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January 30, 2008

a joanna newsom appeal


God knows I've gingerly put Joanna Newsom's unreal masterpiece of an album into the hands of many. A couple have totally felt it, but many more have not. Its often the sound of her voice that's the challenge. It's challenging, to be sure, and there's no use talking about it anymore.

I almost hoped that someone would do a magnificent cover of a Ys song I could use to demonstrate the astoundingness of her storytelling and wordplay, but alas, when people cover her, they generally attack the shorter, more coverable songs on Milk-Eyed Mender: Some guy does a pretty good job of The Sprout and the Bean, Some guy does a passable and kinda sweet job of Sadie, and the band Final Fantasy does a cool electronic / violin version of Peach, Plum, Pear.

I pulled out the album the other day and just dove in right at its middle act, at Sawdust and Diamonds. It's such a pleasurable part of the album, and it occurred to me that maybe new or reluctant listeners should try this, skipping the enthusiastic Emily and the over played and over discussed Monkey and Bear.

The story that begins with Sawdust and ends with the final howls of Cosmia is a story all its own. And people... oh ye of little patience, it's not like she's writing music for Mensa members only. Sure there's the little Shakespeare reference here and there, but this is not James Joyce.

It is genuinely sweet and funny, and as you listen to it a few times, just let its little phrases, jokes and turns of phrase come to you in tiny bits. It's more accessible than it first appears. C'mon... Give Joanna Newsom another chance. She's worth it.

Note: I did found an aussie singing this kind of sweet Emily and this somewhat more talented performer doing a fairly impressive cover of Sawdust and Diamonds. These really illustrate how difficult it is to adapt and perform these songs.

January 18, 2008

prkr - the felt city


I finally decided to buy the CD at the coffee shop counter that was created by one of my everyday baristas at Fremont Coffee. I hoped it didn't suck too badly, because then I'd have to think of something nice to say about it and then never speak of it again. Parker's a sweet-faced guy and I hoped it wasn't so.

Well, thank god it didn't turn out like that. Parker's album (as Prkr), The Felt City, is way better than I expected. Even more impressive is that Prkr made the album in 29 days as a part of the RPM challenge. It could have just been some gentle guitar music, but Parker nests the guitar sounds in his many layers of intricate polyrhythms and crunchy, Matmos-y electronic music.

This mix of real instruments and electronic music, along with themes of human warmth in the face of the coldness of the world, easily reminds me of some Radiohead, including their current and lovely In Rainbows. The other thing The Felt City evokes is The Postal Service, but thankfully Prkr isn't trying to be as completely precious as Ben Gibbons Gibbard. The singing, the lyrics, and the sonic landscapes, are tougher, rougher, and warmer than The Postal Service.

My favorite song is the joyful and clever opener, “G.P.S. Kids.” Of course Prkr wouldn't be the first person to poke fun at these kids today, but you can tell he actually considers himself one of them, liable to "text me your sex / let's see how close we can physically get / and check just how accurate the G.P.S. is".

In “Personnel" and "Intelligensia,” Prkr droningly lists the things you'll encounter as you walk through The Felt City: "Convention centers, escalators, skyscrapers, infiltrators, perpetrators..." among other things. Prkr maps out an impersonal city, darkly referring to plastic flesh and biotech. It's pretty clear that The Felt City is grounded in the real city of Seattle. In the one instrumental track, the throbbing, undulating "Let's Make Out", Parker uses humming, soft choral tones to make his case. Along with “G.P.S. Kids,” Prkr shows that even in the midst of all these skyscrapers there's still room to be sexy and human.

In the song, "Digital Vestiges", Prkr sighingly notices that "When we look close with our microscopes we can see the formulas of life / Does it blow your mind when you find that we are coded in binary / Everything we value so greatly is made the same as machinery." But it's okay... Prkr thinks you should make out anyway.

January 15, 2008

2007 - music I'm still chewing on

There's a lot of great music (like Jens Lekman) that I never quite got to in time to rank among my favorites, but I'm continuing to listen to albums that were pretty damn good. Here's a little roundup:


White Williams - Smoke
Totally strange cover with girls smoking from a hookah and crying rainbow wax tears. Evidently Joe Williams saw some girl at a party who's boyfriend had just broken up with her. She was bawling her head off, but kept stopping to take hits of weed from this big hookah. He thought that was hilarious and made it into the concept of the album. It's kinda like a mellow T. Rex album with a lot of cool sonic experiments going on. It's classic rock at heart but has a prog rock face. It really is sweet and listenable and I find myself hearing something new and pleasing at every listen. The main misstep? Who really needed to cover "I Want Candy" again? Ugh. I hate that song.

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
A goddamn solid album that hit a lot of people's lists. Kinda like an old school Elton John / Billy Joel kinda modern rock scene with smart lyrics. There was only one slot for a band like this on the list and basically The National won the day. It shouldn't diminish that this is a damn enjoyable album.

Amon Tobin - Foley Room
I love Amon Tobin, and am glad to see him do a new album that's not a video game soundtrack. There's some great stuff in here. I especially like the track "Esther's", but it's not the kind of excellence of his best.


Burial - Untrue
I never even heard of the dub step genre, but some people are calling this their favorite album of the whole year, so I had to hear it. Turns out the guy who does Burial is totally anonymous and no one knows who it is. Anyway, the music is pretty damn cool... it's like a scratchy urban electronic music. I underestimated it, even so, for a long time, and I have to say the last half of the album is what I love. "Etched Headplate" is one of the most impressive and subtle sonic landscapes I heard all year.

Robert Plant / Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
Who would have guessed? This is a beautiful album and more than just a VH1 cash-in. I have a feeling this will end up being a lot of hipsters' secret love.

Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
Tough, vicious cocaine rapping over fresh Neptune beats. Why listen? Good rhymes, good beats. Momma, I'm so sorry, I'm so obnoxious: got two hot rocks in my pocket. It's bratty, amoral, conflicted and kinda fucked up. That's what makes it good rap.


Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
Amazing emotional bluegrass-inspired music. If the whole album were as good as it's 4 best tracks it would have been a shoe-in. "The Weight of Lies" is just amazing:

Disappear from your hometown
go and find the people that you know
show them all of your good parts
leave town when the bad ones start to show
Go and wed a woman,
a pretty girl that you never met
Make sure she knows you love her well
but don't make any other promises.

I've thought that very same thought before myself.

Wow, I have more of these than I thought. I may have to do one more roundup. Plus, I keep working through other people's 2007 lists. It's like gold!

I'm ready for 2008 albums anytime!

January 8, 2008

jens lekman - night falls over kortadela


Isn't he dreamy, folks? Let's hear it for Jens Lekman. This man is tough as nails. Okay, he's not. He's a Swedish 25 year old with a face I want to pinch.

He thinks he's God's gift to women of course, but you know, he probably is. That's a hell of a baritone. And some musical swells that have me fit to cry. I mean, who can sing a cold-ass song like, "I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You" (seriously, that's brutal) and make it sound... actually kind of romantic?

This was released in 2007! Why didn't I hear about it? Oh, I did. A bunch of people said it was good. I was busy. And who wants to listen to some feeb named Jens Lekman anyway?

Edit: I forgot to say the first time. "A Postcard to Nina", and "Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig" are really the songs that prove the album. So if you happen to work in the same building as me and are on my ITunes share then you can totally consider yourself lucky.

Edit2: I forgot to say the second time, that it's pronounced more like "yense" than "jenz". I wasn't sure but he actually says it in "A Postcard to Nina".