The Clogsare 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.
The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton is their fifth full-length, and starts shipping today from Brassland directly (CD+EP or CD+shirt).
CLOGS TOUR DATES 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 theOutside 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Allthemembersof this supergroup are mightily accomplished in their own rights, and together they are pretty amazing to watch, even on a bright Sunday afternoon.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
I am pleased as punch at the audio which has surfaced from this Sunday’s Dark Was The Night benefit show at Radio City Music Hall. How this event did not sell out is beyond me — a superb lineup of The National, Bon Iver, David Byrne, Dirty Projectors, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Feist, Dave Sitek (of TV On The Radio), My Brightest Diamond and Annie Clark of St. Vincent.
You can see Amrit’s excellent pictures from the evening here, and a million thank yous to the awesome NYCTaper site who captured this National audio. Even from the opening notes of Slow Show, this set is warm and full with additional orchestration.
You know I dreamed about you for twenty-nine years before I saw you….
The two new songs sound lugubrious and richly elegant, as can be expected from The National — just gorgeous. “Leave your heart, change your name, live alone, eat your cake….” urges the cryptic Vanderlylle Cry Baby, “the waters are rising, still no surprise.” I love the power of several strong voices all swelling together as the song is sliced through at the end by that loud and ferocious squalling electric guitar. If this is the direction of the next album, I am even more in love with them.
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.
Sleep 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
The 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).
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)
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.
Hey, 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.
Curated by brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National, the Dark Was The Night compilation (Feb 17th, 4AD) is so stuffed full with amazing covers and duets and original songs from so many of my favorite artists, it’s almost ridiculous. The double-disc album benefits the Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising money and awareness for HIV and AIDS.
The one track on here that I’ve been most itchin to hear is the new one from The National (although the Dessner brothers’ musical contributions reach further throughout the album, with collaborations with Bon Iver/Justin Vernon above, and Antony heartbreakingly covering Bob Dylan). “So Far Around The Bend” sounds like a time warp to me, like it foxtrotted in from some other era. It is almost jaunty, but with that rich gray undercurrent swirls, and drums thump like a pounding heartbeat.
The Gillian Welch/Conor Oberst duet on “Lua” is absolutely murdering me right now (listen in about a week on the MySpace player, it will rotate through to its day in the sun), and Jose Gonzalez and The Books covering Nick Drake? Really? Sigh. It really is an exceptionally high-quality and eminently listenable collection; the full tracklisting is here.
Aaron Dessner writes more about the process of how this album came to be, and the end results:
As we invited friends and peers to contribute, our collective social awareness became apparent: anyone that had the time was willing to donate their time and their music to the Red Hot cause. But there were many different stories behind each song: some we had heard live and knew had to be on the record (The Books “Cello Song”, My Brightest Diamond’s “Feelin Good”); close friends whose arms we knew we could twist enough to give us special tracks (Arcade Fire, and Sufjan Stevens); bands we asked who were too busy but had solo projects or side projects they could include (Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio and Jonsi Birgisson of Sigur Ros); songs we had always imagined certain artists singing (Cat Power’s “Amazing Grace” and Antony’s “I Was Young When I Left Home”); and dream collaborations (David Byrne and The Dirty Projectors, Feist with Grizzly Bear and Ben Gibbard, and my own song with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver).
In the end, there was enough great music to produce two discs–one dark and homegrown with almost classical arrangements of folk themes; the other more bright and evocative of the best of independent rock music at the beginning of the 21st century. “Dark Was The Night” and the Dore illustrations for Milton’s Paradise Lost, which make up the art imagery in this booklet, evoke a “fallen” world of struggle, but also the capacity of art to inspire us to rise above the obstacles put in our path. Our nights may be dark, but music gives us inspiration and hope of brighter days to come.
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
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