12 May 2008

friends and friends of friends

this is about the music that you can hear here, which was made by friends or friends of friends, mostly, mostly recently, mostly mellowly.

Joe Kille - $uccess
please don't take this as a true representative of the fabulous mr. kille's work...i guess you can hear summa that over at hisspace.
..it's just a little quick-recorded snippet he gmailed me a few weeks ago, a solo-guitar scramble through a tune that, as he said, had happened to pop into his head. it's a song that we played in a band we were in together four years ago that may have been called, at one point or another, "success," "brunchfest," and/or "zanzibar buck-buck mccandlish." (or just "buck-buck.")

i pretty much wrote the song, with some help from dave mcc if i remember right - it does have words (about an old woman losing her ability to distinguish the past from the present, more or less, though you probably couldn't glean that from the lyrics alone) and a melody too, and another bit that he doesn't play, but nevermind that. (also, that's not what the song's called, though i can't remember the actual title.)

anyway, i just thought i'd include this as a succinct intro bit and an indirect reminder (to myself) that i used to be involved in making music too - writing it, even. and maybe, soon, maybe, again. it's been good to see joe a bunch of times recently, performing in various contexts at the (semi-)weekly revues at special agent dale cooper house here in west philly, often on his funky hybrid phonograph-fiddle (er, it's a stroh violin), tho maybe best of all with the bluegrass harmony outfit "jew moon of kentucky." sadly i missed his recent record release show there (in tandem with ben bradlow's) for his first solo album, rough river, and i haven't seen him since to find out about acquiring the records. hopefully i'll get my hands on a copy soon, and will report back.

Emily Bate - Greyhound
current major music-friend crush on emily bate. it's even better than that time i was(/am?) in love with devon sproule, b/c emily is also my neighbor, a fellow west philly'n, which means we actually are friends, or at least we're planning to be soon. so far i've only seen/met her a couple of times, while i have listened to her great great new album, the fever in the feast, more times than that by a factor of maybe a dozen.

somewhat reminiscent of ms. sproule in that she plays folk music, essentially - acoustic and songy and writerly - but stretches out beyond that in refreshing and unexpected ways, in e's case not so much rootsy/folksy/appalachian ways as indie/quirky home-recording found-sound ways, and sometimes also quasi-euro-folk ways (á la beirut, if you like.) but also in that her songs often venture outside of traditional, readily definable structures. (something like the ways and ideas that i was struggling to grasp my hands around a while ago trying to make an overly conceptual, poorly grounded argument or explanation about songwriting styles...) not that they're overly complex - indeed, at least at first brush, her songs feel understated and straightforward, with an appealing, unassuming lightness. but on closer inspection they are often notably atypical, at least in structural terms. most of them don't have choruses to speak of,
for instance, though they do have melody in abundance, and memorable repeated musical and lyrical phrases.

which, to cut myself mercifully (somewhat) short, makes the album a joy to listen to but sometimes a puzzle to fully take in and process, as the songs go blissfully by while you listen, forming an entirely enjoyable whole, but often evading easy individuation, even though there's plenty of musical and sonic variety. at least, that has been my experience. as the individual songs come into sharper focus though, with repeated and focused listens, they are all the more striking.

the one that's been ruling my headspace the most lately is the opening track, "girls with my same name," which has four distinct melodic sections, all of them distinctly catchy - at first it sets up a seemingly straightforward verse-chorus pattern, although there are no repeated lines in the chorus, just repeated rhyme-schemes. then there's a bridge ("don't bully me...") which is vaguely similar to the chorus, but not really. then there's another verse, but instead of moving to the "chorus" chords it keeps on with the same insistent minor-key fingerpicked progression, but with a new, simpler, melodic idea that carries on through the end of the song, with the titular phrase (introduced here for the first time), repeated (with variations) like a mantra or an anthem. [like so: ABA'B'CA''D] that final piece is the first time the lyrics shift from a position of wary, beleaguered aloneness to a recognition of a shared something, in this case, evidently, shared outsiderness - and, accordingly, emily's solo vocal is joined for the first time by tight harmonies, which made me think of the roches on first listen. [
eta: speaking of whom...i shoulda wangled jenny's roche/wainwright connection into this piece somehow...]

and that's not even really getting into the actual content of the song, the stunning, evocative lyrics and hooky melodies (well, they're doing it for me) without which there wouldn't be much reason to dissect the structure in such detail - after all, it's nothing necessarily amazing in and of itself...actually i'm not really sure why i just spent so much time writing about the compositional structure instead of the lyrics, which are much more interesting. and also, this isn't even the song i put on the muxtape. (oops.) but you can listen to it here (at least most of it) and read the lyrics here.

the song on the mux is "greyhound," which is shorter and simpler, sort of. (actually...it only seems shorter - the track is the same length, though the song itself is shorter, since the last minute is instrumental.) it has, i suppose, two verses, which have only their final (semi-a cappella) refrain in common ("getting chased out of town on the greyhound") but share a lovely, circular internal repetition scheme; then another section (which also has a bit of loose internal repetition), and then the instrumental bit.

when i first heard the line "where are we headed/and is that a place you can get to on the bus?" (without catching any of the other lyrics) i thought this was a political song advocating public transportation, which would be awesome. actually, it's (at least mostly) about other things, though it's not entirely not-political, at least as i hear it. it has a nice balance between an apparently specific setting (looking at detroit through a bus window - songs about detroit always make me think about "papa hobo") and broad, variably-interpretable metaphors and sentiments (the feeling of being on a sinking ship; the questions at the end, which could be either practical and literal, or figurative and universal.) it also has some cute kid talking bits, and glockenspiel, and funny wordless backup vocals, so you maybe get a better sense of the varied, often whimsical, sound of the album.

[btw: web research reveals that e.b. has two earlier albums, and connections with a suspiciously hip-looking art collective thingy, and an all music guide entry - perhaps not entirely due to her having an ann arbor-affiliated associate? - which although it's currently lacking in content (hm...) does accurately identify her, in endearingly quasi-helpful amg fashion, as "alternative singer/songwriter." i guess i'll get her to tell me about those things sometime.]

emily, sorry if i'm embarrassing ya with all this scrutiny. you did say you needed a music reviewer. on to other stuff...

Andrew Rose Gregory - Anything At All
i have other friends. andrew's a friend. (ooh looky) even if i don't know or can't remember the five "top secret" reasons he changed his middle name to rose. he's more of a straight-up folky folkie, but that's cool too. you might wonder, you might, why so many of my musical friends and "friends" are folk-y, in disproportion to the music that i more generally like and listen to. i guess that's a good question, but my tendency would be to say that friends are folks, and folk is friendly, and folks play folk music. (also, folk is one of those words that starts to look really weird when you type it a lot.)

i was gonna put up andrew's song "when we closed our eyes," from his last album
the lost year, because it's pretty and catchy and that way i could talk about how he lifts an entire stanza from "cheek to cheek" almost verbatim except for the crucial change of "vanish like gambler's losing streak" instead of "lucky", which subtly, albeit superficially, alters the meaning and wittiness of the line, and wonder whether that could have been an intentional transposition... but i figured i should feature something from his new album instead. (you can hear the other one, and in fact all of his albums, on his website - glad to see somebody is still using myflashfetish players, and classily.)

so, here's "anything at all," which is maybe not the most impressive or distinctive song on the album, but is pretty and sweet and is a waltz (and a duet, like the whole album pretty much) and has some nice quick rhymes. i suppose a more fitting song to go with the 'friend' concept might have been "west coast time."

Devon Sproule - Dress Sharp, Play Well, Be Modest
likewise, "stop by anytime" might have been a more apt pick from devon sproule, whom i reckon still not enough of y'all have listened to, partly as i've been doing a better job of writing about her glowingly (again) than actually playing her music for too many folks. last we talked, i invited her to come play a house show in west philly, and make some steps toward setting that up, but i have been lax and not responded to her most recent email, mostly because i'm starting to doubt whether a house would actually be the best place for her to play in westy, what with all these performance venues that have been opening recently. so maybe i'll make some more friendfolk and then get 'em all together to do a show with devon.

of course, she's got her own friends aplenty. i met her through andrew, above (he was opening for her at the tin angel, over two years ago now), and then through her i didn't-quite-meet carsie, whom i can now say i know, but whom i don't quite feel like friends with, despite having been to her house twice and danced with her a few times. so, she's not on the mux, except really that's because i don't have any of her music. this is cool though - i like "closer to him" and "baby can dance."

oh wait, yeah. "dress sharp, play well, be modest." great title, great song, relatively understated, certainly musically, but a massive grower - amg called it the album's centerpiece, and it does feel luxurious and sprawling, longer than its four-and-a-half minutes. not gonna really get into the lyrics right now, but i do love the casual, off-handed lifts from "take me out to the ballgame" and "home on the range." also how she's drinking dark and stormies ("with a whole half a lime.") oh, dev...

Jim's Big Ego - Cut Off Your Head
the segue here goes: like the previous two artists, i saw jim's big ego most recently at the tin angel, about a month ago now. a place for friends. right. and jim is now my facebook friend, so there. also, dan is my uncle. wtf, dan? i've probably seen them upwards of a dozen times, in boston, bryn mawr, and elsewhere (and even booked them once), but they haven't been around in a couple years, so it was great to see them again, and hear some new songs and olds. their records have plenty of good stuff, but i really enjoy them much more live (that's part of the thing about folk.) and they don't put out many records.

"cut off your head" is from the last one,
they're everywhere, which is five years old now. (new one coming soon, supposedly, possibly to be entitled free*, which is a pretty great title.) it just might be my favorite of jim's songs; at least it demonstrates a lot of the best things about his songwriting. jbe are probably more noted for their upbeat, jokey songs, and those are certainly fun, but many of them ("lucky," "stress," "in a bar") are a little too simple and short on ideas to be really effective in my opinion - the best are those which have slightly more content or are at least a bit more nuanced, with slightly more complex humor ("asshole," "she's dead," "boston band.") but what i really love, maybe surprisingly, are his serious, introspective songs ("better than you," "love what's gone"), which tend to be actually more clever, and touching at the same time. [also, the political ones on the e-EP that i still don't have.]

"cut off your head" combines both sides of that effectively, taking a seemingly jokey premise but addressing it in a surprisingly straight-faced, if satirical, manner, and juxtaposing it with three very different, unexpected near-stream-of-consciousness lists in the verses, and creating some actual achieving some emotional resonance. also has some of the band's best "na na na"s, and nifty subtle lifts from "somewhere over the rainbow."

The Mountain Goats - September 15, 1983
john darnielle isn't really my friend, but i have talked to him. (and come to think of it he knows my friend jesse.) still, i've been through a fair amount with him, and he's enough of a folkie (deny it though he might) that i feel he's been there with me too. "september 15, 1983" is not my favorite song on
heretic pride - oh, probably "sax rohmer #1" or "autoclave" though the title track and "lovecraft in brooklyn" are both pretty awesome as well as ridiculous - but it is the one i was most anticipating, not because it's about me being eleven months and two days old but because it's about the death of a reggae singer. the last time jd wrote a song about the death of a reggae singer it turned out to be maybe one of my favorite songs ever...

this one is not quite as stunning as "song for dennis brown", but it's still very good. i think i like that it's actually a reggae song. oddly, the lyrics are both more straightforward (it tells one story of one incident instead of several, apparently unrelated ones, although in equally imagistic, evocative language) and harder to understand, unless you already know what the song is about (it describes the death of prince far i in uncharacteristically straightforward, factual detail, but it took me a while and some googling to figure that out.) when i first heard it (live, at nyu, last fall) i took it to be less literal and more fragmentary, like "dennis brown" (partly because i misheard the opening lines as about a dinner taking place in 'portland'), and i took the first person voice of the chorus to be john himself, mostly because i thought that "israel" was what the "i" stood for (maybe it is, i don't know; i hope so, because that would make both readings work) and he was singing about wanting to preserve his memory. then i thought that it would be better, and more clever and darniellian, for the chorus not to be the same each time, but i didn't realize it was a reference to a psalm, which in itself is relevant to far i. actually i now think it's a better song than i thought originally. good one john.

of note: jeffrey lewis illustrated a very cool publicity one-sheet for the album including descriptions of all the songs, including a good explanation of this one.

Jim White - Jailbird
i'm really not friends with jim white (though i guess he is friends with his label head/my former boss yale), but we did have an extended conversation one night, two days before my 21st birthday, when i was trying to get into a bar to see him (he got me in by making me his merch salesman for the night.) and honestly, although i've reviewed them thoroughly
and approvingly, i've never connected with his more recent albums nearly as much as i did with the first one i heard,
no such place, which is still way up there for me. (the song "corvair" has been haunting me of late.)

"jailbird" is maybe my favorite from his new one, the awesomely-named
transnormal skiperoo though i freely admit that that's mostly because it sounds the most like his older work. it's awful languid and melancholy, and lush and smooth and lovely. drink it in.

Hanne Hukkelburg - The North Wind
i checked on marit larsen's myspace on the whim that it's about time for her to have some kinda new news going on, and sure enough, an adorable little note from about a short while back all but confirming that her second album must be well on its way to completion by now, which is an announcement full of wonderful and exciting. "good news for anyone with ears," as i saw someone comment on a similar post of joan['s?] as police woman['s?]. so no new music yet, but.

marit was my utter infatuation at last year's sxsw; this year there was nobody really comparable, which is not because i had a girlfriend in tow. (i do for sure love robyn, but not quite in that way.) i guess hanne hukkelberg came closest, or might have, except that neither she nor her music is even close to matching marit's appeal. although she is currently third in marit's top 8. honestly, the biggest similarity, besides their age and nationality, is that i had distinctly embarrassing (for me at least) interactions with both of them, specifically while trying to give them hugs.

anyway, hanne's music is quite lovely, if far moodier and less pop. i've been intrigued since i first heard her debut playing in a record store in chicago, and i'm glad to have gotten the chance to get to know her more closely since. i picked "north wind" because i'm a sucker for a good typewriter part.

Silje Nes - Ames Room
Rubies - The Truth and the Lies
Jeffrey Lewis - Punk is Dead
Retribution Gospel Choir - Easy Prey
i have not met or talked to any of the other artists on this mux. i've only even seen jeffrey lewis, and 2/3 of the retribution gospel choir (a.k.a. low.) silje nes, who was in marfa, tx just two days before me, make music that is almost uncannily similar to hanne hukkelberg's, although i underplayed that in my review of her album ames room, which does not have an apostrophe in its title. (the main difference: nes' stuff is slightly more 'out there' and 'experimental' and less song-based; but it's warmer and more inviting.) the title track is pretty representative, even though it sounds like a song.

rubies were 2/5 of call and response, who made one of my favorite songs ever, "the fool," as well as two very nice albums. rubies' album isn't terrible, but it's fairly mediocre by comparison. i don't know why i picked "the truth and the lies"; it's pretty in a somewhat vapid way, and it reveals that they don't sound all that good singing solo. but whatever, it's mellow and nice enough, i guess.

"punk is dead" is maybe the simplest and best thing on
12 crass songs, which i haven't ended up liking as much as my first listen suggested. it's funny now, but it's even funnier to think that the song was probably written in, like, 1979. it's pretty hard to believe that he's singing it with a straight face. i mean, he's obviously not. but an album's worth of this stuff? is this what they call taking the piss? we're supposed to accept it at face value, i guess. also amazing, that this used to be a punk song, and it's so a folk song now. q.v. will oldham williamsburg horror, which could practically be called "folk is dead."

[and i think i'll let rgc speak for themselves.]

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