Here Comes the Water Now by Tom Brosseau

The past several songs have been a bit more frenetic and loud, so I thought I’d wrap up the week taking it down a notch, with an absolutely stellar alt-folk musician named Tom Brosseau. “Here Comes the Water Now” is a song off his 2007 album, Grand Forks, which centers around the 1997 flood of Grand Forks, North Dakota (his hometown, though he’s currently based out of LA when he bothers stopping anywhere). I originally discovered his work via KEXP, who has had him on live several times (both of which are linked to on Tom’s site, one in 2005, and one in 2007), highlighted him during a podcast showcasing “freak folk” artists, and selected “Here Comes the Water Now” as a song of the day back in January.

There’s something about the timbre of Tom’s voice that immediately puts me in mind of “Chelsea Morning”-era Joni Mitchell: it’s light and lilting, and feels like an impassioned, personal interaction between the two of you — not because of some urging or force behind the singing, but because it is simply abundantly clear that he cares about what he’s singing. Given the topic of the song — being flooded out of your home — it is perhaps unsurprising that this is the case, though that same sense of care is present in his other work as well. “Here Comes…” is primarily a solitary voice and some crisp, clean guitarwork that ambles through, establishing the pace of the song. As it progresses, several other instruments are added, but they serve very secondary roles, augmenting the focus — the vocals. It all comes together in a really excellent song that is easy on the ears, that makes you smile softly and take a moment to reflect when it ends.

[Tom Brosseau on MySpace]

[Official Website]

[Tom’s Blog (Well written and worth a read)]

[“Here Comes the Water Now” via KEXP (By way of Odeo, which archives older podcasts that may have dropped off the feed.)]

Heretics by Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird has a new album out called Armchair Apocrypha, a followup to 2005’s Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs, and it (along with its predecessor) are well worth your time to look up. Today’s song is from Armchair Apocrypha, called “Heretics”, which was highlighted back in April on KEXP’s Song of the Day podcast. It was highlighted for good reason: it’s an absolutely fantastic song.

One of the things Andrew Bird is known for is his ready use of loops to effectively play over his own work, which ends up giving a much richer sound than might otherwise be expected (he apparently does this live as well, using loop pedals to great effect). The song opens with a high hat and electric guitar, then grows to add a violin and another guitar, before the drums come up in earnest, and the pace of the song suddenly picks up. The song rises and falls several times as it progresses, before coming to a final denouement as the elements drop away to end on a quiet note. The melody is engaging, and works remarkably well with the lyrics both stylistically, and thematically.

I’ve had “Heretics” on loop while writing this review, and I must say, it simply continues to be excellent: I’ve listened to it probably a dozen times in a row at this point, and I’m still finding myself engaged by it. Whether you’ve already heard Andrew Bird in the past, or are just now being introduced to his work, you will be well pleased with this song.

[Heretics MP3]

[Andrew Bird on Myspace]

[Official Website]

Several Short Items

I’ve been working this week — huzzah! As ever, I can’t talk about it much, but I will say that I’d really love to pick up a Wii sometime. I’d heard my fair share of people who were gamers having trouble adapting to the new controller — I’ve found it to be incredibly intuitive, now that I’ve actually had a chance to sit with one and actually play with it. I wish I could tell you more, but “I’m testing a a game for the Wii” is I think about as far as I can reasonably go. Looks like this project will be wrapping on Friday (I’m basically just filling in for the week because they needed an extra person, and with the other gig continuing to be delayed, they knew I could use the cash).

In other news, Apple released Safari 3 (Beta) for Mac and Windows. It’s fast, it’s shiny, it’s still a little buggy (it IS a beta), but so far I’ve been liking it. I did have to go in and turn off the visual editor in WordPress, though, because Safari 3 supports TinyMCE, and frankly I don’t like what it does when editing existing posts in visual mode. I do like the automatic spellcheck in text fields (I generally don’t need it, but it’s handy for catching typos and similar).

Switching back to a morning schedule is a pain. Yesterday, I fell asleep shortly after getting home, woke up long enough to stumble to bed, and then nearly slept through my alarm in the morning… call it 13 hours. Hopefully that’s now past. Tried bringing my bag with me to work, and then going directly to the coffee shop immediately after work, rather than going home first, and that seemed to be a lot more effective in actually getting out and about (it’s really easy to come home, collapse into my one chair, and not go out again despite the best of intentions).

I’ve got a spate of songs I’m on the fence about writing up… Gabriela Robin’s “Green Bird”, Broken Social Scene’s “Major Label Debut”, The Chalet’s “Love Punch”, a few others… the issue is that they don’t have legit free downloads of the songs available, and I’d really rather select songs to review that can be shared, so readers can listen for themselves. Is this a problem for people? Should I write them up anyway, or should I keep with my aim to select songs that everyone can listen to for free?

Unsolved Mysteries by Animal Collective

Found via KEXP’s Blog, Animal Collective has released two tracks off their unreleased album, Strawberry Jam, as found at Obscure Sound. I don’t know if it’s a limited track release, or if they’ll be available as sample downloads for the duration, so I’d suggest grabbing them while you can. The two newly released songs are “Peacebone” and “Unsolved Mysteries”: I’ll be covering the latter, as I found it spoke to me more — your mileage may vary, so check them both out (links at the bottom as usual).

“Unsolved Mysteries” is absolutely an Animal Collective sound: there are multiple layers going on at once, while the song maintains a churning rhythmic cadence throughout. In particular, the guitar that opens the song acts almost like a railroad track: it pulses in a way that immediately put an image in my mind of a train barreling through the countryside. On top of this is a mixture of synthetic and traditional instruments, creating a symphonic cacophony, a style that the band has used to great effect in the past, and continues to explore with gusto. Lyrically, you catch snippets, but as they are often known for, the words function primarily as a lingual augmentation of the song, rather than vice versa: I’ve tried to pick out the lyrics, and as the other layers start coming together, it becomes difficult to do so: I don’t mind, though. It seems fitting that as the song builds to crescendo, the words matter less.

There’s a vague pop sensibility going on to this song (and “Peacebone”), though I’d hardly say they’ve sold out. If I were going to compare it to other work, I’d be inclined to say it’s more reminiscent of Feels than it is Sung Tongs. (It says something that I’m hard pressed to come up with songs or albums from OTHER bands to compare to.) If you’ve liked Animal Collective’s other work, in particular from Feels, I think you will be well pleased with their new work.

[“Unsolved Mysteries” MP3]

[“Peacebone” MP3]

[Animal Collective on MySpace (With Tour Dates!)]

Built then Burnt (Hurrah! Hurrah!)

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for an impassioned monologue. Combine it with a slowly escalating, strident musical ambience, and I’m sold. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of “Built then Burnt (Hurrah! Hurrah!)” by A Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band with Choir. Don’t let the mouthful of a name deter you: they change the band name fairly regularly, and generally if you just look for “A Silver Mt. Zion”, you’ll find most of their work (though not all). It’s an interesting band that I was first introduced to by my brother Uriah, and quickly made it into my regular playlists. Their work is delightful mix of instrumentals and either spoken word or varied vocals. You really don’t mind, however, as the words form a sort of poetry with the instrumentals, creating a subtle intensity that is not to be underestimated.

“Built then Burnt (Hurrah! Hurrah!)” opens with a youthful voice addressing the audience, “Dear brothers and sisters, Dear enemies and friends,” as a string accompaniment gently rises up in the background. There is a tension to the music that perfectly augments the intensity of the monologue, which is delivered so earnestly and with such seriousness that it would be tragic were it not delivered by a child (or, perhaps, is more tragic for that fact). The imagery created through this combination is beautiful and bittersweet. The monologue ends before the song, allowing for a few moments of letting the accompaniment build, and giving the listener time to chew on the images and thoughts generated before moving on to the next track in the album.

This song is a good example of the sort of understated intensity that can be found on Born Into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward, along with other Silver Mt. Zion albums. There is a wealth of nuance found in their music that make it well worth the time to give a thorough listening, yet there are enough strong overtones that it can also be appreciated in a cursory manner.

Finding their music online for listening is a bit problematic, I’ve found. Their official site is largely unnavigable, nor are they listed in iTunes. Their record label’s site also seems somewhat lacking in navigation or material. However, I have managed to find a few places that you can find some of their work for listening, so please check them out.

[A collection of live performances via]

[The Band’s Official Website]

[Mountains Made of Steam (Fan Site, including links to videos and songs)]

Junior Kickstart by The Go! Team

“It sounds like the fucking Singularity touched down.”Warren Ellis

Last fall, Apple did a promotion with Facebook, offering up free music samplers each week for free to anyone who was a member of the Apple Facebook group. (I’d say the promotion was successful, the group currently has a little over 411,000 members.) Each week, they covered a different genre of music, and in the process of this, I was introduced to The Go! Team through their song “Junior Kickstart”. It’s a great, energetic British band that hopefully we’ll see a lot more of. I would like to point out, however, that due to the nature of how I gained this song, I have no direct link for free download: if you want to hear it, I’m afraid you’ll have to spend a buck. Trust me when I say it’s well worth it.

“Junior Kickstart” is an entirely instrumental song, opening with an urgent guitar riff before moving into an explosion of instrumental grooves, replete with horns, drums, guitar, bass, tambourine, and harmonica (created through a blend of live instruments and excellent sampling). It’s hard to describe precisely why, but the feeling of the song feels very much like out of a soundtrack where the heroes suddenly turn things around and proceed to kick some serious ass. The pacing of the song is very energetic, and sonically there are a variety of layers for your ear to explore, or you can simply let them all fuse together into an avalanche of aural pleasure. I will say this: your enjoyment of The Go! Team increases exponentially the better your sound system. Their sound has a lot of tonal variety, so you’ll get more out of the music if you’re using a system that can really accommodate that. (Even the difference between my iPod headphones and a better set of over-ear headphones is noticeable, playing the same song at the same volume and equalization.)

If you’re looking for music that gets you excited and energized, “Junior Kickstart” is a great choice. It has a good deal of complexity to it, yet can still be enjoyed as a more simplistic amalgam. The Go! Team really delivers on the promise of blending synthetic and more traditional instruments, creating a great sound whether in the studio or live. If you haven’t heard them yet, please, go look them up.

[The Go! Team Live at KEXP Free MP3]

[Junior Kickstart on iTunes]

[The Go! Team Website]

On Childlike Innocence

It is remarkable how delightful it is to watch small children explore the world. Their perspective is fresh, and there’s a marvel in their eyes that is infectious. It is simple behavior, the nuances of discovery that makes an everyday action an adventure: opening a cabinet and discovering the treasures within becomes a noble quest.

When do we lose that sense of marvel and wonder? When does the world become mundane, a cage instead of a playground? To remain an inquisitive soul is a lofty aspiration, and one that most sadly fall short of. Once fallen, can that sense of wonder ever be truly regained? Is it fate to become inured and jaded?

Perhaps we’re not asking the right question. It is, perhaps, unreasonable to assume that a youthful blank slate is the desired state. Instead, can we hope to evolve into one who is perhaps acquainted with the trappings of reality, yet still able to appreciate the beauty of it? I suspect this is closer to the right path, the balance of awareness and innocence that leads towards enlightenment.

A lot of it comes down to seeing the cage of reality, and choosing which side of the bars you perceive yourself on. Are you trapped within reality, or are you an observer of it?

Rainy Weekends

Sitting in Zoka, eating a piece of blueberry coffee cake, drinking a split chai (half sweet, half spicy), and watching the rain out the window. Kings of Convenience is playing, and it’s a good way to spend an afternoon. Looking around, I can spot a number of the regulars, and even several of the weekenders (regulars were it not for that pesky 9-5 job), which is a sign that I’ve become something of a regular myself, even without being accepted into the greater social group.

I’ve been thinking, which is ever the deadly activity. Let’s explore them a little bit, though: love continues to be a bone I chew on, turning it around, thinking about it, what it really means, its value and significance, and why it’s so hard to explain or truly define. It’s simply used in so many situations and circumstances that we allow the context to define its meaning. But that’s unfair to the concept, and to those we are involved with: it hinges upon a subjective, personal experience, and all parties essentially guessing right. Sometimes we’re able to broadcast strong, direct clues to meaning, but to assume our intentions even then is begging for trouble. I’ve been accused in the past of using “love” too freely, of devaluing and diluting its meaning — I can’t disagree strongly enough. There is never a moment where I am not saying it conscientiously, with awareness for the power and weight of the word. To dilute the concept would be to say it and not mean it, or to not say it when you so dearly do. It’s a dishonest behavior, which is intrinsically counter to the idea of love. By necessity, honesty, understanding, and love are intertwined and related. To truly understand someone, to grok them, honesty and love must be present.

I’ve been thinking about where I live, and what I’ve been doing with my life, and the flailing around I’m involved in. I feel blurry, diffused across a great many grand ideas and projects and interests, such that no one thing is able to hold my attention for long, and thus, the clarity and acuity necessary to excel in any of them remains scattered. There is nothing wrong with being a generalist (or in a romantic moment, a “Renaissance Man”), but it does require a greater degree of practical skill in these fields to be truly effective. As mentioned before, my theory is strong, but my practicum is weak. It is well beyond time for me to sit and concentrate on the common threads throughout most of my interests — as near as I can tell, that is writing. My essentials are good: my grammar is generally good (though full of my own idiosyncrasies, like opting for commas where I could probably drop them, and too many parenthenticals), my spelling is good (though if I have a doubt, I check via the Dictionary widget on my Dashboard, which I also use to make sure I’m using a word appropriately). Realistically, I simply need to start sitting down and churning work out and submitting it. Everywhere, and all the time. That is by far the most effective way to hone your craft (any craft): fucking do it. I’ve been living in a world of theory and philosophy and intellectualization, and unless I suddenly have the money pop up to go get a grad degree and start teaching this shit, that simply isn’t enough to go on.

I need to stop over-thinking and over-planning. So many grand ideas and dreams and goals… but what good are they if I never actually do them?

Music reviews resume Monday.

Dr. L’Ling by Minus the Bear

Today’s song was discovered via Chris, who linked me to Drilling P.O.S. REDO by Minus the Bear over at Suicide Squeeze Records. While a good song, it got me curious about the band, so I ended up browsing through the site, and found a song that I ended up liking more: “Dr. L’Ling”, which is from their new album, Planet of Ice, which is due out in mid-August.

“Dr. L’Ling” starts out quiet, with an undulating, droning guitar, then adding a staccato drum, before kicking up to full volume with another, lightly distorted guitar that is vaguely reminiscient of “Creep” by Radiohead’s heavy pre-chorus thrash. The vocals aren’t entirely my cup of tea, but don’t really detract from the overall mood of the song, which mixes a sense of urgency with a vaguely ethereal, “space-y” vibe. (“Space-y” is perhaps a bit hard to describe, but you know it when you hear it, much like ProjeKct Two’s Space Groove.) The guitar work in particular really explores the space of the song, mixing melodic long notes with a rapid, abrupt progression that reminded me heavily of “Discipline” by King Crimson. The song finally winds down with more undulation fading into the distance, which gives the total song a mental image of a space patrol, idling along, called to duty, and then returning to its long quiet patrol.

Overall, it’s an engaging song, and I really don’t mind adding it to my musical library. I’ll look forward to hearing more from this band, and see where their musical evolution takes them in their latest album.

[Dr. L’Ling by Minus the Bear]

[Minus the Bear at Suicide Squeeze Records]