This one’s like hopscotch, or a scavenger hunt where you only get the new clue when you’ve figured out the last one. Get out your compass, binoculars, explorers hat.
I. The National
I love The National, on the same level than I love hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, or the way, when I go to my parents’ house, my dog jumps on me like she’s been expecting me every day for the past four months. If you listen to any song by the band, you can see this is not the kind of band that takes such praise with a smile and a sigh. The National are a band who sound like relapse. Their songs are either terrifyingly angry in the most subdued way, or quietly crawling out of bed with a knife stuck in their knee. I like the National a lot. About a year ago, The National gave a fever-curing performance on Lettterman, which I would stongly suggest you go and watch here. As Stereogum informed me, the amazing pianist during this performance was Thomas Bartlett, who releases records under the name Doveman.
I had heard the name Doveman tossed around a lot a few years back, but his playing with the National is what finally made me look into him. It’s interesting to hear what Bartlett brings to The National, and to look at the structure he has built his own sound about. If there has ever been a band that was destined to occupy the hours of 3 to 4 AM, it is Doveman. The band has had words like “quiet” “subdued” and “patience” and even the dreaded “background music” stamped on their hands for some time now, so maybe that gives you an idea. Personally, I think of covalent bonding (that’s the one where the elements share the electrons and huddle close for stability) when I hear a song like the wonderful “Tender Mercies.” There certainly is fragility in Doveman’s songs, but there’s no attempt to harp on that fragility. The fact that these songs are so layered, contain such varied and never really stripped-down instrumentation, suggests there’s a reaching for permanence and even some confidence present as well.
A while ago, Doveman recorded an absolutely beautiful session on la blogoqteque, whose gimmick is that they record people playing their songs in everyday life locations (walking down the street, as someone cooks dinner in an apartment, walking up the stairs after a hard day, etc.), which on the first recorded track, Castle’s, began with a banjo player walking down a hallway untitl he meets up with Bartlett, who walks in and sits at a piano. It is a striking a beautiful introduction to another great song (you can watch the song here). I read the blurb the blog had posted, and found out that the name of that Banjo player was Sam Amidon, who takes the space out and releases records under the name Samamidon.
If Doveman is built for unrecognizable hours of the morning, Samamidon fits perfectly after the first cup of coffee, some time around 10 (say’s the guy whose lacking any steady of income). His songs pitter and patter like a kettle left on an electric stove too long, and on his recent album, he’s augmented his sparse banjo and guitar with tuba and other horns. His voice sounds like Nick Drake, but I think that’s as far as that comparison goes, ‘cause Samamidon’s music lacks the carefully scripted nature of Drake’s songs, here things are looser, the production sometimes giving things the feeling of tired machinery
From reading Sam’s website, you can see he plays in a whole bunch of bands, once of which is called Stars Like Fleas.
IV. Stars like Fleas
Brooklyn doesn’t seem like the place for a band like Stars like Fleas. I picture the band constantly getting almost hit by cars after staring off at the top of a building or something a few blocks away. I picture the band shoving three pillows on top of its head when it needs to get to sleep, but it’s assholish neighbor keeps blasting the Does it Offend You, Yeah album and trying to play tennis indoors. I picture it giving all its money to homeless people, spending the other half sponsoring a bench in Prospect Park, and then sleeping there all summer. I picture it trying to catalog squirrels and subway rats, picking up everything its hands can hold from trashpiles, trying to bike to inwood, I picture it going canoeing in the Gowanus Canal and finding lost and dying seals, and maybe knowing what to do.