Saturday, January 1, 2011

mouth to mouth

it seems that lately, in popular music, there has been a renaissance moment occurring for nostalgia. bands have been going out to perform their “classic” albums, in sequence, and in their entirety; the recent vinyl boom has seen spates of high-fidelity reissues appear; and bands who have lain dormant for years and decades had resurfaced to popular and critical acclaim.
sometimes these forays back into the limelight have proven unwise (or at least imprudent) for some acts, who have aged poorly or blindly or both. but surprisingly, many of these resurgistes (teenage fanclub, the clean, members of galaxie 500) have defied the old rock’n’roll wisdom that it’s better to live fast and die young, and are turning out material that sounds both fresh, relevant and vibrant amidst contemporary hot shots, yet pleasantly and undeniably kindred to their past work. amidst the “indie” ranks in particular there is no one who conspicuously acts the “mick jagger” role as stubborn dinosaur. ok, maybe black francis…

with some of these bands, they haven’t really been away, but their output has dwindled the such a trickle it’s seemed as though they have. i mean, sure the clean broke up more than twenty years ago, but they’ve been reformed for a long time already, and it’s more their disparate geography that keeps their output lean and hungry.
with one band however, they really did, for all intents and purposes, disappear, breaking up almost instantly after their first lp was released, way back in 1989.
i discovered them four years after the fact, spurred on as many others were by the exuberence of a local guy who’d made good and who was a big, big fan, and who had covered several of their songs.
their original material was difficult for an indie-newbie like myself, and i was content by a sub pop compilation, but spent years wishing more had been put out.
but now they’re back with a new lp, also on sub pop, and remarkably even produced by the same fellow who did the deed twenty-one years earlier; and in doing so they made it possible for me to deliriously utter a phrase i never in my life expected to voice:
“hey, have you heard the new vaselines record?

i don’t know if i can adequately express my feelings about the vaselines.
as a young nirvana fan, it was exciting to follow any clue towards the origin myths of the band; original, loud and punk, seething with honesty amidst the “grunge” ego acts, they held me, and most of my friends in a sway that transcended merely liking a rock band, and inspired us to seek out and be critical of, more and more music. kurt cobain’s admiration for the vaselines seemed fervent and unappealingly fanboyish, but the nirvana versions of “molly’s lips” and “son of a gun” were overwhelmingly tantalizing, and i remember how thrilled i was when i found the 1992 compilation “way of the vaselines: a complete history.”
the thrill lasted until i got home and got the disc into my cd player, then it was replaced by something more akin to bewildered awe.
i had never heard anything quite like this before.
the vaselines were a racy, raw and twee band, and to a more-isolated-than-average teenager in seattle, who had not quite yet become aware of the olympia scene, eugene kelly and frances mckee’s jaunty little punk tunes sounded both scandalous and true. of course, it took very few years for their influence to take hold, but for me, for a small space of time, they acted upon my malleable emerging artistic conciousnous as a tinderstick, sparking ideas and appreciations that would resurface in myriad ways as i grew and understood ever more. more than anything though, more than the slightly seedy and sneaky, yet very intriguing sexuality to the vaselines (both in the material and in the name), more than the buzz about how they disappeared and then got famous, i think what made the biggest impression on me, and the most lasting influence, was the way the vaselines sounded. they were raw and a little awkward; they had a punk sound to them, but they had something else (which i didn’t know was called “twee pop”), and the juxtaposition of their grit and cuteness stuck with me.

it was awesome then, to hear that same balance in the songs filling “sex with an x,” the second(!) vaselines studio lp ever. The sound is sometimes a little more lush, a little more accomplished, but the energy, the smartness, the weary wryness and yes, the sexiness, are all there in spades, with the “young” vaselines sound filled in by years of experience as both people and musicians (both mckee and kelly have kept playing through the years, in groups or solo). “sex with an x” kicks off rough and punk with “ruined,” then rolls through forty-two minutes of bouncing between songs that sound as though they went through a wormhole from “dum-dum” (the 1989 lp) to today without pause, and material like “exit the vaselines” which evokes a sonic texture not unlike the best songs by another scottish outfit, the delgados.
there is a hint of glaswegian superstars belle & sebastian on “sex with an x” as well, although it’s more detectable as the quality of that band rather than any specific likeness; and it’s all too easy to explain, as belle & sebastian guitarist and bassist, stevie jackson and bob kildea, respectively, have lent their talents to the recording (and to the touring band as well).

it seems like so much of commercial pop these days is still relying on hooks and images to sell “units,” in the same way they’ve been doing for decades. what this return of the vaselines, the “return” of vinyl, and the continuance of unexpectedly venerable old indie bands, can tell us is:
when the music is this good, why stop?

i hope I don’t have to wait another twenty years now for more of this good stuff.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

fire-jumpers and singing saws

i make the following admission only with the certainty that i do not stand alone in its embrace: as a genre, "christmas music" instills in me the urgent desire to make madly for the hills.
there are certainly exceptions to this acerbic and frankly humbuggish rule. the lush limited-edition seven-inch "he's coming home" b/w "old toy trains" by dean and britta (with sonic boom) is one of them; so too low's genre-busting ep, "christmas," originally self-released on cd and now available on vinyl. (both succeed where most pop x-mas offerings fail in different ways. dean and britta's little disc downplays the overt christianity of traditional carols and focuses instead on the warmth and feeling behind the rituals and atmosphere which permeate the holiday season--nostalgic reference points for even we amongst the secular cynic listening audience. as practicing mormons, low brings their spirituality to the table with their album, which includes some christmas standards, but also originals. however it withdraws to a matter-of-factness that doesn't try to proselytize, and the music can be heard and felt without inner conflict for all but the strictest existentialist.)

anyway, with this holiday caveat ideologically embedded, i found myself at a crossroads when i was invited to a leg of the music tapes' marathon "caroling" tour, which a pair of good friends was hosting in their home.
on the one hand, i was excited that my friends had landed the opportunity to host the gig, they being enthusiastic fans of the elephant 6 collective, and because i (rightly) suspected their house, with its impressive stacks of tapes, records and cds, its andy kaufman and kiss figurines, and its daniel johnston and james mcnew art, would provide an apt and welcoming venue for such an intimate event.
on the other hand, there was no escaping the cheery holiday vibe as the show loomed closer on the calender, and the un-apologetically christmas-ness rumored to be due fostered a finicky apprehension that i would go to an intimate gathering around former neutral milk hotel instrumentalist julian koster, and find myself nose-deep in schmaltzy regurgitated indie versions of "rudolphs" and "jingle bells."
on the other hand, the chance to attend (and as it turned out, to participate peripherally in) such an unusual event was palpably intriguing. and with the venue a scant five blocks away, it was too ridiculously convenient to skip out on. of course, if you're following along, this math results in three hands, which is creepy. hmmm...

in the end, of course, we stuck a flask of bourbon into warm coat pockets and strode through the frigid night to my friends' place.
the house was lit with colored lights and filled with a small crowd of cool-looking people; the sense that we were all in on a secret together was inescapable. no real spacial divide existed in the living room between the audience, seated in folding chairs, sofa and floor, and the three band members surrounded by lights, vague automatons (a snowman, bell-ringing mice, etc), and a barrage of well-worn or outright tattered instruments. still not sure what to expect, we settled in as koster, in a high, excited voice, began his show.
what followed was a journey through a highly personalized version of the idea and practice of christmas, set to music ramshackle and sophisticated, eked out through bow-played banjo, collaged re-purposed recorded material, singing saws, brass and keys. subtle moments of beauty, such as the pure sonic bliss of saw duets, were juxtaposed with almost over-the-top jokes and nearly too-saccharine personal stories (some no doubt based in fact, some certainly false, and both peddled with equal candor and import). the impression was that koster was actually living the fantasy he was acting out for us, weirdly evocative of pee wee's playhouse, the film "delicatessen," indie shows and schoolboy recitals, and though it was actually magical at times, at some points in the show the only thing that saved it from being pathetically contrived was that sense of honesty. it was a delicate balance struck, therefore, with the scales tipped just to the right side, but retaining that sense that catastrophe was lurking in the corner, waiting for its opportunity to spring.
with this in mind, the utter disregard for the "fourth wall" shown by the music tapes seemed especially ballsy but, in that they succeeded in compelling jaded seattle hipsters to happily be woven into the fabric of the performance through highly interactive actions (including passing around a huge gift-wrapped box, being blindfolded, and incredibly, jumping over a flaming can full of our own incinerated totems). this is remarkable in that people here seldom even move at shows, much less dance, and audience participation is a rare and painful-to-observe occurrence at the best of times. so koster's blend of musical ingenuity and (faux-?)naive presentation definitely seemed to have charmed rather than chagrined.

after collecting our coats and shoes, we walked home, keeping warm with a shared nat sherman and sips from the flask, we debated: what did we just see? was it good? was it weird? i guess it was both. and that was alright.

i dreamed last night that i saw the music tapes play a more conventional show, and woke up thinking, "aha! now i can contrast the two for a better review!"
i have no idea what they must have played like in my dream though, so that write-up will have to wait until reality provides me the opportunity to see them again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

it's not the radio

with almost exactly one year passed since my last post, i supposed it might be time to renew my ramblings on the meagre wealth of indie rock. though funds have been severly short of late, somehow music has still managed to eke its way into my life, slowly in the earlier days of 2010, but more steadily as a new job paid it's way up to the point where mere survival had been sated and small luxuries could be brought home.
the first of which being a decent turntable.
accordingly, i have been listening to a lot of records on vinyl.
accordingly, i have been listening to other people's vinyl records also.
it's cool, i get to hear stuff i haven't really heard or paid attention to before.
like, whe alex chilton recently died, i felt like i was the only one who didn't know who he was, because i never listened to big star before. rectified!
also, how did i never pay attntion to teenage fanclub?
well that, too, is being paid proper due now.

amongst this cultural re-excavation, i happened to become re-acquainted with the two albums by low, "secret name," and "things we lost in the fire," that i had on cd, and enjoyed listening to once, but never really got deeply into. i thought they were pretty, especially the harmonies of singers alan sparhawk and mimi parker, but it never made too much of a impression besides.
as i listened to those records again with the attention one feels requisite for playing such things on vinyl (which takes "more work" obviously, and therefore yields a sweeter response.... right?), they struck different chords within me, and their impact was deepened by listening also to previously unheard (by me) "trust" and the collaboration with the dirty three, "in the fishtank," which is frontrunner for my favorite record of the minute.
the sounds i was hearing somehow resonated more in my head this time around, as i became of their structures and technical merits, and struck anew by the gorgeous simplicity of low's practice, and so when the opportunity came to catch the band on the opening show of its west coast christmas tour, and nearby in my neighborhood, and for fifteen bucks, i felt i ought to go along.

seattle's tractor tavern is a venerable rock club in these parts, intimate, immediate, raucus and raw all at once. boots line the ceiling joists, and crushed (though seldom dry) pabst cans litter the floor. the stage rises a scant few feet from the floor, and the performer is only an arm's length from the front row.
after dinking around with his guitars for a little, low frontman alan sparhawk retreated to the green room to reappear in a handful of minutes with wife and drummer mimi parker, bassist steve garrington, and eric pollard from the sparhawk/garrington side-project retribution gospel choir, in tow.
two rows back, between the majority of the room and the band, it felt like old friends were being welcomed into a home, though who played the role of which protagonist seemed negotiable.
with a minimum of fuss and banter, low kicked into gear with their long, droning, gorgeous songs, working with tight skills and enthusiastic energy through their set. the energy and synergy between the performers was palpable, with silent looks and nods being exchanged throughout, and with a good deal of grinning during songs, especially between sparhawk and garrington, who seemed to be enjoying the experience mightily.
after regaling us with low songs newer and older, eventually the tone switched to seasonal topicality, and the carols were broken out, with the band running powerfully through nearly, if not all, of their fabled self-released christmas ep.
were that not enough, after the set, when they returned to the stage for an encore, the band entertained requests and happily played six more songs, bringing the entire set to a run time just below two hours, and a memorable time indeed!
the only real downside of the evening, musically, was that the opening performer, minnesotan bluesman charlie parr, was brought on to the stage twice to accompany low on his resonator guitar, and though his achingly beautiful sliding notes could be discerned, it was only just barely, which was a shame (we could hear them where we were because we could hear them partially un-amped as well as on the p.a., a luxury many present could not have been accorded).

otherwise, the show, for me, was a revelation, seething with an energy i had not expected, and a pleasure to be playing that inspired and awed. the sonic crush enveloped one, with sparhawk's guitars (there was a gorgeous white les paul custom, an epiphone les paul-style baritone, and a fender twelve-string that defied belief; bassist garrington was rocking a gorgeous vintage fender) growling and cooing while parker's drum sent reverberations rollicking through the floor into our bodies. the singing was at once lush and spare, and pollard's keyboards and effects set the stage for the the six-string acrobatics that scratched the songs into existence. all the while garrington carefully and precisely delineated the rhythm with sharp, heavily amped bass notes, his long fingers poising and pouncing on the strings.

alan sparhawk remarked somewhere towards the middle of the encore that "[they] don't usually play for so long," yet neither he nor his bandmates seemed tired or bored; rather they seemed delighted to be back on the road, and the crowd surrounding us could not have agreed more.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

hometowns & heartbreaks

sometimes one finds one's self far away from what he knows. saint louis, missouri, for example: a city with enough similarities to long-ago places like iowa, wisconsin, chicago, and minneapolis, that the chilly, hard midwestern air feels familiar, but different in those small essential ways that bring on a sense of mild alienation and discomfort. what does one do in such circumstances? if one is this one, one gravitates towards the consumption of beer, and the warmth of cuddling under blankets, illuminated by old movies.

but then one's companions might suggest that life is far too sedentary, and one may don long johns and gloves and heavy coat, pile into a small car, and travel twenty minutes or so, past college campuses and the odd minaret, where one finds one's self on a dark, brick-lined street, under the towering shadows of the old lemp brewery, freezing one's nuts off, and wandering into a tiny saint louis rock club to listen to a band who, like one's self, comes from far away, in their case, from canada. to be more specific, the band in question is the three-piece outfit, the rural alberta advantage (henceforth "the raa"), who continues the astonishing trend of canadian indie music sounding totally awesome in a particularly un-american way, and with great verve and elan. (for the record only one of the band is from alberta; originally a five-piece, there used to be three from that province. woo: useless trivia!)

i have not been to a rock show like this one in some time. sometimes in seattle, the "blue-collarness" of many concert-goers is questionably poseurish at best, and one can detect the distinctive odor of irony in the spilt pabst blue ribbon on the sticky floor. i would not go so far to say this hipster attitude was entirely absent in the club "off broadway," but there was a discernable sense of un-pretension that one finds more seldom at home. pbr was consumed, but also on offer was the home-grown lemp beer (we were, in fact, on lemp street), distinguishable as the first lager brewed in america (potentially arguable, but i will bite). it was cool. it was a cool club. i felt at home there in a sense, with its long wooden bar, tiny, wall-less stage, and modest attitude; and that was good.

and then there was the first opening band.
i will immediately confess that the name of the band, blood pony, caused in me an immediate impulse to cringe. their actual set only scarcely reinforced that impression, with a full band (six dudes! and yes! they were dudes) incorporating chamber-pop instruments like glockenspiel, horns, and strings to the standard indie rock kit, sometimes to positive effect, sometimes with a bit too much neutral milk hotel shadows cast upon them. the greatest disadvantage to my ear was the lead singer.
now, indie rock is notable for its great tolerance of vocals which are, quite bluntly, raw. however, blood pony's myspace discribes the vocals as "wounded," and sadly, that fits better than they should hope for. often the complete sound of the band compensated for the lead singer, but the "off" moments were memorable, and not positively so. there was also a lack of cohesiveness that is less apparent/more forgiveable with smaller bands, but which was more grating with such a large ensemble.
sadly, it should be said that i would've been a lot less judgemental about this stuff had blood pony behaved differently. unfortunately, they acted exactly like the stereotype of what they, in fact were: a local band, given the opportunity to open for a buzzy touring band, who abuses the privelege. blood pony played for over an hour, which is thirty minutes longer than i consider appropriate for a band in their position, and fifteen minutes longer than the maximum i think is ever appropriate for any opener anywhere. considering that the headliner, the raa, played a set of just more or less sixty minutes, the local boys were even more notably egregious. they also were very focussed on pimping their free cdr, available on a little table in the back of the room, which itself was advertising a show of their own the following week. altogether pretty bad form, and ultimately behaviour that darkly colored my otherwise positive impressions of them.

the second opener hit a little closer to home, figuratively and literally. portland, oregon's, the shaky hands rocked their way through a blistering set dominated greatly by their deft guitar work. the sense of relief amongst many in the room was palpable as the band brought the competance level notably up. oddly, my impressions of them are less distinct that those to blood pony, but the overall sense was far more pleasant. coming in at a standard 40 minutes or so, the shaky hands' set took some of the bitter taste of their predecessors out of the mouth and fulfilled their mission to whet the appetite for the headliner with great aplomb.
i have been listening to the songs on their myspace with pleasure, and am disappointed that they will not be accompanying the raa past portland on their way north by northwest (i hope to see the canadians again at the vera project; we'll see, haha).
however, i will certainly be keeping an eye out for my slightly-southern neighbors, with the intent to catch them again. (is it just me, or is it bizarre to travel so far to discover someone so near?)

so, finally the raa took the stage, making apt comments about precisely how unexpectedly cold it was on that night. singer nils edenloff began a little story about the mysterious lemp brewing dynasty which ended up a vicious tease as many audience members affirmed that they already knew the story. my friends and i felt unfairly teased! oh well.
edenloff, with percussionist paul banwatt and multi-instrumentalist amy cole, launched comfortably, energetically and cheerfully into a set which vastly eclipsed sonically the assumed potential of a three-piece. both cole and edenloff had keyboards planted in front of them, and driven at a viciously unforgiving pace by banwatt's stellar drumming, the three combined powers to create a rich, layered and harmonic sound that seems like it may only be found in canadian indie rock. with positive echoes of bands like (inevitably) the new pornographers, stars, and immaculate machine, the raa's members alternated instruments and vocal duties within songs to create a densly packed soundstorm filled with multiple keyboards, vocal harmonies, hard-strummed acoustic guitar, and glockenspiel--one that never felt the absence of the non-existant bass player so common in indie rock. the democratic spirit of the raa's playing was felt most strongly in a song ("frank, ab") where edenloff started the chorus with a trilling "oo-oo" which was seemlessly picked up and imitated by cole, shifting the dynamic to startling effect. another instance was on a song where banwatt abandoned his full drum kit and stood next to cole where both musicians played the same stand-alone drum. it was awesome. sadly, i cannot recall the song... oh well, haha.
i was given the raa's 2009 release, hometowns, on a week when i was clearing out my glutted itunes library: i listened to it once, thought "oh yeah that's nice," and put it away. having now seen the band play live, i have dug it out again, and hometowns is racing quickly into the top-ten list of this year's records. there was such passion, such positive energy, and such fluid skill displayed by the rural alberta advantage, that one can't help but envision a long, fruitful future for the band.
i hope so, at least.
i want more, please.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

their own pretty ways

i always think it's funny when i can precisely pinpoint where and when i heard a band for the first time; especially when it's love-at-first-listen.
i'm not much of a net-freak, blog notwithstanding. however, there is a particular chatroom where i sit-in frequently (but due to the overwhelming amount of trollish dowshes on the web, i'm not going to reveal it), and as the general focus, much divurged from, of the room is a band, the subject of what we're all listening to is a regular one. noticing the brightly colored, naively painted cover of a newly-acquired lp in one user's photos, i inquired what it was. "first aid kit," i was told, and another user sent me a link to a fantastic video with two elfin, flannel-clad young women sitting in a forest, singing a spare and full-throated version of "tiger mountain peasant song," by fleet foxes.
whoof. i was hooked.
the video begins with a sweet, but hardly-shy, dedication to fleet foxes, by way of introduction, then klara söderberg begins playing her guitar (thrum-ba-ba-ba-bum) with simple assertiveness. she begins, with a sweet, clear, slightly-accented voice, to weave the first verses into the song as her sister johanna sways shyly beside her. the shyness only lasts until the second verse though, when she opens up her mouth and adds her duskier contribution before both girls sing together in haunting harmony. every time i listen to it it still sends chills down my back.
to the best i can tell, first aid kit already had their ep "drunken trees" in the can before this video was made, and that due to the intense popularity of the cover, they re-released it with "tiger mountain peasant song" appended as an eighth track.
i tracked down a purveyor of said ep, and should add that it is very seldom i get so excited when a padded envelope arrives in the mail.
the only real criticism i have of "drunken trees" is that the reasonably charming, but long, sample that introduces both the album and the opening track, "little moon," is not on its own track, but is inseperable from the song. as a fan of listening to albums all the way through, and also of creating an overall texture and atmosphere, i'm all for that. however, i would prefer to sometimes not hear it, and get right to the music, y'know? but that's it. otherwise, the ep is fantastic, flat-out.
on their website(s) the band, or an especially adroit press agent, describe fak's sound as "gary numan if gary numan played folk music," which, yes, is glib, but is also a way of not taking their efforts overly seriously. basically, at it's roots, first aid kit is two teenaged swedish girls playing folk songs on acoustic instruments. the potential for overly earnest treacle is immense, but its well-circumvented here. on the album itself, the voice/voice/guitar relationship is deepened by autoharp, keyboards and subtle percussion--more rattles and shakers than drum kits--to restrained-yet-lush effect. at its core, however remains the simplicity of two sisters singing together.
the band has a single coming out in early october, anticipating a full-length effort sometime in winter. a song from the single has been posted on the band's myspace, and its shimmering, jangly guitars suggest that, not only will the lp be as good as the ep, but that winter may be just exactly the right time to receive it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

please turn off your dance music

this, if i know me, may well end up as one of those meandering and utterly pointless exercises in the documentation of catching up with all the other cool kids. so i may as well just come right out and admit that until last year sometime, i was not familiar with the work of julie doiron.
i am sorry. does that help? to be fair, i'm really the one who's been missing out, not you. trust me, i'm boring at shows. i wouldn't buy you a whiskey. and i just shuffle there, with my arms folded. getting into the music, y'know?

well. now i'm clued in. of course i'd heard doiron's name before, and that of her previous band, eric's trip. considering the copious stacks of indie material i accumulate, it would have been an act of will to avoid hearing about them. but, as so often happens when other bands fall to the wayside of some other obsession du jour, i never actually got around to listening.
until last fall (?–this date may be erroneous, can anyone remember when i got the big pwelverum & sun order? that's when; yknow, for those keeping track...), that is. that's when i got the mount eerie/julie doiron/fred squire record, "lost wisdom." i listened to it one time, and thought, not for the last time, "my god. i truly have a shitty needle on my record player." however, i also at this time downloaded a recording of many of these songs performed at the 2008 primavera sound festival, at the parc del forum in barcelona. (if said recording is still up on archive: get it.) i have listened to this recording any times, and am here to tell you, it is damned swoonable. the set features julie doiron's earthily fresh voice prominently, whereupon she compliments the weary boyish voice of phil elvrum to a remarkably effective degree, particularly with a strong-yet-empathic forwardness to his reticence. what was even more remarkable, was the song breaks, though, when this sensual and masterly voice broke into the most girlish giggles imaginable, ephervescent without being "bubbly," belying not a ditziness, but a great and holistic joy.
determined to delve more deeply into the discography of this person, i was distracted almost immediately by something else. that something was probably related to one of the three ridiculous eps that the mountain goats have recently, semmingly grudgingly released. i accept that i have a problem, can we move on? once i remembered that there were other albums in the world that desperately required my acquisition, i began to think about julie doiron again. as if by the intervention of fate itself, i "had" to order something from jagjaguwar/secretly canadian/dead oceans anyway, and thought, oh, i should get some julie stuff too! i imagine since i have been out of work, small labels and distributors have been starving...
so there i found myself ordering a handful of julie doiron cds, and sat back for the refreshingly old-school label to take the order, find the discs, pack and mail them, all without the urgent reassurances of normal e-commerce. i had to wait a little, and i must say, it actually whetted my appetite. not that i'd want to do that all the time though...
eventually, "broken girl," "lonliest in the morning," "goodnight nobody," and "i woke myself up" arrived at my door, and found their way into rotation on my stereo, with "broken girl" asserting itself most surely. sadly, i missed ordering the most recent album, "i can wonder what you did with your day," my order placed a week shy of its release. i figured then that i would order it in a month or so, but then i found myself out of work. it leads the list of "things to buy when re-employed," a long list, i'm afraid. happily, the wealth of material on these recordings is immensely satisfying, and is work i go back to often for inspiration, but also for its sheer beauty. much has been written about the qualities of julie doiron's voice and material, so i won't re-remark on those, but i will say she was one of my happiest discoveries of last year, and would certainly urge anyone to look into her work. for an easy first step, daytrotter has a lovely set from this year's sxsw session. or you could check out julie's site, which features taster-mp3s from a good portion of her work. oh, and there are lots of those youtube thingees.
i found the experience of searching out julie doiron's work, and the resulting rewards, as being akin to going out to the grey and cooly damp woods, with heavy boots, and and a sturdy vest over a wool sweater, to hunt for wild mushrooms, turning corners to find wild, beautiful and delicious growths nestled in unexpected places. happy foraging.

Monday, July 13, 2009

chunky, not smooth.

remember the eighties and nineties? there were those tape thingees. and for most people i knew that meant that you had a pile of pirated cassettes (taped on double-deck stereos of real, bought tapes sometimes, but mostly they were from records. i certainly had a high percentage of my music on tapes horded from friends. it was (cough. and is) a good way to exponentially increase one's buying power. barry would bring in the pixies. jay would get the retro stuff. all of us would tweak out on sub pop's many offerings. don't even get me started on the mixtapes; john cusack can do a better job singing their praises.

i used to have a superchunk tape. leave it to me to not even know which one i had*. i doubt i knew anything then more than their name, and how that tape sounded. how it sounded was different. different from the ur-indie stuff we could scrabble together, like the pixies and the smiths and the vaselines. different from the scene happening around us: the green river and mudhoney, mother love bone and screaming trees, the butthole surfers and nirvana. i was maybe as snotty then as i am now, but i really didn't have the knowledge or experience to explain how superchunk was different from grunge. i couldn't articulate now how i thought it was different. it was though, and i enjoyed listening to that tape. that, and pj harvey, and seaweed and they might be giants. haha.
as with so many parts of our youths, that tape disappeared somewhere along the line and, rather than miss it, i forgot about it as new sounds greeted my young ears. explosions of screaming riot grrls and gentle strums of twee maestros vied for attention with the newly-discovered (for me) nicks cave and drake. and others, more and more, for years.
i remembered superchunk's name, and "oh, those guys.... i had that tape." couldn't remember how it sounded though.

a few years ago i was rifling through the used cd bin at a local record store and i came across a superchunk cd ("on the mouth"). i said, "oh hey, those guys," and picked it up. it sat on my shelf for a little while, and when i put it on the player, i was a little shocked at how good and how raw it sounded. i hate to admit that after that playing, it went back on the shelf as some other record (in all honestly, probably one by the mountain goats...) took over my affections with an iron grip.
then several months (okay, maybe eight or so) ago, i came across another cd ("come pick me up"), this one for a real price, and i picked it up, and both went onto rotation chez matt. it all started to come back to me, the significance of this fine exponent of rocking the fuck out without being douchebags. i started getting wistful thinking about mac playing with the bats for their stellar "spill the beans" ep; about how jon was revitalizing the otherwise two-man mountain goats with his insanely good drumming; about the whole romantic history of a great band giving birth to a truly legendary label, merge records.
it was all just to much, and i fell in love properly this time--not just a fleeting crush.

i would've been content to harbor my feelings within if a few recent reminders had not spurred me into some rusty writing: i discovered mac mccaughan's excellent "portastatic"** blog, and have been enjoying that; then came the announcement, timed perfectly to co-incide with my recent unemployment, that not only was a superchunk ep now available, but a 7" single on clear vinyl would be available for pre-order--two more temptations from the nearly irresistable merge catalogue at just the wrong time; then there was portastatic's gorgeous cover of franklin bruno's "tableaux vivant" that scott from fayettenam hooked me up with. it was all too much. i caved and ordered the ep and single--i couldn't hold out any longer, and after all, what are credit cards good for if not going into debt for what you love? amiright? (it's gonna be rough this fall when merge puts out the clean's new studio album. argh. gnashes teeth.

unfortunately the single, "crossed wires b/w blinders (fast version), and crossed wires (demo)" met the vinyl production delay indie record geeks have come to regard as a natural pitfall of their endevors. however, in a classy move, the label sent out the download coupons included with purchase early so we who bought would not lose hair waiting. they are absolute darlings down there in north carolina, i tell ya. so i've been listening to three songs all day (ok, with a little julie doiron thrown in for swoonability purposes)--actually, two versions of one song, plus the middle one. ha. nerdy? yes i am.
but holy shit, they are so good.
especially good is the third track, the demo version of "crossed wires." the single track is awesome, and kicks every ass in the room, but the intimacy and immediacy of the more-acoustic version, with stereophonicly jangling guitars perfectly setting up mac's inimitable high-pitched and plaintive drone, is nearly impossible to top in my opinion. it showcases the strength of the song, one that's capable of being rocked to the edge, but also the depth of a more "humble" treatment. that it also highlights the range of this venerable punk band is a point almost rendered redundent, but it is one i will make nonetheless. can't wait to get some income again; then i can delve deeper into the back numbers...

* upon reflection, it was most likely 1990's "superchunk"
**portastatic being mac's longstanding other project.