January 1, 2011

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2010

sound wave

And so, another year marches to a close — another fantastic, adventure-filled, technicolor year. It’s the time when all of us start kicking around our neatly-bulleted lists of bests and worsts. For me, the more I read these lists, the more I feel that I missed more albums and artists than I heard this year.

The stats are staggering: in 2002, about 33,000 albums were released. In 2006 that number was 75,000. Last year close to 100,000 albums were released, with only roughly 800 of those albums selling more than 5K. It’s tough out there — to be heard, and to feel as a listener that you have adequately given a shot to even a fraction of a representative sample of one year’s offerings. I always feel this keening bittersweet regret at the end of each year, as so much more music was released than any one human woman can possibly digest or invest in.

That being said, I had a fairly simple time picking what my personal favorite albums were for 2010, of the ones I heard. I absolutely loved what Carrie Brownstein wrote on her NPR blog about these year-end lists.

She muses: “So I’ll admit that I’m not quite certain how to sum up an entire year in music anymore; not when music has become so temporal, so specific and personal, as if we each have our own weather system and what we listen to is our individual forecast. I’ve written a lot about music bringing people together, fomenting community, and many albums still did act as bonfires in 2010 . . . but many of us are also walking around with a little lighter in hand, singing along to some small glow that’s stuck around long enough to make us feel excited to be alive.”

That is exactly, precisely what I feel. And really, what is any top ten list but an assessment of those songs, those artists, those albums that have hit us square in the solar plexus exactly where we are sitting?

These are the albums that lodged deep and sharp into my red heart and made this year richer, smarter, harder and easier, sharper, sparklier, and all the more brilliant. And some of them seriously made me dance.



(Nonesuch Records)

This is just one of the coolest albums released all year — maybe all decade. And I mean the kind of cool that is quintessential, untouchable, badass, just strutting down a sunny street with-your-own-theme-song type of cool. It blends their trademark swampy, bluesy, fuzzed-out guitars with crisp sharp beats that sliced right through that weight the first time I put this album in, on my roadtrip to Missouri. I think I listened to it on repeat through at least two (long, loooong) states and it was love at first listen from that point on.

Additionally – if there is a sicker breakdown all year than what happens here at 1:02, I don’t wanna know about it.

The Go Getter – The Black Keys


dan mangan

(Arts & Crafts)

This album from the Canadian side of the verdant Pacific Northwest was an unexpected discovery this year, recommended to me by a friend who helps arrange the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (another favorite thing of this year, but hey we’ll get to that). Dan Mangan has made a dense, thoroughly gorgeous album, heavy on the intelligent lyrics, his oaky-warm voice weaving in amongst a whole orchestra of instruments. This album is beautifully arranged and well-crafted, one you can swim deeply in during rainy days all winter long (although I discovered it in August and it sounded just as good in the sticky warmth).

Basket – Dan Mangan

(Amigo/Amiga Records)

Drew Grow and his band The Pastors’ Wives hail from Portland, making music that easily straddles and jumps across genres to create something marvelously rich and endlessly interesting. The sound production throughout feels like an old, warm, crackly album (tip: get it on white vinyl while you can) with something urgent to say. From those fuzzy, sexy, pleadingly plaintive blues jams like “Company” to the aggressive push-and-tug of the rowdy “Bootstraps” and the dulcet golden ’50s croon of songs like “Hook,” this album has pleased me completely. Every song is a favorite.

The opening “Bon Voyage Hymn” sets the tone for this album (if it has one) of a sort of rough-hewn, honest, rock gospel as Drew howls, “Sing a shelter over me / With a mighty chorus, slaves set free.” And by that I mean the oldest spirit of gospel, in community and a shared love of singing, with our heads thrown back and our feet stomping — but while the guitar squalls and the dirty drums crash. At the house show they played for me in November, it was like the best kind of church, a jaw-dropping explosion of goodness.

Company – Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives

N.B.: Drew also has a stunning new acoustic EP.



From the first evening back in early summer when I streamed this Seattle six-piece’s songs on my tinny computer speakers, I was reeled in hook line and sinker. The song sang about something that sounds like a hallelujah, the sheer delight of embracing with all of your heart and both your dancing shoes, and no band this year has given me more of that musical enjoyment – whether in a parking garage very late at night, or in the living room of an old house. Amidst the warmth, the uncanny wisdom, and undeniably catchy musical & rhythmic foundations of this band, there is magic. We will be hearing a good deal more from them in 2011, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Sounds Like Hallelujah – The Head and The Heart


(XL Recording)

This is, simply put, a kinetic album. Jónsi blends his native Icelandic language with forays into English, creating the dizzying effect of running fast through a dream forest, not exactly understanding what is being said and not needing to. He’s made an intricate, joyful album of grandeur that is uplifting and challenging without being overly twee or silly. It is a delicate balance to strike. The paint-spatter of colors on the album cover precisely depict what this explosive album sounds like – purple, yellow, deep red, shot through with sunlight.

This album was completely unlike anything else that I heard this year, and made me simultaneously smile widely and furrow my brow. It’s the most imaginative album I’ve heard all year, perfect at evoking things like riding the back of a jet-black dragon over canyons. Yes, and yes. Please.

Go Do – Jónsi

Addendum: I also just laughed very loudly for a good minute and a half after I just connected the mental dots to the possible inspiration for this album, or at least this song.



(Pytheas Records)

I’ve said before that I think Josh Ritter is one of the most important and talented songwriters of our generation; this album is a stellar example of why. Through these thirteen sprawling songs, Josh demonstrates to me again exactly why I love the way that he sees the world. When I interviewed him this summer, he said he admires those who “see what everybody else has seen, think what nobody else has thought.”

Josh pens incisive, piercing, widely-varying folk songs with the comfortable intelligence of one who is in no hurry, yet is passionate in pursuing his muse and getting his stories out into the world. Highlights here like “The Curse,” “Folk Bloodbath,” “Another New World,” and “Lantern” are jaw-dropping. Josh has a remarkable way of teasing out truths about the world (seen and unseen), and poking into the human conditions in my own heart with a greater acuity than most out there.

Lantern – Josh Ritter

That song also contains one of my favorite lyrics of this entire year: “So throw away those lamentations, we both know them all too well / If there’s a book of jubilations, we’ll have to write it for ourselves / So come and lie beside me darlin’ — let’s write it while we still got time.”


(Fat Possum)

From the first time I heard Lissie’s soulful, immensely evocative voice earlier this year on her song “Everywhere I Go,” I was riveted. Who was this slight, freckled blond gal with the echoes of an entire fifty-member church choir in her lungs? Originally from Rock Island, Illinois, Lissie has harnessed both the brilliance of the sunshine of her new California home on her debut album, as well as all the gnarls of her roots. Bluesy, confident melodies and goosebump-inducing howls are here in scads — this is a notably substantial first album from a woman to be reckoned with.

Record Collector – Lissie



(Attitude Records)

“We could start tonight, slide back the deadbolts…” Matt Pond suggests at the beginning of this autumnal album with rich hues that gave me endless listening pleasure this year. I was glad I took him up on the invite. I’d admired the work of the Brooklyn songwriter in spurts and starts over the past few years, but this is the first album of his that I have really immersed myself into his uniquely lovely, thrumming view of the world.

There is a sort of expansive, wide-eyed glow in this album that seems to invite transcendent things to happen. From the specks of silver he sings about in the evening sky and the illumination all around us, I love the way things look like an adventure when I am listening. “First hips, then knees, then feet – don’t think anymore,” he sings. Good idea, Matt.

Starting – Matt Pond PA


(4AD Records)

This is a decimating, gorgeous, elegant album, much like Boxer was but with additional hints of weirdness and unsettled edges that I like. I was ridiculously excited about this album (in a sort of masochistic way, since I know full well what The National are capable of), devouring every word I could read about it before it came out. The single best definition I heard came from Matt Berninger himself when he said they wanted it to sound “like loose wool and hot tar.” In that regard, they completely succeed – their music is dark, burning, sticking to your skin and all your insides.

This is an incredible album full of terse, razor-sharp observations on the worries that wait in the shadows for me and gnaw when they get a chance: I think the kids are in trouble… you’ll never believe the shitty thoughts I think… I was less than amazing… I tell you terrible things when you’re asleep. But I won’t lie when I say I found some of the strongest redemption of my year in this music as well, with the closing track “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” — singing along with lines “all the very best of us string ourselves up for love / man it’s all been forgiven, swans are a-swimmin…” The honesty of the darkness shot through with these glints is what keeps drawing me back to these guys, fiercely.

Conversation 16 – The National


(Dead Oceans)

Kristian Mattson slays me – there are no two ways about it. When he sings on this album, “I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone,” it is almost comical because nothing really seems further from the truth. Mattson’s songs have the kind of heft and intricacy that make me certain his music will be around for a very long time after him. His guitarwork is sparkling, impassioned, and inspired. The words he selects and the way he delivers them are pointed and deliberate. I can’t tell if his lyrics are so sharp in spite of the fact that English is not his first language, or because of it – as if perhaps he can see more clearly through our muddy sea of language to pick out the iridescent rocks from the river.

Also: it’s worth noting that his EP released this year was equally good – serious brilliant work.

King of Spain – The Tallest Man On Earth


cataldo - signal flareCATALDO – SIGNAL FLARE
(self-released, 2008)

I cannot stop listening to Eric Anderson, as evidenced by the fact that I have put him on just about every mix I made in 2010, and listen to this album most days lately on my walk to work. After a chance encounter with his music on a college radio show of a friend, I’ve been smitten by his earnest, unvarnished, incredibly catchy way of looking at the world that simultaneously makes me smile and breaks my heart. You know me. I like that.

He’s got a new album “Prison Boxing” coming out in 2011, according to Facebook. I plan to be substantially more on top of that one.

Signal Flare – Cataldo

Burning Stars – Mimicking Birds [link]
Tell ‘Em – Sleigh Bells [link]
Safe and Sound – Electric President [link]
Six O’Clock News (Kathleen Edwards cover) – Paul Jacobsen [link]
If A Song Could Get Me You – Marit Larsen [link]
Second Mind (live at the SF Independent) – Adam H. Stephens [link]
Fuck You – Cee Lo Green [link]
Carry Us Over – Kelli Schaefer [link]
Baby Lee – Teenage Fanclub [link]

Bringing Jeff Buckley’s music to a new life through Shakespeare [link]
Talking to my Italian musical hero on the Santa Monica Pier [link]

My forays into presenting house shows:
Drew Grow and The Pastors’ Wives with Kelli Schaefer (Nov 4, 2010)
The Head and The Heart (Nov 9, 2010)

Andy Clockwise at SXSW (March 2010)

Joe Pug house show (February 28, 2010)

Tallest Man On Earth (May 19, 2010)

Megafaun and their in-the-crowd rendition of “Worried Mind” (April 12, 2010)

Telluride Bluegrass Festival, holy mackerel.

This one.


I started 2010 with a Polar Bear Plunge and a vow that this year was gonna be ours, a year of intentionally acquiring adventures and memories that would make me smile when I was old and withered.

I think we did it, and these were the things that soundtracked it all.

[Sound Wave” sculpture at top by Jean Shin]

August 12, 2010

i’m not yours, i am mine


On Friday afternoon, I got my advance of the forthcoming Lissie album Catching a Tiger (out 8/17 on Fat Possum) and so far I haven’t been able to stop listening to it, happily. I was out on a mini-roadtrip vacation around Colorado these last few days and had it on repeat through mountain towns and downtowns.

Lissie wowed me at SXSW, and knocked me out with the spacious beauty of the Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses) produced “Everywhere I Go.” Several of the best of those songs from last year’s Why You Runnin’ EP show up on the new full-length, sounding better than ever. It’s rich and varied and fun, but with that voice that still holds so much power and earthy emotion. This is an excellent debut, showing intuitive development in her Heartland-meets-California sound.

STREAM: Stranger – Lissie

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I’ve listened to this song the most off her new album so far – an immediate favorite. It starts with layers of modern sonic echo, then chimes into a ’60s girl-group reminiscent song that skitters happily with some feminine empowerment. Lissie lectures a man who is a) taken and b) too pushy and c) not good for her: “I covered up my bruises and gave away my sins, so what makes you think that I would let you in? / Excuse me – I’m not yours, I am mine. I am mine.”


She’s on tour all throughout Europe during these late summer months, and on through the fall. She is completely captivating live, with a voice and an honesty that demands you listen. Go on ahead and pre-order the new album from Fat Possum.

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July 1, 2010

Summer Plunge 2010 with Fuel/Friends

fuel-friends summer 2010

This year marks the most fun I’ve had yet putting together twenty songs to soundtrack your summer. The mix came together organically and joyfully while I did summery things, and the contentment I feel lately in these weeks is embedded in the picks. I declared on January 1 (when I did the Polar Bear Plunge) that 2010 was going to be a flippin’ fantastic year, full of new experiences — and it certainly is living up to the promise.

Enjoy these as I have, play them at the BBQs to come, and burn them on CD for your next trip to the beach. Bring enough firewood; don’t forget the sunscreen and the fuzzy blankets. Summer is here.


Bullet – Scarlett Johansson & Steel Train
I adore the two drastically different versions of this song so much that I am declaring them the anthems of my summer, and bookending this year’s mix with them. Starting this mix with ScarJo? Yeah, I’m as shocked as you are. This is actually a cover of the original (see track 19) from an album of all-female covers (Tegan & Sara, Amanda Palmer). When Scarlett croons over that immense, filthy-crunchy beat that she fell in love on the back seat of your car, can you blame her?

Bang Pop – Free Energy
Another song I want to listen to all summer: 100% pure bottled fun from these Philadelphia chaps — like Mentos in a bottle of Coke.

The Diamond Church Street Choir – The Gaslight Anthem
Snapping on the street corner because it’s too hot to go inside? A song that’s all at once immediate and urgent, as well as timeless, from these Jersey boys’ third album. “While I’m just waiting on the light to change / and the steam heat pours from the bodies on the floor.”

Heard It On The Radio – The Bird and The Bee
The lone original on an album of shiny Hall & Oates covers, it’s the standout tune for me, since I could never abide Hall & Oates anything. It perfectly encapsulates those summer crushes soundtracked to that one song on the radio all through August.

Heart To Tell – The Love Language
This North Carolina band (on Merge Records, one of my favorites) has a poppy, effusive, beat-driven sound that fits perfectly in these months. They kind of reminded me of Voxtrot, before Voxtrot stopped trotting.

Kiola Beach – HOT SPA
I know nothing about this band except they made a wonderful video with this song and old home movie footage of beach trips and vintage surfing. That’s enough for me to have a permanently fabulous vision in my mind for this song. They’re Australian, unsigned, and I read about them here.

The Drying Of The Lawns – The Tallest Man On Earth
On last year’s summer mix, Kristian Matsson sang to us about bluebirds flying away, and this year it’s the drying of summer lawns, and waves, rivers, and mirages. I’ve spent the interim twelve months falling completely in love with him, because of songs like this.

Fairweather – Houses
The cover art picture above was taken by my friend Kinsey, the luminous woman in the Denver band Houses. As I was clicking through a few of her quintessentially-summer pictures online, showing a bunch of folks up at Echo Lake lounging on huge boulders in the sun, this song of theirs (from their Summer EP last year) came on randomly. And it was perfect: let’s leave this town behind, let’s go for a drive.

Lost In My Mind – The Head and The Heart
What’s summer if not a little time out of mind? This song shimmers and grows slowly, to the crescendo where the bass drum starts softly thumping, and it sings about the stars all coming out at night. It’s almost like that Fanfarlo track I loved last year, that helped me actually see the way the sky illuminates at twilight, one tiny pinprick of light at a time. I’ve been massively loving The Head and The Heart since I posted that song last week (their full-length album is just out this week). They also remind me delightfully of the Local Natives, if you love them as I do.

I Will Be The Sun – Old Canes

Windchimes and hard-driving clattery percussion that you can dance around to, and this one sails right into the summer mix. The whole Feral Harmonic album sounds this joyous, and I love it. Great for roadtrips and gratuitous steering-wheel drumming.

Black and Milds – Cataldo
My criteria for summer is often a rubric of what songs might sound good sung around a bonfire, if I had exceptionally talented friends who played the banjo as well as they drank. We’ve also got plenty of handclaps here, in this song about missing someone (which surely we all do on occasion, even in the summer). Thanks Katie!

Hard Sun – Indio
The original version of the sweeping epic song from Canadian Gordon Peterson in 1989. Featuring Joni Mitchell on background vocals and an assortment of exotic African-sounding instruments, it just feels radiant.

Flaming Arrow – Jupiter One
NYC’s Jupiter One is a duo with folksy roots and Seventies AM radio leanings. This song is all lemondrops and summer street strolls, over lyrics about burning buildings. What an odd, totally successful juxtaposition.

Unattainable – Little Joy
Man, this entire album is the perfect summer accompaniment — that slightly kitschy, clattery sound from Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti and vocalist Binki Shapiro, along with Brazilian musician Rodrigo Amarante. I had a hard time picking just one track off this album for the mix.

Mirando – Ratatat
The video for this Brooklyn duo’s 2008 song consist of clips from Predator in reverse, so this song feels a bit like humid jungle warfare to me, in some exotic land. But, you know — humid jungle warfare you can dance to.

In The Summertime (acoustic) – Rural Alberta Advantage
I discovered this in the cold of November, and have been waiting for the sun to come and warm things up enough to enjoy it the way I think it was meant to be heard. A bittersweet, piercing, perfect little song, recorded off-the-cuff backstage at the Bottom Of The Hill in San Francisco.

Sunny Sunday Mill Valley Groove Day – The Sir Douglas Quintet
My friend Nick from London said I had to put this on the mix, and when he recommends, I listen. I’d never heard this before but it feels like something captured on a warm afternoon in the studio when the recorder was accidentally kept running. “When there’s nothing left to say, and all the clouds have faded away / And my mind wanders out there across the bay…”

Saturday Night (Pinkhearts session) – Ryan Adams
My friend Brian from San Francisco said I had to put this on the mix, and when he recommends, I listen. There’s something in the aimlessness and lazy midnight humidity of this song that sounds like a perfect summer night when you were a teenager. Also, the saxophone makes it sound for all the world like a cast-off demo from the Rolling Stones.

Bullet – Steel Train
Indie kids doing their best, brilliant shot at Springsteen. As soon as I burn this mix onto a CD, I am hitting the road with the windows open because holy heck how good will this song sound on a summer night with the car windows down?? It’s so good that I had to use this song twice on the mix. My new favorite summer song of 2010. [huge thanks to Brian in Portland!!]

Pursuit of Happiness (Kid CuDi cover) – Lissie
Finally, this one – I love Lissie, and I love how she had to take a shot of tequila before she covers hip-hop artist Kid CuDi’s collaboration with MGMT and Ratatat: “2am, summer night / Hands on the wheel — uh, uh, fuck that….” Ending on a perfect, if dangerous, note.


Go forth and enjoy.

[cover image by Kinsey Hamilton, design by Todd Roeth]

March 24, 2010

The warm musical embrace of SXSW 2010

SXSW 2010 Day 2 149

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:

SXSW 2010 Day 3 007

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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February 18, 2010

you taught me the fire, i taught you the hunger

andy clockwise - remember love

This song reminded me a bit of the elegy found in a Leonard Cohen song, the hymn-like structure, the ancient weariness in the words. Listen in a darkened room with caution.

We started out, we were much younger
you taught me the fire, and i taught you the hunger
i remember love ,but love don’t remember me

…i’ll wait at the bar rooms, and you’ll wait at the station
and we’ll dream of each other, in our old situation…

The Casanova (I Remember Love) – Andy Clockwise (video)

I love that second line; after all, don’t we all want something to sparkle brilliantly as it combusts against the night sky? A supernova of fire and hunger.

Andy Clockwise is an Australian living in LA, and I first ripped a version of this song many months ago after falling in love with it during a live performance on NPR’s All Things Considered. It’s out now in proper form on the Australian version of his EP Are You Well?, with the marvelous addition of a harmonica bridge that’ll simply break your heart.

For two weeks only, you can download the EP for free on his website, including a fuzzy Beck-reminiscent tune called “Love and War,” his cover of Bjork’s “Hyperballad,” and a duet with Lissie, that gal I fell in love with recently.

This is a musician that has been vigorously championed to me for many months by my friend Garrett who lives out there in the California sunshine, and swears by the Clockwise live show experience. Lucky for me, Andy’s playing SXSW on Friday, March 19th at midnight at The Parish, and I’ll be pleased to be there.

January 25, 2010

Angels will fall on me and take me to my home


This song is spare and haunting, a massive voice in an empty room, and I have been listening to it on endless repeat lately. Folks have been urging me for months now to listen to Lissie, the girl from Rock Island, Illinois with a voice much more soulful and evocative than belied by her slight presence. A good pal put her song “Little Lovin’” on his very best of 2009 compilation mix, and I knew she was in town to open for Ray LaMontagne but I missed her. So after peripheral glances of her might for months now, I’m glad I finally took some more time to listen.

crop_290This song reminds me of a combination of Mazzy Star and the echoey space in the Serena Ryder cover of “Funeral.” Listen for the three-minute mark to really get your socks knocked off.

Everywhere I Go – Lissie

Man, what a voice.

Lissie’s debut EP Why You Runnin is out now on Oxford, Mississippi’s Fat Possum Records. You should probably also check out her Daytrotter Session.

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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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