December 31, 2012

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2012

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.


Like a fire that consumes all before it…
Adam Arcuragi (Thirty Tigers)

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.

Oh, I See – Adam Arcuragi

Break It Yourself
Andrew Bird (Mom+Pop Records)

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.

Lusitania (feat. St Vincent) – Andrew Bird

Bahamas (Brushfire Records)

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.

Lost In The Light – Bahamas

I Predict A Graceful Expulsion
Cold Specks (Arts & Crafts)

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.

Blank Maps – Cold Specks

Damien Jurado (Secretly Canadian)

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.

Museum of Flight – Damien Jurado

Field Report
Field Report (Partisan Records)

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.

(Watch for the chapel session in a week or so!)

Fergus Falls – Field Report

The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Fiona Apple (Clean Slate / Epic)

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.

Werewolf – Fiona Apple

Isaac Pierce EP
Isaac Pierce / Ten Speed Music (self-released)

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.

Warm Bruise – Isaac Pierce

Lonesome Dreams
Lord Huron (IAMSOUND)

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.

Time To Run – Lord Huron

Sharon Van Etten (Jagjaguwar)

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.

All I Can – Sharon Van Etten


Most Important Song of 2012:
“Same Love,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Because of this:

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.

April 24, 2012

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #14 :: Adam Arcuragi & the Lupine Chorale Society

Adam Arcuragi has this rumbly deep, soulful voice that roils down into the bottom sediments of the lagoons and trolls up things for me. His is a kind of sturdy music that radiates equal parts gospel retribution, the pull of the sea or the drive of torrential rains, and so many voices rising together to answer the questions (or at least give it a shot, with conviction). Somewhere along the line his music got deemed “Death Gospel,” a name that totally fits when you listen to the way he describes it: “Death Gospel is anything that sees the inevitability of death as a reason to celebrate all the special wonder that is being alive and sentient.”

I fell for Adam Arcuragi & the Lupine Chorale Society pretty instantaneously when I saw them pouring out all their musical joy and four-part harmonies in their song “Bottom of the River” in a NYC flea market for the Blogotheque Sessions. Then after I finished the battery of my first graduate school residency, feeling dessicated, the torrent of his songs roared through again with the release of Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It… (out now on Thirty Tigers), saving me from that particularly pernicious breed of self-doubt and soul-weariness.

This chapel session was the first one recorded in the shiny new year of 2012, at the end of January on a Saturday morning so gorgeously clear and perfectly ice blue. The band had slept at my parents’ house the night before, due to me being full-up with wonderful couchsurfers, and my mom had laid a clean set of towels on each bed and made them all breakfast. So I think they were in a pretty good mood (me too), so much so that they were taking requests and inviting me to sing along. Like most bands who end up in the church, I knew from the first time I heard them that I wanted this recording to happen (Lupine: “of, like, or pertaining to wolves” – I’m all for the howling) and it didn’t disappoint.

As I said in January, how can any of us doubt our reserves when there is music like this to explain the questions?


President’s Song
The opening growls that Adam uses to start this song off remind me of a massive engine trying to turn over. It’s got an immense load to haul here, so forgive if it bucks a bit. Adam puts all his wonderfully wordy lyrics up on his website (like vocab-porn for me) and this song seems to juxtapose a foreign influence bringing church and promises, contrasted with the wilderness and surety of elemental certainties like the coming rain.

Broken Throat
Many of Adam’s songs strike me as either being taut with the sense of something unknown looming on the horizon, or the sure certainty of knowing certain secret things. This song is the latter for most of the verses, the reassurance of all our voices rising together to answer that which we do know, and making sense of us all in there together. As you can see beaming off me in the video, I loved being part of this knowing, this chorus of voices (I have a secret aspiration to be in a gospel choir, true story).

But for all the choruses and verses, the line that still sticks in my throat a good deal is towards the end, sung quietly: “And if I saw it, I still don’t think I’d know.” Huh. Yeah, I don’t know if I would, either.

(this song was my debut singing on a chapel session with real musician-folks. I’m available for weddings and background vocal tracking.)

Port Song
I’m pretty tickled to know an actual living-breathing sailor who goes off for months at a time and then returns to step down off that boat. From what I gather, the fragmentation of life at sea & life on land with the stability all around you of those you love can be disorienting, even when it is welcome. This song gets right at that, and always makes me think of my sailor friend. It’s a beautiful metaphor not only for reconnection but for the ceasing of the fighting alone. The first verse sounds restrained, like fatigue mixed with the slow creeping regeneration setting in around the roots, and then by the end everything is fully re-engaged, full-throated and wailing. “So, let me be your come back down, steady as a hand to hold / let me be the first voice as you step down from that boat / and tell me of the sea and foam, a thousand ocean miles from home / the simple gift is the song you hear from this small familiar shore.” It also gets me right in the gut how Adam makes his voice sound like an otherworldly theremin at the end, all Neutral Milk Hotel-like. Unsettlingly penetrating.

Bring It On Home To Me (Sam Cooke)
As the band loaded their gear into the church on that dazzlingly sunny morning, I was suddenly gripped with a string of melody that wrapped itself around my brain – the magnificence of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me.” I casually asked the guys if they ever covered it BECAUSE IT WOULD BE PERFECT. They smiled, and this was the result. (I once posted about seven trillion versions of this song. Adam’s reminds me of the spaciousness of Britt Daniel’s version the most, but with more ooomph and soul-sadness). This rendition could have easily been a forgotten b-side to a vinyl single sixty years ago; I love the space and the clatter and the toe-taps, underscoring the uncertain shuffle and the pleading wail.

(for other videos from this session, go visit Kevin Ihle’s YouTube)

They’re in Europe in May, my foreign friends. Please GO. And tell them I said hello.

[Recommended reading/listening: Death Gospel’s got a Wikipedia page and a Spotify provenance playlist, and even an article from the University of Chicago’s divinity school about the genre. Ooh]

April 7, 2012

like swinging your arms in the dark to find out how the light sits

Here is a little preview of the forthcoming Chapel Session we recorded with Adam Arcuragi & The Lupine Chorale Society, which at their behest also included me for a few minutes that afternoon. I guess I can say I’ve now recorded my debut chapel session, and on one of my very favorite songs of Adam’s. “Broken Throat” is a marvelous song, and the one I often sing when riding my bike home from work, as the wind whips past. Can’t wait for the whole session to be ready.

[video by Kevin Ihle]

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January 24, 2012

if you counted all this wanting / from the signal to the silver shiver mines

Portland was an unrelenting adventure of starting an intense graduate program (80 class hours in two weeks), trying to taste all the beers in the city (failed), and also seeing five tremendous shows at four different Portland venues. I slept little, laughed much, and met rad folks. As the dad of the host family I stayed with bemusedly told me, his eyes crinkled with a smile as I clung to the coffee pot one early morning: “Well, you sure are squeezing every last bit out of this city, aren’t you?”

But I’ve felt tense and dry since my plane landed home, throat closing a little at the magnitude of the schoolwork I gotta be on top of in a self-directed way for the next six months until my next residency in July. Music? What’s that?

And then I shut up and stopped the spiral, and just put the headphones on and laid flat on my bed. I put the opening song on the new, marvelously stunning Adam Arcuragi album on, and it was like a churning, splashing river just poured all through me, striking fear. From that earthquake rumble drumroll that starts the song, how can any of us doubt our reserves when there is music like this to explain the questions?

We have wells they don’t even know about.

Oh, I See – Adam Arcuragi

I have been listening to Like a fire that consumes all before it… (Adam’s incredibly-aptly-titled new record) without ceasing since early December. Stream the full album now on NPR, then go preorder it immediately so at the end of the year when I am naming my favorite albums of 2012 you can pull this out and we can excitedly discuss.

The album is out next week on Thirty Tigers (Centro-matic, The Avett Brothers, Jason Isbell, Jessica Lea Mayfield – they’ve got some of my favorite ears in the business). Every track is phenomenal, laced with stomping feet, ebullient golden-bright banjo, weighty piano that cascades just when you need it to, and choruses of voices. Also, track 8 “The Well” is worthy of being played at my funeral: “When we ache no more (oh won’t it be something to see)”…

Then while you are waiting for January 31 for the new album, go get their Daytrotter sessions, because there have been full days where all I want to listen to is “Broken Throat” from Daytrotter 2009, a bluesy bittersweet tune that stuns me every time with the opening lyrics: “Like swinging your arms in the dark to find out how the light sits…” and then just keeps walloping me over and over. You guys, it’s ridiculous.

You might remember the Blogotheque video I posted last month of Adam and his friends singing their pure little hearts out in a NYC market; I said if I ever got to see them live I’d probably be like that ancient Chinese lady sitting by her booth, grinning and clapping along. Well, we’re recording a Chapel Session on Saturday morning. That’ll be me, grinning and clapping along.

Oh I see them coming.

Jan 27 (Fuel/Friends presents!) – Hi-Dive, Denver, CO
Jan 29 – Cicero’s, University City, MO
Jan 30 – The Empty Bottle, Chicago, IL
Jan 31 – Cafe Bourbon Street, Columbus, OH
Feb 01 – Garfield Artworks, Pittsburgh, PA
Feb 02 – Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY
Feb 03 – PA’S Lounge, Somerville, MA
Feb 04 – Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT
Feb 06 – Kung Fu Necktie, Philadelphia, PA
Feb 07 – IOTA, Arlington, VA
FEb 08 – Cedars Lounge, Youngstown, OH
Feb 09 – Musica, Akron, OH
Feb 11 – MOTR Pub, Cincinnati, OH
Feb 12 – The End, Nashville, TN
Feb 13 – Bottletree, Birmingham, AL
Feb 14 – The Earl, East Atlanta, GA
Mar 14 – The Green Room at Warehouse Live, Houston, TX
Mar 21 – Sail Inn, Tempe, AZ

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December 2, 2011

i am in love with something invisible

Bottom Of The River (Blogotheque version) – Adam Arcuragi

This is an older video, but so joyful, there in the middle of a flea market off 25th Street in NYC. The little Chinese lady clapping along looks pretty much how I feel when I listen to this.

Adam Arcuragi comes to us by way of Philly (where he used to be a teacher), now makes his “death gospel” music in New York, and this is the closing song on his 2009 sophomore album, I Am Become Joy.

Joy indeed.

ADAM ARCURAGI TOUR DATES (i’m in for Denver)
Jan 18 – The Bootleg Bar, Los Angeles, CA
Jan 19 – Hotel Utah, San Francisco, CA
Jan 22 – Hi Fidelity Lounge, Bremerton, WA
Jan 23 – Sunset Tavern, Seattle, WA
Jan 24 – BellTower, Pullman, WA
Jan 25 – Flying M, Boise, ID
Jan 27 – Hi Dive, Denver, CO
Jan 30 – Empty Bottle, Chicago, IL
Jan 31 – Cafe Bourbon Street, Columbus, OH
Feb 01 – Garfield Artworks, Pittsburgh, PA
Feb 02 – Union Pool – RECORD RELEASE SHOW!! NYC
Feb 06 – Kung Fu Necktie, Philadelphia, PA

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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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