This song instilled a deep and intangible longing and sadness in me the first time I listened to it on Friday afternoon. With this, our first listen to a studio version of a song from the new Iron & Wine album, Kiss Each Other Clean (love that title), I was stopped in my tracks and held there, spinning. Back in one of those rare moments when I was able to write exactly, precisely what I feel when I listen to a song, there was the long ramble I wrote about “The Trapeze Swinger” last year, about how Sam Beam makes us feel like we are walking into the middle of a song that has always existed, tapping a primal vein of rhythm and harmonies that have been pulsing for eons. That’s also how this song feels. Even with the flourishes of unexpected electronica, I would personally call this song a masterpiece, on par with The Trapeze Swinger. I am wrapped in to this world he is describing.
STREAM: Walking Far From Home – Iron & Wine (lyrics)
The first two stanzas feel like holding your breath – keening, suspended. My favorite part of the song comes forty seconds in, one breath after the marvelous lyric, “I saw sinners making music, and I dreamt of that sound – dreamt of that sound…” — the aural fuzz clears out and the “ooooh woaaaaah” vocal harmonies start cascading and tumbling over one another.
With that apocryphal air of epic poems that Sam Beam does so well, there’s a push and give, back and forth on this song of the freedom of discovering new lands, but also a recognizance of the tethers that bind those inner parts of us back to the things we love. The opening line talks about walking somewhere “where the names were not burned along the wall,” which to me speaks of shaky, wet, nascent freedom. But even with everything freshly created, “I was walking far from home but I carried your letters all the while” and “I found your face mingled in the crowd.” We lose what we lose to keep what we can keep.
Also, how can you not see a marvelous parallel here with Dylan’s “Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”? Like a sister song, fifty years later.
This is the first track on the EP/maxi-single of three new Iron & Wine songs that I picked up on Record Store Black Friday. It’s the first track on the new album, along with “Half Moon” and eight other songs. Kiss Each Other Clean is out January 25th on Warner Brothers/4AD, Sam Beam’s first album since leaving Sub Pop.
Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) writes songs that could be stripped of all their music and go dressed as poems on Halloween. As compelling and gorgeous the melodies he weaves can be, I am often laid out by a turn of phrase or simple description in his lyrics. This new song has been floating around in various live videos on the internet (both of the early performances he flubscharmingly) but since this is from a radio broadcast last week, the sound quality is near-perfect. I think this is the best mp3 of it yet.
This weekend felt like the head-clearing kickoff of summer for me.
In addition to examining the smattering of new shoots emerging in my garden, running down green trails Saturday morning, an excellent peppered bacon breakfast with good company on Sunday morning, and Sunday twilight rooftop patio relaxin’ in Boulder, I was enraptured twice by The Bittersweets.
The Bittersweets converted me into something of a frothing-at-the-mouth missionary by Saturday morning. After leaving their Friday night show practically vibrating from the perfection of it all, I went home singing their songs in my car, to myself, loud and strong and clear. Saturday morning I started calling people, emailing those who I might be able to entice away from the sold-out Flight of the Conchords / Iron & Wine show at Red Rocks to come see The Bittersweets at Swallow Hill (sadly, a very low conversion rate).
So what was it about them that left me so rattled in all the right ways?
Well, as I told a friend on the phone shortly after waking, they kinda broke my heart and fixed it all in one night and I couldn’t breathe. Both the strength of the songwriting and the brilliant chemistry of primary songwriter Chris Meyers and lead vocalist Hannah Prater are exceptional, along with the slide guitar and harmonica of Jason Goforth rounding out the trio. “Come,” I wrote to friends. “Like Whiskeytown before anyone heard of them and before Ryan Adams started twittering about his decline. Or like Gillian Welch in a tiny tiny venue.”
They played their rootsy, honest music for a solid two hours, songs laden with plaintive lines that stopped me dead (“it’s been years, and I’m still fucked up, like some stillborn afterthought“). There were a handful of beautiful covers in there — Lucinda Williams’ “Orphan” early in the set, the sweetly wrenching “Broken Things” by Julie Miller, and towards the end of a late night, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” (Dylan) and “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You” by Tom Waits. Tom Waits is real good at that hour.
They closed their main set with the heart-stopping rendition of “When The War is Over” that I was waiting for — but they sang it standing down in the crowd with no microphones or amps, lapsing in the middle of the song over to “Falling Slowly” as I hoped they would. You could have heard a pin drop and it felt like half the audience was swallowing back a lump. The first time I heard that song, I personally “knew” instantly that it was about a divorce and the wake left, because of the way it punched me square in the metaphorical jaw. I talked to Chris afterwards about his song, letting him know how devastatingly powerful I found it to be. “Yeah,” he said, “People always come up to me and think it’s an anti-war song, and tell me how powerful of a political statement it makes, but the war there…” he looked around over his shoulder, then leaned forward towards me, “…it’s the war of a divorce.”
The Love Language
This song starts with machine -gunfire drums under a huge carnival big-top, all swirling sequined girls and fire-twirling. What a fun, perfect summer song from North Carolina’s Stu McLamb, performing as The Love Language, a band that my friend Oz at HearYa is calling his favorite new discovery. I like taking Oz’s word for things, and I think LL might be getting a fair amount of rotation from me all through these upcoming summer months. This tune is from the home-recorded, self-titled debut album. Man, there’s a lot of Voxtrot here, and, as their MySpace description says, LL sounds “like etta james kicking heroin.”
Flightless Bird, American Mouth (alternate version)
Iron & Wine
If my sources are correct, the formidable Sam Beam played this gorgeous song at Red Rocks on Saturday night, aptly controlling the there-to-laugh crowd with “songs about God and shit.” Alongside songs like “Woman King” and a set-closing “Trapeze Swinger” — even without hearing what he played in between, I’d say that sounds like a bit of heaven. Tomorrow Iron & Wine is releasing a 23-song double disc of rarities and b-sides called Around The Well, and having had the privilege to sit with it for a few weeks, I can say that I have found so, so much to love within those quiet plucked notes and whispered truths. This version of Flightless Bird, American Mouth comes from the free collection of alternate versions of songs off 2007′s The Shepherd’s Dog, which you can download for free over on the Iron & Wine site. Go. Do it.
Set in Stone
A flirty funk-guitar riff starts things off loose and happy here, and then that compelling Seventies-tastic bassline comes in. There’s a world-weary strain in the voice of lead singer George Hunter, almost as if it’s too difficult to be this earnest, this cool. Hailing from Chicago with a blisteringly boozy soul that feels more at home in the South, Catfish Haven makes my heart beat a little faster. This track is off Devastator, their third album, out now on Secretly Canadian, and one of SPIN’s best overlooked records of last year. I looked right over it, and now am circling back.
“And I do need the wind across my pale face. And I do need the ferns to unfurl in the spring. And I do need the grass to sway. Yes, I do need to know my place. But all I want is your eyes, in the morning as we wake, for a short while.” This is the first song off their new album Upper Air, out July 7th on Dead Oceans/Secretly Canadian. Bowerbirds are on tour with Megafaun all this summer, including a date right through Denver here during our 2009 Underground Music Showcase. Hmmm.
You’re Never Alone In New York (feat Craig Finn)
Any time Craig Finn guest stars on a track, I’m gonna want to hear it — a constant curiosity about how well his distinctive, pointed delivery works outside of the Hold Steady we love. Friends from the shared hometown of Minneapolis, Finn joins Ruby Isle frontman Mark Mallman on a track from his forthcoming solo release Invincible Criminal (Aug 11 on Badman), an album that was written “in the haunted basement of a converted church and inspired by a ghostly apparition of Elvis.” This intro is a slick, shiny song about big cities, I could tell when Craig Finn was about come in because the mood of the song shifts away from electronica and towards that meaningful-sounding swell of piano chords and then — boom. I was right. He comes in just at the right moment, bringing things back down into the dive bars and boulevards. [via P-fork]
I remember a book from when I was about ten years old, something like A Wrinkle In Time or one of those fascinating imaginative visions of other worlds and things unseen.
My brain stretches hard to recall a passage about tapping into a current of singing that existed outside of normal time, these pulsing jetstreams of melody and poetry and all the human longing – timeless and universal. Always there. Not always heard.
When I listen to “The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron & Wine, that’s the closest I can come to expressing its perfection. Opening with the tinkle of a windchime, it sounds like waking from a dream on your front porch in the late afternoon in springtime, or maybe not waking at all but being suspended. Somewhere where –for once– you can hear the currents.
“Please remember me, happily, by the rosebush laughing, with bruises on my chin….” the song begins, with golden beauty and purplish contusions from the first lines. The song weaves those two threads of our sweetest joys and our saddest failings over and under for the next ten minutes, with a feel of looking back from a distance. The things we carry with us, the strange variance of memory. Sam Beam crafts a stunning, endless, hypnotically rhythmic masterpiece that feels like it has always existed, and you just walked somewhere into the middle.
It’s about death and the pearly gates and how we might feel when we get there, and the eloquent graffiti that might greet us on the walls outside. “Lost and found.” “Don’t look down.” “Tell my mother not to worry.”
It’s about dreams among the fallen trees of our babies that may have never been born. It’s about uphill clawing, colored birds, and remembering the time in the car behind the carnival with your hand between my knees. “Please remember me, my misery, and how it lost me all I wanted.” It is, in a word, perfect.
Nothing compares to the original recording (from the In Good Company soundtrack), but this live version is humble and as unaffected as they come.
On Monday afternoon, I called the bowling alley at Moe’s BBQ, next door to the Gothic Theatre, to reserve a lane before the concert. “Big show tonight?” the man (sadly not named Moe) asked me. “Yeah, Calexico is playing next door,” I replied.
Bowling Man was unfamiliar with their music and asked me to describe it. “Well … there’s a southwestern element in there, but it’s not country. There are mariachi horns and steel guitar — I guess it’s indie-minded with kinda a wild desert streak.” That’s the best I could muster; Calexico is a difficult band to describe to someone who has never heard them because they straddle so many genres and defy easy characterization. This makes their live show stunning, an ever-shifting blend of enormous sounds and complex layers of melody. I’d never seen them live before, and I was riveted.
Here are some pictures from their gorgeous multi-hued set Monday night — with mp3s from one of my favorite concert collaborations below:
The view out my window is slick with rain in the moonlight. When I walked outside a few hours ago I was knocked a bit breathless for a moment by the smack of near-icy wind in the face. It seems pretty clear that summer (and any reprieves we may have gotten in the form of some gorgeous indian summer days these past weeks) has moved on to somewhere south of the equator. It was a good run this year, but now I find myself rummaging for suitable autumn songs that linger in the colder air with the crisp smell of smoke from neighbors’ fireplaces.
Sam Beam of Iron & Wine released the fiesty and brave album The Shepherd’s Dog about a year ago, which took a more multihued approach than the hushed-river ebb of his songs past (gorgeous favorites of mine like “Trapeze Swinger” or “The Sea and The Rhythm”). The third track on the album, “Lovesong of the Buzzard” was released as a limited-run 10″ vinyl single in the UK on Transgressive Records (Regina Spektor, Noisettes, Polytechnic) with two excellent b-sides.
I don’t have the vinyl yet, but due to the magic of the internets I’ve been enjoying the two tunes all this quiet evening. Beam’s been steadily growing a bit more firey in his music, evoking the darker sides of an uncontrolled wilderness populated with all sorts of questionable characters. Kinda like a strong whiskey, recent Iron & Wine burns a little in the chest — and there’s undercurrent of darkness, even foreboding, in the melody and the illicit storyline of this song.
I got to see the fantastic Jesse Malin on Friday night at a criminally under-attended show (perhaps due to the borderline negligent website for the venue/promoter, which didn’t even mention the show). After the show I thanked Malin for the sheer joy in the music that comes out through him when he performs. He is a musician full of heart, who knows how to rock. With an engaging stage presence, the new material sounded tight (balanced with his older songs) and he connected well with most of the crowd. The notable exception being the drunkie heckler in the front row with two bendy, feisty, lady-companions who kept interrupting Jesse during a very promising sounding story about moving a bed with a van in NYC and getting a phone call from Barbra Streisand’s “people.” Jesse utilized his NYC street-skillz with and told ‘em to put a cork in it or leave (deservedly), and we never got to hear the rest of the tale.
Jesse hopped off the stage for his campfire moment where we all sat on the ground in a circle and helped him sing “Solitaire” and braid each others hair and make friendship bracelets. Actually, it had the air of effusive spontaneity (even though it was admittedly contrived for the Blender.com cameras that were filming the show) and made me feel happy inside. Especially when he sat down right next to me and we all belted, “I don’t need any . . . I don’t need any . . . I don’t need anyONE!!” Go see him if you can this tour (oh and check the pics here and mini-video I was able to surreptitiously capture here).
Music for this week:
Long Forgotten Song The Thrills The two new songs posted on MySpace by Dublin’s The Thrills are shimmering and lovely, making me look forward to the new album. Even though they are from Ireland, their songs sound like California. This tune, about “a long-forgotten song but everyone still sings along,” sounds somehow like a song you once knew but forgot, and it feels weighty. It’ll be on their upcoming album Teenager, due 7/23/07 with great cover art.
Vanilla Sky Paul McCartney I finally watched Vanilla Sky this weekend for the first time (thanks Tony!) and shame on me for it taking me so long. I was scared off by the mixed reviews when it first came out (and a general fatigue of Tom Cruise’s smile) so I never took the plunge, even though it is a Cameron Crowe film and sweet bejesus I love him. Vanilla Sky blew me away — it’s my favorite kind of intelligent reality-bending/brain-messing movie with a marvelous soundtrack. For those who have seen it all the way through, think about the perfect placement of R.E.M.’s “Sweetness Follows” in light of what happens from that point forward in the film, even though you don’t know it at the time. There’s also priiiime placement of the eerie, icy, otherworldly sounds of Sigur Ros and some always-appreciated Jeff Buckley. The credits start rolling with this tune, penned by Paul for the film. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Head Like A Hole (NIN cover) Giant Bear Not to be confused with either Giant Drag or Grizzly Bear, Giant Bear is a Memphis five-piece that has decided to reinterpret Trent Reznor’s seething defining moment as a fiddle-twinged bit of Americana-rock with shared male/female vocals. It’s interesting, I’ll give them that, and not unlikeable. Off their self-titled debut album due out August 14 on Red Wax music. Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All-Stars) and Rick Steff (Lucero) also play on the album.
Collarbone Fujiya & Miyagi The first time I heard this song by Fujiya & Miyagi, I pictured it as the perfect soundtrack theme song for the movie of my life when I doll up and head out into the sparkling nighttime streets to wreak some sort of imaginary unspecified havoc. It’s a pimp song, sleek and funky and absolutely irresistible. I don’t know why three guys from Brighton go by Japanese monikers (other than perhaps a partial tribute to Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid?) but I ain’t complainin. From their 2006 album Transparent Things, which I definitely need to investigate further.
The Devil Never Sleeps Iron & Wine
[let's try this new music stream thing? Let me know if it doesn't work] There are some songs from Iron & Wine that just devastate me in the best way possible; I think Sam Beam is an amazing songwriter. I thought I knew him, kinda had his sound pegged as the perfect soundtrack to activities like moping, looking out a window at the grey clouds, or falling asleep. So get ready for the sounds on the new album Shepherd’s Dog (due Sept 25 on Sub Pop) — the songs are just as wonderful, but with a heck of a lot more spitfire and pluck. This one sounds like something from another time, floating out the window of a neighbor’s house into the humid summer night. The devil never sleeps because he went down to Georgia and is dancing to this.
******** Also, a final P.S. on Father’s Day – after an immense father-feteing BBQ at my parents’ house, I dozed off on the couch yesterday afternoon while my dad watched sports on TV. The sports channels are rarely on in my house (unless it’s the Giants), so I had forgotten how comforting and nice it is to weave in and out of sleep on a full belly listening to my dad comment on the game to no one in particular.
So, back from a long snow weekend with the gals, I am wishing you all a Happy First Day of Spring! Unfortunately, Colorado did not get the memo, and this is what I awoke to this morning:
As gorgeous as the falling snow is, I think I am ready for the ice to be gone. Over the weekend I was sitting in the hot tub with my friends (looking at the beautiful and dramatic mountains in the moonlight) and as I tried to run back into the lodge barefoot (it was freezing once you get out of the water! and I was wet!) I did an elaborately choreographed (and almost comical) fall down a few steps after I slipped on the copious ice. So I am all scraped and bruised on the skin that was bare. No more ice! Bring on the Spring, says me! Egad, if I keep pulling these slip & fall deals, what will happen to your musical consumption? For the love of all things holy, I think I need to be more careful. Ghastly bruises.
And, sorry, we are temporarily goin’ ole school today with uploads to Savefile (right click, open in new window for most links) since EZArchive bastards seem to be taking the morning off. 3pm: It’s fixed now, they are direct links.
Crack The Whip The Spinto Band Pitchfork’s description of this song, by current Arctic Monkeys tour opener The Spinto Band, caught my attention: “Four-on-the-floor ‘Crack the Whip’ lashes the make-up alternapop zeitgeist, whippin’ the Killers at their own neu-dance-wave game before ascending to a gates-of-heaven Beach Boys chorus like this was the Biblical, non-DFA Rapture.” That is one of the best-written music review sentences I have read in a while, and I am digging the song in a big way. These guys just rocked SXSW from what I hear. Check out their 2005 release Nice and Nicely Done.
Skinny Boy Amy Millan The female-vocals half of fabulously harmonic & smooth Canadian pop band Stars, Amy Millan is releasing a solo album May 30 called Honey From The Tombs. Any album title with the word honey in it is apt for Ms. Millan, since that is usually the word that comes to mind when I hear her lush voice. This song treads familiar Stars ground, with a bit more acoustic touch. I like the way she wraps her voice around the lyric “You’ve got lips I could spend the day with.”
The Shining (Capitol K Mix) Badly Drawn Boy Funny, I just accidentally typed “Badly Drawn Boi” instead of Boy. No, that would be Avril, who we don’t support here (sorry grrrls). I wonder if I hate the word “boi” or “grrrl” more. Tough call. ANYWAY, so this is a sonic assault best listened to on headphones as the remix takes you through dark layers of this song, a thousand miles from the relaxing orchestration of the original. Fascinating. It sounds like the soundtrack to a jerky David Lynch-type film vignette meets Sigur Ros-type atmosphere. From the 2000 remix EP Once Around The Block, Pt. 1.
Always On My Mind Iron & Wine with Calexico So, I just “found” this on my iPod, although I’ve had it for a few months (from their excellent appearance on NPR’s All Songs Considered). I somehow hadn’t listened to it yet. So I was quite excited to hear this lapping-ocean-tide reinterpretation of the classic made popular by Elvis and Willie Nelson. A touch of slide guitar, Sam Beam’s soft and relaxing vocals, and it’s an earnestly-sung treat. I think I originally got this off the excellent So Much Silence blog, which, paradoxically, is always giving me good gems to fill the silence.
And you, lucky reader, you get THREE bonuses this morning. First off a kind reader ripped me this mp3 of Brandi Carlile singing Hallelujah from that KCRW stream. So now you can have it on mp3. I got a great response to my postsabout her, seems like many of you have been as blown away as I was by this talented gal.
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
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