounds that gave her a
broad appeal and audience, she finds gradual interest and
gratification in gently teasing the boundaries of the low-key, wistful
realms of alt-whatever-it-is, where she reigns as queen. So broad
(and, some would say, bourgeois) is her appeal that NPR is currently
in its entirety from their site. But let it not be said
that she’s “sold out” or gone middlebrow or, worse yet, lost her edge.
This is the same woman, capable of both the most affecting earnesty
and the most sublime tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation, mind you, who
appeared as siren Chrysanthemum, quite fittingly, on an episode
Aqua Teen Hunger Force. If that ain’t cred … —Erik Bryan
Two musicians, elegant and focused modern powers, continue in guise, obscuring their true form, for their respective new releases. Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Bat For Lashes sooth us, flowing through our guts with a folk inspired hauntology
and electric flourish.
Will Oldham, in character as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, has kept the curtain down on March release Beware
, only revealing a demo of “Beware Your Friend
.” Scribbled on parchment, it’s a picture of a rural wanderer with straw for laces, standing triumphantly atop a far ridge. Oldham is uncomfortable with those rooting for a song’s meaning, so he created an alter-ego and defensive trance that he could look to and gradually understand. This trance is Bonnie “Prince” Billy, someone for whom the wick is long, a guide we can trust to steer us through a harsh country winter and keep us safe.
For Natasha Khan, this is not routine, not an encore. As Bat for Lashes, she lets loose, reaching deeper with second album Two Suns
and introducing alter-ego Pearl. They swim through rivers of fantasy, dry off in the locks of golden boughs, warm up beside sparks of electronica and flames of dazed trip-hop. Debut Fur and Gold
was all whistling winds, howls, circus tricks, mist and lake mirrors; Khan played a chanteuse of druid-rock in possession of a dark energy. Two Suns
burns all that energy, alchemizing Björk, Kate Bush, and Tolkien. As Two Suns
begins, with “Glass
,” Khan marches armies to the beat of a Song of Solomon
, across desert and heath, til the dawn. This is a different sort of defense mechanism to Oldham’s—it’s a power protecting the whole dimension.
Breaking the illusion to make the point in a different way: What links these two? Kayne West, of course. He’s fan of Bat For Lashes
, and Will Oldham appeared alongside hilarious
comedian Zach Galifianakis in a video for Kayne West’s fantastic “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.
Oldham & West & Khan & Galifianakis: A Holy Quadrinity. Beware! They will take you! —Mike Smith
It was sad to hear Silver Jews call it quits, but heartbreaking to hear founder David Berman reveal, a few hours later, that his father is the high-profile corporate lobbyist Richard Berman
“Now that the Joos are over I can tell you my gravest secret. Worse than suicide, worse than crack addiction: My father. You might be surprised to know he is famous, for terrible reasons… This winter I decided that the SJs were too small of a force to ever come close to undoing a millionth of all the harm he has caused.” — David Berman
Such comparisons bring souls crashing to earth. We must remember that music’s power is greater than being a force struggling to pull social change in one direction. It’s a release, an escape, an inspiration; it’s power is plural, and collective. It’s comforting that at Silver Jews’ end David Berman’s voice is so loud. It is in this final act that Berman comes out of his refuge of poetry, smashing through the glass. His determination to act is a reminder that whilst Silver Jews create beautiful alt-country constellations, we can navigate by those old and beautiful stars, not just appreciate them—acting on that which we treasure, not burying it and forgetting it.
I reach up for paper-planes thrown by fans, lovingly folded, offering that Berman’s music is “like finding a park after all you could see was parked cars and garbage cans.”
It’s a shame to witness the flame that lit these words extinguished, but it’s not all darkness. Silver Jews’ music has a found new vigor to my ears; there is no gloom, just greater appreciation and strange inspiration.
David Berman’s music melts frozen minds, and lifts people up—even an inch is enough, no matter how deep lobbyist try to drag people down to drown. Like John Updike’s death a new note is sounded, a new resonance felt: an immortality unique to those who strive to create something beautiful. Those in the pay of narrow interests will die bitter, but Silver Jews live on, holding us up, held by us—better that than to be rich, cold, and alone at the end. Harm should be undone, but it’s equally important to appreciate what inspires us to strive for justice, the stuff that washes the dust of daily life from our souls
, inspires us, renews us, and has us reborn. For that we must thank David Berman and Silver Jews. —Mike Smith
Remember how it was all supposed to be? And how the distance between that supposed and that of your here and now is the breadth of the America you inhabit? Imagine all that distance and the places in between which are passed through—once, twice at most—but never lived. Have you ever loved it all, all of America, not only because it seems like it’s no less sensitive to your condition in between these places, but also because you’re fairly confident it could kick your ass without question? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then worry not: since all the music explaining these lives and places is now just “information,” it’s that much easier to return to and cherish.
On March 10, three albums by Richard Buckner (Bloomed
, The Hill
, and Impasse
) will be available as digital downloads from the Merge Records site
(and presumably other places that trade in such stock as well). He will also be touring
this coming Spring in support of these somewhat overlooked masterpieces. Though my introduction to the man came when he embarrassed Kris Kristofferson by way of superior tribute (#7 down: “Loving Her Was Easier”
), I quickly covered these Buckner gaps in my catalog. Here’s your chance to do the same. —Erik Bryan
The dimensional hierarchy of artistic mediums usually goes like this: Written Word < Music < Video < Music Video < Opera < Virtual Reality. Too often this is mistaken for a hierachy of quality, where movies are always better than books, music videos are always better than novelizations of music videos, and adding a new dimension to anything always makes it better. If you liked Lost the TV Show, you’re sure to like Lost the Musical. This sort of logic would lead you to believe that the greatest movie of all time was either MTV’s version of Romeo and Juliet or a Second Life virtual-dance party. In a way this entertainment hierarchy is a parallel of the Geek Hierarchy
. Together they would meet at the apex of geek entertainment in an interactive, erotic, furrie space opera.
Certain things might be best left in their original medium, like a Parenthetical Girls song which sounds like it’s already blocked out for a live action musical interpretation, but in reality it’s already at the perfection of its form in its original state. You could architect a plot around the lyrics to “Four Words,” with actors, mimes, puppets, and a kick-line animating the movements before a live orchestra. It would be a lot of work and hell to choreograph. By the time you get the ballet dancers to make sure they’re not upstaged by the rodeo clowns, the dancing elephants have gotten antsy and wandered offstage. It could be brilliant if the fireworks are timed properly, but as a fallback, the audio in and of itself has all of the necessary animation self-contained. —Llewellyn Hinkes
Apparently this band, Fight Like Apes
from Dublin, has been around, recording, and touring Ireland and the UK for a couple years now. As much as we rely on the internet to fill us in on these things, we’ve only recently heard them and that was largely due to the January 26 UK release of their debut album Fight Like Apes And The Mystery Of The Golden Medallion
. The album has yet to be released in the US, however. As much as we need to believe that physical releases don’t matter anymore, that all information can simply be transmitted into our skulls from now on … well, I raise you one Fight Like Apes, sir.
The band’s name and album title may have already given it away, but the last thing they’re likely to be accused of is taking themselves too seriously. Even as they tend toward the clownish, though, there is an undeniable strain of professionalism to the proceedings, like on the single “Jake Summers.” Combining live instruments and cutesy synthesizers, the song starts innocently enough, the lyrics referring to a boy the narrator seems to have a crush on. Seems like any other power pop song you’ve heard in recent years, one of the better-crafted that you’ve heard, too. Then, as if to show off singer Maykay’s range, suddenly a high-pitched squeal leads into a cultural-reference-laden, punk rant against the listener. Or the boy. It’s hard to tell.
One gets the feeling that this band could easily play it straight, sing the cute, pretty songs that win the sentimental devotion of countless pop music fans, only they choose not to. They choose to be goofy, loud, and fun. They happily thumb their nose at listener expectations. —Erik Bryan
If you’ve misplaced the Knife in all the mist, turn back and find their best half in a new guise as Fever Ray
. Karin Elisabeth Dreijer Andersson nurtures her solo beats and breaths with great care, giving cavern ghosts a black-hole heartbeat, a beat and pace that LCD Soundsystem’s 45:33
wields so well. Or, should Joanna Newsom’s folk harmonies find you mud-stuck, take Anni Rossi
’s hand and venture elsewhere, with a fresh breeze behind you.
The signal that above comparisons emit is weak, but amongst Hope and downward slopes
, they give our adventure a keener sense of direction, suggesting we make for the horizon, especially in the roughest seas. Animal Collective have lit clouds that will burn and color my year, so I ask a lot of the rest. But it’s folly to critically compare, or assign points. Sometimes we just need new faces to challenges us, move us, and make us move.
Weathering the storm in the harbor, keeping everyone safe? Then choose Emmy the Great’s
sweet London folk music that isn’t really anti-anything. Or choose Morrissey
. We love Morrissey. Neither are safe or middle of the road. They are uncomplicated, trusted, and utterly enjoyable; the sort of anchors we need from time to time. —Mike Smith