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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

This Music Crept By Me Upon the Waters

This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air: thence I have follow'd it,
Or it hath drawn me rather. But 'tis gone.
No, it begins again.
-The Tempest

Of Monsters and Men, My Head is an Animal

There's something about Iceland; about the Nordic countries in general.  Cold, cruel, sparse, and terrifyingly beautiful.  Just ask Bon Iver, who's Holocene video was filmed entirely in Iceland.  That video is unreal (moment of silence).
I've always been fascinated by Nordic folklore, with images that are haunted with powerful female creatures, water spirits, invisibility, and enchanted places or Álagablettur.  
There's certainly enchantment in this music; but there's also some sort of light darkness, and of course monsters - which always make for good art and music.

Jam on: Little Talks
Repeat: Love, Love, Love

Lower Lights Burning, Coming Back

I'm a complete sucker for bands from the Northwest.  I survived the 90's in Seattle (or outskirts of, I should rightly state), and now I'm delighted to see that the angst and teen spirit that got us through that phase has transformed itself decades later into something equally as cathartic but graceful and softly provoking.
I was first drawn to this band after seeing their Coming Back video.  A tribute to sea, to song.  It feels more like Homer than Cobain.  It feels good.  No offense grunge, we had a good time together...

Jam on: Coming Back
Repeat:  Samson

Gregory Alan Isakov, This Empty Northern Hemisphere

Ideally, I should have kept these albums to those released in 2011.  However...I seriously can't stop listening to this album, which was released in 2009.  It's like a sickness.  These words; this quiet, still, strong sound echoes everywhere.  And I can't get enough.  I'll let it speak for itself.

Jam on: That Moon Song
Repeat: Seriously, the whole album.

City and Colour, Little Hell

My dearest friend first exposed me to Dallas Green years ago in the depths of Canada, appropriately enough.  I really enjoyed it, but it didn't quite set-in until I happened upon a live acoustic performance of As Much as I Ever Could.  Whoa.  This year Little Hell was released and I think it's a quite striking album and highly overlooked.  There's a fresh, fuller sound here on tracks like Fragile Bird and Weightless, and of course that familiar sound and lyric quality I'm so drawn to in Northern Wind and Sorrowing Man.  Hope for Now will archive itself in my memory without ever being played again.  "Oh, and I sing."   His voice is truly haunting and its refreshing to hear a solo guitarist sing honest, pointed  lyrics about love and loss and sorrow without screaming infidelities..if you know what I mean.

Jam On: Little Hell
Repeat: Grand Optimist

Brothers of End, Mount Inside

Back to the Northern Hemisphere we go.  This album is weirdly delicious.  The album itself unfolds like a story; ephemeral, almost creepy and at times upbeat; it's certainly a journey from beginning to finish.  Give a few listens, and you'll find that sounds are reminiscent of those as varied as Sigur Rós, a touch of Midlake, The Amazing, a bit of Simon & Garfunkel if you dare.  I know it sounds crazy.  It's a ride people, get on it.

Jam on: Daybreak
Repeat: Valinge Träsk

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Like Crazy

I've tried a few times to write movie reviews and always find myself fumbling; over language, over ways to express images. I'm not quite sure it's ever right. But i'm going to make a desperate attempt for this film.

Like Crazy is one of these films that speaks not to the heart, but the gut.  In fact, the first 15 to 20 minutes are just turn-away, hide behind your beverage painful.  No one wants to admit to remembering or laboring through these first moments, these blundering fragments of a love story.  It's just awkward.  There's a a distinct intimacy here, an intimacy that it feel's we've violated as an audience.
As we labor through the scenes we're not sure if we've stumbled upon or if we've been invited to, we're reminded that first loves are not the stories we once thought they were but merely a desperate, passionate category of images and feelings.  Lacking a real story line, they surf on apparitions of hope and lust and everything that lies down in between.

The story starts with Anna, played by Felicity Jones, the perfectly lovable British girl who leaves a poetry-laden love note on the car of Jacob, played by Anton Yelchin.  They quickly start a romance and we're not really given the birth and the blossom, just images.  There are montages indeed, but somehow done well.  They unfold not as they are really happening, but from the bank of someone's recollection.  This is the way these stories are meant to be told.
Soon it's time for Anna to go back to England but she defers on her visa to stay the summer with Jacob; a summer seen only through hyper-sequences of images and mostly just body language -the most apt judge of young love.  But then due to this impulsive love-choice Anna has deferred on her student visa and is no longer allowed into the United States. 1  Once images of entangled bodies, Anna and Jacob are now bodies apart.  Soon there are other relationships, missed phone calls, separate time zones, different worlds, tearful attempts at phone calls, name mishaps, and And so the second book -the new testament -the real movie begins.

It's unraveling; a roller coaster of highs and lows, it's images, it's sickening, it makes your gut hurt.  I read a review that said it was a bit like watching Blue Valentine, but without giving you the desire to cut your head off.  I agree in a way, and given Blue Valentine was one of my favorite films of last year, I guess I should just go ahead and deem myself a movie-going masochist and move on.  But something about Like Crazy felt inherently more painful to me.  I'm sure many movie-goers could find a transient youthful adolescence or even a hopefully quality.  I won't deny it's there, but it doesn't resonate as the part of the story that we are to carry away.

Classic tragic formula has taught us that plot is the "soul of tragedy". 2  The story usually involves a protagonist who is esteemed higher than the ordinary person, and this person is brought from happiness to misery by either a tragic flaw, or a dramatic turn of plot.  Even the Romantic Tragedy assumes that there is a choice made by the protagonist's hamartia that eventually leads them to misery.  A mistake, if you will; a stray from the good or normal, a mishap - your typical romantic comedy formula.  There is an obstacle in this movie, but it's overcome.  And when it is, we're still empty.

Like Crazy feels tragic, but represents a story separate from plot and choices. The characters are not heroic, in fact they are wonderfully ordinary.  The plot is but a minor presence in this film.  It's almost as if the director relies on us to attach to these images, and our nostalgia becomes the third character, the tragic plot twist.  It's a play on memory and belief, and in the end there's just the space between the memory of what was and what will be.  And that space hurts like crazy.
But even so, let it pour over you.  Let it pour over you, like crazy.
And then, let it go...

"I thought I understood it. But I didn't. I knew the smudgeness of it. The eagerness of it. The Idea of it. Of you and me." -  Like Crazy

1) And they say we're not strict enough on border control.
2) Thanks Aristotle, what would we do without Poetics?

Monday, September 26, 2011


Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.

Every angel is terrifying.

-Ranier Maria Rilke, The First Elegy - The Duino Elegies

Friday, July 15, 2011


"There's Another You Out There"

During the the previews that preceded Tree of Life, which is a whole other post in itself, I was literally deafened by the preview for Another Earth.  With fingers crossed I will declare...Finally, a movie to be excited about.  I will concede that my excitement could be entirely about the song that literally carries the preview: "To Build a Home" by The Cinematic Orchestra.  I will always return to this song.

But, I think there's more. I find a pattern in my gravitation toward this film.  One of my favorite, and in my opinion undervalued, films of 2010 was Never Let Me Go.  A film that could also be coined as science fiction, but deals solely with what it means to be human.  It seems these startling templates allow for further and deeper exploration of our human condition. A postmodernist's dream.

There's already a website dedicated to the idea of the movie, Meet Your Other You,  In fear, dread or something else entirely I have not experimented with actually meeting my "other me."  It requires a webcam, and potentially a sense of humor.  If they are brilliant, I am sure the image I would find would indeed just be me staring right back at other me.  We all have one.  Like many other things in life, I have no desire really to follow this logic to it's conclusion I just enjoy the idea that it might exist.

Another me.  I hope she's reckless with life.  I hope her mistakes mirror mine, and her pain is more.  I hope she is free and fights, and lingers on the absurd.  I hope she lives life from end to beginning, and wakes up with words and art on her tongue.  I hope she blogs more than I do.   I hope I never meet her.

Though we call this genre of art and thought science fiction, it is truly the most human thing we can feel.  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mixed-Tape Emotionalism

The mixed-tape is truly a lost art. I guess these days you could say we have playlists, or even the smart playlist a la Pandora and You Tube.  But there's something lackluster and impersonal about a computer generated list in comparison to a carefully chosen and recorded mixed-tape, sometimes with handwritten song lists and images, handed over in sweaty, eager palms.
Or the dramatic music gesture; John Cusack standing outside my window, boom box held high.  An offering.  When I look back on that I think, man his arms must have been really tired, that boom box is huge, but also...I miss the emotionalism of music.  I want to go back to when music meant as much as hand-crafted art, when it meant as much or sometimes more than words.
When I listen to pop music and the radio these days it's just noise.  It leaves little to think about, little to do or to be inspired by.  So in an effort to make you my own mixed-tape, I've complied a list of bands who I've been listening to this past year and who I think will continue to do great things in 2011. Most of them are not bands you will hear on the air-waves, are relatively new, or at least have a CD coming out this year.  If I were to hold a concert in my backyard tomorrow, this is who I would potentially invite.  This music means something.  At least to me.

1) The Head and The Heart
This band out of Seattle has been on everyone's radar as of recently, and just signed with Sub Pop records which should mean some great future albums to come.  They are near overwhelming live with their harmonizing vocals and six-piece instrumentals.  It sounds like family-driven folk with mostly an upbeat sound, but not lacking for emotionally driven lyrics and sporadically haunting sounds.  Their voices mesh like carefully woven fabric and the female vocals are simply epic, an almost record-played vintage sound.  I expect them to get much more recognition this year and anticipate their album under Sub Pop.

Radio Jam: Lost in My Mind
On My Tape: Down in the Valley, Winter Song (it's an agonizing tie)

2) Breathe Owl Breathe
Another band with male and female vocals.  Breathe Owl Breathe has an incredibly appropriate name for it's sound in relation to it's mysterious namesake.  Quiet, intelligently whimsical and restrained.  Micah Middaugh's vocals are somewhere between full singing and almost speaking.  It lends a heartbreaking tone to the music, as it manages to sound casual and strained at the same time.  And then there are songs like Dragon where he actually does speak, and speaks of a dragon being pen pals with a princess and the dragon's incredible penmanship.  It's just too weird for me not to love it.

Radio Jam: Dogwalkers of the New Age
On My Tape: Own Stunts

3) The Cave Singers
Another band from Seattle, a weakness of mine I suppose.  Getting a away from my tendency towards more contemplative  Folk-Rock, The Cave Singers lean more towards Classic Rock, but almost stripped and with roots.  While you still have classic folk instruments like the fiddle and tambourine, there is a very gritty plugged-in sound to their new album, No Witch.  Strong, raspy lead vocals get me every time, so it's no wonder I'm a fan.  And if that's not enough, they are under my favorite label, Jagjaguwar.  I'm  not sure what they are feeding people over there, but I want some.

Radio Jam: Swim Club, Dancing On Our Graves
On My Tape: Gifts and the Raft

4) The Middle East
It's hard to describe the sound of The Middle East.  It's emotional, intense, and often transcendent of a musical genre.  Male and female vocals are also present here, a little bit of a soft quality but never lacking strength.  It's almost unbalanced moving in waves, at times quiet and whimsical and other times violent and forthcoming, but this rounds out to create something that sounds even and epic.
The first time I heard Blood, I literally stopped in my tracks.  Though they only have an EP out at this point, I'm incredibly excited to see what comes next.

Radio Jam: Blood
On My Tape: Blood, it's just that good

5) Drew Grow and the Pastors' Wives
Another band from the Northwest.  Yeah, it's true.  There's something about those dark wet days, and green, green trees.  Personally, I think it's the moss.  It has to be, right?
This one is just simple math: you take a guy with strong, acid-like vocals, add soulful electric guitar (think Jeff Buckley), throw in some female vocals, add a baritone slide guitar (sigh), gospel-inspired harmonizing and a upright bass, and perhaps a horn or two, just here and there.  How could you go wrong?  Well folks, you can't.  It's like gospel music, but for white people.  Kind of makes you want to put your hands together and well, clap.

Radio Jam: It's All Comes Right
On My Tape: Friendly Fire

6) The Mountain Goats
This band is certainly nothing new, but their new album has reminded me how much I enjoy them.  I was sold with their release of Tallahassee, in 2003, which told an incredibly sad story of a couple's slow demise.  The musical and lyrical ups and downs were described in a review as "visions of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald crashing a party hosted by Tennessee Williams."  Those are my people, so I was sold.
Their new sound has moved away from the static-like, I recorded these songs in my bedroom sound.  Which I read that John Darnielle actually did in the early days.  A boom box, his vocals, and a guitar.  The sound is, even now that it's been refined, is as stripped as the lyrics are.  These are the most honest and heartbreaking lyrics you will ever hear, and from a guy that doesn't really have a very good voice.  It's all honesty here.  And since there's little to no dissonance between the sound of his voice and the horror of some of the lyrics, it makes the songs incredibly moving, but sad.  A lot like that joke you shouldn't be laughing at.
Their new album will be released on March 29, and from early listens it sounds like it's a bit softer around the edges than some of their previous releases but still reminds us that "we are young supernovas and the heat's about the break."

Radio Jam: No Children
On My Tape: High Hawk Season

7) Lia Ices
I have a few patterns going here: another from Jagjaguwar records.  And if I'm being really honest there are few female vocalists out there that I really enjoy (calm down Regina Spektor, you totally make my list) but Lia Ices is incredibly talented.  Her voice is beautiful and expertly trained.  She sings with the strength, tone and grace of a timeless singer of a bygone era, singing by a piano in a bar that has frosted glass doors and smoke rising from tables.  But within this melodic music there is experimentation, playfulness and profound intellect.  It's incredibly refreshing.

Radio Jam: Grown Unknown
On My Tape: Daphne

8) Strand of Oaks
This is the definition of Indie singer-songwriter.  Like those that have come before him, he has all the proper tools.  Beard: check.  Acoustic guitar: check.  Burned-down house, broken engagement, and living on park benches in Philadelphia writing sad songs: check.  While his first album, Leave Ruin, was written in the aftermath of the aforementioned tragedy his newest album, Pope Killdragon, is still mournful, but delivers near absurd mythologically driven lyrics in an incredibly thoughtful way.  And you have the admit the name of the album pulls you in a little, doesn't it?

Radio Jam: I'm not sure there is one.
On My Tape: Alex Kona

9) David Ramirez
I must admit that Joe Pug would have been my first choice here had David Ramirez not been coming out with the next great music movie (fingers crossed), Between Notes.  But he's from Austin, worthy of points alone, and is an incredible songwriter.  Just a twang of Texas is there in his sound, but the words are worth a listen.  And if I learned anything from Once, I think we'll be hearing quite a bit from David Ramirez in the years to come.

Radio Jam: Shoeboxes
On My Tape: Try

10) Anything by Justin Vernon or Will Sheff
Enough said.  These two are just brilliant and cannot be left off of my list.  With all that Justin Vernon has done recently to keep us on our toes (Auto-Tune, GAYNGS, Volcano Choir, a solo album and of course Kayne West), I imagine there's more where that came from in 2011.  Okkervil River will be releasing a new album this year.  The single they released thus far, Mermaid, is breathtaking.  That's not even the right way to say it, the first time I heard it I was reminded of Jack Nicholson.  Why you ask?  Because it made me want to be a better (wo)man.  Might I also mention that both of these artists are under Jagjaguwar.

Honorable Mention (Side B):
Chris Bathgate
Joe Pug
Great Lake Swimmers
Blizten Trapper
Horse Feathers
Frightened Rabbit
Angus & Julia Stone