Posts Tagged 'Music'

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.


Let it Go This Too Shall Pass

Sometimes you want an 1100 page novel that bends style and twists narrative and confounds your expectations and engulfs you for 5 months and won’t let you go. But you know, sometimes complexity doesn’t come from questioning and fighting. Sometimes it’s a celebration. I don’t think anyone exemplifies that idea better than OK Go. You saw the treadmill video (if not, click here), but now they’ve got a new single, “This Too Shall Pass” and they have two videos for it I can’t stop watching; two very different ideas, “The Field” and “The Factory” if you will.



Don’t those just make you happy? Both single-shot extravaganzas, “The Field” is kindof about the amazing things people can physically do in nature, while “The Factory” is a technical achievement of the mind. I’ve maybe over-thought them just now, but regardless of any of that, they are celebrations of creativity. Along with the song’s lyrics and general mood, both videos aim to soothe and give hope and inspire by showing us something dazzlingly artistic and creative and complex.

“No you can’t keep letting it get you down. No you can’t keep letting it get you down.”

There is a playful spirit in OK Go’s videos that overwhelms me. The song is about moving on and not harboring the past. The videos conquer the past by reaching down and pulling us out of whatever slump we’re in and bringing us into something dynamic and exalting and fun. It’s like being slapped in the face by a bright, loving smile. And it works! These videos make me want to jump up and down like a little kid, I love them so much.

So Now Then

Ten years ago tonight, with the clock ticking toward midnight, there was an immense anxiety in me about what would happen. The world might forever be changed. It so filled my mind that I don’t really remember anything else I talked about that night, aside from this one thing – will I get to kiss my girlfriend? Y2K be damned, I didn’t care if the world ended or not; only about what it would be like to kiss her.

I didn’t. I chickened out. But it’s okay, we made up for it and then some for the next year or so.

Boy things were different back then. Looking back on the last ten years of my life, I am in the unique position of having come of age during this time, which is a strange thing and who knows, maybe ten years from now I’ll be saying the same thing about the next decade. But for now, I want to remember when.

This was the decade I graduated high school. And college. It’s the decade I got my first car. My first job. While things were in motion, this is the decade I fell in love with the movies and with acting and with writing. I directed my first movie. Isn’t it strange to think that 10 short years ago, I hadn’t seen my favorite movie of all time? Most of my favorite movies, in fact. I started reading books. Started reading The Bible. I hadn’t heard most of my favorite music yet. Think of it. All of these things that occupy my time and my mind and my heart and direct my life on a daily basis, and I didn’t have any idea they were out there. Things I can’t imagine being without; not the physical thing-ness of them, but the experience of them. The knowledge of them, the understanding of them. If you take enough of those things away, you take me away. I’m not me without them. I couldn’t be, I wouldn’t want to be, and I don’t know who I’d be. I’ve seen well over 1,000 movies in the last 10 years. Many of them good, some of them bad, and quite a few of them life-changing. Life-changing. A movie. A song. A television show. A fiction. A podcast. People doing things who I don’t know personally but somehow know deeply. Now how in the world does that happen?

And what about the people who do populate my life? Friendships that were only a few months or a couple years old are now lifelong bonds that have carried me through so much these years. People I didn’t know, or only knew peripherally. And now, what would life be without them? Where would I be? I had the immense fortune of having incredible friends around me at every turn these last 10 years. Where I would be without them is lost, completely stupidly lost. What kings and queens of goodness they are, what multitudes they hold.

There are small big things too. I voted for the first time, had my first beer, got my first tattoo, my first apartment, got my first corporate job, quit that job and moved to another state. I took my first trip out of the country, I went on vacation by myself and found I am a good traveling companion. I wrote and wrote and wrote thousands of pages of stories and journals and movies and essays and papers. Endless experiences and events and things done and things wished for and not received and regrets and elations and disappointments and poorly-timed, well-worded remarks that got me in mountains of trouble. 10 years ago I thought I was right all the time. Now I know the percentage is slightly lower, and things are often my own fault.

10 years is enough time, it turns out, to meet someone, love them, know them for 7 years, be hurt by them long enough and badly enough that you don’t know her anymore. 10 years of my life is still a pretty high percentage of it at this point (a little over 38% of it). And there is no bleed-over. It is a thing contained within one decade, a little parenthesis of a thing that, 20 years from now will matter, won’t matter, who knows? But there is before and there is after and it doesn’t reach either of them. It is cut off. That’s a little scary when you think about it.

10 years ago, I thought of my life in terms of my parents’ rhythms. Married by a certain age, children by a certain age, career by a certain age. It took time to realize that a different pattern was waiting for me. 10 years ago, I don’t think I could ever know I’d be sitting where I am today. If I talked to myself, I wouldn’t believe me. How much I had to learn. How much I have to learn. 10 years ago, I thought I would be a film actor. I don’t think I thought very highly of the theatre. 20+ plays later, I see I was a fool. The thrill of walking onto a stage in front of an audience and inhabiting another life is one of the most beautiful things in the world. The experience of being watched is similar to playing a sport, but it’s a different kind of thrill. I love them both. Still another is to write something you’re proud of and see it performed by someone else in front of a couple thousand people. And another to write and direct something, find the time and people and equipment to capture it on film, edit it, toil over it, and then see it projected onto a screen in a dark room with people you don’t know. To hear them react to it, find it is all out of your hands now. These things are magical. I wouldn’t trade these things for anything, and I wouldn’t ruin them by explaining them away to my younger self. If I never see them again, I’m glad for what I’ve got.

So now then. What have we learned? What conclusions can we draw? What do we do now? How can I do better? The best answer I know is to say that these aren’t questions reserved for the ends of decades, but for every day. Contentment in limbo. It sounds like an impossible thing, but I think that’s where the truth lives. If I find out, I’ll tell you in 10 years.

December(ists) in October

I haven’t posted my favorite bands and musicians yet, but if you asked me what band I’ve listened to most in the last 2 years, the answer is unquestionably and unabashedly The Decemberists. The full details must be saved for another time. For now, just think of folk rock, alternative, and music that still believes in existing in movements, tied together by the indelibly fable-esque storytelling of lead singer Colin Meloy.

I also like bands that release small things in addition to full albums. A good EP can go a long way. Think of “Woman King” by Iron & Wine or “Broken Bride” from Ludo. Now, in leu of their new album “Hazards of Love,” out next year, The Decemberists have released Vol. 1 of a 3-part EP called “Always a Bridesmaid,” about it all just not quite working out the way you wanted.

The songs on Vol. 1 – “Valerie Plame” and “O New England” are both upbeat, fun, and sortof thrilling in terms of sheer momentum. All 6 songs, according to the website, were songs too good to be scrapped but that didn’t quite make the cut for the new album, although they establish what seems to be its driving theme very nicely. A $2 investment (which can be made either from the website or on iTunes) will keep me at bay until November 4th when Vol. 2 is released.

It Has Come to This

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June 2019
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