July 9, 2013

Thursday’s house concert: David Wax Museum w/ Chimney Choir!

photo (1)

This week I find myself in a part of the world that’s just ri-goddamn-diculous, as my friend Sailor Jay would say. I whiled away this afternoon swimming and paddling in a kayak on Alice Lake, a little sapphire in the valley’s hand out in British Columbia. As I paddled, and listened to my paddle dripping water onto my legs and the waves lapping against the boat, I watched hundreds of little cerulean blue dragonflies flit and hover and sun themselves. I glided silently under where the mossy trees dip down to touch the water and make a natural cave of leaves.

The song that I started singing out loud for myself was “When You Are Still” by David Wax Museum (and not just because they are playing at my house on Thursday, nor to set up this post)…

I’m flying home from this intellectual summer-camp adventure on Thursday so that I can be back in time to host David Wax Museum for a Thursday night house concert at my place. You are invited.

This is a band that is wonderfully different from anyone I have hosted before, as their music blends this cool Appalachian-folk style with Mexican Son music. David Wax plays a traditional Mexican guitar called a jarana, while his musical partner Suz Slezak plays fiddle and a donkey jawbone called a quijada. This will be the first time that a band has experimented with animal bones in my house, sooooo….. come for that.

51zvjvVxAjLYou’ve heard their music, at minimum, on several of my seasonal mixes — “Born With A Broken Heart” to start the springtime, “The Least I Can Do” in late lazy summer, and “When You Are Still” for the autumn. You should also definitely get my favorite full-length from them, Everything Is Saved. They shipped some ahead to my house, so get one Thursday.

Opening the night will be Denver’s own amazing Chimney Choir! In their own words, “Chimney Choir conjures colorful avant-pop by mixing old time acoustic instruments with droning synths, junk percussion and 3 part harmonies in a theatrical show.” I love junk percussion; Imma start saving cans now.

One last rad recording of them, so you know what we’re in for: I still love this line, “Some of us come with new hearts, most of us come with used hearts — baby, why do you look so sad?”

DAVID WAX MUSEUM HOUSE CONCERT
w/ Chimney Choir

Thursday at 7:30pm-ish

We suggest a generous donation for the bands, please, and you ought to BYOB.


July 2, 2013

The Replacements: a whole bunch of rarities & b-sides

replacements1-a191add7547584e00266189dfef82c9ec6d3f3f8-s6-c30

So in case you were not around cool humans a few weeks ago, you might not have heard that The Replacements are reforming to play three shows this summer at the Riot Fest (!!!). I am not a rioty person, but I do love me some Paul Westerberg in all of his many forms, and this news came out of a wonderful left field to surprise most of us. Even though we don’t know who else is in the band this go around (other than Tommy Stinson, and, maybe, Prince) — IT’S THE REPLACEMENTS.

I was trying to explain The Replacements to my intern (again, with the intern. This kid is getting double his unpaid-work-hours money) and I used words like “sloppy but melodic” and “like, this visceral rawness with classic rock n’ roll underpinnings.” I used the word “punk” a few times; something about the Beatles; we talked about the dangers of alcohol overuse. I think we both went home from work that day better human beings, and now he has a new band to discover.

Back in 2006 I posted a pirate’s treasure trove of Replacements and Westerberg rarities and b-sides that a reader sent me. In honor of the Riot Fest news, and to announce the ticket giveaway I get to do for it, here they are again below, all re-upped.

shows_ive_seenTICKET GIVEAWAY! I have two pairs of 2-day passes to the Denver stop of Riot Fest to give away to Fuel/Friends readers. It’s happening September 21 and 22 on a farm-looking place outside of town; I’ll also be going and probably camping, which should be delightful.

TO ENTER TO WIN: leave a comment telling me why you should win a pair of tickets, and I will pick two winners in a week or so.

2013-header-11

Now tunes. For you, and the intern.



PAUL WESTERBERG RARITIES

Dyslexic Heart (Singles soundtrack)
Waiting for Somebody (Singles soundtrack)
Seein’ Her (b-side of Knockin’ on Mine)
Men Without Ties (b-side of Knockin’ on Mine)
Dice Behind Your Shades (Festicle version, b-side of Knockin’ on Mine)
Can’t Hardly Wait (live ’93 Whiskey a Go-Go, b-side World Class Fad) (Marah cover here)
Left of the Dial (live ’93 Whiskey a Go-Go, b-side World Class Fad)
Another Girl, Another Planet (live ’93 Whiskey a Go-Go, b-side World Class Fad)
Answering Machine (live ’93 Whiskey a Go-Go, b-side World Class Fad)
Daydream Believer (live, b-side British single?)
A Star is Bored (Melrose Place Soundtrack)
Backlash (w/ Joan Jett) (Notorious LP)
Let’s Do It (w/ Joan Jett) (Tank Girl Soundtrack)
Sunshine (Friends Soundtrack)
Stain Yer Blood (Friends Soundtrack)
Make Your Own Kind of Music (Eventually Bonus Track Japan)
I Want My Money Back (Grandpaboy Single)
Undone (Grandpaboy Single)
Wonderful Copenhagen (Suicaine Gratification Bonus Track Europe)
33rd of July (Suicaine Gratification Bonus Track Europe)
Nowhere Man (I Am Sam Soundtrack)
Be Bad For Me (Folker Bonus Track Europe)

WESTERBERG RARITIES AS ZIP FILE



REPLACEMENTS RARITIES

If Only You Were Lonely (b-side of I’m In Trouble)
Hey Good Lookin’ (b-side of I Will Dare)
20th Century Boy (T Rex cover) (Let It Be Outtake)
Who’s Gonna Take Us Alive (Let It Be Outtake)
Temptation Eyes (Let It Be Outtake)
Street Girl (Let It Be Outtake)
Nowhere Is My Home (Boink LP – England)
Bundle Up (PTMM Rehearsal, Jungle Rock w/ new lyrics)
Empty As Your Heart (aka PO Box) (PTMM Rehearsal)
Time Is Killing Us (PTMM Rehearsal)
Kick It In (PTMM Rehearsal)
Run For The Country (PTMM Rehearsal)
Going Out Of My Head (PTMM Rehearsal)
(“We’ll learn it tomorrow. Think of another one.”)
Trouble On The Way (PTMM Rehearsal)
Make This Your Home (PTMM Rehearsal)
Cool Water (PTMM Rehearsal)
Route 66 (b-side of Alex Chilton)
Tossin’ and Turnin’ (b-side of The Ledge)
Ought To Get Love (Don’t Tell A Soul Outtake)
Kissing In Action (All Shook Down Outtake)

REPLACEMENTS RARITIES AS A ZIP FILE


June 28, 2013

she was trembling as i held her hand / but we kept singing

Tonight, Colorado! Tonight I am hosting a Fuel/Friends House Concert with Some Say Leland from Austin, Texas at 8pm, and Isaac Pierce with Ten-Speed Music after that. Remember — Isaac’s marvelous perfect little EP was on my top albums list of last year; I have been in love with his way of seeing the world through music since the first time I heard “Warm Bruise.”

The show tonight is BYOB and BYOGDFTTB (“bring your own generous donation for the traveling bands”), and will be preceded by front porch happy-hour.

Here’s a sampler of what it will sound like tonight.

and

Warm Bruise – Isaac Pierce



…and, just in case you’re still making lame excuses about that other thing you have to do (and since it worked so well with Field Report), here is a picture of Isaac with a kitten.

302588_4570461336574_2122215014_n

See you at 7.


June 26, 2013

everything i do, i do in slow motion

phox

I have a grad student working in my office with me this summer and at this point I am 99% sure he wants me to start playing something other than Phox, a seven-piece band from Madison, WI. He likes them plenty, but my unrelenting affinity for them is lately non-stop. But I’m the boss and I make the soundtrack choices — and this is a good choice. I’m teaching my intern about good choices in the workplace.

Phox creates malleable music: effervescent and smoky at the same time, with shimmery layers of creative instrumentation anchored by the stunning voice of Monica Martin. I CAN’T STOP LISTENING.

Slow Motion – Phox



I’d gotten some reader buzz in my emails about this band, and then learned that they are one of only three bands managed by ONTO Entertainment (the other two being chapel session alums The Lumineers and Hey Marseilles, so they’re in good company). I think Phox has the potential to blow up this year, and I would be happy to get this into everyone’s ears.

As a band, they are perfectly difficult to classify, and they’re dang smart. Look at how they answer this interview question:

What trend in music business should we be paying attention to?
“Synthesis. Don’t worry too much about EDM, or the Americana revival. Just look what’s in between the two. Not just an average of the two popular aesthetics, but the intuitive common ground which is developing the native tongue of our generation. Look for artists.



You can download Phox’s Confetti EP for free here (so why aren’t you doing that yet? Go. I’ll wait).

I’m also thrilled to announce that we’re bringing them to Colorado Springs on July 17, playing the Ivywild School venue that I am now booking! Last night at Ivywild, at the first show we put together there (with Field Report), Chris Porterfield informed me of the existence of THIS song that is just so many shades of wonderfulness colliding that I can’t even….

Route 18 (Kiings remix, feat. Monica Martin of PHOX) – Field Report

That entire Warehouses Possessed by the City: A Wisconsin Remix EP is also available for free download. Go internet. You’re killin’ it today.

phox 2

[image of Monica credit Lauren Lindley]


Tagged with .
June 24, 2013

Field Report house concert recording (October 8, 2012)

photo (2)

Back in October, those Wisconsin-grown purveyors of carefully-crafted songs Field Report came through Colorado to record a chapel session and play a Fuel/Friends house show. I’ve been listening to an audience recording of that house show often because it gives such a marvelous, vibrant reflection of the intimacy that makes house concerts special — how raw and affectingly all their voices ring out together in the room, the banter with the folks who are there, the improvisation in the instrumentation.

Field Report returns to Colorado Springs tomorrow (Tuesday night) to play a FREE SHOW at the new rad Ivywild School project, where I will be booking music. Come on down to the Principal’s Office bar, have a Colorado-crafted spirit, and enjoy music like this.

Mike Clark opens, music at 8pm.



FUEL/FRIENDS HOUSE CONCERT: FIELD REPORT
October 8, 2012

Route 18
I Am Not Waiting Anymore –> In The Year Of The Get You Alone
Taking Alcatraz
Chico The American
Evergreen
Circle Drive
Fergus Falls

ZIP: FIELD REPORT HOUSE SHOW Oct 8, 2012



Also, this is another reason to like Field Report: BECAUSE THEY LIKE PUPPIES. Resistance is futile.
photo


June 20, 2013

what are you doing Sunday afternoon?

lede_3827_bestnewbandradiationcity

This Sunday, June 23, my Colorado readers should head over to Denver’s Larimer Lounge for the Radiation City / Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds Sunday BBQ!


a3615335268_2If we’re going to collectively be on a vintage summery-music kick this month, then Radiation City fits in so very well to my chosen soundtrack. They totally killed it in the house show I did with them a few months ago – they’re smart and catchy and dreamy-charming all at once.

Check out their new album Animals In The Median, out on Tender Loving Empire Records, label home to Typhoon and Y La Bamba as well. Radiation City was named Portland’s #1 Best New Band last year by the Willamette Week.

LA Beach – Radiation City



20056660-37383780And then of course we’ve established that Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds are making some of my favorite soul music these days. Mike’s Daytrotter session came out yesterday, and Sean nailed it when he wrote: “Colorado songwriter Mike Clark writes songs that sound sweeter than sour. They give off the feeling that his love is healthy, but it’s still so damned hungry. It’s blazing and demanding. He gives off that pacing the floor, screaming at the skies neediness vibe that the greatest of the old school soul and blues singers gave off, as if there was nothing else than some soft touch to be had. It was all there was. It was everything that was and is needed. They’ll be wayward until they fill that yearning. They’ll be wayward for a while.”

Damn.

The Dreamer (live on Daytrotter) – Mike Clark

From the Fuel/Friends Chapel Session:



Come onnnn, Sunday!!

shows_ive_seenTICKET GIVEAWAY! Fuel/Friends has three pairs of tickets to give away for this terrific show. Please leave a comment if you would like to be entered to win a pair and I will pick randomly on Saturday! I’m presenting the show along with Odell Brewery and Radio 1190. Radiation City plays at 6pm, and Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds at 8pm, but come spend the whole day (doors at noon). Here’s the Facebook event. I hope to see you there!

I guarantee that this will be the best way you can spend your Sunday, getting pleasantly day-drunk, eating smoked meats, and listening to these sweet sounds.

Full schedule: Sunday BBQ!
THE BLACK FEATHERS @ 2pm
CODENAME : CARTER @ 3pm
ScaTTer GaTHer @ 4pm
CONFLUENCE @ 5pm
RADIATION CITY 6pm
WE WERE COSMONAUTS @ 7pm
MIKE CLARK & THE SUGAR SOUNDS @ 8pm
WILD HIGH @ 9pm

$10.00 In Adv | $12.00 Day Of Show | 21+ | BUY TICKETS HERE


June 19, 2013

Sunburns Turning Into Tanlines :: The Fuel/Friends Summer 2013 Mix

FF-Summer1

Summer is a rarefied season that (more than any other time of year) summons up all sorts of vintage ghosts from other generations’ musical realms — namely, the ’50s and ’60s in American & British music, for me. There’s something in those old AM radio songs and staticky car stereo anthems that instantly dig up all my best summer memories and leave me ready to go make some more.

As the June heat reaches full capacity these days, for this year’s summer mix I mostly swore off the stuff that feels all shimmery-new, in favor of the new that feels old and well-steeped. These twenty songs all could have maybe come out on a vinyl single, and soundtracked a sock hop or a sweaty, soulful city nightclub in 1964. But almost all of them (with a couple exceptions) were made in the last few years by people not old enough to remember any of that first-hand.

Here’s to music that perennially sounds good on a hot summer night.



SUNBURNS TURNING INTO TANLINES:
THE FUEL/FRIENDS SUMMER 2013 MIX

Ganges A GoGo – Bombay The Hard Way
A kitschy funk-Bollywood explosion from Dan The Automator features drums from DJ Shadow — and you can practically see the technicolor masses dancing to this one. Count me as one of them.

Summer Girls – Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds
This playful, slurry jam has been a no-brainer for inclusion since I first heard it in the middle of winter, on Mike’s delectable Round & Round album (one that should be on your stereos, in its entirety, all summer). Mike opened (and oh hey, named) last year’s summer mix as well, with “Smooth Sailin’.” Perhaps something in his joyful musical laments just suit the season. ALSO: Mike’s Daytrotter session that we stopped in Iowa to record a few months ago just went live this morning as well, with some really beautiful writing from Sean to match the songs. Bonanza!

Lady, You Shot Me – Har Mar Superstar
I had somehow stupidly pegged this band as some sort of J-pop collective. Why? Why did I miss out on this for so long? This new record, Bye Bye 17, is now #2 (after Mike’s) on my list of albums that you need for this summer. Pretty fly for a white guy (from Minnesota who looks like Ron Jeremy), as they say.

Can I Change My Mind – Tyrone Davis
One of the few authentic older songs on this mix, I just cannot ever ever get enough of how delicately sexy and perfect that febrile, bendy guitar lick is. Bad. Ass. All summer long.

Trying So Hard Not To Know – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
This song is one side of the hard-to-find Night Sweats 7″ that is floating around all the best Colorado record players. I have listened to this song roughly 86 times in the last month or so, after seeing them live and having my socks completely knocked off. Sweltering.

Better Days – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes
“I’ve seen better days drippin’ down your face / we don’t have to talk, just dance.” Yes. This new song from Edward Sharpe is from their forthcoming S/T July record, which is already promising to be a much-anticipated soundtrack to my late summer months.

Plan Of The Man – The Ms
I swooned and fell for this band when they released Future Women way back in the 2006 early-days of this blog, crowned by this tightly wound power-pop gem of a song. As one reviewer wrote, “The M’s have found a canny chemistry out of seemingly simple parts (three-part harmonies plus a powerhouse drummer), and now, they’ve got swagger to spare.”

High School Lover – Cayucas
The bassline here makes my shoulders go up and down like this. Another wonnnnnnderful summery album, newly out on Secretly Canadian Records.

Handle With Care (Traveling Wilburys) – Slang
Drew Grow and Janet Weiss cover a terrific assortment of songs in their joyous, airtight collaboration project Slang, mostly in and around the Pacific Northwest. These two are completely irresistible. Be sure to check out Drew Grow’s renamed band, Modern Kin, and Janet Weiss’s astounding new Drumgasm record.

You Put The Flame On It – Charles Bradley
This one’s a new song by an older dude who could have been part of the first wave of originals but instead worked as a cook and a James Brown impersonator called (you can’t make up a better backstory than this) “Black Velvet,” before being signed to Daptone Records. Everything about his newly-released sophomore record with Daptone –which my friend Andrew has on vinyl and it sounds just superb, spinning lazily– is fantastic.

That Old Black Hole – Dr. Dog
Even after listening to this song a lot for over a year, I still always see this guy in my mental movie, strutting down the street during the opening credits.

Brand New Key (Melanie cover) – Thao Nguyen & The Get Down Stay Down
In her perfectly strong singsong delivery, the rocking Thao aces this 1971 rollerskating jam, all loaded with vintage innuendo about his key fitting into her brand new roller skates, and how they should “get together and try it out to see.” God bless the Seventies.

Country Girl – Primal Scream
A prime Rolling Stones song that isn’t a Rolling Stones song, this one is all swagger from a 2006 record by Scottish rockers Primal Scream, with lines like “crazy women, mess your hair / wake up drunk and bleeding in some strange bed but yeah – what can a poor boy do?” A common complaint. Put this one on when you need to get pumped up to go out and be superawesome some night.

I Like To Move In The Night – Eagles of Death Metal
Gahhh another one that so very clearly rips off the Stones, and yet does it with such unabashed glee that you can’t help but enjoy it. Plus, you can’t take a band called Eagles Of Death Metal too seriously, now can you? This reminds me of the watertower/pool hall/gas station scenes from Dazed & Confused. Like that.

Say So – Allen Stone
This 26 year-old bespectacled white kid from Seattle keeps wowing me with his smooth Stevie-Wonder-like range and delight in the music he’s making. A superb piece about him on Grantland described him as sort of looking like a Fraggle Rock character, “but (he) has a better voice than pretty much anyone I’ve ever heard in my life.” So there’s that. Listen up for this fella.

Please Forgive My Heart (Bobby Womack) – Bahamas
Afie Jurvanen can do no wrong, in my opinion, and this Bobby Womack cover with his wonderful backup-singer ladies is no exception. I love/hate the ability of sweet soul songs like this to woo me, wherein our protagonist begs some woman to forgive his heart, because the problem doesn’t lie “anywhere in there,” but the fact is, “I’m a liar.” So we’re clear. Ooooh ooooh ooooh.

Saturday – Josh Rouse
Such sweet, sweet bluesy topnotes here, floating across the air on a slow Saturday — this is one of the more romantic songs I know, and I’ve been wanting to put it on a summer mix for years. From Rouse’s 2005 masterpiece album Nashville, this song also has one of my favorite opening lyrics: “I would swim across the ocean, I would lay down on a bed of nails / but I’ll spare you all the bullshit, I will spare you all the desperate details.” Whew.

Dry Land – Planes (Inaiah & Desi)
Inaiah Lujan and Desirae Garcia are core members of The Haunted Windchimes here in Southern Colorado, but their side project Planes finds them charmingly exploring tunes that would have sounded right at home on tour with Buddy Holly. This melody is a serious earworm, and they agreed to record it last week in their living room, just for me and you and this mix, after I absolutely could not stop whistling it for an entire week.

Post-War – M. Ward
This song has always sounded radiantly humid to me, like drowsily-buzzing bees and backporch cicadas and air that clings to your skin, with a slow dance shuffle across a worn-smooth wooden floor somewhere.

Not Dark Yet – Bob Dylan
One of the greatest summer night songs ever recorded. You can see the ceiling fan spinning lazily, ineffectually, overhead. It’s too hot to sleep; the heat is still rising off the sidewalk and the soft, tarry asphalt. Behind every beautiful thing, Dylan croaks, there’s been some kind of pain.

It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there.



ZIP: SUNBURNS TURNING INTO TANLINES MIX



[thanks, as always, to the wonderful artistic partnership with Ryan Hollingsworth for that cover design artwork, and to Mike Clark for the perfect lyrics to name the mix. Go forth and summer, y'all.]


May 30, 2013

Next house concert: Vandaveer! (with Joe Johnson)

943501_10151419636721379_394800477_n

We are looking ahead to a long summer filled with all sorts of good folks coming through to play us some Fuel/Friends House Concerts! Our next one is Thursday, June 6th with Vandaveer, and has been a long time coming.

These are songs that resonate with echoes of old, rich music: spirituals, dirges, and songs of rejoicing. It often feels primal and organic in the percussion (lots of handclaps), elegant in the wending warmth of the cello. The lyrics are also dang smart; one just needs to listen to a rich allegory on songs like “Spite” to know that.

But the real currents that pull me through these songs come from the vocal pairings of Rose Guerin’s icy deep low harmonies and Mark Charles Heidinger’s wending ripples and currents that tug us around the rocks. Heidinger’s voice has this vinegar of sadness around it that actually reminds me of Nina Simone (something I would never expect); they both have that slight metallic tang and bitter aftertaste that sounds regretful all the way through.

smallVandaveer has a new record out of traditional folk murder ballads and other dark things, called Oh, Willie, Please. I am looking forward to being drawn into those complicated stories on a warm summer night.

And off their last record (one of 2011′s favorites of that year), the title track, which I still love so damn much. I thought of this song over and over in that Barcelona cathedral, and all those dazzling dizzying colors still come to mind every time I hear it.

Dig Down Deep – Vandaveer



As our opener for the evening, we are in for a real treat. Fresh off one of THE most insanely long and awesome shows I have seen in a very long time (at Meadowgrass this past weekend), opening the night will be Colorado Springs’ own Joe Johnson. He may also know a folk murder ballad or two, and man — can he also wail when he sets his mind to it. Check out this video he made last weekend amidst the pines, with friend Kevin Ihle:



EARLY SHOW: Please note that we have a multitude of musical riches in town on this same night, and we are doing this house concert as an early show (from 7pm to 9pm), so as to allow time for all of us to hop on bikes (those who have bikes) and ride the few blocks over to the Triple Nickel for the second act of the night with more good friends: The Changing Colors, with Ark Life and Roo & The Howl, which will get started shortly after 9pm!!

A generous donation is encouraged at my house show next Thursday, to support homegrown quality music and musicians. BYOB. You can RSVP via Facebook here — hope to see you here!

Also –

UPCOMING FUEL/FRIENDS SHOWS:
June 28 – Isaac Pierce (Ten Speed Music) & Some Say Leland
July 11 – David Wax Museum & Chimney Choir
August 10 – Small Houses & Tyler Lyle


May 29, 2013

everybody here thinks he needs you

tumblr_mkjk3kgvYp1r3gb6ao1_1280

Sixteen years ago today, Jeff Buckley went swimming in a tributary of the Mississippi River, and was pulled under. Back then I was a few weeks away from graduating high school, and can still remember reading the snippet of printed news in the paper that morning. I can still hear the blood rushing in my ears at that moment.

I’ve probably written more about Jeff than any other artist on this blog, and the purity and power in his music still flies straight and true into the best parts of me. Hyperbole aside, the more music I listen to and the more years that calcify around me, the more I realize what a startling light he was. When I recognized the anniversary today it felt like a punch to the gut.

I’d never seen this documentary, but you can (and should) watch the whole hour-long thing online today:




TODAY’S LISTENING:
I’ve also gone through all my archives here and pulled out a few noteworthy posts (with working mp3s) of all sorts of Jeff goodness that you may have missed. Recommended listening today:

Jeff’s first live performance ever at the legendary tribute to his father

A bevy of songs written about Jeff or inspired by Jeff, from other musicians. One of my first posts ever on this blog back in 2005.

Full show from 1995 in Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza

An absolutely blissful cover of “I Shall Be Released,” with my favorite laugh of his at the end.



I miss you, Jeff.



[photo by Merri Cyr, of course]


Tagged with .
May 14, 2013

God loves everybody / don’t remind me

The_National_Trouble_Will_Find_Me

All of my waking hours in the last week (and some of my sleeping ones as well) have been spent listening to the new National record, Trouble Will Find Me (out May 20 on 4AD). I am thoroughly taken by this narcotic, melodic speedball of record, all dark hues and complicated beauty. The National is one of my favorite bands, and I’ve waited three years for this. From the understated opening notes and breakingly delicate vocals, this record is magnificence that was absolutely worth the wait.

I think the magic combination that I so appreciate about the National is the way their music is both sentimental (“I am secretly in love with / everyone that I grew up with”) and gorgeously fatalistic (“I have only two emotions / careful fear and dead devotion / I can’t get the balance right”) at the same time. It’s such an interesting and noteworthy combination in music; that constant engagement with things we often think of as being very much at-odds. The Guardian wrote a piece about this record, and I re-read this sentence a few times: “What they have perfected, over the course of six albums, is a kind of glistening melancholy, a strangely beautiful dourness.”

I got stuck on the part that said that it was strange to find beauty in dourness, because lately I have been challenging myself to see a natural interweaving, and not something strange at all. I was reminded of something I wrote for that brilliant Cold Specks video, which wove together the decomposing and the budding, the avalanche with the slicing forward. Even though I have trouble articulating the way this concept looks in my head, I think it is the same reason I love The National – their songs are all both, at once.

“When they ask what do I see, I say: a bright white beautiful heaven hanging over me,” Matt sings on this (very dark) record. It’s there, all at once: in that blinding brilliance, the desire for redemption, that sad shitty feeling in your gut when you realize that things are so very broken everywhere. When I think of that, I shield my eyes because we can all agree that sometimes it’s too much, and sometimes we default to lingering in the swamp. But one thing that Berninger’s words –and this band’s elegant instrumentation– will always do for me is sharpen that sinuous zone between the celestial and the torturous.

Matt Berninger is my all-time favorite lyricist: he writes intellectual, spidery lyrics that can be so achingly spot-on in what they evoke, and also don’t shy away from the ugliest things we can think. I had to start keeping a note on my phone to write down all the mindblowing lines on this record that keep jumping out at me (or at least what I think they say). Lines as simple and profound as: “When I walk into a room, I do not light it up. Fuck.” Or these lines from “Slipped”:

“I’m having trouble inside my skin
I try to keep my skeletons in
I’ll be a friend, and a fuck, and everything
but I’ll never be anything you ever want me to be…
I keep coming back here where everything slipped
…I will not spill my guts out.”


Drummer Bryan Devendorf is probably also my favorite drummer; his percussion will often feel blissfully narcotic to me, in its tight persistence and crisp unpredictability. To me, his drums speak another language and contribute to the meaning of the song just as much as the words themselves do. Throughout this record, and every National record, one of their strengths is in changing time signatures, sudden shifts and (especially) hesitations. In a recent interview with The Gothamist, Bryan talked about the song “Hard to Find” being a “beautiful piece of music, around this odd fixed-meter thing — it’s very natural and, for lack of a better term, human.”

Similarly guitarist Aaron Dessner talks about the “funny extra beat” in opening song “I Should Live In Salt.” All throughout this record my brain kept lighting up at unexpected percussive joys. “Apartment Story” (on 2007′s Boxer) has long been a song that I will put it on the headphones if I want to sleep, using that rhythmic ferocity to mute and soften the corners of all my non-stop thoughts. On this new record, “Graceless” is an immediate standout to me that does the same: over an unrelenting hammering of classy drums, it’s addictive, with brilliant lines like “All of my thoughts of you / bullets through rotten fruit.” Wow.

The multi-instrumental capacities and coherence of The National have only become more pronounced throughout their six records. “I Need My Girl” starts with these weird little needling guitar tones that feel like all the persistent thoughts that start pricking at you in the darkness as soon as you turn off the lights to go to sleep; all the insecurities, all the things we’ve said that may have, in fact, been a little too aggressive — even as they helped keep ourselves intact, hold our shit together, help us gather our shit in. “Heavenfaced,” feels like a bruise forming, or slipping into some sort of storm-swollen dark river. It has one of the most beautiful breaks on the record, and gives us this lyric, which is perfect:

“Let’s go wait out in the fields with the ones we love.”


Many of the Nationalisms that I love reappear here on this record: chaotic background yelling, persistently superb percussion, and haunting female vocal harmonies (from guests like Annie Clark/St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten, and Nona Marie Invie from Dark Dark Dark). Sufjan Stevens is on here, and so is Doveman (remember this wonderful track?). And somehow the sum is greater than all those (pretty great) parts.

Lots of people are calling this record the best one yet from The National. To me, that’s like picking a favorite child, or chocolate/beer/ice cream/any beloved thing, for that matter. This is an astoundingly good record that you should get lost in next week, and for many weeks and months to follow. How do they keep doing it? It must be magic. Or chemistry. Or something else I’m just busy deeply, deeply appreciating over here.



trouble will find me
Spotted in Berlin


Tagged with .
« Newer PostsOlder Posts »
Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

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. If you represent an artist or a label and would prefer that I remove a link to an mp3, please email me at browneheather@gmail.com

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →