November 12, 2013

it’s the simplest of love songs / but it’s all our hearts can take

2013.07.27: Noah Gundersen @ Timber! Outdoor Music Festival - Ca

I’ve been thinking a lot about cynicism. I’ve been asking other writer-friends to define the word for me, so I can add to my functional understanding of its complexities and what different people perceive it to mean. I’ve asked friends earnestly if, really, shouldn’t I should try to develop some cynicism, a shell, a coating, a veneer? I’ve thought about the difference between a familiarity with the nastiness of life, a healthy respect for the damage-possibilities, and the choices we have within that maelstrom to live strong and brave and beautiful anyways.

I’ve been thinking a lot about cynicism in music. You don’t have to have been a reader long to know that my heart tends to bleed everywhere. I love those shiny songs and mindless songs and fractured songs, but the ones that seem to stick with me the longest are the ones that are the most bald-faced in their lack of cynicism, in the way they take advantage of the unique medium of music to assert …some sort of hope, some wrestling with life, some refusal to lay back in the muck and let it swallow us. It’s the reason that I picked this quote from Nick Hornby’s Songbook to be on the top of this blog since the beginning:

“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…”


I’ve been trying to write this post since July, when I went to the Timber! Outdoor Music Festival. For the second summer festival in a row, the set from Noah Gundersen was the one that made me sit in a stunned silence on the dirty ground. Noah and his siblings and his band amaze me in everything they do. There is something foolishly generous and wholly beautiful in all of his music, and in their performance of it.

That Saturday night in July, for the final set as the ground vibrated and the sweat of the day dried, the show suddenly stumbled into a clearing of something magnificent and unvarnished. It was something so pure and strong that it almost doesn’t make sense when I try to explain it to someone else, but that dissolved me so that when it was over I couldn’t speak to anyone at all, and all I could do was head directly to my top bunk in the yurt and cinch myself all the way tight into my sleeping bag. I needed a cocoon around me, warmth to stop the shivers, like my skin had been peeled off.

It happened when they launched in to this song, and specifically around 1:09.

Garden – Noah Gundersen




I have read that you have to be careful after rescuing a starving person not to give them too much rich food too fast because it will overwhelm their systems. I thought of that when everything cut out during that set under the pines, as Noah and Abby together sang: “…but wait. Wait. See how the morning breaks; it’s the simplest of love songs ….but it’s all our hearts can take.” There was so much generosity there.

In that moment, in unintentional defiance of cynicism, I was obliterated.

Noah’s live performances always feel like the summation of things I forgot. As they sang this song, I sat there and I thought something blazingly bright and clear and frustratingly ambiguous. I found myself thinking, “Because this moment in this song exists: …________.” For four months I haven’t been able to finish articulating the second half of that equation.

Last night in Boulder I slogged it out with Noah over some whiskeys and I tried to finish wrestling out the rest of what is true in the unfinished second half of that equation, and how it has been chasing me for months. Noah smiled and he said, “but I think that’s the thing, the not filling in that second half. That ambiguity is beautiful.”

For you it might be another song, and for me it was this one, on that night, in a campground by a river in Washington State. It was the moon. It was the certainty of something ineffable, that I have not yet forgotten.

It reminds me of some of the final lines in the magnificent book Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, her story of her solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the southern border of Washington state, after a shit-kickingly hard period in her life. She writes at the end of her trek about sitting on a bench by the Bridge of the Gods, finally accomplished in what she set out to do in those months, despite the seeming-insurmountable difficulty. She writes about how all the blissful things yet to come in her life were unknown to her as she sat there bloodied and bruised and strong from the miles and miles she had walked. It was all unknown to her — “everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true.”

Now that’s a statement borne out of whatever the opposite of cynicism is; hard struggle and finding your way back to the person that lives under the bruise of life hovering on the surface, maybe. It resonates with me, and so does the purity in this song.

It’s the simplest of love songs, but it’s all our hearts can take.


[top image from Timber! by Jason Tang]

November 20, 2012

Fuel/Friends is seven years old today

Seven years ago I had just moved to Colorado, away from California where I had spent my adolescence and young adulthood going to concerts, developing my musical footing, and making friends who loved music as much as I do. At the foot of the Rocky Mountains I had moved into a big, quiet blue house up in suburbia and worked part-time contract work for my university that I’d left to seek greener, more mountainous pastures. This meant there were long stretches of quiet in that house, ones that made all my molecules ache for the same connection I’d left behind with all my friends and places that felt like home in the San Francisco Bay Area. I put on records, but those aren’t as fun to listen to alone all the time, or with a two year-old kiddo; plus you have to turn it way down at naptime.

I remember that blogs were a brand new experimentation to me; I hardly read any, nor did I know yet what purpose they could serve in the media landscape. They were still all written in largely hyper-personal terms, and if you know me, you know I like that trait in pretty much anything. One day I remember opening a window on Blogger, poising fingers over the “Name your new blog!” field, and thinking I’d give it a try. I was drawn to the idea of being able to keep in touch with the folks I’d left in California, and having a mouthpiece to externally process this new fire hydrant of undiscovered music that I was just starting to read about on blogs like Aurgasm, Largehearted Boy, Marathon Packs, Said the Gramophone, and Aquarium Drunkard. My first posts are charmingly conversational, and I remember the rush when I installed a Statcounter and saw that I’d had more than fifty hits one day, and they came from all over the globe. I remember one ping came from some small industrial town in the middle of Russia and I sat there blinking, trying to reconcile this new, one-sided form of pen-pal possibility with the faceless folks who had found me.

Seven years later, I feel like all of this has gone through several iterations around me. Blogs quickly became this strangely-officially-recognized media outlet, and all of us responded in very different ways in that freedom, without a roadmap of where we were going. Some of us took on staffs of writers and made it a full-time thing; some specialized even more precisely into one genre and have created a vast and passionate documentation of forgotten music, or started their own carefully-curated record label. The array of blogger parties at SXSW make me dizzy just to think about them. I found my email inbox inundated with review requests, my mailbox full of promo CDs, and my interview dance card as full as I wanted it to be. I have loved this freedom to explore, and to share my wanderings and my passions with all of you guys. The connections with each of you are why I keep doing this; I’ve have some of the best readers in the blogosphere, and this blog has been the glue that has melded me to so many likeminded souls around the world who are pursuing music for the same reasons that it draws me. For this, I am grateful.

I was ruminating with a friend yesterday morning about that reflection from Jana Hunter on our relationship with music, and how perhaps it’s becoming cheaper. The relationship with music is a subject I think about a lot; all you have to do is read the Nick Hornby quote that’s greeted you on my sidebar since the very beginning: “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…”

Contrast this with what Jana writes in 2012: “If you consume all the music you want all the time, compulsively, sweatily, you end up having a cheap relationship to the music you do listen to. In turn, this kind of market makes for musicians who are writing with the burden of having to get your attention, instead of writing whatever they’d write if they were just following artistic impulses. It’s increasingly difficult and un-rewarding to write music that is considered, patient, and simple when the market increasingly demands music that is easy, thoughtless, and careless.”

My friend and I discussed how the upped dosages of new music available on blogs and out there in the world have changed our own personal listening habits, and the deepest relationship that we form with these radiant, external, gossamer threads that we call songs. This is not a blanket statement or a political directive of what you should do, but we talked about how the intimacy and the depth that we forge with our music seems damaged when it becomes just one more “thing” in our busy lives that we have to “get through,” as it piles up next to the stereo the way my grad school assignments pile up on the kitchen table. Oh yeah, there are twelve new albums in the last two months that HOW HAVE I NOT LISTENED TO?! Or ones that I have listened to, just to have listened to them.

I don’t sit there in the dark of my living room much anymore, after my kiddo is in bed, and just listen. Things are loaded up and shuffled and re-shuffled and refreshed with new tracks I’ve downloaded that day.

After seven years, where are we going? I try to always write about music that connects with me and excites me in that unexpectedly primal, mysterious way, and then to wrap words around that silver slipperiness. I write to stay in touch with the things that help us feel alive; and I myself have rarely felt more alive than these days at a house show, or sitting in a chapel watching pure magic being spun in front of me. Those are things that I am proud of, and that give me a deep delight to have a hand in creating for others. But blogging is an oddly ephemeral and insatiable media in which to chronicle those sorts of connections. I find myself wanting to be satiable more often, to sit, to be deliberate and content. I think we can do it; I’m not sure the steps I take to get there.

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September 14, 2011

sonnet in the snow

“A record is called a ‘record’ because it is supposed to be a document of a performance. It captures a moment or series of moments when certain musicians played music. In one sense, it’s kind of weird to expect any record to be applicable to everyone at any time, as if you could record a phone conversation you had with your friend and always listen to that instead of needing to talk to your friend again.”

Portland musician Nick Jaina (who we enjoyed on my summer mix, and who has this cool new album of females singing his songs that I plan to write about. Soon) ruminates on recorded music in a column for the Willamette Week. I live for theoretical musical discussions like this, as anyone who I’ve ever cornered at a bar knows all too well.

READ IT HERE; SO GOOD



[thanks, Conor]

September 8, 2010

Short-order music

pret-a-manger

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”
(download)

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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?

September 6, 2009

the things that help us feel alive.

cnfricoachela285524x004

British author Nick Hornby wrote a fascinating piece in today’s Guardian about what he’s found in mp3 blogs, and the changing ways we seek out and share and find connection with music and other music lovers. In the piece (entitled, “The Thrill Of It All“), Hornby muses:

Keeping in touch with the things that help us feel alive – music, books, movies, even the theatre, if, mysteriously, you are that way inclined – becomes a battle, and one that many of us lose, as we get older; I don’t think enough of our cultural pundits, people who write about that stuff for a living, fully understand this.”

When I got to that sentence this morning, I stopped, and immediately re-read it three times, then set down my cup of coffee and thought about it for a good while there in my kitchen. I kinda wanted to make that first part the tagline on my blog, or script it out in flashing pink letters down the left sidebar of the site (my designers would not like this), because it simply summed up what I hope this blog would always be about to me, to you, to everyone that stops by. How do we keep in touch with the things that make us feel alive as we get older, with so many things that jockey for position and jostle to the head of the line to be attended to in the limited hours before we collapse from exhaustion at midnight, one a.m., later?

Lately I’ve really felt the weight of expectation (mine and others) in regards to my writing here, and struggled to frame and define it in a way that I can embrace moving forward. Since the inception of music blogs, and the year 2005 when many of us moderately-oldtimers started our sites, things have diverged in a dozen different directions. As with any new medium, the rules are written as we go along, and with music blogs, they’ve been written by each of us simply taking the tack that feels right to us. What I want this site to be — nay, what it really has to be for me to want to continue to be invested in it — is a place for me to keep in touch with some of the tangible, artsy-type things that help me feel alive (so thanks, Nick, for phrasing that in a way that makes it seem so clear and simple).

When I write about music, I don’t do it with an eye to the stats or an ear to the ground to bring you the hottest news out there. I figure there are dozens of sites that do the news thing far better than I do, mostly because it’s their full-time job, and this for me is something I do “in addition to.” I started writing Fuel/Friends to share my voice, and the things that poked me somewhere in the deep red of my heart, or the analytical, word-loving part of my brain. If a revised tack of increasing balance means that I post less often in this season, but I only post things that spark a genuine reaction in me, then that to me is far preferable for where I’m at in my life these days. One thing I’ve learned is that people will absolutely take as much as you will give, and more. On the one hand, it is flattering. On the other hand, it will wear me to a tiny nub of dessicated exhaustion if I don’t set hedges in place.

Ultimately, many things in the life I lead help me to feel alive. I try every day to balance the ones I don’t blog much about (namely, my marvelous little boy, my deeply rewarding job, and all my interpersonal relationships that take time and watering and love to grow) with the things that I do sit down to tippety-type about: the songs, the albums, the movies, the books, the art exhibits, the poetry that sends a jolt down my spine and lights me up inside. Lately I’ve been struggling quite a bit with folks’ comments about what they expect to find here, versus what I see this site as being and doing in my little corner of the internet. If you would like to pop in every now and again to share what I’m connecting with, please do. I love having you here. But I hope you don’t expect me to meet your news and coolness needs (and comment negatively when I don’t) because I promise you, I will let you down.

I feel extraordinarily lucky every day that I get to engage this stream of new music and culture that comes pouring through my mailbox, my inbox, my network of friends. There is so much good stuff out there that I can’t envision a time when it will ever dry up, and that feels like a miraculous thing. There was a time when I graduated college and got so wrapped up in grown-up responsibilities that I handily cut most new music out from entering my life, simply from lack of time to find it. Music blogs have meant as much to me as they might mean to you, in that they have singlehandedly revived my excitement about all the new sounds.

Now. Come, let’s carry on. There’s new music being recorded right now, new sprigs of vibrancy popping up all over the place.

I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.



[img via]

February 5, 2009

Why Fuel/Friends fled Blogger

commiepics

Several months ago, good friends of mine who have passionately and thoughtfully blogged about music alongside me for the last few years started receiving notices that posts alleged to contain “illegal” music were being completely deleted from their Blogger sites. Gone. No warning, no chance to remove music or contest the deletion.

Many of the songs were originally posted with label or promo company permission, even encouragement. Many of the illegal posts were old, and thus contained dead links, so it was all a bit pointless. One guy had even posted a long and well-written interview with a band that had provided some free demos to fans. They went on to get signed to the majors; he went on to find the post vanished into the ether, along with all his hard work and creative writing.

This isn’t okay with me. I truly pour myself into this site and writing genuine words about the music I love,  in what I hope is a thoughtful and engaging way. The thought that I could wake up to find parts of it totally gone – well, it freaked me out.

My friend Jeff Weiss (from Passion Of The Weiss) wrote an exhaustive article for the LA Weekly that ran yesterday, all about Google’s censorship tactics. It seems a bit like the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, and oft-well-intentioned bloggers losing their work in the crosshairs. I’m happy now here, in my own fifedom (with the irreplaceable help of the guys from DayJob), and on my own server. I feel regretful that Google has taken to these tactics without a full understanding of how not all music bloggers are 13-year-old kids posting links to the full new pirated Fall Out Boy album. I watch with curiosity to see how long it takes all facets of the industry to get whatever new paradigm we are crafting here together.

(In the meantime, when we go to jail, um… can we share a cell?)

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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. If you represent an artist or a label and would prefer that I remove a link to an mp3, please email me at browneheather@gmail.com

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