November 11, 2013

Typhoon recorded a song in my bathroom…

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Last year when Typhoon was staying at my house in Colorado Springs, they taped two mics to the top of my Dyson vacuum cleaner and set up a tiny recording studio in my downstairs half-bath. I was at work but they sent me photo proof, and my humble bathroom has felt blessed by the divine ever since.

You & I can finally hear the results of that afternoon — most excellently a part of an entire album of Portland bands covering the Beach Boys’ 1967 album Smiley Smile. It also features the delicious Fuel/Friends house show alums Radiation City (who I don’t think recorded anything at my house but WHO KNOWS), as well as other Portland talents.

The whole Portland Smiles album is for sale at Tender Loving Empire, along with a beer koozie that if they send to me I promise to use in that bathroom. For them.

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August 16, 2012

who protects the ones i love when i’m asleep?

KEXP radio posted this yesterday and it has been captivating me on repeat; it’s a new song from my friends in Typhoon, recorded live at the Pickathon Festival a few weekends ago. All of it is stunning, but the last ten seconds with the lupine howling that lilts and aches — completely shiver-inducing.

Right now Kyle Morton’s songwriting hits on all my cylinders. I identify with the non-linear way his brain works as it tries to unravel those bindings between life and struggle, and the fears that crouch all around the edges of grownup life, persistently. It weaves around things and draws connections, without ever feeling like it settles into a pop song, but more of a free-form elegy. Lyrically this song sits next to Josh Ritter’s “Wolves” in my mind; Josh talks about waking up one morning and the wolves all being there, in the piano, underneath the stairs, circling round his door, at night clicking across the floor…

Kyle also sings about knowing how the wolves are coming for their share. Life feels full of wolves right now for me, hungry and skinny ones, and for a lot of folks that shine in my universe of friends. So, you know — I get it, guys, as much as I wish we didn’t.

Morton’s Fork – Typhoon

I haven’t slept in seven nights and I’m not tired
who protects the ones I love when I’m asleep?
and though there’s little I can do, I say a prayer

that when the wolves come for their share
they’ll come for me

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July 11, 2012

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #17: Typhoon

Let’s be absolutely clear about this: the first moment I ever heard the music of Typhoon, in the same month I recorded my first chapel session, I desperately wanted them all in there in my little cathedral to reverberate their expansive, yell-out-loud, massively melodic symphonies of songs all around me and my microphones. Almost a year to that March day, they did. And this session is everything that any of us could have hoped it would be.

One of Typhoon’s strengths and glories is all the people that this Portland band makes good use of. There are eleven members of the band, and probably twenty instruments played among them. They also have two drummers, which is essentially the best idea I can think of. Kyle and I discussed how he is the primary songwriter, which lends a continuously-wending feel to all of their songs, but also how each addition of another musician’s coloring and shading into the song helps make them come alive. It was joyful to hear them fill that space.

You had to peel me up off the floor multiple times during the recording of this session, what with all those yelling-together crescendos that felt like one of those chest saws they use in open heart surgery. Only one of these songs (“CPR – Claws Part 2″) has been on an official record; the other three are new or unreleased. “Common Sentiments” will be on their upcoming album that they just spent a month recording on Pendarvis Farms outside of Portland, while “Pain, love” is even newer, and is slated for the album after this next one.

I’ve tried to write about each individual track in this session, but maybe because of the coherence of their music, it all just keeps jostling and nestling around each other and I can’t untangle it into discrete parts. Just do yourself a wonderful favor and put the whole session on continuous loop, like I’ve been doing nonstop lately in these weeks I’ve been in Portland.

Their music was made for this setting. Come, listen.

MARCH 20, 2012

CPR Claws Pt. 2


Common Sentiments

Pain, love

And to get the whole thing…


[audio by the wonderful guys at Blank Tape Records, and on this one, also by the terrific Paul Laxer, Typhoon’s sound guy for their records and the road. Thanks, Paul!]

March 13, 2012

“the songs of sickness can become the songs of healing” :: the Typhoon interview

The music of Typhoon is big and connective and incisive; it’s thematically smart and expansive. This Portland band resides together in a big Victorian house (sketched on the cover of their latest EP), and perhaps it’s just because I live in a cohousing community myself, but the resonance of this arrangement radiates audibly in the wooly coziness of their music. Some months ago, I got to see Typhoon live for the first time — an event I welcomed with intense anticipation of the joy to come. I had watched videos of their live spectacle, all thirteen band members, and when the day came I was all over it.

Thirteen people may seem superfluous (especially touring – they are coming to my house next week. I’m still debating where to stash them all), but when you see them onstage, you realize that everyone has their own hue and shade to fill into the song – three brass players, three drummers, two guitarists, one on keys/bells, a bassist, a violinist, and a cellist at least were what I counted when I saw them in Washington. It’s pretty damn incredibly lovely.

The arc of the songs and the threads woven across albums fascinate me. I could tell the first time I listened that this music was crafted by a songwriter who gave uncommon care to the big picture, in all the shades. That primary songwriter is Kyle Morton, and I got to sit for a while with him and explore these broad brushstrokes in his music, how he sees the songs in his head and projects them outwards for the band to fill in, and how his struggles with chronic illness growing up have molded his music. It was a fascinating conversation that I am thrilled to finally share with you.


Fuel/Friends: So with thirteen people, how does the songwriting process take shape into something coherent and harmonious?

Kyle: I do most all of the writing, and more and more it’s becoming the band doing the arrangements. With the new EP, there was definitely more band involvement with the arrangement than we’d had before. You can hear it on this record, and when I listen back to Hunger and Thirst now — it’s much sparser. I do like that, but on the new EP if you listen to the tracks, there are so many more times when we’re playing all together, pockets of all the band coming in together, utilizing all of us.

In my writing, when I look at songs, I look at them in terms of the whole piece, and even the albums themselves are part of the whole piece, so I hope that all of our albums, taken together, can be looked at as kind of a continuous body of work. Like, for instance, one of the songs off of the new EP is actually a really old song, “Claws Pt 1,” and “CPR – Claws Pt 2” is on the older album. I wrote it before but it was released after because it made sense. There are definitely those connections across records. In my brain I want our music to be something coherent, at least coherent to me — to be coherent in me.

So a lot of themes are going to come back on the next record, I think, and they’ll always be there. On the one hand, maybe that might seem unoriginal, to keep recycling the same shit over and over again, but I also think novelty is overrated, and I think coherence is undervalued.

It seems to be a nod to the listener, almost, in an era where a lot of times it’s just one or two songs people will have heard from you, it’s a way of rewarding people who take the time to listen to it as a full arc.

Yeah, it may not seem like much, but I think that requires a pretty good attention span these days, like there’s a “Typhoon theme” on the horns that we use in a few different places, and it’s gonna come back around – you can hear it, we snuck it in at the very end of this song called “Happy People” on Hunger and Thirst, and it’s on a new song we working on as well. Nods like that.

I also hear a fascinating and affecting theme of mortality and human frailty throughout your records, specifically on songs like “The Sickness Unto Death” and “Summer Home” that seem to explore your struggle with Lyme disease and the bug that bit you. What are some ways that struggle has informed, or not informed, your songwriting?

I wrote that song “The Sickness Unto Death” not only about me, and my “death,” but I’d also been reading the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, and he wrote his book The Sickness Unto Death, which I plagiarized the title from. And maybe songs aren’t the right …form for those kinds of ponderings, but that’s the only thing I’m interested in writing about. With music, it’s a very interesting synthesis for me – especially trying to make the themes in the instrumentals reflect the themes in the words. It’s difficult.

Even going back to Greek philosophy, and this idea that as you get older, you start to lose your desires, which can be a good thing and a bad thing, this losing of desires for sex, or for food, because all those things are causing you pain. But I imagine, because on the other hand I see a lot of bad coming from people’s desires, and desire itself being kind of an interesting point. So that’s why I have an album called Hunger and Thirst, meditations on why we want to be anything.

When I started realizing all the things I wanted to do with my life, I didn’t want them, I just imagined wanting to be this person who was doing those things. And then I got sick [with Lyme disease], and it kind of ruined all those plans I had and I had to adapt, and it caused a lot of bitterness in me for a long time. It still does. I never grew tall, I never had the childhood that you’re supposed to have, without pain. But then maybe you don’t –maybe no one has that.

Letting go of the idea of what we thought we were promised?

Yeah. All these promises, they’re tenuous. On this last record, on the song “Summer Home,” and in lots of songs, you will see that reference to a bug that bit me, which is just –this beast, you know? This thing that affects your life, and never even seeing it. It’s almost not even the tick itself. It’s the implications of it. It becomes a symbol. It’s when you first realize that some of these promises you have, assume or take for granted that you deserve it, and that’s a pretty sobering moment.

I think “The Sickness Unto Death” does feel, at the end, like a quiet and dark place of death, but then there is also definitely, as a listener, this feeling of rebirth as it swells and explodes into “The Honest Truth,” which is like the next step – at least in my mind.

Yeah, I’ve been trying to research this for a long time, but music — I imagine its early roots being tied and intertwined with early religion. And nowadays, the world is such a secular place, but we still have music, and it still has something sacred about it. There’s glimmers out there.

Trying to capture that, I guess that’s the thing. There are a lot of problems, capturing that glimmer and then trying to share that with someone — and it changes. I don’t know how to reconcile any of that.

Do you write the songs with all the parts from all the band members in mind?

How that’s worked in the past –this is cool– I hear it in my head a certain way first – it plays itself all the way through, and with parts. But then when I try to express those to people, the way it comes out doesn’t sound exactly like what I hear in my head, but it sounds better, even. It’s like a weird projection of the inside my brain, which is not to say I’m just using all these people as a screen for what’s inside my brain, because they’re all – most of them are better musicians than me, technically speaking. But it’s just really lovely to get to hear everyone’s take on it.

So, it’s like they fill in the shading?

Yeah …and that’s the only way I’ll perform, I won’t perform by myself. That’s scary, and weird, and masochistic. But I really like performing with everybody. As opposed to being a performer, in front of people, I am much more comfortable reading, and writing — even though I wouldn’t make a very good writer, or philosopher. But music seems to work because it picks up in that place where rationality stops and the transcendent emotion that underlies all music, starts. At least, that’s what it’s always kind of done for me.

I am very self-conscious, and self-aware when I am onstage, of what a bizarre act it sometimes is. It’s also a really simple thing, though, this happiness – you’re not lonely when you have that many friends around. Typhoon used to be a lot less restrained, but not in a bad way. If you see videos of our old days, everyone kind of played everything, and there was a lot more extemporizing, but on the other hand I really like to see how we’re getting so much tighter. And hopefully we’re aware of the vanity of this whole thing, yet we’re still drawn to it – for hopefully the right reasons.

Maybe catharsis is best experienced with twelve other people on stage.

Yeah – you can’t even have that counterpoint unless you have the other members. There’s not the synthesis without the other people. In that way, with all of us up there, the songs of sickness can become the songs of healing.

Typhoon is playing all over SXSW this week, including headlining the awesome Colorado Reverb party that you should navigate yourself to at Dirty Dog Bar on Saturday.

Then as they traverse the great desert back up to the Pacific Northwest, they are coming through Colorado Springs for a gallery show that I will be hosting with our college radio station KRCC on Tuesday, March 20. Motopony opens, and it will all be terrifically wonderful. Please do join us.

You want to immerse yourself in this.

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March 8, 2012

Typhoon and Motopony are coming!

I am bringing Typhoon and Motopony to our neighboring hippie hamlet of Manitou Springs, to an art gallery the week after next! This show is guaranteed to be incredible. As in, I personally guarantee it 100% or I will give you your money back (and shake my head slowly as I wonder what’s wrong with your ears). So excited! Tell your friends!

TYPHOON and Motopony
March 20th at 7pm
(early show! school night!)
Venue 515 in Manitou Springs, CO
Tickets on-sale now at KRCC

February 20, 2012

Some pretty rad Fuel/Friends concerts coming up

The wild, celestial scale of musical largesse has tipped off its fulcrum in my favor, and we are currently splashing around in a sparkly, melodic deluge of fantastic upcoming Fuel/Friends concerts that I am hosting in the coming weeks. I feel truly awed and thrilled; all four of these special headliners have been listed in my year-end tops lists before.

You’re invited to all four warm wonderful nights, or if you have friends in Colorado, please let them know. Whoever comes from the farthest will get a song dedication and a hug.


On their way to open for some Blind Pilot tour dates, Cataldo is stopping by my house to fill an evening with music. Eric Anderson crafts plaintive, thoughtful, catchy pop that I have been head-over-heels for since I first heard it. His bio tells you all you need to know, I think: “I want to make beautiful things using people and tools around me. I believe in circuitous, round-about methods, trying as hard as you can, and fucking up as much as is necessary before you get things right. I believe in counter-melodies, gang vocals, and the banjo. Most of all I believe in singing things that are important to me and might be important to you.”

My Heart Is Calling/Following – Cataldo

(@ Moe’s BBQ, Fuel/Friends presents)

Drew Grow is a name you’ve heard me talk a lot about, because I believe in their brand of potent musical gospel. DGPW performed at the very first house concert I did, and the four of them have become my good friends, because they have beautiful hearts that create impassioned music. Their songs are soulful, varied, and incendiary live.

I’m presenting their Friday night show at Moe’s BBQ, before they head out for the month of March with The Head and The Heart; come stand underneath their torrent, feel and believe things, oh — and we can bowl and get BBQ. Nothing could go wrong with this plan.


Bootstraps – Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives

Next Saturday, March 3:
(with John Heart Jackie)

From the first time I clicked play on a Tyler Lyle song, it was musical exhilaration, and I’ve only gotten deeper and deeper into this wonderful record. His debut album was all recorded in one day, just before he moved away from Atlanta for good. Because of that, more than anything this album feels like one exceedingly honest and humble snapshot of a moment of change and loss, without artifice, in the best possible way.

After he plays San Francisco’s Noise Pop this weekend, and after his Daytrotter session recording, Tyler is stopping by to spend the evening with us (joined by Portland’s John Heart Jackie). I can’t wait to see this fresh new voice for myself.

The Golden Age & The Silver Girl – Tyler Lyle
When U Were Mine (Prince cover) – John Heart Jackie

Tuesday, March 20:
(with Motopony)

This is a huge one, folks. Typhoon wowed everyone at SXSW last year, with their approximately three hundred members (okay, thirteen) and their heads-thrown-back jubilance and shimmery, multicolored songs.

After their Letterman appearance and before they head out to play some big summer festivals in 2012, I’ve set them up to play a cool art gallery in town for us, all bedecked in twinkly white lights and with a sound system that can do them justice. I am co-presenting this show with our local NPR affiliate/college radio station, KRCC, and we both love Typhoon’s cavalcade of instruments and voices, and the way it feels truly overwhelming. There’s some of the redemptive waves of orchestral joy and colossal thumping force that we find to love in Fanfarlo. When they all throw their heads back and sing “alleluia, it will be gone soon,” I get chills, every time.

I am also thrilled to get to see Seattle’s Motopony, who I hear off-kilter great things about.

TICKETS: on-sale now at the KRCC studios, and at Venue 515 in Manitou Springs for $10.

The Honest Truth – Typhoon
Seer – Motopony

Let’s listen to some good music, drink a good beer, and revel together.

December 30, 2011

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2011

Note: Hear me talk about these on NPR’s World Cafe with David Dye!

2011 has turned out to be the year in music where I found myself resting, and drinking deeply. If you look at the three major music festivals I went to in 2011 (other than SXSW, which is always a debaucherous 1000-mph wonderful mess) they were all of the scenic, restorative type: camping at Sasquatch at Washington’s Columbia River Gorge, Telluride Bluegrass where I pitched my tent right by a rushing river, and Doe Bay Fest on isolated Orcas Island in the San Juans. The ethos of these music festivals, more than anything, is a sturdy summation of the music I enjoyed this year – music that sounds good by rivers, with friends, or under the stars.

Speaking of rivers, I kept finding myself near them this year, and being drawn to songs that either spoke explicitly of them (ref: autumn mix) or artists whose overall sound evoked that for me over and over (see: Vandaveer, below). Not only just rivers; this year I dreamt of swimming pools. Two years ago I remember a dream where I was forcing my way through choking growth, gnarled and thick in a jungle, somewhere unrelentingly humid. I broke through into a clearing where there was an abandoned swimming pool, which, really, if you think about it, is one of the saddest spaces imaginable. It sat there, cracked and empty, dirty in the middle of the place you need it most. A swim would have felt so good. And it wasn’t able to hold any water. It would have run out the cracks in the bottom.

And then one night not too long ago, after I returned from a fairly transformative trip back through Europe, I dreamt I was with the best kind of old friend, again on foreign shores; we slipped down clean white subway tiles into the sparkling water of that gigantic pool. My hair was getting wet, I remember I kept thinking about that. The tiles were so flawless. The water was so perfect. Refreshment. Saturation.

Reconstitution. This was a year for that kind of music.

2011 was also the year we got the Fuel/Friends Chapel Sessions rolling, after years of wanting to try something like it. The pieces all fell into place with the generous help of Conor and Ian from Blank Tape Records, and the somewhat fleeting discussion we had one night over beers: “you know, how about, like — in Shove Chapel? It’s so gorgeous in there.” We’ve now captured the acoustic songs of over a dozen magnificent bands and solo artists as they made their way through this gorgeous Rocky Mountain State, and each hour spent recording was humming with magic. We hope to welcome as many next year. The very first session we did, with The Head and The Heart, was even released this year as the UK bonus tracks on their self-titled debut album (via Heavenly Recordings). Yep, that felt pretty good, to share that sparkly sort of magic afternoon with so many people.


So: favorite albums that soundtracked my year? Here are the ten that I’ve listened to the most during the journey this year with deep enjoyment, from musicians that I am excited about. These are all bands that shimmered and exploded for me this year. All are worth some of your Christmas (or Hanukkah) money that’s burning a hole in your pocket. I continue to be grateful for albums like this.


(alphabetical, by band)

(Capitol Records)

I’ve long had a thing for Colin Meloy’s mellifluous and flawlessly incisive vocabulary (it’s the way to my heart, you know) but haven’t really dove deeply into being a comprehensive fan of The Decemberists’ uber-literate chamber-rock for geeks. This year’s The King Is Dead bust down the last of my resistances and made me a full-fledged fan, blending rootsy gorgeousness and bluegrass twang throughout (recorded on Pendarvis Farm in Oregon) on this big and bursting album.

Joining the band on this effort was the marvelous propulsion by Peter Buck (R.E.M.) on jangly guitar, and Gillian Welch also makes her first of two appearances here on my year-end list with the flawless combination of her voice and Colin’s voices twining together throughout. In addition to the bright and jaunty jangle, there are moments of quiet, introspective beauty as well on songs like “June Hymn” and the closer “Dear Avery,” which I just love. This album has so many elements that pierce through perfectly: the wheezing of harmonica, a little banjo and the pierce of the fiddle, but also the acoustic fingerpicking on guitar and whiz-bang wordplay. Seeing The Decemberists at Telluride was one of the highlights this year, a simply perfect setting in which to experience this gem of an album.

Down By The Water – The Decemberists


(Partisan Records)

Not to be confused with the danceable Spanish band from Ibiza named after 1985′s most bitchin time machine, Dolorean is from Portland, has at times served as Damien Jurado’s backing band, and released four records in their own right. I keep track of which band is which by remembering the Spanish word for sadness, dolor, and then listening to the record — and all things flow accordingly. The Unfazed is not a sad record, per se, but it is deeply wistful and bittersweet, and in that richness there is a healthy wash of beauty.

This is a complex, richly gorgeous album of melancholy and ache. Al James’s voice soars with this vulnerable, incisive timbre that cuts right into me. I’ve played it on the stereo for friends when they come over, and the comments I get are often equal parts Ryan Adams/Heartbreaker and Blind Pilot’s smoky, multi-hued, string-laden beauty. This is a marvelous record, front to back. Like the album cover marries “high art” with the impassioned graffiti scrawls of our most base desires, this album sings to me about knowing better, but doing anyways.

Country Clutter – Dolorean

(Epitaph Records)

Frank Turner came blazing into my ears this summer through the persistent rallying cry from my friends at The Ruckus. From the first listen in the heat of this summer, I was knocked flat on my musical ass by several of my favorite things in music coming together in his anthemic, thoughtful, urgent bar rock that makes me feel alive. Above all, Frank sings like he’s staying hungry, with an undiluted joy in his music for me and unvarnished exuberance, even when he is singing of more heady subject matter.

The Springsteen comparisons are incontrovertible, and he crafts some whoppers of lyrics: “Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings / about fire in our bellies and  about furtive little feelings, and the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering…”  YES. Or this rallying cry: ”And who’d have thought that after all, something as simple as rock and roll would save us all?” A humble sentiment, but listening to Frank Turner, much like when I first heard Gaslight Anthem or Lucero, yes – it seems obvious that something as simple as that, well — it just might.

I Am Disappeared – Frank Turner

(Arts & Crafts)

I continue to appreciate Leslie Feist’s bottomless reservoirs of imaginative musical creativity, led by that voice steeped in a warm, classical throaty beauty that magnetizes every song that it is a part of. Feist is an artist of brilliant imagination, and I think we need more imagination in our lives, more of those unclassifiable moments and unclassifiable records like this one. We need the ability to look at one person standing in a warehouse and picture dozens of rainbow-clad dancers falling out in an arc of motion, or picture that just maybe this morning our toast will fly out the window on tiny pink wings.

That imagination also soaks Metals, her fourth album, and I really appreciate how no two Feist albums or even two songs on the same album are similar. You can have orchestral jazziness one moment, trip-hop the next, playful pop classics with stomping and snapping, and finally these mournful sparse melodies to round it all out. On this album I hear a darker weight to the songs, a level of maturity in the music. The record was recorded partly in Big Sur, California, which is near where I’m from, and if you’ve been there you know that the two things which might leave a lingering impression are the immense redwood trees and the blanketing fog. It’s an atmosphere you can see in her video for “How Come You Never Go There,” and that spirit pervades a lot of this record. A gorgeous record, this one — Metals shows the continuing regenesis and reinvention of Feist.

The Bad In Each Other – Feist


(Acony Records)
Together with her longtime musical partner David Rawlings, this is the first Gillian Welch record since 2003, and it’s a moody, often-dark, languid album of subtle beauty that was totally worth the wait. These two have an incredible songwriting partnership, with their intricate guitar and banjo work, their harmonies that sound birthed from the very same celestial vein. This one also feels like a chronicle of a journey, with the triplet of songs “The Way It Will Be,” “The Way It Goes,” and “The Way The Whole Thing Ends” arcing a tense thread throughout their sparse Americana, and punctuated by stunners like “Dark Turn of Mind.”

This is a smart record, loaded with lines that whap you across the face in their sly perfection. “Now I’ve tried drinking rye and gamblin, dancing with damnation is a ball / but of all the little ways I’ve found to hurt myself, well you might be my favorite one of all,” Gillian sings in a drawl, but with the precision of a scalpel. There is a spacious pensiveness in this record, and I keep listening over and over, going deeper and my toes haven’t scraped the rocky bottom yet.

Tennessee – Gillian Welch


Pickwick is a band out of Seattle of six white guys who sound, when they make music, quite convincingly like a soul & blues band from a generation ago, but in a refreshing way, without any posturing. This was the year that Pickwick quite literally found their voice and have shot off into my stratosphere with what they’ve hit upon together. They used to be an ambient folk band, but shockingly found it hard to rise above the din in Seattle with that sound. So one day, frontman Galen Disston was in a cubicle at work and heard “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke “jump out of the speakers” — it hit him powerfully, as Sam is wont to do, and totally changed his perspective about what kind of effect he wanted his music to strive for. So, at the next band practice, they tried something completely new, and oh my does it absolutely work.

Galen seems an unlikely frontman, with his wild curly brown hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and hands that knead each other while he kinesthetically works all the songs out of his lungs. One of my favorite observations about him this year was the person who commented on a friend’s Facebook how unexpected Galen’s voice was, writing: “In a million years you wouldn’t pin that voice coming from him. He’s like, ‘Hello, I’m here to fix your Internet,’ then, BOOM. Voice.” Precisely.

There’s that ambush acapella performance in the gorgeous gothic-style reading room at the University of Washington library. Watching it, Galen is absolutely, without a doubt, is in his element when he sings — he nearly vibrates an easy tidal wave of vocal power, inhabiting and swimming free inside the song. You can see the confidence and the difference, even from the recorded songs on the album, or their KEXP performance from earlier this year, and it is electrifying. They are recording their full-length debut album right now, and will be touring in the Spring (including SXSW). I predict pretty massive and wonderful things for these fellows, and for everyone who hears them in 2012.

Hacienda Motel (live on KEXP) – Pickwick


(Saddle Creek Records)

Rural Alberta Advantage is an elemental band of just three people, with a chemistry that has produced this potent record of push and pull and tension —  both in the juxtaposition of the prominent percussion and the distinctive melodies, and also in the vocals of Nils Edenloff and Amy Cole. I went through a phase this summer where I was falling asleep to this record on a regular basis, which is completely weird because it’s heavily drum-based and rough, with almost a punk-rock feel, but to me the percussion literally works with a narcotic effect, helping shut down my brain. Drummer Paul Banwatt is my hero on this record, the star of every single song.

RAA is another band I crossed paths with at SXSW this past March, for a midnight show in a church. The echo and clang were riveting, but they simply took my breath away with the final song of their set, and converted me immediately to this entire record. Like the feeling of the fog-blanketed desolation in the cover art, this is a record chronicling the holding tight and the letting go in nearly every song, every line. Departing is their sophomore album, and is out on Saddle Creek Records (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, Two Gallants), a label I tend to associate with urgent, percussive, melodic music.

Muscle Relaxants – Rural Alberta Advantage


This is a record from a young songwriter originally from Atlanta, a dozen songs about the ending of one relationship, told with honesty and effervescence. Tyler recorded it in one day, just two days before he moved away from Atlanta and off to the golden coasts of Southern California. He told me he spent $250 total mastering this record, and enlisted some friends to fill in the wonderful instrumentation on this record, the flutes and the cello and the banjo, to technicolor effect. Because it all came pouring out in one day, more than anything this album feels like one exceedingly honest and humble snapshot to me, without artifice, in the best possible way.

I remember when David Gray’s first record came out, the one he wrote and recorded all in his bedroom and arrived out of nowhere, there was a little sticker on the front of that record from Dave Matthews that said something like “…David Gray is beautiful in the purest and most honest way.”  No one really knew of David Gray at that time, but the same way that record pierced me reminds me a lot of why I can’t stop listening to Tyler Lyle also, especially on songs like “Sorrow” or “When I Say That I Love You.” People haven’t heard of Tyler, but they will. He’s a young wordsmith who says precisely what he means, with immense talent and a beautifully open heart. The first song muses, ”I think it’s enough to feel the fire” — and this album makes me do that.

The Golden Age & The Silver Girl – Tyler Lyle

(Tender Loving Empire Records)

I first saw this band in a live video performance from SXSW, where eleven of them crammed into an elegant ballroom in the classy Driskill Hotel and launched into a song medley together that just simmered and exploded cathartically, with all their instruments and their heads thrown back and the voices raising together. Every time I watch that video, even now, it makes me wonder where the hell else nearby I was and why I hadn’t seen them for this.

With a name that suggests a warm wet tropical cyclone, you better deliver something worthy of the moniker, and this band of early-20-somethings from Portland certainly does that, in spades, with their dozen-ish members on stage. There’s an innocence to their music, this brilliant shimmering springtime feel — but also the weight of experience with some of the more difficult parts of life, also. Kyle Morton, the lead singer and primary songwriter, was bitten by a tick when he was young and struggled for years with an initially undiagnosed Lyme disease infection, which stunted his growth some, and isolated him with health issues throughout childhood. A lot of his songs wrestle with themes of that lost innocence — the threat of death — God and suffering. But it’s not maudlin; it’s authentic, and it’s beautiful.

I love the cavalcade of sound and voices that is truly overwhelming. There’s some of the shimmering, redemptive waves of orchestral joy and colossal thumping force that we find to love in Fanfarlo. When they all throw their heads back and sing “alleluia, it will be gone soon,” I get chills, every time.

The Honest Truth – Typhoon


(Supply & Demand Records)

So I’ve been magnetically drawn to rivers for some reason this year, as I mentioned earlier, and they’ve played an important part in several pivotal memories in 2011. This record reminds me entirely and completely of a powerful river, and I’ve been stupid in-love with it from first listen in late July.

Vandaveer’s music has all kinds of wonderful nods in it to old, rich music: spirituals, dirges, and songs of rejoicing. It often feels primal and organic in the percussion (lots of handclaps), elegant in the wending warmth of the cello. The lyrics are also dang smart; one just needs to listen to a rich allegory on songs like “Spite” to know that. But the real currents that pull me throughout this record comes from the vocal pairings of Rose Guerin’s icy deep low harmonies and Mark Charles Heidinger’s wending ripples and currents that tug us around the rocks. Heidinger’s voice has this vinegar of sadness around it that actually reminds me of Nina Simone (something I would never expect); they both have that slight metallic tang and bitter aftertaste that sounds regretful all the way through. Absolutely terrific, this one.

Dig Down Deep – Vandaveer


So, there you have it — my personal ten favorites from this year, although I could have of course rambled on with twenty or thirty. Let’s do it again in 2012?


[header image by the wonderful Ryan Hollingsworth]

March 29, 2011

alleluia it will be gone soon (eternity will smile on me)


Honest Truth – Typhoon

As one of the four readers who have written to me in the last week to recommend that I listen to Typhoon said, “Imagine a band like Arcade Fire, only they actually make good use of having 12 people playing at once.” Typhoon is from Portland and they’ve all just stormed into my life these last few days, leaving a glittering wake.

If junior high orchestra was this fun, you can bet money that I would have joined — everyone playing their hearts out on so many different delectable instruments, all creating this cavalcade of sound and voices that is truly overwhelming. There’s some of the shimmering, redemptive waves of orchestral joy and colossal thumping force that we find to love in Fanfarlo.

I was totally wowed by this video from the Driskill Hotel in Austin last week. It is wonderful how they weave together the last song from their album with the first from their new EP, building into one terrifically expansive song, with the common refrain that both share: “eternity will smile on me…” Singer Kyle Morton’s distinctive voice has an ineffable quality to it of sadness and wisdom and somehow an utterly convincing hope — and what smart lyrics as well. Except you have to watch it all the way through, because it becomes something tremendous.

There are so many of them apparently all living together in a charming house in Portland that I wonder if they’d even notice if I moved in and sang with them in their joyful chorus. They were named one of the best bands in Portland last year, and in the article they talked about all cramming into the van together, and the inordinate amount of mandated cuddling that ensues. “You have to—there’s no room in the van,” Morton laughs. “On the other hand, there’s all your friends. You have a posse, and you never feel scared, you always feel safe.” Their music is the aural equivalent of that today for me.

You can listen to both their full-length album Hunger And Thirst (2010, Tender Loving Empire) as well as their A New Kind of House EP which was just released. Very highly recommended.

They’ve just wrapped up a tour, but are thankfully playing Sasquatch (which I am attending this year for the first time) which makes it easy for me to see them, especially since they just played in Colorado a few days ago and in my post-SXSW haze I didn’t even know about it.

I am extremely excited to see this live.

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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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