Archive for the 'Music' Category

I Play Ultimate Frisbee With This Guy

So a guy I know from Ultimate Frisbee, Steve Shane (we guard each other from time to time, he’s a great guy), just sent me a link to his new music video. I remember him telling me about it a few weeks ago in between games, and I thought, “Oh cool. Someone made a music video, good for them.” Oh how very little I knew.

The song itself is fun and playful with a pleasant, ever-so-slightly country twang to it, but the video itself gives me major concept envy. I loved watching it and going back and forth between thinking how clever it is, how well it tells its story and thinking, how long did that take to plan? It’s pretty staggering. On par, I think, with The Mountain Goats’ video “Woke Up New.”

Now I’ve never heard of the video’s director Behn Fannin, but his website boasts an array of interesting projects, most notably, in my opinion, “…the making of…,” which is a mockumentary about a documentary about the making of that selfsame documentary. Exactly. Looks like he also did a video for Panic At the Disco. He should be making lots and lots of money on very interesting projects.

Check out Steve Shane’s website here and his video below:


This I Swear to All

I’ve seen The Decemberists five times now (six if you count the time me & Beej saw a Colin Meloy solo show in Lawrence): never in the same venue twice. KC, MO (The Uptown Theatre); NYC (Central Park); Lawrence, KS (Meloy Solo @ Liberty Hall); STL (The Pageant); LA #1 (UCLA’s Royce Hall); LA #2 (The Wiltern). Maybe that’s not so strange, but it seems to be, if nothing else, accidentally eclectic (please note I’m aware that many people have seen their favorite bands in numbers that approach or exceed triple digits). Of the venues, St. Louis’ has the best layout. Also of note that I tend to buy multiple tickets & take friends with me to see the shows. I’m perpetually introducing this band to people.

Which and a few Saturdays ago was no exception. Ashley’s new to their music in general the past couple months and Adam came aboard only in 2009 when we threw on “The Hazards of Love” during our drive out west. I warned her “I’ll probably be singing the entire time, I hope that’s okay.” (The word “probably” being an intensity-of-band-love moderating term with no basis in reality and no chance of not being surpassed.)

I’ve been listening to The Decemberists since 2006 and it’s a rare-but-true case where the first song of theirs I ever heard remains my favorite. Sometimes a thing can hit you so hard you kindof absorb it into you and the force of it all is stamped onto your outlook. It just so happens, too, that that’s what “The Engine Driver” is all about to me. It and they’ve been a mainstay on my iPod & in my car ever since. I’m that guy who scours the internet looking for lost tracks and B-sides, obscure performances and band interviews. Who owns four band t-shirts (brown-2; gray-1, maroon-1) and pre-orders their albums from their site so he can get a limited-in-number autographed CD booklet. Who sings along to every word of every song not because he’s sat down to memorize them but because he’s listened to all the songs that many times.

Full disclosure: My musical history is weak-to-totally-abysmally-embarrassingly-bad. I don’t retain song names. It takes me a nice long while to get music in mind and remembered. I can’t tell you the frontman for 90% of the stuff I like, let alone the band’s other members, or who supplied guest vocals or played guitar for two tracks on their last album. I haven’t listened to enough of The Beatles or Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash or The Who or Pink Floyd or Van Morrison or Van Halen (I used to not know the difference) or The Beach Boys or The Doors or Billy Joel or Elton John or Bruce Springstein or The Smiths or The Rolling Stones or anything Phil Spector produced or Motown or blah blah blah these are just the first ones who came to mind. One time an ex-girlfriend and I got in a sizeable and enjoyment-of-day-ending fight in a Pizza Hut when I overreacted to her shock at my not recognizing certain songs. She was right that I didn’t really know anything, I guess I just mishandled the waves of judgment she heaped on me for my sins of omission.

There are multitudes I don’t know and will probably never know, but I do know The Decemberists. They are of course known for their hyper-literate lyrics and exuberantly complex arrangements. That’s why I fell in love with them. I eat $10 words by the handful, and complexity, ambition, and (oh yes) indulgence create an Artistic Bermuda Triangle from which my interests will probably never escape. The Decemberists do it with such a high success rate, too, that I’m perpetually standing back in awe. From “The Mariner’s Revenge” to all three parts of “The Crane Wife” to the cover-to-cover brilliance of “The Hazards of Love,” plus “The Tain” and the deconstructo-playful “I Was Meant For the Stage,” they’re topping themselves every album.

Their new album, “The King is Dead” is so different musically that it’s no different at all. It’s stripped down. It’s simple. The longest track isn’t even six minutes, and most come in at around three. Because there comes a time when the challenge is no longer excess but restraint; when the bigger risk is one of style not size.

“Here we come to a turning of the season,” is the first lyric out of the gate, setting the tone for the album’s lyrical and musical themes. The whole thing has a more American folk feel, and I love how thoroughly a sense of place dominates the album, in that first song, “Don’t Carry It All,” – my favorite track on the album, it perfectly marries the focus on setting with an abundant declaration of the purposes of community – and later in the album on June Hymn.

Opening Act: "Mountain Man"

I love how different “The King Is Dead” is from anything they’ve done before, and yet how comfortably it fits into their canon. There were slight shades of it toward the end of “The Hazards of Love,” the songs alternate between brawlers and bawlers (to borrow a bit from Tom Waits). Songs like “Calamity Song,” “Rox in the Box,” “This is Why We Fight,” and another favorite of mine, “All Arise!” really move and have a propulsion to them; and the “Hymns,” and something like “Rise to Me” remind you how at ease Colin Meloy’s lyrics are, how like a blanket by a fire during a rainstorm the songs feel. Few songs I’ve heard capture the feeling of a season and place – on the earth and in life – like these. They go to different, unique places you don’t normally hear about. And then hey what is “Dear Avery” anyway? Is it about a dog? I think maybe it is but I don’t know.

The concert was wonderful, of course. They dipped into every album and even an EP, and they played seven of the ten tracks from the new one. This may be the first time I didn’t hear “O Valencia,” and it was nice to know they had enough that they didn’t have to.

Here’s the breakdown (by album, not order):

Castaways and Cutouts: “Grace Cathedral Hill”

Her Majesty, The Decemberists: “Los Angeles, I’m Yours,” and “Red Right Ankle”

Picaresque: “We Both Go Down Together,” “16 Military Wives,” “The Engine Driver,” and to close the first encore “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”

The Crane Wife: “The Crane Wife 3”

Always the Bridesmaid EP: “Days of Elaine”

The Hazards of Love: “Won’t Want For Love (Margaret In the Taiga)” and c’mon of course “The Rake’s Song”

The King Is Dead: “Don’t Carry It All,” “Calamity Song,” “Rise to Me,” “Rox In the Box,” “Down By the Water,” “June Hymn,” and “This Is Why We Fight”

You know, I’ve said it before and it should perhaps just become my raison d’etre but there’s nothing better than listening to great music with a pretty girl. There were some sightline issues to figure out, but just being able to hold someone’s hand during songs I love is for me an ultimate luxury and comfort.

Just before they played their eight-minute ode to sailors and revenge, Colin told the crowd to practice screaming like they were being eaten by a whale, and as everyone yelled like banshees, I hear Ashley go, “What in the world?” Like I said, she’s relatively new to the music, but soon she followed suit, joined in, and bellowed like a pro. And then what a great final moment it was when they all came back onstage for a second encore to play just and only “June Hymn.” The disparity between the two songs could not have been greater, and it was perhaps a knowing nod to the fact that both are a part of the band’s appeal: the brazenly complex and the utterly simple.

And above all it’s really really great music.



There’s just too much is the main issue right now. With a finite number of time-units and cultural consumables, how can there be such a great disparity between the two? Forget, even, news-related items. Think how unprecedented, really, is an individual’s particular tastes and experience (which for the purposes of sanity and this singular blog we’ll relegate to artistic experience). My own group of friends’ tastes are too varied to even begin to describe (I know, because I just started writing it all and realized it was too complex for this entry) – from film to TV to music to literature to podcasts to theater to graphic design (now that’s broad) to comic books to photography, and on til morning goes the list. How to follow it all? How to keep up? How to respond even to just that barrage of ABSOLUTE MUSTS in all those mediums? It’s unending. It’s overwhelming. (TV and Literature is just the worst to me. Great mediums, both of which I love, but there is seriously so much volume of great that I don’t have any time for the good or the very good. Except that it’s almost a guarantee that something or other I watch because it’s someone’s favorite won’t be my cup of tea, meanwhile something others may write off as “pretty good” might be a revelation to me (Can you say “Community”?))

The following litany is from Friday. That is, this is what I consumed on during some spare time in the morning, during my drives to-and-from work, and sitting at work for twelve hours (parts of which also involved some more driving). Later in the day, thinking back on it, I felt overwhelmed when I tried to place it all. So often there is a giant list of things to get through that the order and rate they’re in is discarded. Starting to think that might be a mistake. That when ambition overtakes absorption the point may be muted. There are plenty of people, no doubt, for whom this list is small; who have no trouble multi-tasking. My roommate watches movies and shows while he works on art. I can’t do that. My attention has to be devoted, and I need more time to consider.

Lately I have issues recalling specific episodes of podcasts like “This American Life” or “The Tobolowsky Files.” Except my few favorites, my attention may have been too divided to retain enough of each story. That’s a problem, my problem, which is why this is essentially an attempt to retain something from each thing.


The Office“Threat Level Midnight” – A very playful episode. Look, The Office isn’t what it used to be, and I’m not quite as gaga over this one as many reviewers seem to be, but it was a really-good-to-near-great episode. I enjoyed all of the small moments with former series regulars.


Mumford & Sons“Sigh No More” – What a great album this is! Folksy, banjo-laden music that moves and thumps. Here are songs that are about something; you can feel it deep in your bones.

From “The Cave”

So make your siren’s call/ And sing all you want/ I will not hear what you have to say

‘Cause I need freedom now/And I need to know how/ To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope/ And I won’t let you choke/ On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain/ And I will change my ways/ I’ll know my name as it’s called again

And now hear a song played with two fists clenched:

Phoenix“It’s Never Been Like That” ; “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” – Yeah, they’re a hipster band to some degree, they just did the soundtrack for Sofia Copolla’s new film “Somewhere,” and I honestly haven’t listened to them enough to be able to articulate their M.O. They’re similar to Vampire Weekend, except even better.


This American Life“What Is Money?” – Few shows tackle complex subject matter this consistently – with staggering insight. This episode looks at the general abstract-ness of money and the two shocking instances – one in Brazil, one here – where the solution to a national crisis sounds more like something out of one of the absurdo-circular subplots in “Catch-22.” It’s like arguing semantics with an inanimate object. But somehow, these ideas work (well, one of them we’ll wait & see).

Radiolab “Cities” – So okay this would be the other show that aims just as high on a weekly basis. In this episode, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich explore what makes a city distinct. They start off comparing the rates at which patrons from different cities walk, then they speak with some experts who analyze that data (among other data) and have created a mathematical formula that is eerily accurate in predicting how many, for instance, people there are in that city; how many libraries, schools, theatres, et al. Then the discussion transitions to what the data can’t tell you – the soul or spirit of a city. Oh how many applications about truth and life can we draw from this? Oh how many types of many? The show ends with a moving portrait of a city torn apart and all-but abandoned (except that not in one final heartbreaking, beautiful way). Hearing it made me think of people who grow up in a place and decide to make their home there; have their entire extended family there. To stay, to remain. I’m not one of those people. I moved around to four different cities during my formative years. My parents now live somewhere else. So do I. Except now I’m somewhere and I can’t imagine leaving, although that too is less about the place than the people. You find a community and you want to make your life with them.


One of me, three of you. I like where this is going.

“Spring Awakening” – Ashley loves this musical, from which I’ve heard all of two songs (her idea it’s clear enough without saying, but nonetheless). Can’t recall either one. But a couple years ago, blissfully unaware of the musical (small miracles and all that), I bought the play during one of my online searches for all-things Jonathan Franzen (he did the translation of Patrick Wedekind’s more-than-100-year-old work). I read his introduction – which is not-at-all flattering of the musical – but never made my way past the first scene. I’m told the musical retains maybe 50% of the dialogue (it’s a relatively short read at about 80 pages), and it is unfortunately one-note. The play rails against any notion of parental, educational, and spiritual guidance, save for one mother whose idea is to let her 14-year old figure things out for himself. The writing is beautiful – Franzen’s translation is eloquent and sly and contains a number of passages that feel as much like literature as dialogue. Among other things, the play explores all manor of sexual experience (which might be more harrowing to see than read, except the idea of children committing these acts is undercut by having sexy 20-somethings inhabit the roles (because otherwise it might be oh um uh illegal?)) Still, the themes of repression-in-the-name-of-innocence (although it’s really ignorance), the fear of even the idea of the subjects, and the youthful speculation and confusion about school, life, and sex are all fully realized. My one wonder is how much stock the author placed in the logic of his pubescent subjects. They are true in that they make sense to us at that age. Are we to see them as free-thinkers who are stifled? Or as developing thinkers who are dissuaded from maturing at all. There are arguments to be made for both sides.

Act II, scene i:

MORTIZ: Before the exam, I prayed to God to give me tuberculosis and let me off the hook. And I got off it –although even now I can sense it hanging in the distance, with a glimmering around it that makes me scared to raise my eyes, day and night. — But now that I’m on the ladder I’ll keep climbing. My guarantee is the logical certainty that I can’t fall without breaking my neck.

Act II, scene iii:

HANSY: *Moritura me salutat! — Girl, girl, why do you press your knees together? — Why even now? — — Are you mindful of inscrutable eternity?? — One twitch, and I’ll set you free! — One feminine gesture, one sign of lust, of sympathy, girl! — I’ll frame you in gold and hang you above my bed — Don’t you see that it’s your chasteness alone that gives birth to my debaucheries? — Woe, woe unto those who are inhuman.

*Moritura me salutat = “Those doomed to death salute me.”

Christmas in December(ists)

I am happy now. I’d heard Colin Meloy had played a show in NYC but I missed my chance to listen to it. Well so here the good kind souls there at the YouTube building decided to update their little online enterprise with some of the songs!


I feel better already.

In particular, there are songs from the new album, “The King is Dead,” which I anticipate like whoa. I got the free download of “Down By the Water,” which come on I love. But I think this song “Rise to Me” is going to be my favorite. I dig this acoustic version, but I’m looking forward to hearing the full band behind it.

Ever get that feeling where you just can’t wait to listen to a whole album? January 18th, you and me have plans.

Come On Up to the House

A friend of mine just posted this on Facebook. I realize it’ll get substantially less play here, but it made me feel so at peace and settled down here at the end of my night, that I wanted to share it too. After a straining day at work, after a hard workout, after doing some praying and doing some writing and doing some thinking. Tom Waits is one of those indescribably important musicians for me, and this been one of my favorite songs of his from the moment I heard it in my bedroom, sophomore year of high school. How I long to walk into church one Sunday and hear it belted out by a choir, be able to join in and let it fly. This video is expertly conceived, too.

Deep Breath…

Sometimes you eat the bar and sometimes, well, he eats you.” – The Big Lebowski

The Coen Brothers know what’s up. I’ve been in a cranky mood today. It’s been a long week. I haven’t gotten much sleep. I’ve been an Amish Man over and over and while the reading time has been appreciated, the hours have been long. But I like being on set, so it’s not that. Christmas can be stressful. There’s a lot to do. Presents to buy. Cards to send. Parties and events and this and that, and oops, forgot that other thing.

I’m tired, is the thing. And when you’re tired, you can unknowingly regress to the state of a 9 year old. I’d planned to see a big budget action movie and munch popcorn and get taken away by blue people and their special effects. What happened instead was a hassle to get there and an extra 20 minutes parking and the movie being sold out. We should have planned better. So, we scrambled, were going to see it at a different theater, but after getting on the wrong freeway going the wrong way, I was just angry and pissed off, and anyway the other screening wasn’t going to be in IMAX, so why pay that much extra? I’ll skip the debacle of getting food that followed and just say if you want Thai food in L.A. on a Sunday, don’t call me or I may scream at you.

Now this isn’t in the Holiday spirit, is it? No, no, I know. Did I mention I’m tired? Also, I’ve had a headache for the last 5 hours, undoubtedly a physical reflection of my internal condition.

So what’s to be done? It’s Christmas, I can’t go around being a Scrooge for the next week. That does nobody any good. Well, I pray. And I complain at God for a while and then I complain in my journal for a while and then I complain in a blog for a while. But I apologize, too. And I take a deep breath. And I ask God for help, and I know that He will, and I breathe and try to remember that through my headache. And then I put on Sufjan Stevens’ Songs For Christmas, the 5 disc compilation that’s just great.

Here, have a little hope

I don’t tend to like Christmas music at all. But I really like this. It’s got some original songs and some really good versions of traditional songs. An appropriate one I just listened to again, “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad,” which has some bits of wisdom in it:

Since it’s Christmas, let’s be glad/ Even if your life’s been bad/ There are presents to be had…La la la la la la ah / Since the year is almost out/ Lift your hands and give a shout / There’s a lot to shout about today

The set also includes Sufjan sharing some Christmas thoughts and then, out of nowhere, a little essay/song by one of my favorite writers, Rick Moody? Is this a Christmas miracle? And so I read it while I listen, in the middle of typing this, and I read it looking for something funny to quote from Mr. Moody and instead I end up in tears and feeling so much the relieved and the better and without headache, not just because he’s a great, fine writer, but because he describes my day today and week this week:

What is this thing about Christmas, the paradoxical tendency of Christmas, that the more heartbreaking it is the closer it seems to get to the point? Why is failure and awkwardness so human and so natural at Christmas? Why is it that really unacceptable gifts are somehow perfect, no matter how horrible or insulting or inexplicable? Why is it that having no gift to offer, just completely failing in the gift-giving department, admitting as much, seems closer to the No Room at the Inn concept, as described above? Why is it that anxiety and panic on Christmas seem more human than good-natured fun and loving Christmas? Why is it that Christmas seems like such an appropriate day to hyperventilate, to palpitate, to sweat profusely, to be certain that you are having a nervous breakdown? Why is it that desperation is closer to God?

And now, at least, I can breathe again, and continue on with the season, hopeful and… well, that’s enough isn’t it?

Here Come the Waves…

In less than a week, I’m going to see The Decemberists’ concert here in LA. As readers know, this is my favorite band, I’ve seen them in concert 4 times before, I saw them in St. Louis back in May and LOVED the show. This one will be different for 2 reasons. 1) I’ll be sitting. That’s a bummer for me. I like to stand and bob up-and-down and I like to sing along. Not the same when sitting. 2) The band will be playing the album, “The Hazards of Love” in its entirety, as they have been. Except this time, there is a full-length animation that will accompany it. Here is the trailer for it. I am geeking out like no other. OMG, can’t wait!!!

It Has Come to This

July 2018
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