falling in love via dash cam

First off, the other week or so Kendall and I were in LA and driving and then the radio put on this song and it was like we stop and go-ed into a movie named “Summer Surfers Stare Wistfully At the Ocean.” Sure, it’s a bit melancholy, but the title track from La Sera’s really good new album The Hour of the Dawn is my 2014 summer jam. At least, my 2014 stuck in LA traffic summer Jam. You’re stuck on some highway you don’t remember the number of (because you’re not from here, you’re from san diego), and the AC is struggling against a deficit and you’re so worried about sitting still you’re starting to worried about left arm lacking sunscreen. 

And then “Hour of the Dawn” hits.

La Sera- Hour of the Dawn

It probably took her 4 hours to drive to this view.

Even if the traffic doesn’t part like Moses, even if a sky of soppy summer clouds doesn’t materialize and cool down the megaplex by 10 degrees, even if the guy behind you honking like that will change things holds fast to his belief that leaning on the horn will change things, things will get lighter. Then heavier, but let’s stick to lighter first.  

On past albums, La Sera singer-songwriter-guitarist Katy Goodman sounded like she was performing with session musicians.  The guitars at the the beginning of “Hour of the Dawn,” the guitars halfway through the song, the fume-rising solo halfway through the song, Goodman’s almost instructive-precise vocals, they’re all great as they have been on past La Sera albums, but here they’re all supported by drums, bass, rhythm guitar that actually seem written by other players.  The band effort which runs through this album suits Goodman- I hope it sticks around.

And you could rightfully say “Gabe, this is one hell of a melancholy song for your summer jam pick”  and you would be right.  But I always will be a sucker for songs that wrap quicksand kinds of sadness into the most upbeat melodies, something Katy Goodman does exceptionally well.  Just download this song, burn it to CD and drive as far and fast and long as you want-  you will not get sick of it.  Let me assure you, the rest of the album (including Game Of Thrones references) is nearly as perfect.

Summer of Love” and “The Hour of the Dawn” are from the La Sera album The Hour of the Dawn.

every walk a skywalk

longlongtimeYear Past 23” is from the Kera and the Lesbians cassette Year Past 23.

First, Jeff Buckley (and Bob Dylan)

It’s unusual that Buckley covered Dylan as much as he did, because in a key way the two were polar opposites. Dylan doesn’t, really, give a shit about the music (i mean, yeah, he went electric and country and all that, but mostly, dude cared about the words he was singing, not the guitar he was haphazardly strumming). Buckley was so much more about how he was singing than what he was singing. You could be charitable and call “This is our last goodbye /I hate to feel the love between us die/But it’s over” naturalistic and compelling, but then you’re being charitable and not actually paying attention to the average-quality lyrics. While neither could survive without some attention paid to their chosen neglected element, for Buckley the point was the music, and for Dylan it was the lyrics. So then the way Buckley does Dylan is to turn the performance into a sort of talent show cover; he starts with something familiar and then uses that base to establish himself as a unique entity.

white boys in tight coats with glazed stares. be still my heart.

White boys in tight coats with glazed stares. be still my heart.

There are three Dylan covers on the expanded version of Buckley’s first release- Live at Sin-e. The story is that Buckley played show after show after show at the small East Village club before going into the studio to record his first (and only completed) studio album, Grace. If you’ve got a 2-hour set and only one hour of original material, you’re not going to fill the rest with banter, so covers it is.  What he does on all three of the Dylan covers featured on …Sin-e is blow them up. “I Shall be Released” gets an extra 2+ minutes tacked onto The Band’s studio version. “Just Like a Woman” gets 3 minutes extra. And “If You See Her, Say Hello” goes from Dylan’s somewhat compact 4:49 to a panoramic 8 minutes, 18 seconds- nearly double its original length.

Buckley tells a story with his guitar in that extra space. The lyrics, as Buckley sings them, are more moments in between the musical acts which, for Buckley, really make up the song. Look at how he speeds through two verses of the song between 5:14 and 5:50 just so he can have fun with the blocky, mimicked solo that follows. Then look at how he slows down the last verse to fill the holes in his spiderweb guitar playing. He even repeats the last line because he’s not done sustaining the final chord. Dylan almost never repeats lines! Sacrilege! But also great.

If You See Her, Say Hello” is from the Bob Dylan album Blood on the Tracks.

If You See Her, Say Hello” is from the Jeff Buckley album Live at Sin-e [Legacy Edition].

Next, Orcas

The interesting thing about Orcas is they go in the opposite direction you’d think they would. Thomas Meluch, who normally records under the name Benoit Pioulard carves away from pop music like sea mist, hazily and heavy with wet. His partner in Orcas is ambient composer Rafael Anton Irisarri who plays slow drones under his own name and slow drones hooked up to a large hadron collider under the name The Sight Below. You would expect this band to double up on the figurative. You would expect their recently-released album Yearling to drive you through the cloud forest at 5 am before the sun breaks through, if it even will today. Here’s why you’d expect that-

Little a Strongly More Go I” is a Benoit Pioulard song from a Ghostly Records anthology.

But nope. This album as much in the clouds as it is breaking through them. For every abstract moment like “Petrichor” there’s a slanted, rushing song like “An Absolute.” For the first time in the history of Meluch’s music, the lyrics here are crystalline, discernible, and seemingly very personal.

orcas

I don’t doubt the combined songwriting skills of the two principals of Orcas, but substantial credit has to go to the band(/the album)’s drummer, Michael Lerner. Lerner normally plays drums in the wonderful, rigid power-pop band Telekinesis, and he brings a promptness and collectedness to Orcas that prevents things from ethering too much. It’s a welcome addition which pulls some of the more abstract moments back to the woofer.

Infinite Stillness” is from the Orcas album Yearling.

Next, The Menzingers

Speaking of drumming (which probably happens more than it should on this blog), here’s a band who have released a great album this year which, the drumming will tell you, owes an Atlantic-sized debt to 90s indie rock. The Menzingers are part of a new(ish), small(ish) group of punk bands (including personal favorites like Cheap Girls, as well as bands like Swearin’ and Fireworks) who borrow elements from the crunchy, loud ’90s rock without sounding derivative or out-of-ideas.

drums

One of the easiest ways you can spot the ’90s on Rented Room,The Menzingers’ most recent album, is the backbeat. Unlike, for example, The Strokes/Interpol-style drumming that became popular in the early 2000s where rhythms were skeletal and austere, the 90s was a time when drumbeats were fun, ornamented, and, in their own over-the-top way, pretty emo. There’s an overflowing of sounds coming from the drum set. These songs had more that what was essential.

To make a broad overstatement, the 90s were when indie(/emo) band were unassuming and the drummers for these bands learned from suburban teachers who used to talk about things like “the pocket” “the grove” and “ghost notes.” The students only half-understood, but they tried hard to replicate these things, because this was what being a good drummer was.  Yeah, it’s weird to think of 90s indie rock as grooving, but it did.

This was drumming which existed more independently from the rest of the song than, say the backbeats of modern bands like DIIV or Lower Dens or Chvrches do. Likewise, the drumming on Rented Room is a bit showy and dense, but it is so of the 90s era that it single-highhandedly makes the band in dialog with forebears like Superchunk and Velocity Girl. It makes the album more than just an update or a throwback- it’s a conversation.

Rodent” and “Transient Love” are from The Menzingers album Rented World.

and for comparison’s sake

Is This Thing On?” is from The Promise Ring album Nothing Feels Good.

From a Motel 6” is from the Yo La Tengo album Painful.

Next, Wet Nurse, The Ponys

i mean, sometimes you need to beat the shit out of a bus shelter.

Sassy” is from the Wet Nurse album Daily Whatever.

Is it Working” is from The Ponys’ album Deathbed + 4.

 

Now back to our regularly scheduled lack of a schedule.

the stars in costume

You can either think of the Shout Out Louds as really good fashion models, or Dickensian orphans. Your pick.

A model isn’t a body that clothing hangs off of; s/he works to figure the clothing as art. Imagine moving your body as a frame- simultaneously making your features, angles, juttings accentuate the fabric you’ve been dressed in, while also appearing as a human, letting anyone who is watching you think “that could be my body. I could see myself in those clothes.”

I mean, who needs facial expression anyway?

Or maybe this: “Pip, you little demon. Clean the floors, wax all the windows, feed the dog and then perhaps you’ll get some gruel.” Pip knew the headmaster was cruel but never did he think the man was capable of withholding food. The headmaster might have thought this was a day’s work for a young child, but he didn’t know Pip.

If Pip could clean the floors of Brasseye the pirate’s ship in the middle of a gale, cleaning the headmaster’s floors was no trouble. Pip remembered the days he had spent dangling outside the Hartfordshire Cathedral by fishing line, waxing the stained glass windows of the sanctuary as the mean old deacon shouted his voice hoarse- “PIIIIIP! YOU MISSED A PANEL. DO IT AGAAAAAAIN.”  The windows would be easy peasy. And how could Pip ever forget the countess’ exotic animal collection- her pythons and pygmy piranhas? Surely he could handle feeding a little…make that a giant dog, growling at Pip as thought he were made of sausage links. Still pip would take the dog over a snake, any day. The headmaster had clearly never met one of Pip’s stock before.

Pip is smiling because he hasn’t found out about the Pleurisy yet.

What I’m trying to talk about is adaptability. The Shout Out Louds are a Swedish band, active for about 10 years, who you’ll know by the plushness of consonants and diphthongs cusping out of singer Adam Olenius’ mouth, not to mention the able, amiable band who support him. Other than those constants, things change album to album. More than most other bands, The Shout Out Louds cede a lot of control to the people they work with in the studio. And more than any band that cedes as much control as The Shout Out Louds do, the group’s output remains high quality, varied, and yet still, thanks to those vocals and those straight-to-the blood choruses, still distinctly their own.

flexible enough to go larping on the weekend?

The group’s first album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff was produced by Ronald Bood, who, since then has gone on to helm the boards for winners of the Swedish Idol and Eurovision contests.  However, the album is not full of cold, crafted Swedish pop songs. Bood doesn’t heap on studio trickery.  Instead, he throws everything he has at the mixing board, accenting every plink of glockenspiel, every branch-break drum-hit, every vocal crack. Although the band probably went through take after take, the album sounds like it was recorded live.  On their first album, the Shout Out Louds’ songs were poppy and immediate. By simply shoving everything right into listeners’ eardrums, Bood crafted an introduction that held nothing back.

Very Loud” and  “A Track and A Train” are from The Shout Out Louds album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff.

The band’s second album, Our Ill Wills, was produced by Bjorn Yttling from Peter, Bjorn and John. Yttling, a top-40 fetishist, bridles the band into a coy, tightly- controlled act. The album is expensive liquor- imagine the high (or alternately the heat of proletariat superiority) you felt the first time you had something top shelf bought for you by a rich cousin or sort-of friend who felt like showing off.  You will get that feeling every time you listen to the 7-minute lament “Impossible” or the rollicking “Tonight I Have to Leave It.”  It’s an album of precision, of perfectly portioned excess. For better or worse, and on this album, certainly for better, the Shout Out Louds started to take themselves pretty seriously around this time, and that hasn’t let up since.

Tonight I Have to Leave It” and “You Are Dreaming” are from The Shout Out Louds album Our Ill Wills.

not quite work-ing for them

Rightly labeled the most challenging album in the band’s discography, the band’s third album, Work, was produced by northwestern indie god Phil Ek. Ek brought a crispness and guitar focus to Built To Spill’s career highlights There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, Perfect from Now On, and Keep it Like a Secret, as well as great albums by The Shins, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and The Walkmen. However the collaboration between the band and Ek is a difficult one. Ek as a producer knows what to do with guitars, drums and bass, with terra-cotta solos and quiet songs begging to be made louder. He has more trouble with spotlight vocals, keyhole details, the kind of songs that are coastlines, songs built for apartments, not homes.  Even on the highlights of this uneven album, you can feel the tension between Ek’s production (seeking to make the band sound like an American indie band) and the Shout Out Louds’ songwriting.

Fall Hard” is from The Shout Out Louds album Work.

Did I mention their newest single came release on a record MADE OF ICE?

Yet the band’s willingness to stretch, shed, and build is half of what makes their most recent album, Optica, so good. The other half is producer Johannes Berglund who worked with The Radio Dept. on their equally subversive record Clinging to a Scheme. On …Scheme, the catchiest songs are preceded by audio clips talking about the commodification of youth culture,  It’s the kind of thing that sticks into your throat and catches on the melody bouncing through your ears .

On Optica, the Shout Out Louds make pop music that doubts itself. Opening track “Sugar” decays as you listen to it. The fake steel drums on “Chasing the Sinking Sun” couldn’t feel faker unless they were made with a midi keyboard. The riff on “14th of July”  repeats itself so quickly and so often, the band sounds worried you’ll forget the melody the second it is done playing (you won’t). The programed beats on “Circles” feels like they emerge from a computer running hot on reserve power.  These songs are a body-cross-section of a pop album. They show you their guts but never get maudlin or pretentious about it. This time around, The Shout Out Louds are showing you what they’re made of.

Sugar” and “Chasing the Sinking Sun” are from The Shout Out Louds album Optica.

And here‘s a great Jens Lekman remix of Optica’s 14th of July.

Also,

Last night I was at Monkeypaw having probably the 50,000th conversation about what is it with California? It went on for too long, and I think someone walking over and pressing 02-14 for “Debra” might’ve shut us all up it. Not that Beck has an answer but he certainly is questioning this California bullshit the same way.  I mean, dude’s got a new songs which is 15 minutes long and features a spoken-word interlude by Kim Gordon. Makes about as much sense as the ham fisted Big Sur trip I drove with friends coming back from San Francisco the other week- from the kind of ocean views that make your ears pop then harden then fall asleep as the sun tips past oil drilling equipment and small mountains around Barstow.

You can hear the new Beck song here.

Also Also, you can and should read about her elsewhere, but Janelle Monae!

the clawmarks suggest readiness

You don’t even have to listen to Four Tet’s music to see how far removed it is from a sense of emotional immediacy. Just visit the Four Tet website. Look at the way Kieran Hebden announces his new album. Other minimalist techno artist resort to crazy marketing gimmicks to release their music. Hebden doesn’t even admit to being excited about having a new album coming out! He doesn’t admit to anything, besides the fact that some dude named Jason did the photography for that album!

Thanks a lot, Jason.

The fact that Hebden announces album releases like other people announce a chance of light rain doesn’t mean he could care less about music. I think he just cares a lot less about releasing music than he does about making it. I don’t think I’m overreaching to say as much; Hebden works and releases at a Henry Ford pace.

If he doesn’t have a Four Tet album coming out (and he often does), he’s producing or recording something for his label, Text Records, collaborating with Radiohead, jazz drummer Steve Reid, or Burial, or playing all night sets in Brixton. I wrote the same thing a while back about Yo La Tengo, and I think it’s true of Kieran Hebden- he would be making music regardless of whether anyone bought a copy.  He makes it for the sake of making it- he gets joy from the making.

Too busy planning out the next album to smile.

This focus follows through into much of Hebden’s music – there is precision and lightness, a studiousness that ensures the process stays as important as the result. You can hear it in Four Tet songs, which crescendo and then do not over stretched, epic minutes. Though one can assume they are not products of improvisation, Hebden’s songs replicate the process of their creation; they are built, element by element over their length. By doing so, the songs challenge listeners- is a song more “complete” once all the elements are there (beat, melody, hook, etc.), as opposed to when those elements are building up? Are you as a listener OK with 15 seconds of climax in an 8 minute song? Are you here for instant gratification or can you hold on just a minute?

The whole thing (the lack of excitement in releasing music, the slow, deliberate pace of songs, the challenge to an audience) reminds me of Sol LeWitt and the instructions he provided for recreating his artwork. LeWitt was reluctant to speak about the motivation behind any of his work, but the idea that anyone could make a LeWitt, and that, perhaps the act of making such a drawing was powerful in itself, seems to mirror the emphasis on creative process you witness Hebden’s songs.

I’ve been listening to Fridge, Hebden’s band with his high school friends Adem Ihan and Sam Jeffers a lot recently. The band’s most recent album, The Sun, is across the board excellent. Similar to Four Tet, Fridge songs aren’t about  a payoff; they’re about the build. The payoff sometimes doesn’t even arrive.  Though it almost certainly falls into the genre of post-rock, Explosions in the Sky, this ain’t.

The most interesting moment on The Sun is when things appear the most human, the least purely instrumental. Listeners can surmise that “Lost Time” is different from other songs on the album because, from the start, there are real live human voices. This is rare not only because the rest of the album is entirely instrumental, but because, before they start singing, the voices on “Lost Time” seem to be planning out the song, talking about who will come in where in hushed quickspeak.  Listeners are privy to a group huddle from a band that seems so precise, so meticulous and idea-driven. And then the group start singing, layering one voice over the next, and a real shift begins.

“C’mon guys. we’re supposed to look serious”

None of the voices on “Lost Time” voices are especially good at signing. They drop the melody, sing too high, chip their own keys and flatten themselves into muggy fuzz. That’s not to say they’re terrible, just that they’re pretty average- the way you or I might sing if we were asked to. But, as those pretty standard voices rise with the guitar, the impact they have grows as well. Compared to the stellar musicianship and feeling of composure in most Four Tet and Fridge songs, the track feels looser and maybe even a bit sentimental. While “Lost Time” is different from Hebden’s other work what it stands as is the proof that, even though Fridge might be  doing it for themselves, there are doing it for themselves with delight.

And They All Look Broken Hearted” is from the Four Tet album Rounds.

Sing” is from the Four Tet album There Is Love in You.

Angel’s (Four Tet Remix)” is an unreleased remix of an XX song.

One Year (Four Tet Remix)” is a remixed His Name is Alive song from the album Someday RMX.

Lost Time” is from the Fridge album The Sun.

Also, I know you do not need to be told to get pumped for the new Neko Case album, but all the same, this will get you pumped for the new Neko Case album.

Also, I know there is a slight chance you might need to get pumped for the new Califone album because it’s been a few years since their last one, this will nurture a heart-first crush on the new Califone album.

farewell, fairly ok.

Let’s call it an error at the record pressing plant. Eleanor Friedberger’s first solo album was a record about its creator, a record whose faster, louder songs came out in clicking spurts and whose more exposed songs snort at you for using the word exuberant in any context, even appropriate ones. It was an album that showed you specific places, diminutive parks in Brooklyn, clothing strewn bedrooms it would not clean up for you. The places didn’t have to make sense to you, the listener, because they formed such a devastating logic to Friedberger, and that logic, the way it came out, was enough to keep listeners interested. These songs caught you, regardless of whether you thought they were catchy. Maybe it was an early spring record, the kind of thing which eases you from one kind of waking up to another.

Her more recent solo album doubles up on the SPF just in case, then gives you the best summer day of your life. Fresh flowers with little hairs on the stems, beautiful paperbacks sitting in free boxes on stoops and curbs, sweating beer bottles, gas settling on a beach-bound highways. It’s a summer album.

The first album was called Last Summer. The more recent one, Personal Record.

now you can keep it on your person at all times

Personal Record is not. Personal, that it. For one thing, Friedberger worked with British songwriter/novelist John Wesley Harding on these songs. Between the lack of ego in collaboration and Friedberger’s expressed desire to write about characters, as opposed to herself, not to mention fudge gender norms a bit, these songs feel like stories. But here’s Friedberger’s thought-provoking quote for me from a recent interview about Personal Record

I wanted to write beautiful love songs that could be about you, your ex-boyfriend, or your aunt. Unlike Last Summer, which is so specific and so clearly about me, I think anybody can insert themselves into these songs

As a poet whose work delves into the very thorny issue of speaking for/about the other, I can tell you it’s a tricky a game, to write in/for the universal. The issue is, either your work ends up not being as universal as you’d think (“we’ve all experienced the heartbreak of loosing a pet falcon the nest our three year old son designed on the porch of our cabin in the Andes!”) or being so universal it means nothing (“so…you like…stuff?” “yeah, stuffs pretty ok.”). Friedberger has an interesting way of dealing with this- the distinct purposes of her verses and choruses, her lyrics and her music.

In “When I Knew”‘s second verse, our narrator is introduced to Soft Machine by an older, more cultured crush, then can’t find the album anywhere, except one drippy basement record store. In the third verse, the object of affection sings in a band where the narrator playing back-up. In the fourth verse, the love interest almost rollerskates into our narrator on a big hill in San Francisco. Maybe different stories altogether, or maybe some kind of When Harry Met Sally tableau. Regardless, the verses are specific. I’ve never listened to Soft Machine. Somebody running into someone on roller skates seems like it would happen on a syndicated sitcom on TBS.

What holds the song together is the chorus, acting as a thesis statement. “That what when I knew I was wrong wrong wrong all along.” Even if you don’t feel comfortable or at home in the specific images of the verses (and chances are, given their specificity, that you won’t), that chorus and that music (45mph drums, Saturday messed sheets guitars, the whole thing slightly sepia toned) will give you something you can grasp onto. We’ve all had those moments when things have changed, the introduction of a person makes us happy when before we were not, or makes us restless when previously content. We’ve all found ourselves so totally wrong all of a sudden that repeating wrong three times is a good way to capture it. That has happened to us all.

Punny album titles and swimming pools- a good summer.

That’s how Personal Record works- choruses that are brashly universal (“Love is an exquisite kind of pain/And since I saw you I’ll never be happy again” from “I’ll Never Be Happy Again”) and short-story-caliber details in the verses (“In the back of the of taxi, you turned off the TV/And read me a book on your phone” from “Stare at the Sun”), and music as direct as express lanes that cues you in to the emotional weight of any given song.

At its worst moments, though, Friedberger takes it too far. She can perhaps sell an undeniably cheesy line like “Well I couldn’t get her out of my head, so I got her out of hers instead” once, but repeating it, drilling it in, becomes grating. Likewise, the repetition of the titular metaphor of “Echo or Encore” (a person stands in for both) dulls what might be an interesting song for me. The litany of “Other Boys” starts out as an intimidate confrontation- I know there are other women. Yet the longer it goes on, the more it becomes quippy and less emotionally immediate.

But part of me thinks that’s to be expected. Frieberger’s previous band The Fiery Furnaces showed off with their music, and as a fairly new solo artist, Eleanor Friedberger is showing off with her words. When most of her words are so on point, when they are doing so much work with so little effort or strain, you’ll forgive her when she goes a bit overboard. It’s possible that, like me, you’ll even be able to smile at the excess.

Tomorrow Tomorrow” and “Stare at the Sun” are from the Eleanor Friedberger album Personal Record.

Also, how about a summer jam or two

She Smokes in Bed” is from the TV Girl EP Lonely Women.

Rest” is from the Michael Kiwanuka album Home Again.

Nice Train” is from the Donkeys album Living on the Other Side.

The Bad Actor

Josh Ritter Got Divorced.

Unassumingly, in the second biggest newspaper in Boston, in the middle of an article about a series of concerts called “the Valentines Day Massacre,” referring to his marriage to Dawn Landes, answering a question which innocently asked about their writing practices, “we’ve actually decided to split, which is hard, but is going to be better in the end.” Old level-headed Josh. He had a child with Dawn Ritter, had lived with her, has been married, but it “is going to be better in the end.” The interview went on from there.

Josh Ritter (and Dawn Landes)

Josh Ritter (and Dawn Landes)

I saw Ritter on that tour. Terminal Five, the cologne gunked bottle service wasteland of  midtown west, the venue that seems to grow a foot bigger and a modicum less interesting every time someone says how much they hate it. He played joyously, seeming as OK as the quote in the magazine suggested. Played “Kathleen,” which I can only imagine was tough for him. You know, everyone’s got their own way of coping, I know. But after The Beast in its Tracks, all the OK feels malingering, and it’s all bullshit, and I don’t know why he’s doing it.

Funny story about a breakup 1: __________________________________________________________ New Jersey Transit ___________________________________________  sobbing in Newark Penn Station!!!!

Normally, Josh Ritter stays distant, smart, creative. It’s his skill as a writer and the depth of his imagination which enable him to write a song like “The Temptation of Adam.” The song is a story about the post-apocalypse, an engagement with our military industrial complex (what’s left after everything else? A giant missile with an american flag painted on it), and a bunch of words that will make you think about love, in the way a good love song does. It is all of these things, but it is not about Josh Ritter.

Ritter has another song, “Folk Bloodbath” where Stagger Lee acts as cupid, and another about atoms, the big bang and planetary rotations which is actually about the merging of two lives. All of these are love songs in one way or another. Josh Ritter was in all likelihood in love when he wrote them, but these songs, you will know without working too hard, are not about Josh Ritter. They are full of genuine sentiment, but they are fictions, and it takes a good songwriter to do that, let me tell you.

Photo credit Laura Wilson/KXPN

In contrast, Josh Ritter’s newest album finds him treading pretty gunky, stagnant lyrical water. He compares his broken heart to “fallen debris” (“Hopeful”), refers to his ex as a ghost on at two songs (“A New Lover,” “Joy To You, Baby,”), and uses phrases like “little white lies.”   And then there are lines which make me very uncomfortable.

These days I’m feelin’ better about the man that I am
There’s some things I can change and there’s others I can’t
I met someone new now I know I deserve

I never met someone who loves the world more than her
She has been through her own share of hard times as well
And she has learned how to tear out the heaven from hell
Most nights I’m alright still all rocks roll down hill

These lines from “Hopeful” don’t feel like lines from a song. They feel like the kind of speech someone gives when they drunk-corner you at a party, the kind of things they repeat to themselves a few times so they can make the inflections convincing. Yet it all feels like bad acting and it’s all phony and no one is buying it. There are other examples of lyrics as egregiously false as this one, but what’s the point in kicking a horse when its heartbroken as shit.

Now, arguably, such moments are meta. Maybe these songs were written when Ritter really was feeling better, when his mind was clear and he was back to living an uninterrupted life, and he was trying to recreate the feeling of lying about how OK you are.  But I don’t think that’s what’s going on.   The problems, then, with The Beast in its Tracks are twofold.

Problem One.  It came too soon. Despite what Ritter claims in interviews, or what the reviews say, many songs on The Beast in its Tracks are doing a bad job of what they’re aiming for- trying to tackle the pain of break-up in Ritter’s usual removed, literate tone. There’s too much anger and hurt for that tone to work, and that because Ritter doesn’t seem to have processed his emotions as much as he claims he has.

Problem Two. Problem two is that, because The Beast in its Tracks came too soon, a fair amount of it isn’t very good. Which is shocking, coming from such a consistently satisfying and original songwriter like Ritter. Well, I mean, it’s shocking and it’s not. The crazy thing about the end of longterm relationships is that there is a period that feels like mourning. If that sounds melodramatic, well, of course it is, but it’s also about as accurate a description as your likely to find. And, probably, any art you make relating to the deceased relationship during that mourning period is going to be shit, it is going to be too raw, too hurt, too pained to be any good or provoke anything except cringing from an audience. You’re in a weird period where you’re writing explicitly to someone you’re no longer speaking with.

He may have a new lover, as he says over and over, and over, and over on this new album, but the songs on The Beast in its Tracks are not over Dawn Landes.

There are no funny stories about breakups. Arguably, there are no stories, no narratives to breakups.  Just hurt that has no timeframe.

So did this album have to come out at all? I’ve written a hell of a lot of breakup poetry myself, but most of it stays in the documents folder.  I can understand why Ritter wrote these songs and how they might have helped him.  I can understand how recording them might have seemed like a nobel experiment and might have actually proven to be cathartic.  But why share them?  Why did Ritter feel the need to share these songs written so entirely for Dawn Landes, who will never listen to them.

Well, maybe because of “Appleblossom Rag.” It’s the most devastating and the best thing on the album. It starts with a recording of a female voice talking, a voice I’m imagining to be Landes. The song, struggles to hold itself together as it also struggles to cover up that recording.  It’s a devastating and openly wounded- no attempts at saying things are fine, no “I’ve got a new lover.”   Just a really sad, really deflated, really beautiful folksong.  No harumphing drums, in fact nothing breaking the quiet.

And that’s not the only moment on the album that reminds me of what I love about Josh Ritter.  In the gothic, wonderful, wordy “Nightmares,” Ritter mutters

I know where the nightmares sleep
On what fodder do they feed
I’d been awake so long by then
They thought that I was one of them.

And “Joy To You Baby”  has the excellent line “If I’d never had met you/You couldn’t have gone/But then I couldn’t have met you”. Even though the rest of the verse dulls the intensity of those lines, I’m going to let him have that one, too.

Elsewhere in “Joy to You Baby,” Ritter sings to Landes, “Joy to you baby, wherever you sleep,” but that line tells  how far he has to go before he’s as ok as he’s projecting on large swaths of this album. When you’re doing ok, really ok, you know exactly where the person sleeps. You’ve refriended them on facebook or stopped impulsively going to their still-unfreinded profile. You’ve seen them snuggled into the neck of someone new or can imagine as much without all the nausea. You know where they’re sleeping and you realize, knowing this, that you’re not crushed by the thought anymore. Maybe by then you’ve met someone new who would never qualify as a rebound.  Maybe you haven’t- that’s not a requirement for feeling better. But what’s happened is the person who you used to love has gone from being insidious, from invading every thought and every vision, to being cataloged away.  Despite what it will tell you, The Beast in its Tracks is a record of what come before that.

Hopeful”, “The Appleblossom Rag” and “Joy To You Baby” are from the confounding new Josh Ritter  album The Beast in Its Tracks.

The Bad Actress” is from the Josh Ritter album Hello Starling.

Also, Superchunk Fans,  Good NewsBad News!

Also, have you heard of Young Fathers?  I will write more about them soon, but for now, listen to Young Fathers.

Deadline” is from the Young Fathers EP Tape One.

the day we ghosted

Jason Molina in Fragments, Memories, Ghosts, Poems, Songs

It’s Easier Now” is from Jason Molina’s album Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go though this version is taken from a performance on an Italian radio station.

We don’t have a name for the kind of sound that takes up space and does nothing more- a tone without a key, a breath flattened and frozen, friction without an object to release itself onto. Listen to the song above, a Jason Molina track recorded on an Italian radio station in 2007. The sound is everywhere in this song. I might not have a name from it. Jason Molina has at least as dozen. He would call it the dark or the blues  or he would call it ghosts, for a few. I think he got strength from putting those names onto that sound which seemed to stick to him more than most. I’ll get back to the ghosts, I promise.

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Hot Black Silk” is from the Songs: Ohia’s album Axxes and Ace.

Seventh Ave Wonderland” is from a long out of print Songs: Ohio seven inch.

One of the most touching collections of music I was ever given was given to me by Carissa Hamman of Cincinnati, Ohio in my freshman year of college. It was a CD-R, in a delicately folded and meticulously scotch-taped paper enveloped.  the cover was a pressed-pen drawing of a flower of a mostly blackened flower, a few bits of pink slighting out near the top. The track listing was written in the kind of script that looks like a series of precisely placed fallen eyelashes. Though, I will say, I read “Hot Black Silk”  as “Not Black Silk” until I had to look up the title, just now.  Before I even listen to the mix, a collection of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company music, I could tell that this was the kind of music you put this much effort into presenting to someone. Sad songs flatlined into those two track-dividing seconds of silence only to be  brushed off and hung up as scarecrows with the start of the next, slightly-less-sad take. I was terribly sad when I thought I lost that CD in a move, and very relieved when I found it some months later.

***

Being in Love” is a live version of a Songs: Ohia song from The Lioness.

That wasn’t the only relationship that had some form of a start involving Songs: Ohia. The first time I drove my current girlfriend home, she got giddy when she found Songs: Ohia on my iPod, and then indignant, berating me for not having more Songs: Ohia albums (still don’t have The Lioness, probably to my own fault). We spent the entire car ride talking about Molina, his recent struggles, the different circumstances under which we’d seen him live, the connection, the deep, unyielding connection we had with certain songs of his. The funny thing about Molina’s songs and the music that accompanies him is that it isn’t meant for or built on such connections.  Songs often contain only enough space for Molina, an eerie light source, some of that ghost sound or blues sound.  With rare exceptions like “Being in Love” and “Captain Badass,” Molina songs exist without

***

 “Shenandoah” and “Hope Dies Last” are from the Magnolia Electric Company album Josephine.

Next, US-27, driving out of Cincinnati, the sky a cup of coffee
spilling perpetually. Then, road-side, We saw a stage.
A stiff-lapelled MC waved. We tucked, rolled into slush-felling dark.
He told clean jokes, then, with a gloved hand,
summoned a clean cut group of executioners. Someone clawed at the walls
You squeezed my coat sleeve as bullets took flight.

***

Image courtesy of Chunklet/Wez Frazier.

Image courtesy of Chunklet/Wez Frazier.

Long Dark Blues” is a demo of a song that appeared on the Songs: Ohia album The Magnolia Electric Company.

Farewell Transmission” is from the Songs: Ohia album The Magnolia Electric Company.

You can’t think of Jason Molina as a perfectionist, because it seems he didn’t think perfection was a reasonable goal. Songs titles like “Almost Was Good Enough” suggest as much. It’s why images (Ghosts, Highways, Bells, Moons, The Blues, Chicago) appear again and again- Molina wasn’t expecting things to work out perfect. He just wanted to say it the best way he could, and so he was willing to try, again and again, with the same words, the same themes. It’s the beautiful coda of Farewell Transmission- “Real truth about it is, no one gets it right.Real truth about it is, we’re all supposed to try.” In addition to stitching such ongoing themes themes throughout his songs, he perpetually reworked songs he had already recorded.  Like the best poets, but unlike most songwriters, you get the idea with Molina the song wasn’t finished just because it had been recorded.

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The Night Shift Lullaby” is from the Magnolia Electric Company album What Comes After the Blues.

Almost Let You In” is from the Jason Molina and Will Johnson collaboration Molina and Johnson.

The voice your are now hearing is marrow.
living cement. Also, casing–the composure
that accompanies the ghost story it tells. The casing
is highways jointing out from teratomic lands like Iowa
and Indianapolis. Miles of exits with no services. The voice
you are not hearing prefers air travel,
not being a wet blanket, being heard.
The voice you are now hearing
is swaddled. Has been since birth
in soaked sheets
until it stopped shaking.

But that’s wrong. Jason Molina sucked at stage banter, came off cagey. I heard from friends around Bloomington that he was a closed book much more than he was open. At least in these songs, that wasn’t him. Listen to what he does with Scout Nibblet and Will Johnson here. He lets them in. All the way.

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April 09 (Trip Home, Richmond, Ann Arbor) 217

Didn’t It Rain?” is from the Songs: Ohia album Didn’t It Rain?

34 Blues” is from the Jason Molina and Will Johnson collaboration Molina and Johnson.