August 7, 2011

covered up in dust like jericho

I am totally stupid-in-love with the new Vandaveer album. I slipped it into the car stereo Wednesday when I headed up to an organic farm in Lyons, CO for a workshop on digital storytelling (more on that adventure later), and it seriously has not been switched off. I keep finding tracks that I love and putting it on repeat and sitting for extra minutes in the driver’s seat after I reach my destination, so the song can finish playing, and I can finish my illustrious harmonies. This is some fantastic stuff.

Dig Down Deep – Vandaveer

Vandaveer is the Washington D.C. duo of Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin, their voices perfectly crackling, deeply resonant, and melding golden orange against each other. Heidinger’s voice often reminded me, oddly, of Nina Simone — they both have that slight metallic tang and bitter aftertaste that sounds regretful all the way through.

I could tell you about the rootsy soulfulness of this record that is not a roots album. I could mention the moments I wanted to pull the car over to drum the steering wheel, or stomp-clap along to songs like “Dig Down Deep” (at that terrific crescendo, wow) or “The Great Gray.” I could mention clever, clever lyrics on songs like “Spite” — “I once knew a man who learned such a thing / he cut off his hand to spite his ring / he poisoned the well to spite the frogs / he put down his son to spite the dog / he cut out his sleep to spite his dreams / he picked all the flowers to spite the bees… gonna hold my breath to spite the air.” It chronicles a cavalcade of spiteful acts that just end up stripping all the beauty and joy, written in precise and smart form like a darker Shel Silverstein. It is, as the Washington City Paper delightfully wrote, “Folk music, with none of the historical bullshit.”

Listen also to the second song on the album; the second one I stuck on repeat after I sated my need for the one posted up there (temporarily). Vandaveer just finished a humongous tour and I missed them in Colorado, but you must get this album. Heidinger used to be in These United States, and my friends Justin Craig and Robby Cosenza from TUS help out on this album, as well. I should have listened sooner. It was only a matter of time until I listened myself, and fell in love.

Addendum: HA. Just figured out that Heidinger was also in The Apparitions, which recorded that one song that to this day I still can’t get enough of, six years later. That song follows me, pleasantly.

Dig Down Deep is out now on Supply & Demand Records.

[photo by Sarah Law]

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March 24, 2010

The warm musical embrace of SXSW 2010

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I was walking alone down Sixth Street on Friday night around 1am, listening to the music pouring out through every open window and door into the warm night air. My boots clacked on the asphalt as I tucked away a BBQ sandwich from a street cart to drown some of the Shiner Bock. Everyone I walked past had a smile and sometimes a nice word or even a hug. I felt so in my element, so alive.

I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 South by Southwest Music Festival this year with a sailor who informed me in detail that when reading a compass, south-by-southwest is technically a direction that doesn’t exist. I’d try to recreate the explanation but it’s sailor talk. In any case, I remember thinking how I enjoy that the only place SxSW exists is in a mythical land in Austin. It’s fitting.

A thousand people could go to Austin and have a thousand different experiences, and I love that about the crowded, sweaty, jubilant mess. No one I talked to saw (and loved) the same bands. The endless options for every time slot is simultaneously fantastic and heartbreaking. I surely missed more bands I wanted to see than those I made it to, but I made it to some marvelous shows that invigorated me and reminded me why I do this, why I love music.

Here’s what made this year’s festival for me:

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Lissie was everywhere, delightfully. This girl from Rock Island, Illinois has a voice that is even more potent and chill-inducing in person; it’s as if she has the force of a complete gospel choir of large black women lying in her belly waiting to explode through songs like “Little Lovin’” and “Everywhere I Go.” When she sang the latter at a nighttime show in St David’s Church, I actually got tears in my eyes from the lugubrious power of that sparse song. Later on that weekend I heard her cover Metallica from downstairs in Stubbs while I shook Bill Murray’s hand. Go figure.

Little Lovin – Lissie
[SXSW VIDEO: Here Before]

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J Roddy Walston & The Business felt like Jerry Lee Lewis meets Soundgarden, and in a completely insane way, it worked. I wrote about them a long time ago and said I absolutely wanted to see them live, so when they played the Little Radio party, I was there in the front row. I was speechless. All I could do was look at my friends with a glowing smile; “So bizarrely awesome,” Bethany replied. The bass player stood wide-stanced, thrashing his long locks around with a force I’ve not seen since junior high dances and headbanging to Metallica, while J Roddy pounded the piano and kicked over his chair. Whew.

Rock and Roll II – J Roddy Walston & The Business


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Andy Clockwise from Australia also led me to use breathless descriptors of two artists I would never think of pairing together: Nick Cave and the Eels. Clockwise has 1,000-megawatt star magnetism, all swagger and quirky dance moves that I loved, and his music explodes into a supernova live — so much so that I went to see him twice. The fact that he came down in the audience, danced on the bar, handed me a Lone Star, and knelt and buried his face in my belly while we danced might have also helped things (I’m only human). Holy crap go see him live (and his fantastic band featuring my new favorite drummer, Stella) if you ever have the chance.

Sorry for the sometimes-shady video, but you get the fabulous idea — and know you wanted to be here:

And speaking of superb live moments, These United States covered Violent Femmes! I was walking up Trinity Street immediately upon arrival to Austin when I heard this ridiculously catchy drumbeat cascading down from a window above. For some reason my brain flashed to thinking, “I wonder when that day party with These United States is?” After checking the schedule, I was thrilled that I had recognized them from their drummer warming up, and we jostled up the stairs to start our fest right. I saw them two more times at SXSW, their rambunctious, heartfelt country-tinged tunes are right at home in that environment, and I was delighted when they covered this (after some previous discussion on the matter):

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Jennifer Knapp – an artist I had no idea would be at the festival (there are always dozens of such pleasant surprises at SXSW, it seems) but one I loved a lifetime ago and made a point to see. She was a young Christian artist when I was in high school and early college, a warm alto voice full of Melissa-Etheridge-like power and conviction, fierce on the guitar. I knew she’d vanished for years and years and was now resurrecting her art apart from the church, as far as I can tell. Her new work belies years of struggle that I can relate to, and a grasping at what she can still hold. I was completely blown away, one of the top shows for both myself (as an old fan) and the sailor (as a newly-converted one). This song was towards the end, as she played to a riveted and packed St David’s Church, and she said it conjured up her “Bob Dylan side.” Her album Letting Go is out May 11. [SXSW VIDEO]

STREAM: Stone To The River – Jennifer Knapp

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The music of JBM (Jesse Marchant) is completely entrancing, with his intricate guitar fingerpicking and pink moon stylings. Walking into the dark quiet of his show felt like a respite from the storm outside. The church hall was rapt and silent, and for good reason. He played this song using loops for the slide guitar part, and something in the timbre of his voice just breaks me. A friend told me a story of seeing Ryan Adams at SXSW ten years ago and if there’s any justice in the world, I feel like JBM could be an artist we look back on to this year and remember when.

From Me To You And You To Me – JBM

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Guillemots frontman Fyfe Dangerfield was tipped by Mojo Magazine as one of Four To Watch at SXSW (alongside the XX, who I totally failed at seeing despite my best line-waiting efforts) so his 10pm showcase at Lambert’s was quite packed. And for good reason – his new album Fly Yellow Moon has my favorite single of the last forever [SXSW VIDEO], but also is laced through with these heartbreaking piano ballads and tunes like this one that can’t help but make your heart jump on up and cartwheel, if just for a moment:

She Needs Me (Monarchy remix) – Fyfe Dangerfield
(“I am yours, you can do what you like with me…”)

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Frightened Rabbit‘s sweltering daytime set at the Paste party was rife with technical difficulties from the start. Keyboards didn’t work at all, monitors went in and out, and finally the band decided on a minimalistic, stripped-down approach. “But you know,” Scott Hutchison said from the stage, “This the way it should be, isn’t it”? I completely agree. I liked hearing the visceral gut punch of the songs from their new album Winter of Mixed Drinks acoustic, and was only sad I missed a live performance of “The Loneliness and the Scream,” my favorite track on there. But since I was actively trying to avoid crying at the festival this year, perhaps that was for the best.

SXSW VIDEO: Keep Yourself Warm


Chicago songwriter Joe Pug played a day party where people were chatty in the big bar, so he took the refreshing tack of asking the first three rows of us who were sitting down listening closely to join him by the stage. He came in front of the microphone and sang one of the most powerful songs on his new record (“Won’t you bury me far from my uniform, so that God will remember my face?”) with nothing between us to obscure things.

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The final show I saw at SXSW this year was the Electric President set in the wee small hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning, at a little venue on the far side of town. It was their first show in three years, and worth walking to in the cold Saturday night air. Their new album The Violent Blue has been on non-stop repeat around here for months. I was so dead beat from the festival that I remember this show as if through a haze, but I was deeply content to hear their intimate songs recreated live. Ben Cooper’s voice is, as he self-effacingly joked, “that of a twelve year old girl,” despite his brawny man appearance, and their songs simply shimmered in the loose, congenial midnight atmosphere.

A few other show impressions:

–I adored seeing The Damnwells live again and hearing a bunch of fresh material, including an announcement of a new album they are working on recording. Alex Dezen walked into the center of the tipsy midnight Paradise crowd to sing “Golden Days,” and for that song it felt so so right.

Jukebox The Ghost brought pleasingly nerdy piano-based rock to the WXPN dayparty, both classic and charmingly awkward.

The Scissor Sisters were highly hyped and I so wanted to enjoy them but I was not turned on by their set at all. Maybe it’s because I was freeeeezing all Saturday, and by their outdoor set at Stubbs I just wanted a hot tub and a hot toddy and other hot things. It felt stilted and not at all fabulous.

Matt Pond PA‘s Galaxy Room showcase set was one of the hardest things to get into all weekend. I hope that means word of his absolutely marvelous new album is spreading. He is a hardworking artist of the best kind, with literate songs that make all my insides happy. (new tour announced!)

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…And a few final favorite moments of SXSW 2010:

–Eating a fantastic Sunday brunch at Moonshine, which I am still full from, carrying on my favorite tradition started in 2009.

–Admiring the Hall & Oates coloring contest at Home Slice Pizza, and then participating in an “Only At South-By” restaurant singalong of “Hey Jude” in the very best possible way, everyone in full voice, with their whole hearts, sitting at their tables.

–Taking a ride from an elderly Austin native named Howard who drove a VW Rabbit with a handicapped placard. Go go renegade taxi services when you need one!

–Riding home on the airplane seated next to Creed Bratton from The Office and the epic ’60s band The Grass Roots. He’s my new favorite flight companion; we cracked each other up the whole two hours.

I missed seeing Hole at the SPIN party, and Warpaint who everyone raved about, and Local Natives, and the XX, and …and …and … but I did have a momentously marvelous time, drenched in the music. Anyone who doesn’t have a good time at SXSW might have their music-thingie irretrievably broken.

See you next year, Austin.

ALL MY SXSW PICTURES: On the Fuel/Friends Facebook Fan Page

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January 7, 2010

I don’t wanna stop I wanna go, go, go

the apparitions

In 2007, one of my top twenty favorite songs of the whole year was a tune called “Electricity + Drums” from a Kentucky band named The Apparitions. I think a random reader recommendation pointed me over to their website, and within the first second of that song, I was snagged, and couldn’t wait to gushingly tell you all about it. My iTunes player currently advises that I have listened to it 186 times since then, partly because it is on both my favorite running mix, as well as my favorite party mix. Here’s why:

Electricity + Drums – The Apparitions

Right?! It really is a whiz-bang, whirling dervish of fun and handclaps that I’m still enjoying regularly.

The second part of the story (it all connects in wondrous fashion, just watch): On Tuesday night, I trekked through snow and fog to get up into the ski country of Colorado and see These United States. They were the last show I saw in the waning minutes of 2009, and I decided to bookend this year nicely with them being the first of 2010.

I was talking to These United States drummer Robby Cosenza about how joyously he drums, and he mentioned another musical project of his, Fanged Robot. When I googled up some Fanged Robot music yesterday, I was absolutely floored (nearly fell off my couch) to hear Robby doing an acoustic version of “Electricity + Drums” halfway through an old Band in Boston podcast. Turns out, Robby is also the drummer for The Apparitions, and he wrote that very song that I’ve been loving all these 186 unrestrained times. Full circle, pass go, collect $200! These United States guitarist Justin Craig is also in The Apparitions. Oh how I love it when good music all connects so randomly and seamlessly.

This acoustic version doesn’t have the handclaps (except the ones I add), but it makes my ears incredibly happy, as do the rest of the songs on that podcast. The way Robby does it here reminds me of Deer Tick meeting Ryan Adams, and his yowl also does the favor of letting me finally understand more of these superb lyrics that I’ve always just mumbled through, like “this town’s boasting some kind of warning, there’s no glow from the bulbs for the moths to get drawn in, you’re far away but I still hear you callin’…”:

Electricity + Drums – Fanged Robot

Fanged Robot has a show coming up in Lexington, Kentucky on the 22nd of this month.

1285These United States just finished a string of tour dates, and they are currently holed up in Boulder for a few weeks, working pre-production on their fourth studio album.

It will be the follow-up to their scorching, intelligent Everything Touches Everything, from which this barn-burner comes:

I Want You To Keep Everything – These United States


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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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