Monday, November 29, 2004

They've Got a Lot of Coffee in Brazil

According to this Reuters story, the country of Brazil wants to produce a "TV documentary" (read: infomercial?) promoting the healthlicious joys of drinking coffee.

"The United States already is the world's biggest coffee market but Brazil thinks Americans can drink more," the item reads.

Okay, okay, I'm drinking as fast as I can...

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Speaking in Tongues

Spent much of this evening editing a transcript of an interview for work; as part of the necessary distraction process, I found myself at the download section of Sigur Rós's website, which contains a pretty remarkable and rather large collection of mp3s by the band and their various side projects. I'd lost my copy of their wonderful album Ágætis Byrjun for a while and found it again just a few days ago, which sparked a whole new wave of listening. (I never picked up its followup, (), though the site has a few sample tracks that tempt me to hear more.)

As if that weren't distraction enough, the goldmine at SR's online headquarters made me wonder if My Morning Jacket's site might contain a comparable treasure trove. It doesn't, though there are a few songs here and there from most of their albums, and the site has plenty of other features to keep you ... distracted. SR and MMJ, while they're pretty different from each other, also have a lot in common, starting with their generally dreamy, reverb-y sound--which I find enormously appealing. Both groups' lyrics are often difficult or impossible to make out, which bothers me not one bit.

But thinking about the legibility of musical language inspired me to also start assembling candidates for a compilation CD I've long pledged to make for a friend who's intrigued by this whole Brazilian obsession of mine and wants to get his feet wet but can't get past the desire to understand the lyrics. My disc will be called "Brazenglish" and will consist entirely of songs by Brazilian artists (and like-minded offshoots) singing in English. I'll try to remember to post the final songlist here when I'm done. It's sort of a frustrating project, though, because the songs generally don't represent an artist's best work (one notable exception being Marisa Monte's cover of "Pale Blue Eyes," which just might be my favorite of her recordings I've heard so far).

I don't really share my friend's need for complete comprehension. I used to be a big Lyrics Guy in my tormented adolescence many many years ago, when it really seemed like Simon & Garfunkel (for instance) really had something to tell me, but after a certain point that wore off. Might have happened around the time I started seeing friends of mine in bands that were musically really great but lacked a strong lead singer; I kinda wished they'd just go in a purely instrumental direction. (This was a good ten years or so before Tortoise and similar outfits did exactly that.)

These days I guess I feel like vocals are a nice thing for a song to have, but lyrics that I can plainly understand, let alone relate to, don't seem quite so important anymore. (No offense to Iris Dement or Richard Rodgers or anyone else--I still love you all, promise.) The 6 or 7 years I spent working for a singer/songwriter's record label were really what made me turn to wordless music--mostly electronic stuff. I don't mean that as a diss to the artist, more a reflection of my desire to have suitable music to work to--and since my work generally involves language, I have plenty of words in my head already. What I'm looking for is the texture and sheer presence of music.

Which explains why I just spent an evening downloading songs sung either in Icelandic or a madeup variation thereof. Svefn-g-englar, y'all. Everybody join in on the chorus!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

A Change IS Gonna Come...

Horrible week for U.S. politics. Pretty damn good one for live music in Buffalo, though: Tuesday night the house band for our little cabaret was the Dixieland Grifters, a Bflo-based instrumental outfit whose name pretty much tells you what they play. And it was perfect for the spirit of the evening: started out jazzy and hopeful, then turned dirgelike, and ended up jazz-funeral-style as the entire audience and cast transformed their sadness into one brief, hopeful dance.

Last night, as I've already mentioned, I saw the magnificent Andrew Bird. And then tonight I had the great treat of watching/hearing the Portland (OR)-based quintet 3 Leg Torso accompany David Greenberger (of Duplex Planet fame)in a live performance of their spoken-word-and-music collaboration "Legibly Speaking" (which is also available as a CD. The show took place in a beautiful, old church, which struck me as the perfect context for Greenberger's words, taken from conversations he's conducted with senior citizens over many years: stories and briefer vignettes about love, loneliness, illness, death, and cats. If that sounds sad, I've misled you; the centerpiece of the work is heartbreaking, but the rest is funny and quirky and full of hope.

Which is just what I/we need right now. The only music I've wanted to hear lately has been that which is quiet yet strong, soulful and hopeful. That's Bird, that's 3 Leg Torso, that's Aretha Franklin covering Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." And although I'd slipped a little off the Brazilian bandwagon in the delirium of the last month (because I've had to seek out dozens of songs to use in the show), I've been reaching for Vinicius Cantuaria and Joao Gilberto a lot again in the past 48 hours. There is rage in me along with sadness, and I'm sure some Atari Teenage Riot will hit my turntable/CD player sooner or later, but for now I'm going with soothing over seething.

And you? What sounds are getting you through these dark days? Post a comment and lemme know.

We Gotta Get Out of This Place (if it's the last thing we ever do)

(Had real trouble logging into Blogger earlier today; I can only assume it was thanks to millions of other folks attempting to post their thoughts on the election. Now that I'm on, here's my contribution to that multilogue. For now at least, the thing I can't get out of my head is not music but the fucked-up decision my home nation just made yesterday: to retain its appallingly inept leader for another four goddam years.)

Ohhhhhh shit.
I've spent most of the day either cursing my fellow citizens or weeping--though I refuse to abandon all hope. Picked up Caetano's Tropical Truth and found the following passage, which brought some degree of comfort. Substitute the U.S. for Brazil and Bush for "military dictatorship" and you've got a pretty good description of how I feel at the moment:

We the tropicalistas, unlike so many of our more naive leftist friends, who seemed to believe that the military had come from Mars, had always been determined to face the dictatorship as nothing less than an expression of Brazil. That view increased our suffering, but today it also sustains what seems to be my optimism. I think and act as I do, knowing in my bones the truth of Brazil's potentialities, having entered into a dialogue with Brazil's deepest desires--and I do not conclude that we are a pure, ineluctable failure. I learned then to recognize the forces of regeneration, and even being aware of the proposition's very high risks, I am always inclined to double my wager.

Tonight I saw the phenomenal Andrew Bird at Soundlab in lovely downtown Buffalo. I was wiped out after the end of the five-week run of the cabaret show I've been part of all month, which wrapped up with a marathon election-night production, and I really, truly wouldn't have left my house for anyone but Mr. Bird, whose lush, delightful music seemed the only thing I wanted to hear under the circumstances--the aural equivalent of comfort food. His recent solo records are beautiful, and live he's even more astonishing, playing up to four instruments (simultaneously!) and singing. Hate to compare artists to other artists, but anyone who likes recent Wilco or Radiohead albums or Rufus Wainwright would be well advised to check him out. Trust me: the perfect soundtrack for this frazzled moment in time.

Now that the Cabaret is on hiatus for a while, I hope to post more often here, starting with several entries I started and didn't quite finish over the past month.

On one hand, it seems hard to write about music when my nation appears to be heading straight to hell. But what else can I do? The only thing that gives me hope and help in such dire times is art/music/culture. This stuff keeps me alive.