Monday, November 30, 2009

Though I Have Wronged You: J. Tillman at Hailey's

A guy in front of me at Hailey's is drinking a coffee porter that leaves a chocolate mustache on his beard, and his friend asks: "This dude played with Blitzen Trapper, I liked that a lot. You like them?" The coffee porter dude shrugs and says, "I like everything."

J. Tillman is not for everyone. Take his Shakespearean story of castration in "James Blues" from the 2008 release Vacilando Territory Blues: "Most nights he has dreams all his teeth are missing / Wakes up in a sweat / Simpleton heart racing." This isn't blues; it's clinical depression. Tillman played the song alone on stage for the encore without acknowledging anything around him. There was a sense of anxiety in the room. Depression has always been a trope of folk, but it's hard to find anything that matches J. Tillman's personal torture. "Though I Have Wronged You" was the perfect highlight of Tillman's night (listen to the live track below from Sacramento, CA and you'll get the idea). A soft, almost whispered voice followed closely by a comet clash of drums and gold cymbals: "Though I have wronged you / I was sailed in a river bend / with a cast of spirits from anointed heads."

Josh Tillman is J. Tillman, the drummer for lush folk of Fleet Foxes, and standing alone he couldn't be more powerful and thoughtful. His songs are timid and the stories are thoughtful and dark. On stage he is a intimidating and pious figure, his dark brown hair falls to the length of his beard, and frighteningly taller than most mortal men. To hear his record is a quiet, depressing experience, but to see him live there is somehow a passing sense of brightness. Like he is falling in a burning trail of cymbals and electric guitars.

His new album Year in the Kingdom is out now, buy it: here.

J. Tillman - Though I Have Wronged You

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Neko Case Melts Buildings in Dallas

There was a giant owl behind Neko Case last night in Dallas, TX. When the lights went out, the owl's eyes were yellow and peering into the crowd. Hard not appreciate the metaphor of "soaring birds" when Neko Case sings. Seriously, does anyone sing better? Right now, Middle Cyclone is nested in several "Best of" lists already; Amazon already named it the best of the year. (it's also my personal favorite of the year).

A perfect glimpse of the show last night in the blue, humming Granada: the first song ended and a fan somewhere in the middle of the crowd belted "WOW." It was something everyone felt: "That voice..." She's a life ender voice: "You said I was your blue, blue baby and you were right" She sings with a blast of brightness during "The Pharoahs."

So what do you say about a perfect show? It was no less than everything Neko Case does well--"the boyfriends" (the band) weaving webs of guitar and Case and her backup singer truthfully illuminating everyone in the audience. There were no stuffy, bloated covers or long rock jams. Just folk-rock and Neko's soaring voice. The band finished with a song that was requested live, "Teenage Feeling," and came back for a encore that could melt a building.

"Vengeance is Sleeping" let Neko shine with the wildly capable guitar letting loose like a hundred shooting stars behind her. Middle Cyclone is almost entirely about morphing and incarnation, and listening to the tornado of the guitar, Neko's owl wings flapping over us and into the trees: we were all morphed animals.

Monday, November 23, 2009

All of 2009, pt. 3 (Music Journalism has entered the Bizarro Realm)

The hardest part about this modern transition of music writing going from print --> digital MP3s is the way it gives you pieces of pie, not the whole. An album is meant to devoured in a whole setting with a bucket of coffee. OF COURSE & BUT & ALSO my favorite publications in the world right now are online: Passion of the Weiss is the best hip-hop (and all music) blog in the world, and Aquarium Drunkard has the genius monopoly on good folk. Fuel for Friends is out in the high altitudes and posting chilling music. These are all MP3 blogs that are not to be taken lightly--they are newspapers that happen to be online.

The point is--this digital age of music is a weird oxymoron. Record sales are going up, but papers are declining. It's like something from a DC comic. Where Superman's 'S' is upside down and backwards and Batman is an old man with shingles. The only thing we can do is embrace the tide that's coming to us, and keep making each other bad asses mixes.

No matter what the forum or function. So, for all those who've had a year that's left you with a good cauliflower ear, but nevertheless a Rocky Balboa fist-in-the- air of celebration: let's share the music that made you a person this year. Mine is below, in a little McNuggets version from lala (part three of that, click here for part 2 and part 1). Hope you enjoy!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Final Fantasy & Mountain Goats Live: Ballad of Mario

In October, Owen Pallet posted to his twitter page: "Can't contain it. I just completed 10 days on the best album I've ever had the pleasure of working on."

Speculation was that it was, gasp oh gasp, the new Arcade Fire record that is being secretly passed into master tape form like something Dan Brown will write about. Pallet (of Final Fantasy) is the virtuoso string arranger on AF's records (he frequently performs their song "No Cars Go" live). Last night at the Granada, he abandoned any straps velcroing him to the status of "contributor" to other bands. His fiddle playing was perfect and robust, and his voice hit the ceiling rafters. I don't think I've ever seen a opening band get so much applause. It was just good.

The Mountain Goats are interesting. Each song was draped in Bible verse, and a good ol' fashioned story by lead singer John Darnielle: from the occasional Marioland ballad to songs about three-way love triangles. Their music had a bright and positive spin that was less Christian rock annoyance and more just sing-and-play. If you can't stand the whole singing about God through modern progressive metaphors, a theme Sufjan Stevens enjoys, you may want to just eat a bunch of hot dogs outside. But there's was a surprising lack of "indie" to the Mountain Goats and Final Fantasy. It was more Decemberists-like in pop form, than deeply artful soul searching. The most fun was a ballad dedicated to the "other" Italian Stallion: Mario from nintendo fame. Darnielle sang about Mario's sad red hat, and losing his beloved Peach princess. The rest of the show was just plain wholesome.

Final Fantasy has a new album called Heartland, arriving early next year. The Mountain Goats are touring their new album The Life of the World to Come.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Arborea : Black Mountain Road

Nick Drake's dark gibson guitar pluckings always reminded me of wood. When I hear folk virtuoso J. Tillman these days, I can't help but think of birds in mossy lakes and creeks. There's something primordial about folk these days. Take Arborea, a duo of folk musicians from Maine, and the way greenness comes through these two lush, beautiful MP3s like moss (see below).

I'm from Virginia, so I kept thinking of fireflies in a jar during "Black Mountain Road": beginning with the reverse- footage sounds of banjo, guitar and fiddle; the sound of a train unracing across the tracks: "follow me where the north wind goes / to the end of the black mountain road."

As 2009 is closing up shop, people are making lists. I think one day we will all look back on this decade as a folk revolution that began in the nineties with a host of alt. country-Neil Youngers, and be stunned at the amount of good music that sprung out of the ground. Arborea has a lot going for them this year, with a new album (House of Sticks), a slot at SXSW under the Borne!/Western Vinyl Showcase, and a blog of photography & art (see the attached photo by Arborea member Shanti Curran). Hell yeah to these modern days.

Arborea - Black Mountain Road

Arborea - Beirut

The Antlers Lyrics Or, Holding a Real Album in Your Hands

One thing that sucks about the digital age is the way it lessens the blow of the concept album. Any album is meant to be listened to as a whole, not in digital, web-bite chunks. Don't get me wrong, I live off the steady IV of internet MP3s (and try to dish them out as well), but NOTHING is better than hearing a record spin. You hear the entire album with its natural breaths, like a movie or a book, it's meant to be consumed as a whole. Concept albums like The Antlers Hospice is not meant to broken in digital MP3 shards. It's a weaving story. See the above, scintillating poetry of "Sylvia" from their new album. If you bought the album online, you'd miss these liner notes and the importance of the way these lyrics are printed--formatted and fonted. See below for the download of their entire liner notes & lyrics.

The Antlers: Hospice Liner Notes (PDF)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


This song gives me phantom limb. Hospice is one of my favorite albums of the year for certain, but listen to this haunted, Jeff Buckley-like live version of "Sylvia" by The Antlers:

"Let me do my job / Sylvia get your head out of the oven / go back to screaming and cursing"

As if this album art doesn't challenge Paranormal Activity enough, the live version is the perfect incarnation of the word ghost. You can almost hear the stirred echos of Hallelujah.

(thanks to MusicFile for this MP3)

Sylvia - The Antlers, Live in NYC

PS, you can buy Hospice for 5 bucks in November on Amazon: here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

All of 2009, pt. 2 (Jesus! Look at all the lists!)

To keep on the sunny side and because it's so much fun, I posted a big ol' mix to share what I've listened to (and been listening to) in 2009. Making lists is a soaringly addictive and futile task, no matter if it's Pitchfork, Paste or NPR--I think. Though, I have to state again my love of Aquarium Drunkard's "Decade" feature: it's the most addictive of all the lists (oh s***, I ranked the lists! I'm just as guilty).

My opinion is: new music changes at a time it desires, no matter when it came out. It shows us a new emotion in a volcanic way: at any time it will cease to be dormant, rupture and explode into our minds with an unbelievable brightness. These songs, and the songs from my part one post, are the ones that did it exactly that to me. There is some serious stuff left out; some of it was earth shatteringly new and personal. Like Avi Buffalo, Johan Joannson, or Sigur Ros's unkempt language. Too hard to post everything. Obviously, I would love to hear what you have to think, and what songs changed you. Or what songs you hated. Either one is good & inspiring. See below for the "Lala" mix (you may have to sign up, sorry about that, but too many MP3s to post).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brendan Benson, Luxury Wafers: Don't Want to Talk

Brendan Benson - Don't Want To Talk - Luxury Wafers Sessions from Luxury Wafers on Vimeo.

Brendan Benson & Luxury Wafers posted a few live sessions that have good bite. To quote LW, "Deceptively simplistic, the melodic structure and meter of Benson's songs ply their way deep as the nursery rhymes we all know by heart."

For me, I grew up surrounded by the Old 97's. It was the polar magnet's other side of the P.O.S. country that flooded North Texas. Benson has the same quality Miller does: simple songs doused in good melodies with no complications. Sort of the opposite of The Antlers, or less worrisome (but just as broken) than Rhett Miller.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Concerts to Make You Bankrupt Report

Bank loans for concerts will be needed. MP3s are attached, listen away!

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Lola's Saloon, Fort Worth, TX

The Mountain Goats w/ Final Fantasy, Granada Theater, Dallas, TX

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
, Longhorn Saloon, Fort Worth, TX

Neko Case
, Granada Theater, Dallas, TX

J. Tillman, Hailey's, Denton, TX

Fanfarlo, The Loft, Dallas, TX

Rural Alberta Advantage
, The Cavern, Dallas, TX

Thao & Get Down Stay Down - Feet Asleep

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

Final Fantasy - The Butcher

Jason Isbell & 400 Unit - Seven Mile Island

The RRA - Frank, AB

J. Tillman - Year in the Kingdom

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

El-oh-el-aye Lola la-la-la-la Lola

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down Friday. Lola's Saloon in Fort Worth. Is it required that I wear Larry Mehan's?

Monday, November 9, 2009

All this is what I listened to in 2009, pt. 1

What's going on right now? "Best of" lists surging on the internet like pyroclastic flow from St. Helens...I'm not fighting it. It's just overwhelming. "Best-of" lists are annoying, sometimes exciting, often arbitrary to the point of madness, and truly addicting as hell. Some days I find myself neck deep in them online, trying to pin-point the method to these lists. It really is exhausting. All of these bands & musicians that have released good, bad, and very disgusting music across the decade (and for this post's purposes, 2009) are different. Their music is original--in that they made it over a period of time, and than a record company put it out. So, really, the date it came out is completely arbitrary. How many writers wrote some of this decade's best music BEFORE this decade? Or on a napkin four years before it actually came out?

For sanity's sake in lists, I am enjoying the hell out of Aquarium Drunkard's "Decade" feature: contributors post albums that meant a lot to them over the past decade. Bands like My Morning Jacket, New Pornographers and the Microphones have come up. It's about sharing and the excitement to discuss music that changed their lives. It's not for ranking, numbers or social marketing.

So my hope is that I can come close to that notion with a mix of music that really changed me, helped me, made me weak, made me strong, angry, and more upset than ever. I'm sure for many people 2009 was a holy-fucking-shit year, new Presidents and falling economy's all abound, but below is a "Lala" mix of what made me a person this year, part one. These are the songs I listened to this year that will stay with me, probably forever, and embed themselves into my daily consciousness from now on. I'm not saying anything my choices are important or worthy of some anthology: I just want to share what means a lot to me. This is the first mix of three (arbitrarily), and, as best as I can do--they're in 19 tracks, no rank or order other than what I thought sounded good.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dear Death: Hey What's Going On

Dear Death,

Hey! The worst feeling in the world you gave us is to dream during a high fever. I fell asleep once with one a 103 and one of those waterfall-rock tumblers running- the sensation still leaves the taste of copper in my mouth of dread, fear and night terrors as sharp as teeth. The Antlers know what the hell I'm talking about. This is from their song "Shiva" (see attached).

"My femur was breaking was breaking in half / the sensation was scissors and too much to scream"

Yikes! A wise man once said, there is nothing darker and lonelier than a fever. You feel nails on dry wall, cotton in the mouth. If that's true, tonight's Antlers show in Fort Worth, Texas will induce an increase in body temperature. Can't wait.

PS, listen to The Antlers Daytrotter session and feel yourself wriggle.

The Antlers - Shiva (Daytrotter Session)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stevie Wonder -Live on Sesame Street

Stevie Wonder - “Superstition” (Live on Sesame Street)

Posted using ShareThis

Goodbye Big Bird, Happy Anniversary Sesame Street and God Bless Funk in early 70's Stevie Wonder.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lambert's BBQ'd Molina & Johnson

Want to get a bourbon with your BBQ? I prefer Texas BBQ for that reason, you can get bourbon, thick brisket, fried pickles and a serious dose of live music. Big Texas Sky music. Also in the nothing-could-be-more-Texan category: Molina & Johnson of Secretly Canadian are on a wicked tour of the US, ending at Lambert's BBQ in Austin Texas. Their new album is solid with guitars and rattlesnake egg-shakers. It's a fun album to sit back and let play with friends & beer, or at least that's what I thought I should do. Really it was me with glasses on, a green iced tea, and iPod headphones, quietly whispering along.

"Granted that I ever, ever stop playing to win / could you find it in the cards to bring me to the light / and then Texas said to West Virginia wind / come get in" (from Almost Let You In)

Here's a new track from their album Molina & Johnson, out Nov. 2nd.

Molina & Johnson - Almost Let You In

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ballad of A Well Known Gun

One of the most underrated albums from the 1970's is Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection, themed with golden American West. It had no charted singles because it wasn't that kind of album. The six minute masterpiece, "My Fathers Gun" is one of the better examples of Bernie Taupin's storytelling and Elton John's ability to find melodies. I come back to this album a few times a year, when it's spring-feeling outside. It's cathartic and heartwarming. I found this amazing live performance on youtube (see above), which forces my mind to wish I was alive in 1970, when Elton made an amazing spirited album run that included Tumbleweed Connection, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Don't Shoot the Piano Player and Captain Fantastic. Damn.

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