July 16, 2010

when you pass them at night under the silvery, silvery citibank lights

There is something so exquisitely elegant and hammeringly sad about the way that St. Vincent sounds on the verses of “Mistaken for Strangers” here. Matt Berninger of The National comes in with his weighty vocals as accent – like a marvelous “Sleep All Summer” redux.

The visuals are nothing exceptional (afternoon soundcheck at a Roman theatre in Lyon, France a few days ago) but the way this song is woven into some sort of suspended, breathless delicacy just simply breaks my heart.

April 16, 2010

Birth of a Nation(al)


After reading the fantastic interview with The National over on The Quietus website, where Berninger said he wanted the new record to sound “like loose wool and hot tar,” I’ve been even more excited (if that’s possible) for May 11th when High Violet is released.

But back when frontman Matt Berninger and bassist/guitarist Scott Devendorf were students at the University of Cincinnati, they had a band called Nancy (named after Matt’s mom). Together with bandmates Mike Brewer, Casey Reas, and Jeff Salem, they played in Nancy until graduation, when Matt and Scott moved to New York to pursue graphic design.

I’ve been intently listening all morning to what they sounded like. Of all the tracks, “Export” sounds very much like it could be a National demo to me (especially in those lyrics), and also the moody instrumental “Track 10″ shows nuances of depths to come. The other songs vibrate with that mid-90s loud punk enthusiasm that speaks to their love of Pavement, where the only connection I hear to what some members would evolve into is through devastating lines like: “I still talk about you when no one is asking, I still put shirts while my chest is collapsing.”

NANCY: from their 1996 album on Wife Records

Breathing Test
Snocone Babbling
Track 10


[songs via former Nancy member Casey Reas’ site, and thanks to my friend Rand for pointing me in the right direction]

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March 11, 2010

It takes an ocean not to break

The excitement thrumming hot in my veins as The National kicked off my first listen of the opening track on their forthcoming album High Violet was nearly overwhelming:

Terrible Love (live on Fallon) – The National

I’m also gobsmacked by the album art, which sort of reminds me of this image. High Violet is out May 11 on 4AD.


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February 16, 2010

Red seas at night


The Clogs are a somnolent musical endeavor of Bryce Dessner from The National (who just confirmed for Sasquatch but I suppose that’s another post altogether), and friends he met while studying at the Yale School of Music: Padma Newsome (viola/melodica/voice/piano), Rachael Elliott (bassoon), and Thomas Kozumplik (percussion).

Similar to their friend Doveman, the dark and dreamlike music they create finds its home on the Brassland record label, and since they like to keep it all closely knit, the album also features Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner of The National, Sufjan Stevens, and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond.

Clogs_CoverThe Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton is their fifth full-length, and starts shipping today from Brassland directly (CD+EP or CD+shirt).

It will be in stores on March 2.

Red Seas – The Clogs

Also, this instrumental song from their Veil Waltz EP (“a prologue to the album“) makes me feel suddenly and untraceably wistful.

Three Two – The Clogs

Feb 19 — Minneapolis, MN @ Southern Theater
Feb 20 — Minneapolis, MN @ Southern Theater
Mar 22 — Listen to them on WNYC
Mar 24 — New York, NY @ Bell House w/ Ólöf Arnalds and Julianna Barwick
(album release party)
Mar 26–28 — Knoxville, TN @ Big Ears Festival

UPDATE 2/17: Big Ears Festival, March 26-28: Sufjan Stevens along with Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner of The National and Shara Warden (My Brightest Diamond) will be joining Clogs in their performance of the new song cycle ‘The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton.’ This will be the only live performance of the piece currently scheduled with all of the guest vocalists from the album.”

November 29, 2009

remember how we fell upon an accident of paradise


I first listened to this song because The National told me to; New York City artist Doveman (aka Thomas Bartlett) is their longtime friend and collaborator, and here The National return the favor by essentially becoming his backing band on a gorgeous album, which they released on their own Brassland Records.

This song is a stinging arrow of beautiful ache, melancholy and somehow lovely. I relate to the way it weaves a dense layer of complex feelings, looking back at promises of magic somewhere amidst the whiskey sea.

Angel’s Share (with Matt Berninger) – Doveman

You always played a stonewall game
but I’ll get past you anyway

a flick of the wrist and it’s straight through your heart
when you’re feeling sad
remember how we fell upon an accident of paradise

So drink your fill, pretty baby
drink down that whiskey sea
and drink your fill, my darling
but save the angel’s share for me

If I were drowning, baby
drowning in your deep blue sea
if you want to rescue someone blue…
please don’t rescue me

In addition to Matt Berninger’s haunting baritone on the album, other collaborators include National bandmates the Dessner brothers and Bryan Devendorf, as well as Beth Orton, Martha Wainwright, Nico Muhly (of this) and Glen Hansard of The Frames/Swell Season (who I see tonight). It packs a pretty immense punch.

This living room performance with string quartet, trumpets, and guest appearances by Sean Lennon and Bryce Dessner was from the album release party last month. The simplicity and spare sadness of this rendition made me cry. Or maybe it’s just something in the air.

[more pics here]

Doveman just completed a string of tour dates opening for the Swell Season, but is sadly not still with them tonight for their Denver show. The only current tour dates listed are a handful of shows in New York.

The Conformist is out now on Brassland Records. As Hansard says of it, “The Conformist is just fucking beautiful. Thomas brings so much light to other people’s music, it’s great to see him stop long enough to apply that light to his profound sense of song. He’s not afraid to go in, in where the good stuff is, in where you might get lost without a compass — in and deeper in.” Here’s to compasses, and where the good stuff is.

October 29, 2009

mom, dad, i want guitar lessons

Fascinating to look at your favorite magic all broken apart and splayed out simple.

Remember, the Dessner brothers’ art & music interpretation about the beginning of time is at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this weekend.


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September 9, 2009

A song-filled myth about the beginning of time

(click to watch trailer)

Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National along with Matt Berninger, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, Kim and Kelley Deal from The Breeders, and a 12-piece orchestra — combining with visual art of Matthew Ritchie and attempting to depict the beginning of time?

Count me in? I spent Halloween in NYC once, I would totally do it again.

The Long Count: Part of the 2009 Next Wave Festival, Oct 28-31, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)

September 5, 2009

Outside Lands returns triumphant


I can think of much worse ways to spend an August weekend than in the heart of one of my favorite cities (San Francisco), seeing an eclectic lineup of bands both headliner-huge and quirky-small. Last year’s inaugural edition of the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival boasted a solid roster of national and local musicians, but was plagued by a few logistical snafus that ranged from the mildly annoying (no, you can’t go that way anymore, you have to walk all the way around) to the borderline panic-attack inducing (15′-wide gauntlets of death to walk through to get to Beck, crammed like a sausage with your neighbor who is pushing the other way). It made it hard, at times, to lose yourself in the music, as Eminem advises.

This year’s festival returned with with a shimmering bang last weekend, featuring an arguably stronger lineup than last year and straightened out details, continuing to play on the gorgeous natural setting with stages spread out amidst the cypress trees. The fest also showcased local wines and restaurants with some abnormally tasty selections for a festival, far better than your standard funnel cake (not that I have ANY PROBLEM with funnel cake).

Of course, as with any festival, when you take into account the human error fudge factor, heat and/or cold, interpersonal weavings, and the occasional Heineken, it can be awfully difficult to catch all the bands you wanted. But the happy flip-side of that is that you often end up stumbling into something even better.

My three days of musical happiness began with a band that is quickly becoming one of my very favorites – Blind Pilot. This Portland, Oregon band drew a huge crowd with their rich and bittersweet tunes layered with gorgeous instrumentation, and those rootsy leanings. Frontman Israel Nebeker’s evocative voice just keeps drawing me back, no matter how many times I see them live (this was #3 this year).

How I want that mystery / let me dive ’til I believe.”

Two Towns From Me – Blind Pilot



The only other time I’ve seen The National perform was at Coachella last spring, and it is a testament to this band and their potency that even in a festival setting, in broad daylight, they’ve managed to completely knock me flat in the best way possible. I can’t imagine what they’d do to me in a dark club. As I wrote about the Indio desert, “The National carved something out of me and put something back in, is the best way I can put it.” Their set was riveting, laden with songs that I could hardly have hand-picked better (except maybe, “Lucky You.” I’d add that one).

Matt Berninger looks every bit the refined GQ businessman in a large faceless city; gold wedding band on his hand, dark collared shirt, hair nicely trimmed. But with his baritone velvet voice, dark stories spill from his mouth of all the emptiest fears and the most acute longings that wake us in the night. The bright horns and the swells of melody twinkle and shine like a candle in a colander, putting a streak of beauty through the center.

Start a War, Mistaken for Strangers, the new Blood Buzz Ohio, Slow Show — and my favorite Secret Meeting… it was over far too soon.

Lucky You (live on Daytrotter) – The National




Next up in a magical bit of booking was Tom Jones, the Welsh crooner who can peel panties off people using only his cognac-smooth brogue. You would not believe the universal love that flowed from all sectors of the (hip-shaking) audience for his snappy set. All you need to know about the performance can be gleaned from these two pictures, and if you have more time to amuse yourself, my montage of Tom Jones facial expressions over on Facebook. As a friend texted me during his set, as I reported on the undies flying off 19-year-olds with dreadlocks and ironic t-shirts, “It’s like he went from cool to ironic back to cool.”

I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor (Arctic Monkeys cover) – Tom Jones



Friday night ended as not the best of times for me, although I did try to rally and catch Washington D.C.’s Thievery Corporation, with their Brazilian-dub-lounge groove (it looked like this, and sounded numbingly good floating through the night and turning off my brain).


Saturday started off with a double-shot of global awesomeness from different corners of the world; it was bands like these that illuminated the fest for me. First up was Extra Golden, a combo of half Kenyan-benga music and half American-study-abroad-student rock. You might remember when I wrote about these guys a few months ago, I mentioned “the sound that cut through the din,”and also mused how good they might sound live. I am pleased to report that they both stopped traffic of folks walking by (with their tribal beats and African-laced rock), and also put on a superb set. I would absolutely go see them again; I kept laughing out loud from joy.

Anyango – Extra Golden



Immediately following Extra Golden, we dashed over to the Sutro stage to catch Nortec Collective’s Bostich + Fussible, on the recommendation of my friend Julio, who is much-more-savvy than this white girl when it comes to all things south of the border. I’d never heard any nortec business, but it blew my mind — the crashing together of the traditional Tijuana sounds with effortlessly cool dudes twisting knobs to make ridiculously danceable beats. My friend nailed it when he said they could occupy the stage in the back of any Quentin Tarantino movie scene — they were just that badass. Another band I would see again live in an absolute heartbeat. I mean listen to this:

Aka 47 – Bostich + Fussible



Next was Bat For Lashes (rad British chanteuse Natasha Khan), with a set that created more buzz than any other band I saw at the festival. Everyone was talking about her afterwards, and it was my favorite set of the weekend. I was only casually acquainted with her music before seeing her live, but her rich satiny alto voice flowed like a warm golden river through the middle of the sexy, synthy danceable creations. Where she was competent and confident in her stage presence, her band was amazingly kickass too, and I fell in love with both the drummer and the rainbow zig-zagged guitarist.

And: random celebrity sighting, Josh Groban totally digs Bat For Lashes; he was right by me for the set. YES, Mom, Josh Groban. Omg.

Pearl’s Dream – Bat For Lashes

Use Somebody (Kings of Leon cover, live on BBC) – Bat for Lashes



And: random fashion note, the girls in the band totally share clothes.


After wasting away some hours of the evening with folks like The Ice Cream Man and the Free Heineken Man, the only other set I participated in on Saturday (sadly! festival fail!) was the scorching set from Dave Matthews Band. I forget how much I do love Dave, and a sailor I met recently on my ocean sailing voyage has reminded me how many steps I may have also missed in Dave’s development through the years.

Musical hipsters like to look down our noses at plebian jam-rock like DMB, but dancing my ass off alongside fellow not-afraid-to-love-Dave-ite Nathaniel from I Guess I’m Floating to “Lie In Our Graves,” “Two Step” and a particularly passionate rendition of “All Along The Watchtower,” I was reminded how good it can feel.

Lie In Our Graves – Dave Matthews Band

(“and I can’t believe that we would lie in our graves wondering if we had spent our living days well/ I can’t believe that we would lie in our graves dreaming of things that we might have been….”)




After two sunny warm days, when Sunday arrived grey and misty like SF likes to be in the summer (or any dang time), the layers I had fastidiously packed came in handy. Worn out from the two days already, a third day felt simultaneously like a gift (yay! more live music!) and also an uphill climb. But arriving to the festival to the pleasingly dulcet sounds of local San Franciscan John Vanderslice on the Presidio stage, I forgot my still-tired feet and smiled a wide smile.

Vanderslice is someone I have been delving more deeply into since he wowed me in Chicago at that show with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Again on Sunday I was struck by how he could join a musical club with Nada Surf and Death Cab and they’d all nestle in perfectly side by side. It was pretty well-attended too for an early afternoon show on a second stage, perhaps due to the strength of his latest (great) album, Romanian Names.

Too Much Time – John Vanderslice


Whatever I needed to get my mojo back, I found it (of course, in droves) at The Avett Brothers fervent 3pm set at the other end of the meadow.

I had just seen the Avetts in both Boulder and Denver the weekend before (see pics and a video) and loved every raucous, earnest, sweaty second of it, but the recent satiation didn’t even matter when they took the stage before a very enthusiastic crowd. I had urged all the friends and acquaintances and other photographers I met at other shows for the first part of the weekend to make their way over to the Sutro stage at 3pm Sunday, and as I looked around, I saw an awful lot of smiles and the occasional yell-along. Their set was crisp and carried out beautifully over the meadow. They started with “Paranoia in Bb Major,” and then went right into the new “Laundry Room” and then “Die, Die, Die.” When they finished that triple-whammy, they moved into “Murder In The City,” and nearly killed me. Such a wonderful set from these brothers, in a near-perfect setting for their bluegrass punk.

Laundry Room (live on MOKB) – The Avett Brothers

PS – Get the full MOKB Laundromatinee session with Los Avetts.



Switching gears quickly from furiously-strummed banjos to yowling waves of rock, we headed clear over to the Twin Peaks stage to get in position to witness the detonation that is Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) and Alison Mossheart’s (The Kills) new band, The Dead Weather. This is the same second-stage I saw Wilco play on last year, and it was just as crowded – another act that could have/should have played the main.

Jack White coolly walked out behind dark shades and sat behind the drumkit at the far back of the stage and stayed there for the duration of the first three songs that we photogs get to have at it. Alison handily seized the mantle of being the face of the Dead Weather (fittingly), and paced and flailed and thrashed, leaning down in our faces and threatening to grab us by our hair, and hang us up from those heavens. For a small woman, she packs an intense punch — she was feral in an awesome, invasive way. All the members of this supergroup are mightily accomplished in their own rights, and together they are pretty amazing to watch, even on a bright Sunday afternoon.

Hang You From The Heavens – The Dead Weather




It’s not every day that a girl gets to see both Jack White and Jack Black in the same day, but before I did the Tenacious D rotation (and failed to get pics because I had the wrong lens), I danced as hard as I could muster to the third world democracy sounds of Sri Lankan supernova M.I.A., who puts on a marvelously enjoyable set. I saw her at Coachella last year — well, kind of saw her, whilst I was being crushed from the massive audience that poured into the smallish tent to see her. Her reputation preceded her.

This time around, after I shot the pics, I went to a vantage point where I could see the whole huge main-stage crowd dance and pump their fists in time to the three gunshot sounds in the chorus, and smile that she was finally on the larger stage she deserves.

Paper Planes – M.I.A.





So… in sum, a marvelous weekend.



July 15, 2009

Let’s just say you love me :: The National cover Mark Mulcahy


Today we got our first listen into the solid forthcoming album of covers of Mark Mulcahy’s songs, Ciao My Shining Star, a benefit album for this wonderfully rich songwriter in his hour of financial need (his wife died, leaving him with small twins to raise).

The lead off track is an icy reworking of “All For The Best” by Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke, and we’ll get to that in a sec, but the one that caught my eye even more quickly is the new cover from The National. I’ve loved this song below for a few years now, and I am flabbergasted at how much the original just sounds like a National song now that I listen to it through that filter. I think this will be the “Sleep All Summer” of my fall – both versions are equally addictive. The closing strings on The National’s version actually caused my chest to hurt.

Ashamed Of The Story I Told (Polaris cover) – The National
Ashamed Of The Story I Told – Polaris

With the backbone of Mark Mulcahy‘s solid songwriting, this covers album looks to be one of the best ones out in 2009 (tied with Dark Was The Night). The roster of artists featured is incredible: Thom Yorke, The National, Michael Stipe, Ben Kweller, Frank Black, Liz Phair, Vic Chesnutt, Elvis Perkins, and more.

So who is Mark Mulcahy and how did he inspire so many of my favorite artists? I first heard of him through Nick Hornby’s Songbook, when he wrote, “I would have missed out on people like Mark Mulcahy, whose first album, Fathering, I bought [on the recommendation of a music shop proprietor], and played repeatedly for months. ‘Hey, Self Defeater,’ the first track … made it onto just about every compilation tape I made that year.”

Mulcahy was also the artist behind the 90s band Polaris, from the TV show The Adventures of Pete & Pete. It was some of the best music ever to hit Nickelodeon — sugar-pop at its finest. I’ve re-upped the previous post with Mulcahy’s songs from the cassette tape you could get from saving Frosted Mini-Wheats barcodes. They are deceptively good for something from a kids show.

Since being introduced, I have come to respect Mulcahy as a literate first-class songwriter, and this song from his band Miracle Legion first appears simple, yet is laden with ache and meaning in the smallest of moments, like watching a sibling cut grass and the overwhelming monotony of life that can imply. The jangly effect of the original reminds me quite a bit of some of my favorite things about late-80s R.E.M or The Smiths. Thom Yorke’s version is distant electronica, layered all crisp and sad and perfect.

All For The Best – Miracle Legion

All For The Best (Miracle Legion cover) – Thom (and Andy) Yorke

Waking up, and the bed was made
no one looked me in the eye
the more I try, the more I cry
and it’s all for the best

Watched my brother cutting grass outside
sitting on the porch he told me
it’s a long way to go before we can rest
but it’s all for the best

You’re so beautiful it sings
on a lonely lazy morning
and when I see you rocking back and forth
whispering that it’s all for the best

One day the stone will roll away
soon you’ll see
you’re far away from home but never far away from me
and that’s all for the best

…and say you love me

Promise me, son, not to do the things I’ve done
walk away from trouble at the end of the day

Say you love me
say you love me

Let’s just say you love me

Devastating and beautiful. That song, and especially Thom’s alienated version of it, slays me.

You need to go snag a few more free songs from throughout Mulcahy’s career, and watch for Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy, out Sept 29th on Shout Factory. I really cannot wait.

May 26, 2009

we don’t bleed when we don’t fight

We don’t bleed when we don’t fight
go ahead go ahead
Throw your arms in the air tonight
we don’t bleed when we don’t fight
Go ahead go ahead
There’s our shirts in the fire tonight

what makes you think I’m enjoying being led to the flood
we got another thing comin’ undone
we got another thing comin’ undone
That’s taking us over

That’s another new song from The National, tantalizing glimpses from their forthcoming album. They played at the 9:30 Club in DC Sunday night, and my sources in the field say that they opened with this evocative song, complete with a “gorgeous layer of horns.”

Alan at SixEyes has ripped the audio into an mp3, for your portable pleasure. I’m on my sixth listen or so, and what Tuesday couldn’t use an added dose of melancholy to it?

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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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