Archive for July, 2010


Green Shoots Huge Wave

Candy Claws “Sunbeam Show”

Candy Claws are a duo from Colorado who make music to evoke the power and mystery of nature. Their previous album attempted to mimic the sound of the ocean floor; their latest is inspired by a 1970 book titled The Secret Life of the Forest. If you only just listen casually, you may not get exactly what they’re going for — it mostly just sounds like an extremely ethereal take on Brian Wilson, and the lyrics are almost entirely obscure by the softness of their voices — but in the context of their stated project, it’s easy to imagine this as an abstracted impression of the forest. Sometimes it feels like we’re zooming in on a detail, other parts express a widescreen grandeur. Beyond the soft-focus surface, the arrangements are surprisingly nuanced, full of interesting textures, subtle melodies, and unexpected rhythms. The quality of the album is similar to that of its subject matter — pretty but matter-of-fact at first, but intriguing upon closer investigation.

Buy it from Amazon. I recommend holding out for a physical copy, though, as the packaging of this album is lovely and highly informative.


We Gotta Get Some Work Done

Mirah “Gone Are All The Days (Disco Mix)”

Mirah’s first few versions of “Gone Are All The Days” were stark and simple, with her voice and rhythm suggesting something bigger and deeper without filling in much space. There’s a charm to that sort of minimalism, but I feel like in the case of this song, the full-on punk-disco approach is far more effective. Even still, as much as the song has been filled-out, it’s still tight and spare, with a clear aesthetic debt to the Gossip in their tense-yet-danceable mode. They could go further — I could definitely hear this with disco strings and a bit of piano for color — but that would lighten it up, and I think the sweetness and smoothness of Mirah’s voice is flattered by the contrast of this rigid yet pulsing arrangement.

Get a subscription to the K Singles Zip-Pack or buy the single from K Records.


I Only Exist When You See Me

Magic Kids “Phone Song”

Magic Kids aren’t the type of band to reinvent the wheel of sunshine pop. Think of them more like artisans invested in crafting very fine wheels of sunshine pop. They’re a deliberate and welcome anachronism; if this was food you’d probably find them at a nice farmer’s market or upscale specialty grocery. “Phone Song” is immediately familiar, and there are probably dozens of oldies that sound almost the same, but there’s a charm in their adaptation of an old timey songwriting recipe, and a quality in how they put it all together. It’s cute and lovely, and though that’s not always enough, it’s fine enough here.

Buy it from Amazon.


Money Can’t Be Made Out Of Rhyme

Curren$y “Audio Dope II”

Curren$y has one of those voices that seems as though it could’ve been genetically engineered for the purposes of rap — he need not even work too hard on rhymes to make his words come out sounding smooth, seductive, and musical. You can hear echoes of Snoop Dogg and Pusha T in his delivery, but he’s certainly his own man. I quite like the way his verses have this sticky quality, as though every line coats the beat like a slow drip of honey. The music for “Audio Dope II” suits this quality perfectly — the resonance of his voice seems to slick up this rhythmic loop that grinds like gears, and the bright tonality complements his dark, nearly monochromatic cadences.

Buy it from Amazon.


I Felt His Presence Near Me

Deerhunter “Revival”

There’s been a long tradition in Christian pop of songs with lyrics that could just as easily be about God/Jesus or some wonderful boyfriend. Bradford Cox seems to be toying with that ambiguity in “Revival,” a brief, tightly composed yet gentle tune about being saved that mostly conveys a sense of hard-earned relief. As usual, Cox plays the passive character — he’s been through some horrible times, but he’s found someone who sets him at ease. At the end, Cox sings “darkness always, it doesn’t make much sense,” and that’s the point really. It doesn’t matter how he found his way out, only that he knows enough to let go of his misery and loneliness.

Visit the website for Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest.


Never Was A Cloudy Day

Earth, Wind & Fire “September”

“September” is the kind of song that I had known pretty much my entire life but could never place. It wasn’t identified for me until just recently, and even that didn’t really stick with me. Oh, that’s Earth, Wind & Fire? Okay. It’s actually called “September”? Huh. Now it’s stuck in my head forever. There are two reasons: Most obviously, this is one of the most ridiculously catchy songs ever penned. Every moment of it is a glee-inducing earworm; each part of the composition has a legitimate claim for being the best bit. (My favorite could be the horn fanfare that punctuates the chorus. But please, don’t make me choose.) More personally, I’m just not ever going to forget Vicky’s face as this song — one of her favorites ever, more or less her personal anthem, the thing she blasts to counter the noise of her “DJ” neighbor — played on a jukebox, a total surprise to her. She looked so totally happy that her expression was cartoonish in its cheeriness. Dancing in her seat, smiling and mouthing the words, completely within the song. I’ve seen this sort of thing before, with her and others, but there’s just something so profound to me about witnessing someone love a piece of art so intensely, so purely, so fully. It’s one of the most beautiful things I can think of, and now it’s what I picture when I hear this song: Perfect adorable totally unselfconscious ecstasy.

Buy it from Amazon.


The Last Psychedelic Band

Pavement @ Pitchfork Music Festival, 7/18/2010

Cut Your Hair / In The Mouth A Desert / Silent Kid / Kennel District / Shady Lane / Frontwards / Unfair / Grounded / Debris Slide / Spit On A Stranger / Range Life / Perfume-V / Trigger Cut / Fin / Stereo / Two States / Gold Soundz / Conduit For Sale! / Stop Breathin’ / Here / The Hexx

Pavement “Unfair”

I don’t know how to write about seeing my favorite band for the first time in over a decade in any sort of critical way. Any critical part of my brain was shut off during this set, it was all just a blur of glee, love, fandom, and an emotional bond with all of this music that goes beyond reason. I was freaking out through most of this show. I’d be embarrassed to see footage of myself, especially during “Unfair.” But it was like…a religious experience, maybe? Like what it could be to go be a devout person finally going to a holy land, or maybe it’s more like saying your prayers in the company of the very people who penned them. Maybe I’m overstating it, maybe I’m not. I think that more than any other music, this is the music that is the most a part of the fabric of who I am, and this was a hugely enjoyable and possibly profound thing for me. That’s about as close as I can get to explaining this.

Buy it from Amazon.


Bear My Body Aloft

Owen Pallett “Midnight Directives”

This is a brilliant composition, the sort of piece that is urgent in tone, yet reveals itself upon repeated listening. The melody swoops and soars, but its a rather chilly sort of bombast — it’s a drama of intense thought, not physicality. I find myself often rewinding and going back over that final climax in the vocal section, just before the instrumental resolution: “For a man can be bought, and a man can be sold / and the price of a hundred thousand unwatered souls…” In context, that bit sounds defiant, thrilling, and terrifying all at once.

Owen Pallett “Midnight Directives” (Max Tundra remix)

Max Tundra’s arrangement of “Midnight Directives” brings in standard Tundra elements — a frenetic pace, extremely bright synth tones, a nerdy sort of funk — but does little to alter the main vocal part, which carries the essence of the tune. In this way, it’s a matter of dressing up the song in a new outfit. This is a more relaxed “Midnight Directives,” a version that tosses out the drama that makes the original so compelling, but focuses on flattering the song’s truly exceptional melody.

Buy Heartland from Amazon. Get the “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” EP for free from Domino Records.


Air Quicken Tension Building Inference Suddenly

R.E.M. “Life and How to Live It”

1. The opening guitar figure of “Life and How To Live It” is like a lit fuse in slow motion. The fire gradually consumes the wire, and when the song kicks in all at once at the 30 second mark — KA-BOOM.

2. The opening line is “burn bright through the night,” which may help to explain why I can only imagine this song visually in terms of hot light contrasted with total darkness. In addition to the fuse imagery, I have long associated “Life and How To Live It” with a county fair or amusement park at night. I have no idea how this ever got in my head — some of you may recall that I have a similar though somewhat more literal interpretation of “Carnival Of Sorts” — but it’s in there, and it’s probably never going away.

3. The first time I saw R.E.M. perform this song was at Madison Square Garden in 2003. It was the first song in the encore. I remember the lights going out, then some flicker of strobe light as Peter Buck began the song. I’m not sure if that’s actually accurate, but it’s what I remember in my mind’s eye. When I think of this moment, I see it in black and white. I didn’t realize what Peter was playing right away, and it had never occurred to me that it would be in the setlist. I was stunned.

4. “Life and How To Live It” reveals itself in concert. It gets wilder, faster, and more cathartic. The moments of the composition that feel euphoric on the studio recording sound absolutely unhinged in live performance. Whereas the version of the song on Fables of the Reconstruction capably simulates the manic state of the song’s deranged protagonist, its live incarnation finds the entire band taking a method approach, and fully inhabiting his ecstatic madness.

5. “Life and How To Live It” is based on the true story of Brev Mekis, a schizophrenic man from Athens who split his home into two sides, each with a totally different set of furniture, books, clothing, pets, etc. He would live on one side for a while, and then switch to the other, and back again. After he passed away, it was discovered that he had a few hundred copies of a book he had written outlining his philosophy published by a vanity press hidden away on one side of his house. The book was titled Life: How To Live.

6. The majority of the songs on Fables of the Reconstruction are concerned with older, unknowable men who in some way retreat from the world around them. Whereas the other tracks describe a man’s actions from the outside looking in, “Life and How To Live It” is written from the perspective of its subject. I doubt that this was a deliberate decision, but it would make sense that Michael would relate to Mekis’ radical compartmentalization of his life. Most obviously, Mekis’ lifestyle is roughly analogous to that of a touring musician — time is split between two distinct ways of living, each accentuating a different state of mind. Ultimately, both sides feed into the other, arguably giving the person a more varied and rich life experience. (There is certainly an interesting argument to be made that the song reflects Michael’s sexual confusion as a young man, and the intentionally separated home represent life in and out of the closet.)

7. It helps to think of the song’s arrangement in the context of its lyrics: Michael is singing about a man running around and hollering as a structure is being built. Bill Berry lays the foundation of the building, and holds the piece together as Peter’s parts give it substance, color, and shape. Mike Mills’ bass part is the most dynamic element — it darts, climbs, and leaps around and through the form of the song, as if to represent Mekis’ frenzied state as his vision of an ideal life takes shape before his eyes. Mills’ bass lines in the song are crucial to the success of the composition, and are essential to its feeling of constant frenetic movement and elation.

8. All four members of the band get at least one moment in the song when their respective contribution seems to pop outside the bounds of the composition. (For one example, consider the way Peter’s guitar part seems to bounce up dramatically in the chorus.) This is brilliant, not simply because it makes for a ridiculously exciting piece of music, but because it allows each of the musicians an opportunity to channel the character’s joyous lunacy. For a song about a bizarre loner, there is not even a trace of alienation or condemnation in “Life and How To Live It.” Truly, every aspect of the song respects its subject’s skewed vision, and throws itself headlong into his creativity, pleasure, and unwavering faith.

Buy it from Amazon. Originally posted 7/22/2008 on Pop Songs. My review of the new Fables of the Reconstruction reissue is here on Pitchfork.


Words I Couldn’t Understand

Britta Persson “Meet A Bear”

The melody of the first single from Britta Persson’s forthcoming third album seems to roll out, like a string unfurling from a ball of yarn. It’s not totally graceful, but it comes out soft and smooth, so much that you might miss the non sequitur that gives the song its title. She starts off the chorus by stating that she would like to “meet a bear before I die,” but then goes on about wanting to help a teenage girl break up with some guy who made her feel more adult. It’s rare that I find a song where I wish I could ask the singer, mid-song, to go back and elaborate on something. I’m so curious, though! Meet a bear? Like, an actual bear, not gay slang? A bear in the woods, a bear in a zoo? A cartoon bear wearing human clothing? A bear that might talk to you? Because it’s “meet a bear”, as in socially engage with a bear, not just see one in passing. A grizzly bear? A panda bear? There is so much vivid, precise language in this song about girls in Tokyo playing rock music and the behavior of children in a school building, but man, I’d love just one more detail about the bear thing.

Pre-order it from Britta Persson.

©2008 Fluxblog
Site by Ryan Catbird