April 10, 2011

seven swans reimagined

Seven Swans Reimagined is a whole album of excellent Sufjan covers from indie artists including Joshua James, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and a band called Unwed Sailor that I once saw in Nashville (and bought their tshirt for an unwed sailor I know, as marketing). All profits benefit breast cancer research, also a worthy cause we can support. Go check it out and donate $10 for some beautiful tunes. That doleful cello is so rich on Joshua’s version:

[thanks Jodie!]

September 8, 2010

Short-order music


Philadelphia band Dr Dog announced today that they would be making a handful of new tracks (written since Shame, Shame) available for free download to their fans via their Facebook page over the next few weeks. The first offering, “Take Me Into Town” is an unhurried bluesy treat:

STREAM: “Take Me Into Town”

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Scott Hutchison from Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit blogged Monday about how he recorded a cool, collaborative EP of songs with folks from Twilight Sad, Idlewild, and others in a remote house in Perthshire (with “plenty of fruit wine”) and lickety-split, two songs were available now for free download (quite good ones, all broguey and anthemic). The Music Like A Vitamin supergroup is raising money for Scottish mental health, which of course you need after you submerge yourself in the marvelous misery of Frightened Rabbit for too long.

STREAM: I Forgot The Fall – Music Like A Vitamin (download two songs here)

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And then of course Tallest Man on Earth and Sufjan both dropped EPs on us from out of the blue (bam! available now!), Josh Rouse put together a free EP of live cuts and remixes from El Turista last month, and current Fuel/Friends favorite Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives made a name for themselves by releasing a steady stream of 7″ singles in the Portland music community over the past year, coming out in advance of their full-length, as they wrote and recorded them.

This trend I see gaining steam among indie musicians this summer is one that I love. I call it “short-order music” — not to imply a lack of quality (some of those diner omelettes whipped up in three minutes can be the best thing you eat all week) but rather a visceral, vibrant, of-the-moment transmission direct from the artists you love into your eardrums.

Arguably, we are becoming an impatient, on-demand culture whose attention span is brief and flickering. Nowhere is this more true than in the music community. One is reminded of Veruca Salt (who wants it NOW, Daddy) in our insistence to be constantly sated and titillated, and I am no different. But perhaps musicians can also harness this constant hunger to work in their favor.

In an age where the anticipation of a full album (and the inevitable leaks) can severely quell a musician’s financial gain from new music, this seems like a possible temperance. The guerrilla approach to releasing new songs via digital EP seems to encourage the immediate, bite-sized purchase of new music. At a few bucks per pop (or as Scott Hutchison blogged, “only six fucking quid!!”), it is more financially palatable for fans who are often used to getting, well, everything for free. There also is the perception of less risk – with only five songs, it’s less likely you’ll be getting that 12-minute art rock jam instrumental at the end of the disc. Unless you like 12-minute art rock jams.

While of course there will always be a place for us to fall in love with the well-crafted, cohesive, full album, I also welcome the willingness to mix things up a bit during the in-between days. Let me see what you’ve been up to since the tour ended. Surprise me with four new songs from the summer when I wake up tomorrow. Yeah?

August 27, 2010

Sufjan Friday


Five years since his last traditional release, Sufjan Stevens came out of the blue last Friday (only hours after my birthday waned, so I think it was probably a gift to me) with a new EP, All Delighted People, available on Bandcamp for only five bucks. Then a few days later, he announced his new full-length Age of Adz would be coming on October 12th from his Asthmatic Kitty label.

AdzA few live recordings of new songs from this album have been circulating since the Castaways shows last year in New York: the second, third, and last songs on the forthcoming release, respectively.

Too Much
Age of Adz
Impossible Soul

Falling into a pleasant rut, I’ve been alternating with the new EP, the live recordings from the Age of Adz songs, and this fantastic KEXP Seattle show from 2005. This is one of my favorite live sets of his that I have. The sound quality is pristine, the delicacy of the songs breathtaking (as always). I wonder if “Casimir Pulaski Day” will ever stop breaking my heart in its existential futility (“…but nothing ever happens”), or if I want it to.


Casimir Pulaski Day
The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders
Prairie Fire That Wanders About
The Predatory Wasp of Palisades Is Out To Get Us!
The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.


Don’t forget he’ll be touring “large, elegant” venues this Fall; the Denver stop is on my wishlist.

Oct 12 – Metropolis Theater, Montreal, QC
Oct 13 – Massey Hall, Toronto, ON
Oct 14 – Royal Oak Music Theater (SOLD OUT), Royal Oak, MI
Oct 15 – Chicago Theater (SOLD OUT), Chicago, IL
Oct 16 – Orpheum Theater, Minneapolis, MN
Oct 17 – Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO
Oct 19 – The Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin, TX
Oct 20 – McFarlin Memorial Auditorium, Dallas, TX
Oct 22 – Mesa Arts Center-Ikeda Theater, Mesa, AZ
Oct 23 – The Wiltern (SOLD OUT), Los Angeles, CA
Oct 24 – The Wiltern (SOLD OUT), Los Angeles, CA
Oct 25 – The Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA
Oct 26 – The Paramount Theater (SOLD OUT), Oakland, CA
Oct 28 – Orpheum Theater (SOLD OUT), Vancouver, BC
Oct 29 – Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, OR
Oct 30 – The Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA
Nov 1 – Kingsbury Hall, Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 2 – Paramount Theatre, Denver, CO
Nov 4 – Hilbert Circle Theatre, Indianapolis, IN
Nov 5 – Bijou Theater (SOLD OUT), Knoxville, TN
Nov 6 – The Tabernacle (SOLD OUT), Atlanta, GA
Nov 7 – Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, Asheville, NC
Nov 9 – The National, Richmond, VA
Nov 10 – Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, PA
Nov 11 – Orpheum Theatre (SOLD OUT), Boston, MA
Nov 12 – Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA
Nov 14 – Beacon Theatre (SOLD OUT), New York, NY
Nov 15 – Beacon Theatre (SOLD OUT), New York, NY

[photo credit Marzuki Stevens]

October 11, 2009

goldenrod and the 4H stone


This morning my neighborhood is covered in a thin sheet of ice, each leaf coated and crackly frozen. After venturing outside to take this picture (and promptly slipping on the ice), I sit here with my coffee and warm up, cozy in my slippers and fuzzy clothes. As I read the newspaper it tells me that today is the anniversary of the death of Casimir Pulaski, a Polish gentleman I know nothing about other than that his day in March is the title of one of my favorite Sufjan Stevens songs. Something about this powdered-sugar dusting of snow seems eminently appropriate for listening to a lot of Sufjan all morning long, yeah? I’m in Sufjan mood lately.

The sadness in this song always gets me — painfully honest, and bitterly sweet. A girl he loves is diagnosed with bone cancer. The light from the window presses up against her shoulderblade and they pray over her at Bible study (but nothing ever happens). He wrestles, as many of us do.

I appreciate the difficult veracity in these lyrics, Job shaking his fists upwards. As Josh Ritter muses, perhaps “we need faith for the same reasons that it’s so hard to find.”

Casimir Pulaski Day (live on KCRW) – Sufjan Stevens

…In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March, on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing

All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications when I see His face
In the morning in the window

All the glory when He took our place
But He took my shoulders and He shook my face
And He takes and He takes and He takes…

THE REST OF THE 2005 KCRW SET (good for snowy mornings)
The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts (live on KCRW)
Chicago (live on KCRW)
John Wayne Gacy Jr (live on KCRW)
A Good Man Is Hard To Find (live on KCRW)
Jacksonville (live on KCRW)


October 2, 2009

let me borrow his old winter coat


All of the talk about the spacey free-jazz wonk on Sufjan Stevensnew songs reminded me of some favorite collaborations he’s worked on in the past, like the humble harmonies of his duets with Rosie Thomas.

Say Hello (rough mix) – Rosie Thomas & Sufjan Stevens

There’s a childlike vulnerability and very grown-up beauty in Rosie’s voice, and listening to it tonight reminds me of many many nights last winter when I’d sit in semi-darkness with only her voice playing softly, achingly on the wood-grain stereo.

rosiethomasShe’s been making music for several years now, sometimes with Sub Pop Records, and has worked with a handful of those sensitive musician fellas I love like Damien Jurado, Sufjan, and Denison Witmer.

This song was on the Say Hello EP, with the finished version on These Friends Of Mine (2007).

April 24, 2009

celebrate the day by putting things where they don’t belong…


Today Sufjan Stevens posted a very old cassette-tape recording that he wrote in his college dorm room about Sofia Coppola. Par for the Sufjan course, the song is humble and lovely and pensive (all minute and forty-seven seconds of it), with a taut string of some undefinable wistfulness running through the banjo plucks.

In the accompanying story, he kicks around ideas about names and name-songs, and the time in his life when he wrote this. It is a fascinating insight into his fire-hydrant creative process and the way we grow:

My older self, glancing back over simple chords and hazardous poetry, likes to think I’m older, wiser, more mature, more eloquent, more artful, more poignant, more contemporary. But that’s unfair. The concept has changed but the approach has always been the same….
[read the rest here]

Sofia’s Song – Sufjan Stevens

I’m pretty sure that one reason I like this little wisp of a song so much this week is that the “putting things where they don’t belong” lines echoed this poem, which has been looming large in my brain all week, taking up a lot of my thoughts.


[lost/found penny, photo credit Nicky Thurgar]

December 25, 2008

…and a new Christmas one from Sufjan

In keeping with his prolific holiday tradition (he makes music like some folks make garlic prime rib), Sufjan Stevens has recorded a new home EP of Christmas songs for 2008.

As he’s apparently “Astral Interplanet Space Captain” this year, many of the songs are of the synth-Casio variety, and I’m kinda finding the mood a bit off-putting, compared to the way I love his banjo with my whole backwoods heart. I mean, “Wonderful Christmastime” should have never happened. Have we learned nothing from the past! Christmas means no synthesizers.

But in any case, there is one sweet piano-based tune on the new EP that has risen above the interplanetary action to warm my heart. I do hope your day was happy.

Christmas In The Room – Sufjan Stevens

Get the whole EP over on So That’s What The Volume Knob Is For.

And . . . I’m off to California for a few days of sun and fun and friends (well, maybe not the first one. It is December.)

Tagged with , .
December 6, 2008

Sufjan gets behind the Welcome Wagon

If you showed me the cover of this (2008!!) album from Brooklyn’s Welcome Wagon and asked me if’n I would like to borrow it from you and listen to it, my first reaction would be “No.” That would be based largely on the fairly unbelievable cover. But shucks — beyond that Seventies-tastic artwork lies a whole downpour of wholehearted harmonies and majestic banjos on this debut album from Rev. Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique. As it helpfully says on the cover, “Pastor and wife join voices in sacred foks songs for All Ages.”

The album was produced, recorded, and arranged by Sufjan Stevens, and this song was originally written by past Sufjan collaborators Danielson Familie. Fans of Sufjan’s music will appreciate the same childlike delight and shiny newness in their music.

Sold! To The Nice Rich Man – The Welcome Man

Welcome To The Welcome Wagon is out December 9th, and that night they are playing St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Brooklyn.

[thanks bruce!]

June 4, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

Happy Monday folks. I forgot to announce the Brushfire Records contest winner on Friday because I was up in Boulder, but in a random drawing (seriously; I made up 46 little pieces of paper and numbered them in the name of fairness) reader Kevin Cornwell wins the sampler packs of albums from the Brushfire lineup and a t-shirt. Yay Kevin! Please email me with your address.

I was kinda hoping that the winner would be the one dude with the joke about the muffins. SO ridiculous that it made me laugh out loud.

Here are the tunes I am listening to this week:

If You Wear That Velvet Dress
Jools Holland and Bono
The friend who sent me this song admits to skipping “If You Wear That Velvet Dress” when he listens to Pop, but for me the original is a smoldering hymn to clandestine longing that rarely gets passed over. This 2002 big-band swing version from (Squeeze founder) Jools Holland’s More Friends: Small World Big Band, Vol. 2 album takes a slightly different tack. The whispered aching and subtlety of the original turns into something almost brash — more breathy jazz singers lounging on pianos than smoky velvet dresses. Still, totally worth having – the album also features duets with folks like Stereophonics, Badly Drawn Boy, Tom Jones, and Huey of Fun Lovin’ Criminals.

Today (Smashing Pumpkins cover)
Ben Kweller

When I first read about this compilation album of Smashing Pumpkins covers from the good folks at SPIN (speaking of which, I’m almost finished reading my first Klosterman book) and MySpace, I wanted to stab my eye out with a black eyeliner pencil. This Ben Kweller contribution was the only one that sounded mildly interesting to me out of the lineup (if a bit unnecessary?). I love Ben, and here Ben sounds a bit bored, even though he does pretty up the singing (85% less angst) and do a real nice intro. HOWEVER. The appreciated facet of this song is that now for the first time I can understand many of these lyrics, and can sing them without mumbling through those parts (“I want to tmmmhmm you mmmmmm….I want to mmm dmmmmm hmmmmm….”). The CD is packaged with the July issue of SPIN.

Lose Myself
Lauryn Hill

Where oh where is Lauryn and why does she just tease us with an astounding album like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and then vanish for coming up on 10 years (okay, except for the Unplugged thing)? I love that album and I have missed her talent. This track is a contribution to an upcoming kids movie (Surf’s Up) and, sure, sounds a little soundtracky, but I have to admit I find the skittery stop-start beat in particular to be irresistible. Oh yeah, and the soundtrack also features Pearl Jam. No – for real.

In The Words Of The Governor
Sufjan Stevens

Wait, so we’re sure this is the same Sufjan who plucks the banjo gently, sings in a breathy lovely voice, and makes me cry with finely wrought songs like Casimir Pulaski Day? In this new track from the Believer Magazine 2007 compilation album he wails and chants and channels the Beatles at their most psychedelic. Wha? Way to show us another side, Soof. [via]

Will You Return?
The Avett Brothers

Speaking of the Beatles, what would it sound like if they’d been raised deep in the heart of Appalachia? Maybe a little bit like the plucky fusion of North Carolina’s Avett Brothers. I am hearing these raves for their newest release Emotionalism, and this song makes me smile from the opening count-off. You can hear the smile in his voice. The album is raw and joyful if you can acclimate to the twang that smacks you in the face. But kinda in a good way.

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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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