Tag Archive for 'California'

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AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #19. Vetiver – The Errant Charm

Vetiver - The Errant Charm

all happiness is sad / I need you now

Choruses are a big part of songwriting. They don’t necessarily have to be big anthems, or easy to sing-along to, or anything like that. They come in all sorts of forms, providing familiarity to your ear, and something for the verses to build towards. It, then, takes quite a great deal of confidence to write an entire album with no discernible choruses, a tactic songwriter Andy Cabic has made a habit with all of Vetiver’s albums.

Their newest album, The Errant Charm continues this trend. His songs are the general down-on-your-luck folk meanderings that can sometimes feel commonplace, but done with a simple ease. Listening through some of Vetiver older songs, they are really good, but did not have the natural flow that rides through these new songs of The Errant Charm.

Belying this apparent songwriting confidence, though, is Cabic’s hushed, inward lead vocals (a strange but likable change over older Vetiver songs, where he often sang pretty clearly). “Can’t You Tell,” for instance, starts out with a throbbing bass beat, which gives way to Cabic singing something vague and unintelligible. All I can make out is a few words here and there, before he asks, “I’m good / can’t you tell?” More words than that are certainly unnecessary. “Fog Emotion” makes this fuzziness explicit, singing of foggy days when “my mind takes a turn back to you.” He’s haunted by a loss, confused and unclear and wondering what is happening. A lot of questions jump out — “when is this old world gonna treat me kind?” By the final song, “Soft Glass,” it feels like his vocals are disappearing entirely under the weight of emotion.

There is a couple of clunker songs on here; but for the most part everything blurs together beautifully: his whispers, shimmering slide guitar, crystal-clear acoustic guitar, slightly-odd rhythm, breezy organ, and, what surely can only be referred to as the accidental charm of these songs.

Vetiver “Can’t You Tell”

Vetiver “Wonder Why”

and again, if you want to hear all 20 of my favorite albums, I’m updating a Spotify playlist with them here

- almostaghost

Life In Mixtape Form #16

Like last week, my week was again highlighted by a concert. This time I went to see Lykke Li (and Best Coast). I’ve seen Lykke before, in a small venue, but I found this bigger outdoor theatre performance to be much more memorable. I think it fit her unique stage presence. Part of that was having a 2nd album of songs–she just kept playing more and more songs that I liked and I kept thinking, “oh yea I forgot about this song!” It was great to hear the new stuff live; sometimes I just listen to the albums so much and sometimes I get a little nitpicky critical in thinking about them. But then to hear them live makes me step back–yes these are great songs.

(Best Coast was fine; all their songs sound the same.)

- almostaghost

Lykke Li In The Street: A YouTube Exploration

So I’ve been enjoying the new Lykke Li album, which led me of course to poke around YouTube one night watching some of her videos. Turns out, she has a number of videos, performing acoustic in the street! How cool! My one minor criticism of the new record is it feels slightly overproduced, and I really like hearing her songs stripped down like this. Obviously, these are all from her first album, instead of her new album since that just came out. But let’s look:

Here’s Lykke and her band singing “Little Bit” on the street in Stockholm. Pure busking! A guy in the window shouts to be quiet or he’ll call the police. A car drives by. The same guy is converted and throws them money at the end.

This one’s incredible. Lykke Li sings, dances, plays the trumpet, and rattles chains while Bon Iver (!) jam on the edge of a fountain. I am not sure why Lykke Li was hanging out with Bon Iver, but they should more. Also apparently Lykke Li plays the trumpet.

Another one outdoors here, it’s “Dance Dance Dance” again, but this time with El Perro Del Mar as her backup. (Kazoo this time, not a trumpet.)

This “I’m Good, I’m Gone” is not out in public, but it is acoustic and apparently outdoors, so close enough.

This one here might be my favorite, and it features Robyn on the chorus! But I can’t embed it, so you have to click over.

And since I don’t like to leave you without music, here’s Beck’s remix of her new single “Get Some”:

Lykke Li – “Get Some (Beck remix)”

- almostaghost

Btrxz’s Haiku Reviews of 2010 Or Things We Over Look (in no particular order 18/18)

Artist: Sun Araw

Title: On Patrol

Label: Not Not Fun

Country: US, LA, CA

Genre: Ambient, Surrealist Sounds, Dark Dream, Drone

Date: 5-11-10

Sun Araw- On Patrol

Dead loops sing at night

Find lost things under nothing

Can you hear it now

Deep Cover

- Btrxz

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #2. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

Have One On Me

like a bump on a bump on a log, baby

#2. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

I realize that Joanna Newsom can be a somewhat polarizing figure. People either love her, or can’t stand her. I’ve gone through both, honestly. In the end, I’ve liked her first few records, but her sometimes-too-cutesy voice and sometimes-too-cutesy songs are just…too cute. I have grown to appreciate her wordplay, her sparkly harp, and her tense high voice. She is an acquired taste, that I did eventually acquire.

However, Have One On Me blew all that out of the water. All that cutesy stuff seems now like an entirely different artist, from long ago. This is a mammoth record, in size, scope, and skill. Sure, many of the songs are long, but with patience you start to notice that these are razor sharp. Every verse is important. Every harp strum, every waver in her voice, every orchestral flourish, every light drumbeat. There’s no ramble here, which is incredible because it’s 2 hours long, over 3 discs. Of course, all this technical goodness would be irrelevant if it weren’t a joy to listen to.

And it is. Newsom leads us into her magical world, with lullabies and fairy tales and stories and love and hope and loss and puns and who knows what else is in there? “Easy” starts things off, and it is a good example of her new laidback warmth. Like I said, in the past her voice could sound tense. Now, she calmly floats through the songs, dropping all tension. “Easy” has similarly warm keyboards, inviting, calling you in. By the end of this first song, you’ll want to pull the blanket over your head, and listen, with no distractions. Next Newsom drops a few harp songs to remind you: this is what I do better than anyone else in the world. The harp, as always, enhances her stories perfectly, adding just the right drama at just the right times. By the end of disc one, with the genius “Baby Birch,” you should be completely sucked in.

Disc two seems to be me to be the emotional heart of the record. “In California” and “Jackrabbits” are a powerful combo, full of nostalgia and longing and yellow hearts and dry rot and even a “poultice made of fig.” Who sings about poultices? Joanna Newsom does, and it’s awesome. Disc Three is delicate, as she continues, ending things with contemplatively. Could this have been 4 discs? 5? 23? The mastery makes it feel endless, even when you get to the end.

I mean, I won’t lie. This is a challenging record. It is hard to swallow whole, and even individual tracks are so rich and long, it’s impossible to gather all the subtleties. But at the same time, the songs are too fascinating and beautiful to just put on in the background. What would be the point in that? The first time I really connected to this album, I was listening on a sunny afternoon in the fall. I put it on, and basically lost all sense in time. I was reading the lyrics, listening, looked up, and thought, wait, why is the sun shining? What time is it? Where am I? Have One On Me is something to really experience–it can shake you, move you, make you daydream. It is one of the best musical experiences of 2010, if you let it be.

Joanna Newsom “Easy”

Joanna Newsom “Jackrabbits”

WordPress has a size limit on their mp3s, so even when I scaled the quality down, some of these songs were still too long to share. I really wanted to share “Baby Birch” so here’s a Youtube video of it:

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #12. Adam Haworth Stephens – We Live On Cliffs

We Live On Cliffs

this living ain't for the faint of heart

#12. Adam Haworth Stephens – We Live On Cliffs

Unfortunately, much of my countdown this year consists of artists I already knew before. There were a few who were new to me (Pterodactyl Plains, Flying Lotus, Sleigh Bells), but mainly it was a good year for people I already liked. There were, though, some debut albums, by artistst who decided to step out and go solo. Adam Haworth Stephens is one of them. Stephens is the lead singer/guitarist in the intense and atmospheric blues duo, Two Gallants.

I cannot quite figure out why, but I’ve been having trouble coming up with much to say about We Live On Cliffs. (So I’ll just ramble.) It isn’t like the music is terribly extreme. Nor is it bland. There is a complexity to Stephens’ songwriting here, which I guess can make it hard to process. With Two Gallants, Stephens taps into the blues and comes up with new songs that feel amazingly authentic. It is quite a skill for a modern songwriter to have. On We Live On Cliffs, though, the blues influence is much more subtle, and the songs are much more laidback. The rawness of Two Gallants feels like it has been smoothed out, which as a description, sound terrible. But once you get into the songs, it is still there.

I reckon that the “cliff” metaphor used in the title of the album is key to many of the songs. The idea that taking a step will cause a sheer drop. Living on the edge can also leave you directionless. These are but some of the themes buried in Stephens’ songs here. On the stunning “Heights Of Diamond,” Stephens sings “‘Cause your touch still lingers on my shaky fingers / As the feeling fades away / And the bells are chiming / In the heights of diamond / As I’m trying to find my way.” Here he is, at a very particular moment, and he is not sure where he’ll go. Off the cliff? It’s possible. There are different cliff edges throughout, as well: reality vs. dreams, night vs. morning, life vs. regret. On “Southern Lights,” Stephens writes, “you know the sweeter the candy, the bitter the aftertaste / So don’t let the morning catch me here / I’m not the man that I appear.”

Anyway I feel like I just have a pile of random thoughts about these songs, which I’m sure undermines the complexity of his language, the chill melodies, the talented band. We Live On Cliffs is a skilled work by one of the top songwriters around. It is as if Stephens dug around in the blues with Two Gallants for a few albums, processed all he could, and now is finding his own style. Perhaps it is a natural progression for a songwriter to go from exploring a favorite old genre to absorbing it into your own style. Many great artists follow a similar path, like Bob Dylan or Beck. High comparisons, I know. But Stephens is moving forward in his songwriting, and I can’t imagine it dropping off a cliff.

Adam Haworth Stephens – “Angelina”

Adam Haworth Stephens – “Heights Of Diamond”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #14. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

they wanna see me on my satellite

#14. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

Cosmogramma
hits on a wide range of sounds. The prevailing bits are electronic, glitch. But as befitting the nephew of John and Alice Coltrane, Flying Lotus approaches his music with a jazzy outlook. Jazz can be made on a computer! I don’t know if Flying Lotus is at the forefront of this movement, or if he is the only one trying. But it sounds unique to me, and is pretty awesome.

“Clock Catcher” starts things off with some video game jazz. “Pickled!” is some glitchy bebob. All sorts of things keep coming at you, like bits of new age strings, scat singing, thick bass, Alice Coltrane’s harp. “Recoiled” has a beat that reminds me of an old chain gang blues. Thom Yorke shows up and murmurs his way through the best track on here, “…And The World Laughs With You.” “Table Tennis” uses a ping pong beat. Literally. Not sure what it really adds, but it’s a good example of Flying Lotus’ grab bag of tricks.

That description probably makes it sound as if the album is noisy and crazy. And in a way, it is, I guess. But all the different sounds fits together, and the end result is a long medley of sorts. The songs aren’t joined together, but listening in a row, they all just flow. You get the sense this was a fully conceived album. Since I really haven’t heard anything like Cosmogramma before, it really stood out for me.

Posting just one song or two will probably defeat the purpose of Cosmogramma, but here’s a few tracks anyway:

Flying Lotus – “Satelllliiiiiiiteee”

Flying Lotus – “Do The Astral Plane”

Flying Lotus – “…And The World Laughs With You (feat. Thom Yorke)”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #17. Record Club – Oar

Beck Wilco Jamie Lidell Feist

I could use me some yin for my yang

#17. Record Club – Oar

Beck’s superb and on-going Record Club project is my next choice for this countdown. Beck organizes a handful of fellow musicians and friends, and in one day, they cover an entire album. The tracks are recorded as videos, and then released on Beck.com weekly. He tackled Skip Spence’s Oar for the third project, which is an unbelievably good record. It is a sometimes strange mix of folk and jazz, but with the emotion of one man singing the blues. Skip Spence was an obscure genius, a lesser-known Syd Barrett-type who also went mad. His story is fascinating, but better saved for another post. Beck has been a long-time fan of Spence’s, and has covered him a couple of times prior to this as well.

The first couple of Record Clubs were a fairly random bunch of musicians. This time, the third project, Beck surrounded himself with a band, Wilco, who already have their own chemistry. This brought an added dimension to the proceedings, and the ability to go almost anywhere musically. Further, the other musicians (Feist, Jamie Lidell, Brian LeBarton, James Gadson) are all supremely-talented collaborators, who can easily fit in with whatever is going on. With Beck overseeing everything, this Record Club was set up to succeed.

And succeed they do. They all jump into Oar with unbridled enthusiasm and creativity, relishing the brilliant songs. They handle the project in two sections, basically. Eight of the tracks were done with all the musicians, and the remaining were done as a killer funk band of Beck, Lidell, Gadson and LeBarton (i.e., without Wilco). These two set-ups really complement each other, and make for a very well-rounded album.

The tracks with Wilco and Feist for the most part play the songs straight. Beck sings lead on “Little Hands” and “Diana,” sticking quite close to Spence’s original vocals. Wilco fills out the music in subtle and playful ways, like those lead guitar licks on “Diana.” Feist gets to sing the staggering “Weighted Down,” which was a perfect decision. I don’t think Beck or Jeff Tweedy would have been quite right for the song, neither’s voice has the necessary heft for it. Feist, however, brings it. Similarly, the band starts Spence’s slow and spooky “War In Peace” slow and spooky, but then drop a crazy guitar solo by Nels Cline. They never overdo anything, which is a perfect skill to have when doing an album in a day. For example, on “All Come To Meet Her,” they strip the song all the way down, and the entire group sings it acapella.

Meanwhile, the funk band lets loose with more abandon on the remaining songs. While the Wilco tracks are beautiful and tasty, after Wilco left (or before they got there, not sure), the other guys jammed. Jamie Lidell has a high soul falsetto, James Gadson is a legendary funk drummer on all the classics, Beck and Lebarton are groovy dudes. They must have realised, what else are we going to do here? “Books Of Moses” and “Cripple Creek” are the answer.

As you can see, this Record Club was up for anything-acappella barbershop, ’70s funk, acoustic guitars, rock, Ace Of Base (yep), whatever. That they were doing it from a template of Skip Spence’s songs is pretty inspiring. The project both stands on its own, and brings new light into the sometimes shady corners of Spence’s genius. If you’re not following Beck’s Record Clubs, you’re missing out. (It’s on hiatus at the moment though, I’ll certainly post when it returns.)

You can watch/listen to all of the songs on beck.com by clicking here.

Record Club: Record Club – “Grey / Afro”

Record Club – “Broken Heart”

Skip Spence:

Alexander Skip Spence – “Cripple Creek”

Alexander Skip Spence – “Weighted Down (The Prison Song)”

- almostaghost

Phoenix / Grizzly Bear / Girls (live at the Hollywood Bowl, Sept 18 2010)

Reviewing a live show is tough, even tougher than records. Basically, I imagine there were 17,375 Phoenix fans at the Hollywood Bowl last Saturday, and they probably all had a great time and walked away thinking, OMGZ! I mean, who am I to argue or say otherwise?

I’m not anti-Phoenix. I checked out their music prior to Coachella earlier this year, and caught about 10 minutes of their set there. Mostly I’m ambivalent. I was, however, more interested in seeing Grizzly Bear and to a lesser extent Girls. I tried to see Grizzly Bear at Coachella, but their tent was too packed, I couldn’t make it in. As for Girls, ok cool.

So, as someone not entirely wrapped up in any of the bands, I feel like I could think more about the concert-going experience and what these bands brought to the stage. Interestingly, despite their obvious differences in sound and presence, these 3 bands seem to me to have certain things in common (besides all having lame band names that are useless to look up in Google). Mainly, I noticed a similar songwriting style. I mean, I don’t believe there was any songs that had any sort of chorus; and they wrap their verses in relatively subtle riffs and melodies. This of course is cool on record, but to a giant crowd? Something felt lacking.

There are two types of live bands, in my experience: those that come out and play their songs, and those that come out and play. Girls is the first one. They came out, did their songs, and left. Though I’ll be fair, they only played for like 17 minutes. Their first couple songs made little impression, and then just as they were getting into it, their set ended.

Grizzly Bear came next. You know how their great records and songs can sometimes have an awkward yet beautiful momentum to them? Live, it’s slightly annoying. I kept hoping for a bit more groove, but all the constant changes kind of nullified it. Despite that, I’d say they came off pretty well on stage, I enjoyed their voices, and their songs have continually grown on me over the years. Halfway through, Leslie Feist came out and sang a song (and danced around and sang harmony on another), and she always sounds great.

Phoenix closed it down. They are a talented band, and have a sound that can fit in a big place like the Bowl. They definitely had a bit more muscle than either Girls or Grizzly Bear. The songs I liked the best were the ones that seemed to be built more on a synthesizer sound. Like I said, though, the lack of choruses made the show feel odd to me. I don’t want my bands to necessarily be U2 and sing a bunch of anthems, but by this point, I wanted something. Reach out and grab me, Phoenix! They did not. Since I didn’t really know any of their songs (not a radio listener, obvs), most of what they did went right through my ears.

At one point, Phoenix walked out into the middle of the crowd, and played a few songs from there. From my vantage point, up in the back, it was a giant lull in the show. But I guess that was nice for the people in that section. Also for a bit, they dropped a white curtain down and started to play behind it. I thought, hmm like The Wall? But you could see their silhouettes through it, and there was little rainbow lights lighting it up, and they kind of just noodled bass solos (which they seemed to do a lot) or something from back there. I’m not sure what statement they were making, but it certainly wasn’t anything like Pink Floyd’s statement about the wall between band and audience. I’m sure the whole thing is some sort of symbolic message about modern music I haven’t figured out.

Here’s a couple of mp3s:

Grizzly Bear & Feist – “Service Bell”

Girls “Headache”

I wanted to share this pretty cool cover of Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” that Phoenix recorded at some point, but the file size is too big, so here it is on Youtube:

and while finding that, I found an audience clip of the Grizzly Bear/Feist performance!

- almostaghost