Saturday, April 22, 2006

Of the instant

1. The next time I feel like a musical obsessive, I will recall this interview with Richard Nevins, the founder of Yazoo Records, and visualize his latest acquisition of 10,000 albums. Then I will contemplate acquiring the cool-sounding compilation he is plugging during that NPR spot.

2. I am not really one for impulse purchases on the musical front. (A Jody Watley album--the Jody Watley album, as it turns out--bought at full price a few months after its release in 1987 is the main one I tend to recall.) But when I heard a song called "All My Rivals" by a guy named Chris Brown on a recent podcast of Coverville, I had one of those drop-everything moments. (Host Brian Ibbott even describes himself as "obsessed" with the song, which, BTW, is not a cover, unlike 99% of what he plays on his eternally outstanding show.)

For the record (pardon the pun), I found the album--Now That You're Fed--via iTunes and sampled enough of the other tracks enough to know I would probably like almost all of them. (They are a bit same-y, but I used to say the same of Leonard Cohen and early R.E.M., and when the "same" is this stellar it's not a problem.) I think the hard copy is mainly distributed by, and if you click on that link there you can find MP3s of several representative album tracks, including "All My Rivals" (but not including some other instantly likeable ones, like "Waiting for Caroline"--a gorgeous Beach Boyish gem).

The album, which I've only heard once in its entirety so far (given that I bought it so quickly, I thought I would break another longstanding habit and write about it instantaneously, too), is terrific. It's acoustic power pop that makes beautiful use of Brown's voice: lots of multi-tracked harmonies and instrumentally spare arrangements verging on a capella. Every one of the handfull of reviews I've managed to track down tonight, like this one, includes a comparison to Elliott Smith, but I gotta say, I've never quite been bit by the E.S. bug, and I find this guy's songs way catchier. But I do hear it, along with traces of Peter Case and my perpetual guilty-pleasure faves, The Association. (This is apparently the spot where I'm supposed to drop the name of the band Jellyfish, because band member Chris Manning produced the album, but I know next to nothing of Jellyfish. If you do, I guess that will excite you.)

Chris Brown's major stumbling block to stardom, or at least cult stardom, seems to me to be his name: in my cursory check for info on him, I came across a rapper, an experimental/new music artist, and a BritPopper, among others. He also may or may not be the same Chris Brown who collaborates with Kate Fenner, a duo I've heard good stuff about.(I don't think he is.) And I am told he is also an independent filmmaker, although IMDB lists 27 Chris Browns, and while this guy is one possible candidate, something tells me that's wrong. Confusion reigns!

3. The same episode of Coverville also led me to the King's Singers a capella cover of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush," which is just incredible. (I also have a soft spot in my heart for Dolly Parton's version, but only in the what-the-fuck sense. This one is more like holy-shit, if you like your mini-reviews laced with obscenity.) This one pretty much speaks for itself, so I'll shut up now and listen to it and Chris Brown some more.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Play one more for my radio sweetheart

Couple of recent music stories of interest from the realms of public radio:

1. This interview with Brazilian musician/actor Seu Jorge from Weekend Edition a few Saturdays back is really nice. It's a great introduction to his work, and includes a performance or two recorded in the studio. Bonus feature: Jorge's translator is the one and only Tracy Mann, publicist supreme, whom I first met nearly 10 years ago when we were both working for Ani D, but who has a whole side life working with Brazilian musicians, much to my current delight. Bonus bonus feature: links to several earlier NPR stories on Jorge that I had missed.

2. This edition of To the Best of Our Knowledge contains an interview with Bill Friskics-Warren, author of I'll Take You There: Pop Music and the Urge for Transcendence. I haven't read the book, but the discussion--about the spiritual dimension of rock and pop music--was intriguing. Some of the examples (Bono, Van Morrison, Al Green) struck me as fairly obvious, even if the second two of those happen to be among my all-time favorite musicians, in part for this very thing. Plus, it's always nice to hear "Listen to the Lion," no matter what the circumstances. What I found more interesting than the part about those Usual Suspects was the argument the author makes for the Sex Pistols, among others, as "negationists" whose refusal to believe in anything becomes a form of belief in itself. (Pardon my horrible paraphrase. Hey, I'm just a blogger.) I have a hunch the book may partake in what I'll call the Greil Marcus Syndrome--pop songs lifted out of their original context as commodities to serve the author's giant, overarching thesis--but I'm willing to give it a shot.

'Cuz I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

PS. If you're into this newfangled podcasting thang and haven't yet checked out NPR's music-related offerings (available via iTunes and on individual show sites), you really should. The offerings are immense and staggeringly diverse, and now there is no need to listen to the tedious, dreary news of our planet and its imminent demise in order to get to the good stuff. (Talk about the urge for transcendence!) Though I have to say, now that I can download gems like The World's "Global Hits" feature plus a dozen more on a daily basis, my sense of information overload just quadrupled.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Seasons in the Sun

When I write here from time to time about the huge backlog of material I intend to post, and my glacial pace in doing so, it is not mere idle chatter, beloved reader. Allow me to demonstrate in the following three installments, reconstructed from memory:

1. See this picture?

I took it on July 12 of last year with the intention of writing a little piece here about music and climate--how certain sounds and rhythms seem inextricably linked to very hot weather. (For the record, that little outside-temp thermometer doohickey in the car is always a couple of degrees off; it never really got up to 102 in Buffalo last summer, but it sure felt like it.) In particular, I was thinking about how my last two bigtime musical obsessions, the Beach Boys and the music of Brazil, are so closely tied to scorching temps. Samba in particular just makes sense in a tropical climate; it doesn't set so well in the frigid winters of Western New York.

2. Another slightly hyperbolic (and sadly blurry) shot of the dashboard of the car, this time from February 19 of this year:

It hasn't really been a beastly cold winter here, thanks to our new friend Global Warming, but that was a chilly day, all the same. And the photo was to accompany a longish post about this mix CD I put together for friends and coworkers this winter when I missed the boat on a holiday-song sampler. The idea came to me after hearing Matt Pond PA's wonderful Winter Songs project, which combines one or two originals with many covers of songs they associate with colder weather. My disc is called "COLDplay: Songs of Winter," and I originally intended to annotate several of the tracks, but at this late date I'll just print the playlist, which is fairly self-explanatory. OK, I'll throw in a couple of links for the less well-known artists.

01. "Taking Down the Tree," Low, Christmas EP (2:44)
02. "A Hazy Shade Of Winter" (live), Simon & Garfunkel, Live From New York City, 1967 (2:37)
03. "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," Billie Holiday, The Ultimate Collection (3:58)
04. "Ice In Heaven," Grant McLennan, Horsebreaker Star (4:22)
05. "Snow Day," Matt Pond PA, Winter Songs EP (3:31)
06. "When The Day Is Short," Martha Wainwright, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole EP (3:15)
07. "Valley Winter Song," Fountains Of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers (3:34)
08. "Mushaboom," Feist, Let It Die (3:46)
09. "Winter Wooskie," Belle & Sebastian, Legal Man EP (2:42)
10. "Rosy and Grey," The Lowest Of The Low, Shakespeare My Butt (5:03)
11. "Like The Weather," 10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe (3:56)
12. "Buffalo Fight Song," Wide Right, Sleeping On The Couch (2:51)
13. "Baby It's Cold Outside," Tom Jones w/ Cerys Matthews, Reloaded/Greatest Hits (3:39)
14. "While Roving On A Winter's Night," Darol Anger (w/ John Gorka, Dar Williams, David Lindley, Bela Fleck, & Victor Wooten), Heritage (5:32)
15. "Winter Is Blue," Vashti Bunyan, Just Another Diamond Day (1:48)
16. "Frozen" (remix), Madonna (5:11)
17. "Winter Wind,": Fotheringay, Sandy Denny: Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (2:10)
18. "Blackberry Winter," Marlena Shaw, Dangerous (4:45)
19. "Winter in California," Natalia Zukerman, Mortal Child (4:49)
20. "Winter," Bebel Gilberto, Bebel Gilberto (4:19)

Re that last track, naturally I wanted to work in a little Brazilian stuff somehow, and given my earlier point you might imagine it wasn't easy. But Bebel found a way. (I have a hunch she's spent more time in Manhattan than Rio lately.)

The CD was a big hit around the office, if I do say so myself, and I still have a few unsent copies lying around. If you e-mail me and sweet talk me, I just might send you one--too late to be of much consolation now that the sun has indeed come out again, but trust me: by the time I get around to actually mailing it to you, the temps will surely be plummeting again.

3. Last but most certainly not least, here is a third snapshot taken mere minutes ago of the first blossoms in our front yard, as a little hommage to a certain intoxicated Allentown gardener:

April brings three annual listening rituals for me:
•Ron Sexsmith singing "April After All" (or Anne Sofie von Otter's lovely cover of it)
•Patti Smith's "Easter" (mainly the song, which invariably leads to listening to the entire album)
•2 early Luna albums I have on an unmarked cassette (I'm not sure which ones they are, since a friend made the tape in the early 1990s and didn't label it, but I know that as soon as the weather starts to warm up, I dig out the pair of them and drive around with the windows down, happy to be alive)

Other months have other, similar rituals that I have observed for years and years, but I will save those for a future post. One I probably won't write for ages--especially now that I've got this one out of the way, I can turn my attention to an even more epic undertaking I've been plotting for months. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lazy bones

I realize this is sloppy blogging (slogging?) but for the second time this week I'm gonna forward you to the site at my place of work where I already plugged Mark "Negativland" Hosler's upcoming talk at Hallwalls this Saturday night, which is sure to be a treat.

Here, read all about it. Then come see the show, if you're in the greater Buffalo area this weekend. (And it is a greater and greater area every day now, isn't it?)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

In the City

Mere days ago I learned about the existence of City of Men, the TV series followup to the movie City of God, created by the same team, and just tonight I watched the first episode.

So far, so fantastic: in 45 minutes you get at least four simultaneous threads:
1) the fictionalized tale of two favela schoolkids,
2) an account of how the Portuguese came to Brazil,
3) an update on the (semi-fictionalized) gang wars chronicled in the movie, and
4) interviews with the actual child actors in the cast.

You also get animation, multiple narrators, snatches of baile funk, beautiful cinematography (incorporating both film and video), and ample amounts of the visual stylization of the original film. Both of the main actors appeared in the movie, but they're playing entirely new, different characters this time around, and the action is set in the present day (i.e., at least a decade or so after the end of the film). Needless to say, it's so dense that I think I'm gonna have to watch the episodes multiple times to catch what's going on.

Sundance is running the first four episodes (constituting the first season of the Brazilian-made series) this month, with promises of seasons two and three soon to follow. If you loved the movie as much as I did, you won't want to miss this. If you haven't seen City of God yet--and you're not put off by the prospect of a deeply disturbing, horrifically violent movie (in which much of the violence is enacted by very young children)--check it out as soon as possible; I can easily say it's one of the most exciting movies I've seen in the last 10 years or so. As a sidenote, it's not necessary to see the movie in order to understand or enjoy the series, but the TV show expands the film's already epic scope in exciting ways. I can't wait to see the rest!

PS. Yet another reason to learn Portuguese: the series' official site looks terrific and seems to be packed with goodies, but it's not available in English.