October 30, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #27: Dawes

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At the Meadowgrass Music Festival in Colorado’s Black Forest in May, right before the fires ravaged the surrounding area but left the festival grounds untouched, we brought three of the members of Dawes into the small historic chapel where we recorded The Barr Brothers last year (and Desirae Garcia also this year).

There is a blissfully-simple openness to this chapel session — it’s just the three guys, one guitar, and a whole hell of a lot of unjaded harmonies in that echoey room with charming folk-art paintings on the adobe walls.

All of the Dawes songs I have been drawn to the most over the years are the ones with a vulnerable, wide-open heart on display, and harmonies to match. There is something in that sound that resonates with this (vulnerable, wide-open) heart, and today is a perfect time for me to post this. Sometimes opening yourself up to being vulnerable sucks, but Dawes makes it sound so damn alluring.

This sort of golden, expansive, late Sixties Laurel Canyon sound is how I love Dawes best, and I was thrilled to get to sit there while this happened and now to share it with you. I was interested to read of the band’s connections with both Jackson Browne and Elvis Costello on this record (?!) and the resulting songs wouldn’t sound out of place alongside either of those guys’ output.

This little session is one for the windows down in the hills.


FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION: DAWES
May 25, 2013 – Meadowgrass Music Festival
La Foret Campgrounds / Taylor Memorial Adobe Chapel

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Side Effects
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that you probably should not ever listen to this while sitting in your darkened living room alone with a glass of something amber. All the ghosts, all the other paths you took instead, all the aches — they will accost you. And, of course, this might be alright. But be warned that this is the best kind of sweet and plaintive and sad killer.




Someone Will
Those harmonies. I mean, COME ON.




Hey Lover (Blake Mills)
With a chorus that will stick in your head for weeks, this song also has charming lyrics like “I wanna raise with you and watch our younglings hatch / fuckin’ make the first letters of their first names match.” As our sound guy Conor told me later regarding that line: “A well placed fuckin’ is such a treat.” I agree.

Blake Mills used to be in the forerunner band to Dawes with Taylor Goldsmith (a band called Simon Dawes), so this is a charming choice of hybrid-cover.



ZIP: DAWES CHAPEL SESSION

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[video and photos by Kevin Ihle, as always, and the superb audio work from the Bourgal brothers at Blank Tape Records]

October 24, 2013

new house concert: Edmund Wayne w/ Covenhoven (Dec 15)

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The first time I heard Edmund Wayne, I was driving across Central California in the summertime.

I remember it was one of those long two-lane highways where the center line flicking its yellow bursts can be mesmerizing, and the rows and symmetrical rows of crops and orchards open up off into the distance on either side of you, so far you can’t see the end of each row, and then you pass it and it’s gone.

This is similarly mesmerizing music that weaves and curls around your ears when you listen, in a very hypnotic, elastic way. Frontman Curt Krause has quite the range on him, and I can’t wait to hear him sing with that voice bouncing off my wood floors on Sunday, December 15. We’re planning ahead, but mark your calendars — the band is touring through some of these Western United States, braving the snows of December, and I look forward to giving them a warm welcome all the way from Seattle.

To The Bugs On My Ceiling (with River Giant) – Edmund Wayne
(from the Fuel/Friends Springtime mix 2013)


Denver’s much buzzed-about Covenhoven will open the show. Joel Van Horne (previously of Denver’s Carbon Choir) recorded and named this record after his family’s cabin in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. There is a kind of spare and haunting melodic power in his songs that has garnered him comparisons to Blind Pilot and Gregory Alan Isakov, not bad company to be in.

My Search Party – Covenhoven
(from the Fuel/Friends Autumn mix 2013)

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The show is Sunday evening, December 15. Let’s all warm up together, there will be a fire in the fireplace, and maybe let’s have some hot toddys. I’m predicting magic.

October 13, 2013

Sunday night Counting Crows bootleg listening

setlists with Adam Duritz

In honor of a completely amazing evening that I spent yesterday with Adam Duritz (pictured partially above, and no — I haven’t stopped smiling yet), I went back tonight and re-uploaded one of my favorite live recordings ever of Counting Crows.

In August of 1993, they played the new AAA Records & Radio Convention at Boulder’s Fox Theatre. I talked to Adam about it last night and he remembers that show fondly. You can read my story about this show and download the soundboard recording by following the link below, but know I wore this cassette tape out then, and in listening to it again tonight it still holds all that magic in it for me.

shows_ive_seenDOWNLOAD: COUNTING CROWS IN BOULDER, AUGUST 1993 (soundboard)



Oh! And if you happen to be in NYC this week for CMJ, check out Adam’s three-day, free Outlaw Roadshow, in conjunction with my friend Ryan over at Ryan’s Smashing Life blog! I would go if I could.

October 11, 2013

(amen.) – the Fuel/Friends Autumn Mix 2013

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The “amen” title of this year’s seasonal autumn mix is not a reverential reference to the mix itself, but a word that rose up on its own in two different songs, unplanned as I made the playlist. In the same way that 2011′s (super sad; sorry about that, guys) mix congealed into its own theme of rivers, bones, empty beds, and gospel backing vocals, this year’s mix took on a theme of richly robust strings and the word “amen” popping up all over.

First, there is the amen at the end of Volcano Choir’s “Alaskans” — a sampling of Charles Bukowski reading his poem The Shower, and struggling over the final lines, ending with “amen.” Then a few songs later, Tyler Lyle wends his way to another kind of amen — a blessing of sorts, as he sings about youth and aging and wanting to live forever.

Of all the words I could have lifted out of a song to name this mix, that one word “amen” seems to fit the most. Fall always feels like a bit of a benediction to me; a closing thank you and fiery brilliant last gasp to what the summer was, a preparing for the thick silence and the warm wool blankets of winter.


(amen.) – The Fuel/Friends Autumn Mix 2013

While You’re Carrying The Weight – Patrick Dethlefs
Patrick is one of Colorado’s best gems, and this song is the title track off his new EP. There is a weighty, elegant compassion radiating through it, and it makes me somehow grateful – and breathless.

The Shining – Badly Drawn Boy
While the amens were accidental, when I started listening for this mix to coalesce, I wanted all of the songs with the strings, and that bluish-purple shine that could look like either gathering twilight or a healing bruise.

Alaskans – Volcano Choir
This album, all of it: flawless soundtrack of this season. I picked this track narrowly over “Byegone,” but it was suuuuper close. Ultimately it was the heartbreaking Bukowski sample that did it for me, because: CHRIST.

Amsterdam – Gregory Alan Isakov
Perhaps it is because Colorado totally wins autumn-time, what with all our yellow aspens and such, but this mix this year is especially dense with Colorado songwriters. Greg is obviously one of our finest; everything he makes, for me, is redolent of this season. From his stunning new “rambler’s folky manifesto” album, The Weatherman.

Barside – PHOX
All the time, still cannot get enough of Monica’s honeyed voice. Their chapel session is in the pipeline, and I can’t wait to have more music from them to listen to. This song feels like falling asleep sitting up.

Small Plane (NPR garden version) – Bill Callahan
There is a simple, stark straightforwardness in this song from Bill’s new album Dream River, a view of relationships with others that I find real and appealing. “I always went wrong in the same place / where the river splits towards the sea,” he confides, but then the lyrics delve into a mutual wresting of control from each other. All those different paths our lives could follow; “I really am a lucky man.”

My Search Party – Covenhoven
Joel Van Horne of Colorado named his new musical project after his family cabin, Covenhoven, in rural Wyoming, and created an independent symphony of a record around the concept of that place for him. This song stopped me in everything I was doing when I first heard it. I still draw in my breath sharply and hold it for the whole first verse.

Salt Year – Chris Bathgate
I’m just choking on a salt year, when sugar’s all I’ve longed for. I should live in salt for leaving you behind. Mixed metaphors, same ideas, terrific song.

Silent Passage – Bob Carpenter
This is a song from the early Seventies that I’d never heard until recently, and I think I hear Emmylou Harris on backing vocals? Golden sun, long roads, and a restless spirit, this song.

Young Men (demo) – Tyler Lyle
For my money, this young man is writing some of the very very best songs right now: wry and clever and believing and wide open, all at once. We just want to live forever, we are sorry we will never, amen.

Come On, Illinois – Houndmouth
A calescent, fast-rising band from Kentucky that makes me want to watch Last Waltz a few more times. I saw these guys in Boulder this summer and, man, for some fresh-faced kids, they can joyfully wail with the best of ‘em.

Rules Of The Game (b-side) – Typhoon
I still want to wrestle out what the new Typhoon record means to me (hint: a lot), and how seeing them live recently was one of the most jaw-dropping shows I have seen in years. But for now — we will sit quietly and soak in the loveliness of this song which could totally be an a-side but is a b-side because Typhoon has more talent than they know what to do with. This song fits seamlessly in to White Lighter, even repeating melodies and certain turns of phrase.

The Drugs Don’t Work – The Verve
This classic came on shuffle recently and those STRINGS. I have it on repeat so many days lately. I will always love the lyric, “and I hope you’re thinking of me / as you lay down on your side.” So …simple. A heartbreaker, this song.

The Orchids (Psychic TV cover) – Califone
I saw Califone the other night in a little coffee shop near the railroad tracks in Colorado Springs. I had never heard much of their music before, just knowing them by reputation mostly. I sat there with an awed half-smile on my face the whole time, hand touched to my lips, an unsettled and deeply-pleased feeling on me all at once, in the best possible way.

Mine – Spirits of the Red City
Spirits of the Red City has been haunting me pleasantly for a few months now. Originally a loose collective from Minneapolis, but now sort of related to Denver by blood (since Denver’s Collectible Records just released their new record Jula), we welcome them.

Dying Now – Noah & Abby Gundersen
One of the finest, truest duos together, this brother and sister detonate the emotional heavy artillery, but make it so smooth that you almost don’t notice until you look down and a chunk is missing.

To Place Me On A Stone – Will Johnson
Kinda in a Will Johnson phase these days, fittingly, obviously. Solo vocal evening worksong; closing hymn for the summer having its way with us.

Ghost, Again – Rayland Baxter
My friend Jon recommended I listen to this artist, and whoaa I am so glad I did. Close your eyes for this one, and just let it pierce through. “I nearly made it to the end of the road.”

3 Rounds and a Sound (iTunes session) – Blind Pilot
I recently reminded myself how this is a perfect album, and this is an exquisite version of a perfect song. “I hope we dance tonight before we get it wrong / and the seasons will change us new, but you’re the best I’ve known, and you know me.”

Can I Sleep In Your Arms Tonight (Willie Nelson) – Phosphorescent
I’ve been laced-in with fast, tight stitches in a Phosphorescent cocoon lately.
This song is on here rather than the completely, abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous version of “Wolves” from St. Pancras Church that is coming out on the bonus live disc for Muchacho (Oct 29) for two reasons. One, all of us can agree that autumn is the best time to start up that snuggly sleeping-in-someone’s-arms business, aside from the sticky summer heat. Two, I am so not able to write about Wolves right now. So many thoughts. Preorder that bonus disc and we will talk later.

In the meantime, snuggle with Matthew Houck and Willie under that quilt. It feels good.

ZIP: AMEN :: THE FUEL/FRIENDS AUTUMN MIX 2013



[cover art design, as usual, by the tremendous Ryan Hollingsworth, from my picture last weekend at Mueller State Park, aspen-gazing.]

October 9, 2013

covering themselves: Joe Pug & Vandaveer (premiere!)

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In addition to looking goddamn beautiful whilst standing in pastoral settings, my friends Joe Pug and Vandaveer also make some fine music — and when they switch songs it gets even more delightful.

For their Fall 2013 tour together that JUST STARTED, they have each picked a song of the others’ to record for a split single. I am pleased to be able to premiere these songs for you all, to entice you further into their winsome grandeur.

STREAM (since Yahoo broke my embedded player)

DOWNLOAD
Waking Hour (Vandaveer) – Joe Pug

Call It What You Will (Joe Pug) – Vandaveer



The original Vandaveer song that Joe picked is from their wonderful 2011 record Dig Down Deep, one of my favorites of 2011. The Joe song turned lush by Vandaveer comes from his original debut EP, 2008′s Nation of Heat.

I’ve had the privilege of having both of these artists in my chapel sessions and house shows, and I just came across an old interview I did with Joe Pug what feels like 1,000 years ago. It remains one of my favorite interviews I’ve done, because Joe’s brain is amazing.

See: We promised too much and we gave it too soon: The Joe Pug Interview (7/10/09).


Then go out to one of these shows, and hug them all for me:

JOE PUG FALL TOUR 2013

Oct 8 Albuquerque, NM–Low Spirits *
Oct 9 Phoenix, AZ–The Rhythm Room *
Oct 10 San Diego, CA–The Soda Bar *
Oct 11 Los Angeles, CA–The Satellite *
Oct 12 San Francisco, CA–Cafe DuNord *
Oct 13 Felton, CA–Don Quixote’s *
Oct 14 Sacramento, CA–Harlow’s *
Oct 16 Eugene, OR–Sam Bond’s Garage *
Oct 17 Portland, OR–The Doug Fir *
Oct 18 Vancouver, BC–Electric Owl *
Oct 19 Seattle, WA–The Crocodile *
Oct 20 Bellingham, WA–The Green Frog *
Oct 21 Moscow, ID–Mikey’s *
Oct 22 Boise, ID–Neurolux *
Oct 23 Salt Lake City, UT–The State Room *
Oct 25 Denver, CO–The Larimer Lounge *
Oct 26 Kansas City, MO–The Record Bar *
Nov 5 Milwaukee, WI–Linneman’s
Nov 6 Iowa City, IA–Gabe’s #
Nov 7 Minneapolis, MN–7th Street Entry #
Nov 8 Chicago, IL–Lincoln Hall #
Nov 9 Indianapolis, IN–Do317 Lounge #
Nov 10 Akron, OH–Musica #
Nov 11 Newport, KY–Southgate House #
Nov 12 Columbus, OH–Rumba Cafe #
Nov 13 Nashville, TN–The Stone Fox #
Nov 14 Louisville, KY–Zanzabar #
Nov 15 Champaign, IL #
Nov 16 St. Louis, MO–The Firebird #
Nov 18 Fayetteville, AR–George’s Majestic #
Nov 20 Tulsa, OK–The Vanguard #
Nov 21 Norman, OK–Opolis #
Nov 22 Houston, TX–Fitzgerald’s #
Nov 23 Austin, TX–The Parish #

* With Vandaveer
# With Sera Cahoone


[top photo taken by Todd Roeth — I believe in the orchard outside my house! Second photo I bet by Sarah Law, though I have no confirmation of this. I have damn talented friends all around.]

October 7, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #26: Will Johnson (of Centro-matic)

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“Life is wide,” Will Johnson told me, long past midnight at my kitchen table on a work night, a row of empty bottles between us. His eyes flash brightly as he listens to my stories, and I to his. My heart was ground-up meat the night he was in town, and even though my stories had nothing to do with anyone he knew, he elbowed his way into some truths with me as protectively as if he’d known me for years. And indeed, I felt as if he had.

This chapel session similarly feels summoned from some sort of ether that I completely understand, although the songs and the stories are all his. There’s a shining acuity, and this puncture-wound freshness in lyrics like, “and you were laughing that transparent laugh of one with a real broke-ass heart.” Will writes amazing, desolate songs with so much space and thought in them. They are the kinds of torn and weary homilies that I love from folks like Townes Van Zandt. His voice echoes off all the walls in the church and sinks straight into the cracks in me.

If you haven’t met Will yet, he fronts the bands Centro-matic and South San Gabriel, and also has been part of some rad collaboration projects that I love: Monsters of Folk (with Conor Oberst, Jim James, and M. Ward), the smoky duet record he did with Jason Molina, and that Woody Guthrie New Multitudes record with Jay Farrar, Jim James, and Anders Parker last year. He is a gem, among the best. And he is on the road down the West Coast next week with Dave Bazan, in their new musical project together, Overseas.


“Life is wide.”

I wrote that on the inside of a discarded bottle cap the next day as I cleaned up. If it’s long in duration, it’s wide in possibility, in unexpected connection.

That bottle cap is sitting on my bookshelf, as a reminder.


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FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #26: WILL JOHNSON
April 24, 2013 – Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs

You Will Be Here, Mine
This is the best version of this song I have ever heard.

There’s no way to say this without sounding maudlin, but here it is: this song makes me reflexively get a lump in my throat, as sure as a rubber mallet on the kneecap makes you kick. There is something in that stairstep progression of melody at the end of each line that just flat-out breaks my heart on this extremely primal level of sadness that is different from a rational cognitive sadness.

I’ve been kind of knocked flat by the brilliantly unresolved quality of this song, off his latest album Scorpion, since I first heard it.




Little Raider
I don’t know who the protagonist of this story is, but after hearing all the layers that Will describes seeing about who she is, I absolutely feel I know her, broke-ass heart and all.




I, The Kite
This is the best version of this song I have ever heard.

I requested that he play this old one, which was written about Will’s divorce and soundtracked mine, pulverizing me the first time I heard it in 2008. If we’re on the subject of best-worsts, I think the line about “and we tried innocence and we tried formaldehyde / in the end, you were left with the strings and I, the kite” is probably one of the most bitingly flawless collection of words to ever sung describe the end of a relationship. But there’s also something I can’t quite articulate in how purely and clearly-resonant he sings those words out into the room.




Going Back Song (Baptist Generals)
So this song first baffled me, because it seems really simple. When Will first launched into this cover by these Denton, TX/Sub Pop Records friends of his, it kinda sounded like a grocery list, a forgetful Post-it note to oneself: has anybody seen my bag?

But then you realize that it is a song about leaving.

It’s a song about the sidelong glance and the slow shuffle along the wall, towards the door. It is completely soaked in regret, about no longer being clean, about being cross but wanting someone you love to know that they are not the reason why.

You’ve had a bag packed all the time, waiting.

ZIP FILE: WILL JOHNSON CHAPEL SESSION



[more pics from the session are on the Fuel/Friends Facebook page, all taken by Kevin Ihle. Audio magic, as always, by the fellas at Blank Tape Records.]

Next chapel session: DAWES.

September 20, 2013

another uninnocent elegant fall :: The National at Red Rocks (9/17/13)

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There is a skittish, soft part of me that was scared to go see The National under an almost-full moon at Red Rocks on Tuesday night.

One of my most charming relational characteristics (#sarcasm) is the way I sometimes slither-sidestep away like a silvery fish from things that are too emotionally intense. Oh, sometimes I dive in; lots of times I dive right in. But when it really, truly disarms me and strikes at my heart in a way I can’t defend against, I will go away and need to be coaxed to come back. I love The National — love them probably more than any other band right now, and have for the last seven years. They soundtracked my brutally bloody / tragically doomed / completely beautiful first relationship after my divorce, and have been insidiously inside my head like a brain tapeworm ever since, needling and gnawing at nerves and receptors.

So I was scared to see them Tuesday for these reasons. I wanted to be there, so much, and I knew it was gonna destroy me. I spent much of the concert in my own untouchable zone. The huge gusts of fresh last-days-of-indian-summer wind kept lifting my hair up off my neck, and drying the relentless water that just kept streaming down from my eyes. I alternated between floating mental-miles away and being breathlessly enmeshed. Feeling their songs pound through me as that massive LED light screen flashed images behind them was a phenomenal interpretive experience, as if my thoughts and Matt Berninger’s thoughts and all the dark dreams that populate our subconscious were flashing up there for all to see. I kept tilting my head up to look at that bold moon rising over the red rocks with a shining corona around it for the first hour of its ascent.

My friend (and talented photographer) Brittney Bollay saw them play last night in Seattle, and she expressed how I feel, exactly:

“It’s like [Matt] crawls inside my head and my chest and finds all my thoughts and feelings. When I see him perform it’s like I inhabit him and he inhabits me, just for a little while. It’s this feeling of partial displacement and symbiosis. I’ve never had that experience with any other band.”

Take that video above of “About Today”: something as simple as the juxtaposition of the song (words/melody/drums like a heartbeat keeping you awake) along with the visuals of starkly bare tree branches in winter plus the thickly-billowing black smoke, and then the blue note saturated darkness when he whispers the lines, “Hey, are you awake…” and the ridiculous crescendo crash of the song careening away — that’s it. I’m done for.

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I got to meet Matt and the rest of The National deep in the veins of Red Rocks after the show, and it was an out-of-body experience for the reasons that Brittney explains. I didn’t figure out what I really wanted to say to Matt until the next day driving home (which is regretful because, you know …he wasn’t there then), but in addition to the conversation we actually had, I wanted to tell him this:

One time an author friend and I were talking, and he told me that the first time he picked up an Anne Tyler novel, he knew he wanted to be an author. Calling it “a straightforward chemical connection,” he explained to me that: “I think we have sockets in our backs, really complicated, like, thirty-five pin sockets, and sometimes something or somebody plugs right in and there’s no real explanation. Or rather, there is, but it would be memoir-length.”

I think about 35-pin sockets ALL the time because of this conversation, as it pertains to human relationships, my connections to art, music, foreign cities — everything around me (as some of my favorite friends can attest to). What I wanted to try to explain to Matt was that The National fits all 35 of my pins, and plugs right in.

They fit the pin that loves a carefully-crafted sentence which achingly frames words perfectly around that fleeting feeling that is gone before you even really notice that it’s fully there.

They fit the pin that loves a bit of dissonance in my pleasure, whether melodic or existential.

And the pin that wants to blissfully numb out my voraciously-moving brain with narcotic percussion.

Also the pin that (as I wrote about in my review of Trouble Will Find Me) likes to prod at that simultaneous engagement with the sentimental and the fatalistic, things that we traditionally think of as being at odds with each other.

It’s kind of terrifying to love any musician as much as I find myself still loving this band. I am so grateful for that, for the fear and the 35 pins.

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THE NATIONAL – RED ROCKS SETLIST
09.17.2013

I Should Live in Salt
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Demons
Sea of Love
Heavenfaced
Afraid of Everyone
Conversation 16
Squalor Victoria
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Apartment Story
Abel (!!!)
Lucky You
(gahhhh, seriously?)
Slow Show
Pink Rabbits
Graceless
England
About Today
Fake Empire

Encore:
Humiliation
Mr. November
Terrible Love
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
*

(*that final encore was still as affecting as when I saw them do it in 2010; the mark of an incredible song)

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ALL MY PICS FROM TUESDAY ARE OVER AT THE FUEL/FRIENDS FACEBOOK, including those ones with openers Frightened Rabbit and The Local Natives. Photo credit for the last picture above goes to Instagrammer @renae9502.

September 12, 2013

the only time Kid Rock and i will ever agree on anything

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Tonight I am putting on our first show in the restored Ivywild School gym, the urban renewal brewery project in downtown Colorado Springs. Today dawned grey and rainy, and tonight will be perfect to curl up with a pint of Bristol’s seasonal Oktoberfest brew and listen to some stories and music.

Davy Rothbart is headlining – the founder of FOUND Magazine and contributor to This American Life. He’ll be sharing stories from FOUND Magazine and from his book, My Heart Is An Idiot. The review on TheRumpus.net says this book “collects 16 essays that read like early Jack Kerouac, if you substituted Charlie Parker for Dr. Dre. Rothbart is boozily looking for love in all the wrong places, hitch-hiking, sleeping on couches in cities across America, dreaming of becoming a writer and romanticizing nearly everything in sight, often leaving him bereft.” Reminds me of this Billy Collins poem.

Here he is, hangin’ out with my man Dave:

The show starts tonight at 7pm, with the first supporting artist being one of my favorite professors at Colorado College (where I work). Idris Goodwin is a hip-hop scholar, spoken word artist, and playwright (“How We Got On,” his play about the genesis of hip-hop adoration in a small middle-America town, is one of the best things I have seen in a while). In addition to having been on HBO’s Def Poetry, HE ALSO HE WAS ON SESAME STREET.

After Idris, one of my most-beloved local musicians, The Changing Colors will be playing. Chapel session alums, Conor Bourgal and friends have released a stunningly lovely new record this year with Joan & The King. It’s a record that is redolent with autumnal layers of beauty:



TICKETS ARE HERE (or at the door), only $10. I hope to see you there; I am genuinely excited for this show and for this new creative space in Colorado.

August 21, 2013

between the shadow and the storm

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I spent last week driving across a dusty swath of the American West, from Colorado through Wyoming, to Yellowstone and Montana, trawling the feet of the Grand Tetons and down through Utah and the red canyons. The first night, I stopped in Denver when I realized I had forgotten to bring along Muchacho, the newest record from Phosphorescent (Matthew Houck). I bought it at a record store a few blocks off the highway, filled the gas tank, and set back out as the sun set. I listened to it more than a dozen times on my roadtrip, voraciously, front to back and then through some more.

Muchacho is squally and dirt-streaked, it’s threadbare and greedy, it’s weary and pugnacious, and it is the most perfect soundtrack for that drive. Those vacant miles on the road gave me lots of time to think all of those big, unspun thoughts that cannibalize each other and themselves, unhinging their jaws to swallow their own tails and bring us back where we started. This album does the same.

This record wrestles with divergent, simultaneous truths about the brokenness and the bruises. “I am not some broken thing,” Houck howls pointedly in the second track, the stunning “Song For Zula” (which will be my song of the year), but two short songs later he is singing this simple line, that absolutely breaks my heart every time he says it:

“And now you’re telling me my heart’s sick /
…And I’m telling you I know.”


It’s exactly that messiness (and the direct engagement with it) that spills out of this record to draw me in, underneath the timeless country veneer, under the old-time two-stepping and the lonely desert songs. Everything is tangled; everything is fucked up and bleeding, aching and glowing in the summer.

I keep furrowing my brow as I swim around in this tremendous record. It’s unclear as you work through Houck’s songs if he is the cage or the one being caged, if he is the bloody actor or the stage, if he needs to fix himself up to come and be with you, or is a mewing newborn, just seeing colors for the first time. Is it love that’s a killer come to call from some awful dream, or is he himself the one who would kill you with his bare hands if he were free? I find it fascinating. I read his words like I read poems, letting the unsettledness cling and press on me. They keep knocking me out on this album.

“Terror In The Canyon” is one of the most conflicted songs on the album, and I love it for that, Houck being a thousand different contradictory things from one line of the song to the next. Lately all I want to do in my favorite relationships is to plumb those tumultuous volcanic waters inside of us, where we pull in seven different ways and we are all contained inside one skin. “And I’m not so sorry for the heartwreck,” Houck sings, presumedly to the person he’s just left, “but for each season left unblessed – the new terror in the canyons, the new terror in our chests.” I read something parallel this week from John O’Donohue: “The greatest friend of the soul is the unknown.” I feel like something in that new terror might actually be a blessing, and Houck knows it and I know it.

I hit a few of those massive, glorious late-summer rainstorms out on the plains, my favorite one at sunset whose aftermath is pictured up at the top of this post. It was during those times that I felt like I was right in the middle of the lyrics: “Between the shadow and the storm, a little pup was being born / a little whelp without his horns — o my, o my.” This is an album that’s right there in the bloody genesis struggle between the shadows and the wild, humid, electric storm. Each footfall slips first into one realm, then just as quickly slides into the other. There are so many vulnerable moments of beauty on this album that make me gasp, and so many punches to the face.

The biggest, rambliest, most sharply tangled song on this album is perfectly named “The Quotidian Beasts.” The song starts rhythmic and bright: the morning breaking, the drawing of a bath. Houck tells an allegory of a beast with claws, with familiar black eyes (depression?); he knew she was coming and she was here at last.

I said “It’s you took your claws,
you slipped ‘em under my skin
There’s parts that got outside honey
I want to put ‘em back in
We’ve been playing like children, honey
now we’ll play it like men
Those parts that got outside
I’m gonna put them back in.”

By the end of this struggle of a fable, those quotidian, daily beasts have transformed like Gremlins exposed to water, and are now something altogether different and terrifying. The song ends after seven minutes as a huge Zeppelinesque epic that has exploded into a fire that just burned your house down. It is the perfect summation of what Houck is doing on this record, over and over again.

The first and last tracks on the record are seamless twins, the opening track “An Invocation, An Introduction” and the last “A Koan, An Exit.” The songs run along the same riverbed (making it easy to let the album loop back to track one after the last song finishes, like the beast that eats its own tail) but the more I listen to it, the more I realize how vastly different the last song is, how it feels so much more weary. After all the yelps and the fistfights, some of the brambles have been broken off. The kitchen is scattered with broken dishes. We’re rattling our instruments and raising our voices, and there are these stunning glints and sunflares that glow, but the speakers are blown.

It started golden, gleaming, resplendent. It ends a beautiful ramshackle mess. And we’ll do it again tomorrow, and next year.

We’ll do it ’til the end.



phosphorescent-muchacho-520

Muchacho (Dead Oceans, 2013)

Tagged with .
August 8, 2013

i regret not leaving the light on

A few hours ago, Josiah from The Head and The Heart and I were in a parking garage in Boulder, finishing cigarettes and coffee, and he sang this plangent and visceral new song for me. I don’t know if it’s finished, but there is something terrific & pure in the ephemerality this afternoon.

Let’s Be Still, the sophomore album from The Head and The Heart, is out October 15.

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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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