October 1, 2009

It’s a dead man’s party (who could ask for more?)


Today is somehow already October, and I’m suddenly in a fairly spooky mood, or at least the kind of mood that lets me appreciate songs about zombies and being alone in the dark at night. I’d heard of but not listened to California’s Dead Man’s Bones until today, but when I read that it is a project between actor Ryan Gosling, Zach Shields, and the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir, I clicked the play arrow immediately.

There are a few things I am a sucker for, and any sort of choir in a song (preferably gospel or children’s, but gay men’s choirs and the elderly are also accepted) will get me almost every time. In addition to this, I will admit to a deeply heartfelt affinity for Gosling and his Notebook glory (he made her a studio!). In fact, if I can finish packing soon for my for California jaunt (college roommate getting married this weekend!), I just might plunk myself on the couch to celebrate what Gosling has added to my Hallow-month.

The idea sounds ridiculous, but there is a vivacity and quirky doo-wop joy on these tracks that can perk up your ears any time, not just in the weeks around Halloween. It’s got a little Murder By Death gothic current, mixed with the chaos of your favorite large Canadian collective, and some playground claps and yells just to get your blood flowing. As Chad wrote to first grab my ear, “I’m not going to stop talking about how much I love this song until all of you start paying it some serious attention … it’s Ryan Gosling and a kids’ choir singing pop songs all together about monsters and whatnot and it still doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s brilliant.”

…and I’m already singing along.

My Body’s A Zombie For You – Dead Man’s Bones

The full Dead Man’s Bones album is streaming now on MySpace, and is out Tuesday on Anti- Records.

August 26, 2009

so many strange places i’d like to be / but none of them permanently


Earlier this month, one of my favorite thoughtful, eclectic music blogs returned. Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands is now tumbling on tumblr, and Chad recently posted a bittersweet bluegrass version of one of my favorite childhood classics.

For some reason, as Ernie dangled his puppet feet off the edge of the crescent moon, my 6-year-old self felt, and now my 30-year-old self still feels, a pang in the part of us that is always searching for a home. This humble version by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (you totally know him) is marvelous.

Even if you have zero interest in any sort of “kid’s music,” I highly recommend you take a second to listen to this one:

I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Yesterday in a special session at the college where I work, I got a rare chance to sit around and discuss poetry (hence the Star block post), and my comment “in class” was about how we can use simple or childish conceits to get at deeper truths and longings that our adult selves shy away from expressing. This song falls under that header, and truly is one of my unvarnished favorites.

I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon – Ernie & Aaron Neville

“…but an oyster and clam aren’t real family, so I don’t want to live in the sea…”

April 13, 2009

Monday Music Roundup


I hope that your Easter looked as good as that one. We got heavy wet snow and I wore my Easter dress anyways, out of defiance (yes, I still try and get a new Spring-y dress every Easter). I am glad to report the usual arsenal of Cadbury Creme Eggs and no Peeps.

Several songs in these past days have set my blogger heart ablaze in the best way. My friend Dainon pointed out that I am on a sky kick lately when it comes to song lyrics, and I was surprised to realize that he is absolutely correct. Lately I can’t get enough of the clouds, the stars, and the atmospheric explosions.

Something in the endlessness, I think.

scoreSleep All Summer
(Crooked Fingers cover)
The National & St. Vincent

Start with the song that I’ve listened to the most these past few days, probably close to a billion times. Matt Berninger opens with the lyrics, “Weary sun, sleep tonight, go crashing into the ocean… Cut the line that ties the tide and moon, ancient and blue,” his voice vulnerably cracking just a little on the high notes. The National and St. Vincent pair up to cover Denver’s Crooked Fingers (of Eric Bachmann, Archers of Loaf), and wistfully wrench at my heart in the best way. The songwriting here made me run immediately to go research Crooked Fingers. I am thoroughly impressed with how much exceptional material Merge crammed onto their newest 20th anniversary covers bacchanalia SCORE! (and oh, it is). You can stream the full album here for a limited time, featuring folks like Ryan Adams, The Shins, Mountain Goats, Okkervil River and Bright Eyes.

I Won’t Be Found
tallestThe Tallest Man On Earth

The influence of Bob Dylan on countless young American musicians is well-worn, and almost genetically hotwired into entire generations by this point, but to find a young Swede who sounds so convincingly authentic in his folk howls and sweeping lyrical songscapes — that’s something that excites me. Kristian Matsson performs as The Tallest Man On Earth and grew up listening to rock and punk in faraway Scandinavian lands, but through Dylan he “just fell into the ocean of American folk-blues.” On this song he sings about the Serengeti, levees of stars, and growing diamonds in his chest. His album Shallow Grave is out now, and also check the twangy theme song he created for the excellent Yellow Bird Project t-shirt site for charity (I’m a happy owner of that National one).

moodyThe Sound
Human Highway

There is an effervescence and simple joy in this number from Nick Thorburn (of Islands & The Unicorns) and Jim Guthrie (Canadian musician who was also in Islands, and is Woody’s grandson). Human Highway was named after the Neil Young song (or maybe the movie), and their album Moody Motorcycle was recorded in Guthrie’s Toronto apartment over a span of two weeks. It has a spontaneous feel to it, full of humble guitar picking and familiar-feeling harmonies that would make the Everly Brothers turn their heads. It was released last summer on my birthday, but I am just discovering it now — a little burst of last summer in the final gasps of winter.

Hallie and Henry (unreleased demo)
say-hiSay Hi

There are several reasons that I can deconstruct liking this unpolished demo from Say Hi‘s Eric Elbogen, ranging from the way his slightly ragged, earnest voice reminds me here of Pete Yorn, or that restrained pulse of the guitar. But mostly? If we’re gonna be honest, I think I like this song because the intro practically begs you to bust out with “Josie’s on a vacation far away, come around and talk it over.” TRY it. Say Hi has released a fabulous album called Oohs and Aahs on Barsuk, and is currently on tour with Cloud Cult.

Layout 1Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (Leonard Cohen cover)
Lemonheads & Liv Tyler

This vocal pairing is something I can totally picture occurring in the break room of Empire Records after Rex Manning leaves, Evan’s golden hair falling over his eye as Liv puts aside her studying for a few minutes. Harvard can wait. Starlets who sing can be a very bad idea, but Liv Tyler actually has a dusky, delicate singing voice she can be proud of. Here she joins with Evan Dando’s golden, malleable croon to cover one of Leonard Cohen’s bittersweet gems of a relationship’s twilight (“let’s not talk of love or chains and things we can’t untie”). The results join covers of artists like Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons and Linda Perry on the forthcoming Lemonheads covers album Varshons (due June 23 on The End Records). Kate Moss also sings. The concept could go terribly awry, but I enjoyed the last Lemonheads album so much that I hold out hope.

March 3, 2008

She & Him are very . . . nice

One of my most anticipated shows at Noise Pop this weekend in San Francisco was the M. Ward collaboration with velvet-voiced actress Zooey Deschanel called She & Him. I could hardly overstate the level of love I have for M. Ward’s richly layered music, and Zooey has this fantastic retro-throwback vibe with a sweet coyness to her inflection. The samples I’ve heard from two of them have been promising.

And, let’s face it — much like the time I saw Russell Crowe’s band at the Fillmore (that’s Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts for those of you keeping track at home), everyone likes to go see a real live attractive movie star play with their band. It’s why folks spend $40 to see Dogstar.

After three opening acts at the Great American Music Hall Sunday night, Matt and Zooey took the stage for their hour-long set. I gotta hand it to Zooey, she is a charming and capable performer who reminded my friend of June Carter Cash a bit, I suppose in her vocal swing. I’d never seen M Ward before but he clearly enjoys those sounds he coaxes from his vintage guitars, and sings his vocal parts with the gusto and expressions of an 80-year-old bluesman. It’s fun to see them interact with each other, ending their main set on the piano bench playing the ivories side by side.

But somehow the visceral kick that I like to feel in a live show was missing last night. The overwhelming reaction I had when I walked out the doors was that it was nice, absolutely, and charming. It felt like a very engaging county fair act. They have a lot of potential as a duo, as their voices meld so well and offer each other a counterbalance. I’ve got the album at the very top of the stack of advances to take a listen to — I am anticipating that I’ll catch some layers of interest and depth in the studio album that I must have missed in the live setting.

The bloggers were out in force for this show, and as we all travel home, Aquarium Drunkard posted up a quick thought saying that the show was fantastico. The line around the block made this one of the hardest shows of the fest to get into, but I left feeling like I’d missed something in what was supposed to be the kind of glorious winner in the cool-kid olympics show of the year. It was fun. And nice.

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here – She & Him

Volume One is out on Merge Records March 18. Thanks to the dude with the iPhone in front of me who shared his clandestine pics.

April 11, 2007

Jason Schwartzman goes coconuts

I don’t know Jason Schwartzman.

I only really “know” him as a string of quirky character roles in his various movies. So maybe it’s logical as I spin his throughly likeable new musical effort under the name Coconut Records that my always-visual mind pictures a parade of those guys performing these songs. Whether it’s a fleeting image of King Louis XVI (Marie Antoinette) sensitively strumming the guitar and pining away on “Summer Day,” or Max Fischer (Rushmore) jerkily dancing along to the irresistible title track, this is an album that’s just as off-kilter yet pleasingly authentic as the variety of movie roles he chooses.

Nighttiming (Young Baby Records, 2007) is eclectic and enjoyable, with a sound that reminds me of Pavement, The Format, Modest Mouse, and a dash of new-wave goodtimes.

Schwartzman blends some of the jangly California indie-pop of his previous work with Phantom Planet with his experience in composing film scores — I found surprising aural creativity throughout.

It was just released digitally, and will be out in proper CD form this summer. Highly recommended.

Back To You – Coconut Records
Easy Girl – Coconut Records

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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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