Kat Edmonson

•July 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I have yet to find someone who was excited as I was about the discovery of Kat Edmonson, regardless of the story of my initial discovery of the absolutely breathtaking singer from Austin, Texas, and all those involved.  To share, on the eve of my wonderful sister’s wedding in Austin, the entire bridal party went out to party on the streets and rooftops of the infamous 6th street in Austin, where after a Little Bo-Peep incident and the complete shoving aside of random girls for a hug from my sister, we all found ourselves in the basement of a jazz bar in Austin who’s name has yet to stick with me (perhaps the Elephant Room?).  The sound, however, that I found there, has been forever burned into my brain.

Deep in a highly contemplative, intoxicated state (good friends will tell you that there is a solid 40-60% chance of finding me in this specific state after a few drinks), I found myself in deep conversation with my soon-to-be brother-in-law about, well, whatever was important or bothering me at the time, when I was stolen away from my own conversation by the child-like whispers of Kat Edmonson singing a jazz cover of “Lovefool” by The Cardigans.  I stopped talking, listened intently, and left poor Matt wondering what he did wrong to deserve my sudden silence while finding myself completely in love with Kat’s faithfulness to the tradition of the jazz singer while adding the essence of whatever it is that makes us who we are.  I don’t know Kat, though I introduced myself after the show and blubbered over how impressed I was with her performance to both her and her band’s trumpet player, Ephraim Owens, but I feel like I know whatever it is she brings to jazz and what it is I seek in great music.  

And now, after whatever pain I happen to be feeling about so-and-so and the tragedy that inspires jazz, well, I pull out her cover of “Just One of Those Things” and know that, at least once in awhile, I make good choices when it comes to my own personal tastes.

Free mp3’s of the wonderful singer and her band can be found here and here, but if you’re smart, you’ll shell out the $10 for her new album Take to the Sky, which can be found on iTunes.

Dawes & Deer Tick

•July 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

IMG_0942I was lucky enough to find myself at the Deer Tick concert last night in Little Rock, a band I had just recently discovered and was pleasantly having a mild love-affair with, and I found myself in the strange position of having my night already made complete by their opening band – Dawes.  I bought the album, told the bashful lead singer and guitarist Taylor Goldsmith he had changed my world while he stood behind the merchandise stand, and was unfortunately doomed to spend the rest of the night at a terrific Deer Tick concert wishing for only more Dawes (though I did scream a little when the former played Baltimore Blues, No. 1).  

Though their album North Hills doesn’t carry the same intensity and passion that I found in the smoky air of Sticky Fingerz, it is a brilliant album nonetheless.  Listen to “Peace In The Valley” or  “When My Time Comes” and then imagine the guitar solo in the first being drawn out and filed into a gut-wrenching final song, or the refrain in the second being screamed a cappella by the crowd once we learned the words.  

Find out where and the when they will be close to you as they finish their tour throughout the month of July with Deer Tick and see them if you can.  After that, you’ll have to head to L.A. to see this band live, but I doubt they will stay static for long….this is a band that will remind you why the search for new music is so important, and their future seems limitless.

http://www.myspace.com/dawestheband

Lady Gaga and Endurance

•May 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I have long been a fan of Sasha Frere-Jones’ contributions to The New Yorker since he came to the magazine approximately three years ago, his cerebral criticism in the world of pop music always welcome for those of us who consistently choose to overthink everything, even catchy synth-beats made in a Brooklyn recording studio.  In many ways I am horribly jealous of the man and his job (probably moreso than Bob Boilen at NPR) and any good that can be found my paltry attempts at musical criticism are almost solely indebted to reading him over the years.

With that said, I found one of his more recent articles, “Ladies Wild” to be one of the best that he has written in the past few years.  Perfectly summing up what he describes as, “The Question of Endurance”, he speaks not only of every music-lover’s questioning of where the bands they love will be in 10 years, much less 30, but (using Lady Gaga as his vehicle) also of the current transition affecting pop music today as we slip away from hip-hop and back toward the dance floor and disco beats that, ironically, were popular 30 years ago.  

Give it a read, if only for the opening three paragraphs.  You won’t regret it, and you may even find yourself strangely surprised about Lady Gaga herself.

Aspects of the Novel

•May 6, 2009 • 1 Comment

Such a long break between posts, but for those who know the details of my day-to-day life, the reasons for lack of time/energy are readily apparent and I feel no real apology is necessary.  But now that free time has been somewhat restored to my life, I am again determined to get back to the blogging, if only for my own personal edification and the personal joy that comes from writing a piece for public viewing.

At the moment I find myself in the middle of E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, a read that was recommended to me by an old teacher and now lifetime mentor because of my strong affinity for Russian literature.  Forster and I coincide strongly in what we believe makes a good novel and it has been good to ask myself the question, “What exactly is it about the Russian novels that Forster admires and desires so much?”

Though I may have more to say on this question when I finish the book, I thought I would share a small passage that I found rather delightful and something that may strike the hearts of my few readers much in the same way.  Speaking of the story of a novel (not to be confused with the plot) and a reader’s associated memories of that story, Forster says, “They love him indeed for the same reason that I loved and still love The Swiss Family Robinson.  I could lecture to you now on The Swiss Family Robinson and it would be a glowing lecture, because of the emotions felt in boyhood.  When my brain decays entirely I shall not bother any more over great literature.  I shall go back to the romantic shore where the “ship struck with a fearful shock,” emitting four demigods named Fritz, Ernest, Jack and little Franz, together with their father, their mother, and a cushion, which contained all the appliances necessary for a ten years’ residence in the tropics.”

What a wonderful sentiment!  Though I am generally more intense than most about reading and furthering myself through everything I read, always trying to knock out the next Great Book off of my list, I found Forster’s words on this stunningly true.  It is the same for any lifelong and passionate reader: we have the books we read because we feel we need to read, and by reading them we may or may not learn great things about life, about the soul, about the questions that plague all thinkers in the world.  But, by the same token, out of the sheer joy that reading can be at times, we have the stories and characters that we return to again and again because we love them and the place they have found in their world.  For me, Johnny from Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers will always come back with his earnestness to be a better person and to fight over every new hump he finds in the Mobile Infantry.  

With that in mind, I wonder what are some of your favorite stories and characters that you’ll happily resign yourself to when the days for great literature are gone?

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

•April 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

New Music Wednesday!*

I have been a tremendously huge Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan since I first heard “Maps” many years ago and was very eager to buy their new album, sadly pushed up to a March 10 release because of leaks, and yet so happily for those fans who couldn’t wait any longer for a new album.  At the first listen, I was worried that Nick Zinner’s guitar had been quieted too much, his beautifully distorted riffs robbed from the band’s sound with their new direction, however it wasn’t too far into the album before he exploded like in days past in “Dull Life” and I was reassured that the band was still firmly placed in its roots.

An interesting insight came to me as I listened to their album that reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a good friend concerning the future of music.  We were listening to Shiny Toy Guns at the time and I asked her where she thought music was going with the massive hip-hop influence at the time.  We eventually came to the conclusion that electronic beats and synths were making a solid comeback into the mainstream (especially in the indie scene – think Muse), resulting in the only hip-hop beats we found really interesting anymore and evolving rock bands into more of a dance floor type beat and form with their song-writing.  Later, especially with the advent of stripped down guitar melodies becoming the rage in 2008, I wondered where the two paths would cross.  This new album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is the answer.

The majority of the album is massively influenced by the Brooklyn dance scene in which Karen O and her band resides, but near the end of the album a sudden influx of stripped down, acoustic versions of the previous songs suddenly appeared.  I was initially skeptical of recycling the songs until I heard their new version of “Hysteric” and was completely owned by the band’s ability to encompass both movements in music today.  Though a bit more orchestrated than the massively minimalistic Bon Iver, the acoustic versions are reminscent of simple melodies that swayed all of us in a bit of a lonely emo-boy funk last year.  

Pick up It’s Blitz! at your first opportunity…you won’t be disappointed, no matter where you stand on the debate.  And standby for a discussion of female-led bands in 2009…

 

  • “New” in no way suggests that this music will be new to the reader.  Or even the author.  Just the blog.

Kafka On The Shore

•March 15, 2009 • 1 Comment

While reading my second Murikami novel I came across the following passage which was too good not to share, and the accompanying realization that Murikami might be a new addition to my own personal mythology (look for upcoming post on the notion).

We pull into a rest stop restaurant for dinner.  I have chicken and a salad, he orders the seafood curry and a salad.  Just something to fill our stomachs, is the best you could say about it.  Oshima pays the bill, and we climb into the car again.  It’s already gotten dark.  He steps on the accelerator and the tachometer shoots way up.

“Do you mind if I put on some music?” Oshima asks.

“Of course not,” I reply.

He pushes the CD’s play button and some classical piano music starts.  I listen for a while, figuring out the music.  I know it’s not Beethoven, and not Schumann.  Probably somebody who came in between.

“Shubert?” I ask.

“Good guess,” he replies.  His hands at ten-and-two on the steering wheel, he glances at me.

 “Do you like Schubert?”

“Not particularly,” I tell him.

“When I drive I like to listen to Schubert’s piano sonatas with the volume turned up.  Do you know why?”

“I have no idea.”

“Because play Schubert’s piano sonatas well is one of the hardest things in the world.  Especially this, the Sonata in D Major.  It’s a tough piece to master.  SOme pianists can play one or maybe two of the movements perfectly, but if you listen to all four movements as a unified whole, no one has ever nailed it.  A lot of famous pianists have tried to rise to the challenge, but it’s like there’s always something missing.  There’s never one where you can say, Yes! He’s got it!  Do you know why?”

“No,” I reply.

“Because the sonata itself is imperfect.  Robert Schumann understood Schubert’s sonatas well, and he labeled this one ‘Heavenly Tedious.'”

“If the composition’s imperfect, why would so many pianists try to master it?”

“Good question,” Oshima says, and pauses as music fills in the silence.  “I have no great explanation for it, but one thing I can say.  Works that have a certain imperfection to them have an appeal for that very reason – or at least they appeal to certain types of people.  Just like you’re attracted to Soseki’s The Miner.  There’s something in it that draws you in, more than more fully realized novels like Kokoro or Sanshiro.  You discover something about that work that tugs at your heart – or maybe we should say the work discovers you.  Schubert’s Sonata in D Major is sort of the same thing.”

“To get back to the question,” I say, “why do you listen to Schubert’s sonatas?  Especially when you’re driving?”

“If you play Schubert’s sonatas, especially this one straight through, it’s not art.  Like Schumann pointed out, it’s too long and too pastoral, and technically too simplistic.  Play it through the way it is and it’s flat and tasteless, some dusty antique.  Which is why every pianist who attempts it adds something of his own, something extra.  Like this – hear how he articulates it there?  Adding rubato.  Adjusting the pace, modulation, whatever.  Otherwise they can’t hold it all together.  They have to be careful, though, or else all those extra devices destroy the dignity of the piece.  Then it’s not Schubert’s music anymore.  Every single pianist who’s played this sonata struggles with the same paradox.”

He listens to the music, humming the melody, then continues.

“That’s why I like to listen to Schubert while I’m driving.  Like I said, it’s because all the performances are imperfect.  A dense, artistic kind of imperfection stimulates your consciousness, keeps you alert.  If I listen to some utterly perfect performance of an utterly perfect piece while I’m driving, I might want to close my eyes and die right then and there.  But listening to the D major, I can feel the limits of what humans are capable of – that a certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect.  And personally, I find that encouraging…”

It took a bit longer than The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles for me to find my passage, but Murikami has done it again.  If you haven’t checked out this novelist, you need to (assuming you’re the kind of person who is interested in asking such wonderful questions without finding the answers). 

 

Portishead

•March 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

New Music Wednesday!*

I hesitated for a long time before I bought Portishead’s new album, despite all the hype and encouragement I received from all the sources I check for new music.  The problem was that I was still busy absorbing their first album (I know, I know…late the party as always), the now accurately named “The Make-Out Album”.  And it’s true – I can’t help but think that their first album would be wonderful for background music while I tried to create the mood for lip-locking with someone with a penchant for sexy electronic music in the background.

But their new album…well, it’s no longer music for such an endeavor.  As it stands, this album (Third) is one of the most interesting albums that I have had the pleasure of listening to – it demands that you do only that.  The songs build, and tease, and turn in such a way that the absolutely breathtaking voice of Beth Gibbons mixed with the enticing sounds of Geoff Barrow (with help from Adrian Utley) make me want to do little else than listen to the journey they are taking me on.  In fact, the only other group I can think that does the same to me when I listen to them would be Radiohead.

So, thank you, Portishead, for both the idealized make-out parties, and now the absolutely lovely and intriguing music you are creating.  Here’s hoping I don’t have to wait a decade for the next album.

 

* “New” in no way suggests that this music will be new to the reader.  Or even the author.  Just the blog.