I’m so pleased to announce that the next Fuel/Friends House Concert will be on Thursday, February 21 with the beguiling voice of one of Denver’s favorite sons: Nathaniel Rateliff.
I saw his music years ago when his old band Born in the Flood opened for Kings of Leon in Denver. In the years since, Nathaniel has been a consistent fixture of amazingness first with The Wheel, and now under his own name. He got to know the Mumford & Sons fellas early on, and you may have seen him on the Gentlemen of the Road caravan, or heard him play on the Mumfords’ Daytrotter, as well as three Daytrotter sessions of his own.
This show will be a fundraiser for Nathaniel. Some jerkface jerk in a stolen car rammed his touring van. Those repairs are not cheap, and we want to step up to help him, and enrich our ears in the process. We are suggesting a donation of $10-15 for this show. It starts at 7pm, February 21; location details here.
Winston Yellen walked into the side door of the chapel on one of the last days of 2012, with a denim shirt and an easy smile, his younger brother Abe along to play drums and piano. Gregarious and unassuming in appearance, he looks like any other 23 year-old from Colorado Springs, but when he sat down at the microphone and opened his mouth to sing the a capella “Faithful Heights,” we all fell completely silent. Dumbstruck. That voice just flies out of him, with no warning.
The music of Night Beds walloped me with a colossal punch the first time I listened to it, and so far this has not lessened, not even a little bit. As someone who both deeply loved Jeff Buckley and also remembers the earliest days of Bon Iver, I feel like this guy has something in his music that could be listened alongside of both, and I would permanently give access for this music to get at all of the rawest parts of my psyche. It’s magnificent torment, this record – direct and unadorned.
We recorded these songs a couple of days before the year 2012 ended, while Winston was home from Nashville for the holidays. The handful of us in the church were speechless at the power in Winston’s voice, and the smart, literate force of his lyrics. There’s so much melancholy weighted in the single electric guitar that Winston plays here — those bluesy notes hung in the air and felt like water in my lungs, slowly accumulating. Winston floats and swims strongly through the spaces in his song, letting his exceptionally powerful voice pierce through the resonance.
His debut record Country Sleep is out today in the UK, tomorrow in the U.S. Like I said at the end of my last post of 2012, I think Winston’s efforts could be one of the most notable and promising of the year that lies ahead of us. Stay tuned for the in-depth, fascinating interview I got to conduct with Winston; his first in the United States. I hope to post that later this week.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION: NIGHT BEDS
DECEMBER 29, 2012
Faithful Heights / Ramona
First off, stop what you’re doing before you click play here, because you’re not going to be able to continue doing whatever you were doing once Winston starts singing. Secondly, I like these versions even more than the album because they manage to come off even more potent and honest. We talked a lot about these two songs, which bravely open up Country Sleep. I wondered who they were about, who Winston was inviting to crawl into his arms for comfort, who Ramona was, and why she needed to fuck everything she’d been taught. I was surprised and intrigued to learn that both of these could be about him, or for him. Changes the whole perspective, in a poignantly sharp and self-compassionate way, when we sing to a side of ourselves.
At the end of our session I commented to Winston that this was a fitting song for him to play, for our 22nd chapel session recording. This song sings about hearing the trains in the August night, and that’s shaped how I picture it: on a Tennessee hillside somewhere in the dense summer heat. His voice keens like a lonesome whistle in the darkness while the percussion clacks over the rail ties. This is a darkly lush song, on a lush album.
“And I never have known / why I feel so alone…” The more I listen to the new Night Beds record, the more I feel like this line repeated in this song might be the theme of it, in a way that the movie Melancholia fought with its fists pounding against the giant meteor of depression hurtling towards earth and threatening everything we love and enjoy. The sweet piano topnotes that Abe adds on the grand piano feel almost like stardust falling.
You know that scene in That Thing You Do, when The Wonders (Oneders) hear their song on the radio for the first time and everyone stops and turns up their radio and starts to dance and whoop? When I first heard the uber-catchy opening track “Burn You Up” off Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds‘ new album Round and Round on KRCC radio, I did the same thing. Except I was at work, so minus the whooping. For your Friday joy:
I grew up listening to oldies all the time (KFRC: San Franciscooo); I have an encyclopedic ability to sing, hum, and snap along with a huge variety of songs from the classic foundations of rock and roll. This record hits every single one of those sweet spots for me, in a current way. I hear Otis Redding, I hear Roy Orbison — yet as Josh at the Denver Post so perfectly wrote, “There is no revival, no costume play, no irony. These are brand-new, honest songs that resonate as classics.”
Mike is my same age, and I get the feeling he loves all those old songs as much as I do. This record is an unabashed celebration of music from the 1950s and ’60s, but done with clean urgency. Mike also plays in one of the best-known Americana bands from Colorado, The Haunted Windchimes (who you may have heard on A Prairie Home Companion), but this is a total departure; these songs kept coming into his songwriting brain but not fitting with what the Windchimes were recording. These are songs that evoke a whole other landscape of glowing yellow radio dials, and a time when rock and roll was the rebellious domain of young people, and not the safe “oldies” you now hear in the dentist’s chair. Mike does it with so much joy.
Spurred by the tremendous chapel session we recorded with Mike last week, I have been listening to this album pretty much non-stop for the last two weeks on my big kitchen stereo. Sometimes, at home, I dance. The record is another fine Blank Tape Records release, the same folks who donate their magic skills to producing each and every one of the Chapel Sessions. Hear one more song off the record, the irresistible “Summer Girls.” There is a 100% chance this will make the Fuel/Friends Summer 2013 mix, the way “Smooth Sailin’,” also on this record, made (and titled) my Summer 2012 mix.
TOUR: Mike is playing his Denver album release show tonight at the intimate, awesome Deer Pile (above City O’ City), with R.L. Cole and Joe Sampson. Then he sets off on a West Coast tour for the next month; if you go, I bet you’ll like it.
You might even dance.
MIKE CLARK & THE SUGAR SOUNDS TOUR
Feb 4 – Cavalcade – Fruita, CO
Feb 5 – Soul Poles – Park City, UT
Feb 7 – Jones Radiator – Spokane, WA
Feb 8 – Caffe Mela – Wenatchee, WA
Feb 10 – Huck Notari Springville House – Portland, OR
Feb 13 – The Horned Hand – Bend, OR
Feb 14 – Axe and Fiddle – Cottage Grove, OR
Feb 23 – Crepe Place – Santa Cruz, CA
Feb 24 – Mercury Lounge – Santa Barbara, CA
There is something downright mesmerizing in the understated, persistent songs of Neil Halstead, former frontman of the bands Slowdive and Mojave 3 and pioneer of the shoegaze sound in England. I keep putting this chapel session on to play at nighttime, to quiet my racing mind like a hypnotist’s gold swinging watch in a darkened study somewhere, or like a metronome that whispers instead of clacks.
On the day we recorded this, an eddy amidst the rush of the workday all around us, Neil amiably walked up the wide central aisle of Shove Chapel with his guitar case in his hand and a tour manager who was doubling as a piano player on the gorgeous Steinway. Neil slowly wove a resonant, dappled set for us, with two songs from his rich new album Palindrome Hunches (2012, Brushfire Records). When reviewers talk about cozy sweaters and thoughtfulness in this album, they’re right, but that’s not to say that it is sleepy or at all boring. Rather, it feels quietly satisfying.
After the new songs, Neil turned to me and asked “Is it okay if I do a Damien Jurado cover?” I nearly choked. “Um, yeah, sure I guess that would be okay,” I replied. The results are as completely stunning as you would imagine. He also played a song I specifically requested that afternoon, “See You on Rooftops” – an older tune from 2002′s Sleeping on Roads (4AD), and one that he hadn’t played in so long that he had to remember how it went.
The whole session felt, to me, like a reawakening.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION: NEIL HALSTEAD
OCTOBER 17, 2012
Tonight in Portland I had the super-pleasure of seeing Drew Grow and Janet Weiss perform raucous, airtight covers under their new band name Slang. Both taking a night away from their other music (Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives are finishing mixing a new album, and Janet is busy kicking ass with Quasi and Wild Flag), Slang just radiated joy and fun – two things that I so love in my music, and often miss.
This song has long been a favorite of mine, and was one of the covers they performed tonight. I bought it on a little $5 CD single, backed with “Handle With Care” (Traveling Wilburys). So good.
Writing to try to figure out what love is has been one of the main activities of songwriters since time began. As soon as we all realized that love did something to our insides that went deeper and stranger than other kinds of interactions, and as soon as we saw how devastatingly it could crush us, the chord progressions and lyrical twists started flowing. This is nothing new.
When I listen to the weighty “Song For Zula” by Phosphorescent, I feel like I am listening to the first and only song ever written. I don’t feel like I’ve ever heard a song about love before this one. I want very much to write something about how amazing this song is, since I have listened to it dozens and dozens of times on repeat in the last few weeks, and marveled over its story, its structure, its strings. But I don’t have anything else to say that the song doesn’t say already. Holy shit, this song.
See, the cage, it called. I said, “Come on in”
I will not open myself up this way again
Nor lay my face to the soil, nor my teeth to the sand
I will not lay like this for days now upon end
You will not see me fall, nor see me struggle to stand
To be acknowledge by some touch from his gnarled hands
You see, the cage, it called. I said, “Come on in”
I will not open myself up this way again
Muchacho is out in March on Dead Oceans. That label lately. Man.
I’ve spent the last three days wrestling my blankets in a haze of fever dreams, hours passing in what feels like minutes and vice-versa. The soundtrack to much of my (stupid stupid mean) flu has fittingly been the impressionistic complexity of Field Report in these recordings from Shove Chapel earlier in the fall.
Even before I roadtested this music to my own actual fever dreams, that’s long been one of the best descriptors I could come up with for how Chris Porterfield’s rich songs wrestle over failings and threads of stories long forgotten. In the same way that time out of mind through fevers makes all sorts of strange threads of memory surface, these songs draw you into stories as if you’ve already heard them. Listening for the first time feels like remembering. Porterfield is a master at using odd metaphors that require you to just sort of accept them before they make sense.
I’ve been so deeply entranced by Field Report, and tangled up in their debut record ever since it first surfaced in my life in the icy springtime. The purity and urgency made it one of my favorites of 2012, and I think that all three album songs in this session outshine the renditions on the record. This band is a jaw-dropping talent, and it’s evident from these recordings that touring has only strengthened their songs. Go see them in 2013.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #20: FIELD REPORT
OCTOBER 8, 2012 – SHOVE CHAPEL AT COLORADO COLLEGE
This is ostensibly a story about the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, but it is also a song about staking your battles and pushing back against fears. “If I die here, well — at least I made a choice.”
This song feels exactly like a string of long, late-night hospital visits, the sterile and dehumanizing blur between the living and the dying. I prefer the slow weariness in this version to the album version. Nick’s sweet piano cadence kills me here, as does the simple way that Chris states, “I am still your man. Some days we do the best we can.” He also leaves out the line, “we’re doing fine” in this rendition, which is good because I wouldn’t believe him anyways.
Whoa whoa. The caged energy of this video is mesmerizing, and Chris does absolute justice to the thin-voiced strained urgency of Neil Young’s ripoff of the Rolling Stones. One of my favorite covers we’ve recorded in the church.
You wake up suddenly in the middle of this quietly sad story, a song that doesn’t have the courtesy to fill us in on any of the important details that came before. Someone is reminding me about the time ten years ago when their wings iced up in the fall, and the whole thing feels like a dream. This version is slower and warmer, and feels like swimming towards the surface.
I feel like this whole record is about swimming towards the surface.
I’ve been listening to a lot of (old) Damien Rice these days, something about the long nights of winter and the perfection in so many of those songs. It’s good to hear Damien’s unmistakable voice on something new, in this collaboration with Irish songwriter David Hopkins. The song was released a few years ago, but it is a welcome discovery for me tonight.
Another year of music has come and gone, dense with wonder and goodness. I can’t possibly articulate the qualitatively-best albums of the year, but I can mentally categorize into my favorites (something that has been a hot discussion topic this week with my musical friends). These are my favorite albums that were released in 2012 — tallied in a scientific manner of how long it took me to take the record off repeat. When I love something, I tend to love music furiously and unrelentingly, listening to it on repeat for weeks and months until I get sick of it. I’m not sick of any of these wonderful records yet, and in fact they keep getting better the more I listen.
Here are my favorite ten albums of 2012, in alphabetical order by artist. Take a listen: there are some wonderful things here you might have missed.
Ohhhh, this record. This is a strong, rootsy, growly record that is also stunningly beautiful. Philadelphia “death gospel” musician Adam Arcuragi sings from the very base of his guts, with his head back and his heart forward. Singing along with him and his Lupine Chorale Society (from lupo, the latin word for wolf) during their chapel session, with my head back and heart forward as well, was a highlight of the year for me in terms of the soul elevation, something that this music has in loads. This was definitely one for much-needed replenishment this year.
Andrew Bird has made a spry, elegant record, full of darting violin, freewheeling gypsy stomping, lugubrious plucking, and his famous whistling in true virtuoso style. It is also a complicated record: best listened to as a whole, complete with the interspersed short musical interlude songs that pepper through the larger orchestral numbers. It feels like a journey. Songs like “Lazy Projector” soundtracked long hot summer nights for me, and into the winter this record has continued to be one I reach for often.
Afie Jurvanen cut his musical touring teeth with Feist and the Broken Social Scene kids, and is now on his second record of his own songs. This record is brimming with charm and a sort of playfulness that draws on old Sun-Studios session sounds, lots of golden space and reverb in the room, and so hard not to move your hips back and forth. Afie’s voice is so warm and honeyed (he’s on the super-shortlist for Chapel Sessions in 2013) that this record is completely irresistible.
This feels like a hard-fought record, wrought by a voice who deserves to be around for a very long time. Al Spx’s voice is transfixing, and resonates with this timeless gospel weight that seems to know more than her 24 years should allow. Her video for “Holland” is one of the most perfect things to happen in a long time, visually weaving together the decay and the growth, the chaos and the intention. There is immense power in this record. When she sings: “I am, I am / I am, I am a goddamned believer,” it’s as if she is trying to convince herself, maybe. Sometimes it is hard to be a believer, goddamit. She gets it.
There is a ghostly swing to this record, the twelfth (depending on how you count) from the insanely talented and insanely prolific Seattle songwriter Damien Jurado. It’s haunting and flawless all at once, with the echo of rain on the roof and children singing in chorus – it is as unsettling and it is perfectly incisive. Another Jurado collaboration with Richard Swift, this record is so full of goodness (“I want you and the skyline / these are my demands.” ??? COME ON) that it is almost too powerful some days.
One summer night at 3am, I found myself sitting up with Field Report around my kitchen table, talking about songwriting and art and intentionality (and reading this Annie Dillard essay aloud – thanks, Jonathan). The more I heard Chris Porterfield talk about his songs, giving even small insights into them, the more I decided that this record resonates with the way my brain sees stories unfold in the world. It’s breathtaking. This album feels, to me, like an insistent wrestling with fever dreams, the small failings that slice at us, and the things we wanted and meant to do, but somehow got lost along the way. The words unravel for me like rich poems, to roll over and over in my head, hearing new things each time. Field Report is an anagram of Chris Porterfield, a Wisconsin musician who was once in the band DeYarmond Edison with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and the Megafaun guys, and he has now crafted a record of his own. These songs took him years to wrestle out, and I am so glad he kept fighting.
Man, this record. The piece of writing I worked out about it earlier this month says exactly what I want to say:
What I hear when I listen to this record is a ragged bravery, a loose-knuckled grip on any sort of stability, and a gorgeous musical honesty. It’s a complicated, outstanding record. Fiona wheels and rages and turns her scalpel alternately fiercely in on herself and outward on a lover (who she calls out by name, more than once). It feels much more raw and bloody than previous records, as she continues to push forward with letting classical prettiness go. I think that notion alone deserves a slow clap, in a society that tends to prefer our ladyfolk a bit more decorous and docile.
This humble, perfect record landed softly on my ears on Easter morning, as the world was waking up. Isaac Pierce crafts songs out of Seattle that meander and drift, thoughtfully probing before landing perfectly where they need to be. He is a songwriter who taps into the exact same navigation my brain steers by, and this EP is deeply satisfying. “We get to be alive / sleep on your porch tonight / with certain distant songs playing, remind me to thank you for bringing us out here just in time…” All bruises heal.
Isaac is playing a house show for me THIS Wednesday, on January 2, with The Changing Colors (chapel session alums from early on) and Mike Clark (whose “Smooth Sailin’” track started and titled my Summer 2012 mix). You really, really should come.
This is a slowly-building, warmly calescent record that totally took me by surprise by how much and how quickly I adored it. I think this record is what a roadtrip might sound like across the West Texas desert if I brought Fleet Foxes along in the bed of my pickup truck, and added some warm Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms.
This is an album of heft and grief, but also of a hovering loveliness. You don’t often get those two together because the one usually crushes the other. Sharon balances both. This record strips and excoriates me, which sounds terrible but is the exact opposite: the type of brave catharsis that is so exquisitely and purely crafted that it makes all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Her songs wrestle with the desire to love as new as she can, despite her scars, and often start quiet and thoughtfully but crescendo into a hurricane. This is a tremendous, tremendous album.
New Artist I Am Most Excited About in 2013: Night Beds
Because of a voice like this:
In the old tunnels off Gold Camp Road in Western Colorado Springs, Winston Yellen of Night Beds (debut record out February 5 on Dead Oceans) covered 1950s chanteuse Jo Stafford last night, illuminated by the car headlights.
The first Fuel/Friends Tunnel Session, and a pretty damn good way to end 2012.
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
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