Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mister Salinger

The New York Times ran an interesting story in honor of J. D. Salinger's 90th birthday, today (January 1st). The story briefly told the rather mysterious tale of Salinger's retreat into reclusion in the 60's and the eventual cessation of new publications (despite rumors claiming he has not stopped writing all these years).

Most famously known as the author of "Catcher in the Rye", Salinger also created a fascinating familial universe of the Glass clan, so genuinely conceived as to resonate in the emotional cores of their real life counterpart generation. It truly shames me that I was not aware of these stories and books' existence until now, so I will take this opportunity to add them to the growing reading list.

I can only imagine the kind of pressures being exerted from critics, peers and readers alike (or, perhaps at least as importantly, himself), that could have led to such drastic measures. Another artist who has also withdrawn to a great degree from public life is Jeff Mangum, formerly of Neutral Milk Hotel. It is with a clip of him performing and a quiet Happy Birthday greeting, that I can end this post (and head on to the library).

Neutral Milk Hotel - Oh Comely (Live on Watt Club, Athens, GA from 10/14/97, originally from In the Aeroplane Over The Sea)

Song of the Morning: The Death of Ase

When I was a boy of about 8 or 10, I used to listen to a lot of classical music. I have very few memories from those times, but I do remember a sense of wonder and enjoyment from listening to those records. Yes, actual records.

My favorite was Grieg's "Peer Gynt". By "In the Hall of the Mountain King" I would close my eyes and see the whirling crescendo of the trolls and Peer Gynt in some mysterious dark cavern. I didn't know what those trolls were at the time, although the record did have a picture of a strange creature on its cover. It was only a couple of years later when I first read "The Hobbit" that I've made the connection. A more recent favorite piece was the fjords and green inspired and inspiring opening "Morning Mood" (Youtube link).

This morning I woke up with "The Death of Ase" playing in my head. It deals, as the title suggests, with the death of Ase, Peer Gynt's mother (plot). As with other so-called 'song of the morning', I have no explanation as to why this sad and sweeping piece decided to be my soundtrack for the early waking moments. If I was superstitious, I might have suspect an omen (joined with a large black crow perched on the window). But the only birds I saw on my way to the laundromat were the usual rat-like pigeons. And that old and friendly mostly-black raven that follows me around...

Happy New Year!

Edvard Grieg - Peer Gynt Suite No 1 for orchestra, Op 46- No. 2, The Death of Ase {MP3} (from Grieg: Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 & 2; Lyric Pieces; Sigurd Jorsalfar; Wedding Day at Troldhaugen) The file will be hosted for a limited time only.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Featured Artist: J. Tillman

J. Tillman near a Spanish gas station
The Spanish word 'Vacilando' is difficult to translate. Many have tried; some describe it as 'Wanderlust', others say it means to hesitate between different options or fluctuate and others still claim it marks bravado and a show off.

Which of these can best explain J. Tillman's coming LP title, "Vacilando Territory Blues"? I'm not sure. I've known Tillman for more than two years thanks to 3hive. In this time he has continued to create his own unique kind of dusky folk, the sort that can only be born out of pain and the sense of coming to terms with it (though not without a struggle). He has also joined Fleet Foxes, adding his voice (and honed skills as a drummer) to the harmonious group.

You can read a review of Tillman's new album at Obscure Sound (a higly recommended music blog). From what I've heard so far of the album, I can join in on the recommendations of as well. But it still left me in the dark regarding the album's title. I tried to reconcile the different translations and interpertations with the possible meanings and conotations of the title until I've decided to go back to the source - Spanish.

Unfortunaelty, I don't speak Spanish. But for some dim reason, either half forgotten or merely intuitive, my search has led me to Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, one of the founding fathers of modern Spanish Literature and Poetry. Specifically, to a piece of "El Cristo de la calavera - Leyenda toledana" out of his Leyendas. The paragraph I've found spoke of knights approaching a small niche in the wall, with a small image of Jesus placed with a skull at its base on a small table and a dimly lit lantern hanging by a rope among the wavering (vacilando) air current that are forming around the gem studded altar below.

Even here translation is not as simple as you might expect. The reader can imagine the scene with the air shimmering in smoke filled light accompanied by the scented lantern smell, its swings making soft dopler affected sounds. But that can also miss the author perhaps trying to give added meaning and depth to the scene - is the air hesitating? Perhaps this niche resembels an inhibiting and suffocating tomb? Maybe it's the knights that are hesitant?

In the end, I have to admit I have no idea which of the various meanings I can attach here. The last song on the album, titled "Vacilando Territory", would probably help there. Either way, it's just another (small) reason to wait for what promises to be a great opener for 2009.

J. Tillman - Evans and Falls {MP3} (from Cancer and Delirium)
J. Tillman - When I Light Your Darkened Door {MP3} (from Cancer and Delirium)
Also check Tillman's personal website, MySpace and for updates.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Song of the Morning: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

The last few days have been a little stressful for me, culminating this morning. I've been trying to study for my concluding oral exam without actually knowing the exact nature or subject matter of the test. I was told it was more of a conversation (which indeed it turned out to be) but that did little to avail my anxiety. What actually did help was the gem of discovering The Tallest Man on Earth, whom I've already mentioned here before. Listening to his music is simply enchanting.

Anyway, my sleep was also affected and so I woke a couple of times, wondering if it was time yet to get up and turn on the water heater (it wasn't). The last time I awoke was with Joan Baez's rendition of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (originally by the Band) playing in my head. I don't know why. I haven't listened to it in a few days and I can't say why it was significant for me, if at all, to hear it at this specific point in time. Was it some sort of an attempt to comfort myself? If so, why with this specific song? Does it have anything to do with the feeling of rather tragic (and futile) defiance emanating from the song? Am I trying to tell something to myself?

By the way, I totally aced it. :-)

Joan Baez's picture is from her page. Also check her official website and MySpace page for updates.

Joan Baez - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (live)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Featured Artist(s): Ezra Furman & The Harpoons

At the time I lost my faith, Ezra Furman got his. Ezra received a guitar for his Bar Mitzvah and hasn't stopped since. While my first impression of him was of a young(er) version of Bright Eyes, this is clearly wrong and can only be attributed to my sometimes failing hearing and the fact I should be studying right now instead of doing this. As I listen more and more, a somewhat more energized young Lou Reed comes to mind, but, again, that would not be entirely accurate either. Instead, there is a fresh and unique voice here, being fleshed out, sometimes shouting at, the world around.

Be sure to check out the band's website, blog, MySpace and pages for more goodies.

Ezra Furman & The Harpoons - We Should Fight (from Inside the Human Body)
Ezra Furman & The Harpoons - How Long, Diana? (from Banging Down the Doors)

Bonus: Ezra Furman & The Harpoons - Take off Your Sunglasses (Daytrotter Session)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

When I was a child I used to go to my grandparents up north on the summer holidays. Other than the usual treats (and mis-treats), they also had the advantage of living on a mountain where they could pick up on antenna (no cable back then) some CBN transmissions. Other than the occasional Star Trek re-run, this was also my first exposure to Christianity.

The most played on show there then was the '700 Club', which introduced me to what I still call "the weeping Christians" for fairly obvious reasons. They were always so serious and pleading, occasionally tearing at something I didn't understand. I used to switch channel whenever that show was on (just too boring for a child and probably too tedious for me today, though for other reasons).

The network also had two of my favorite anime tv series of the day: "Superbook" and "The Flying House". Aside from improving my fledgling English, it also introduced me to something strange: the bible stories I was sort-of raised on were not the whole story. In fact, there were a lot more characters and plots in there than I was told. Who knew there was a small mechanical robot involved in the story of Abraham? And who is this Jesus? He seems kinda nice but I've never heard of him before.

When I asked around my parents told me a bit more, in a slightly different version from what was on TV. I didn't understand. I was impressed by what I saw and the stories that were told but there were no Christians where I grew up. What's the deal?

Fortunately, by my Bar Mitzva (at 13) I've had it with religion (as in, Any religion). I don't know if there really was such a person or what his exact exploits were (I personally don't believe he was anything more than a man, which makes him a more powerful Human symbol in my eyes), but I still keep a warm place for that anime-introduced Jesus and what he seemd to have stood for: Love, Compassion, Humility and Justice. Is that a shallow, Christian-missionary derived, globalization sanctioned perception? Maybe. The child in me enjoyed those naive anime and perhaps that's all it takes.

Have a Happy Hanuka, Merry Christmas and a Great New Year.

Bright Eyes - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas {MP3} (from A Christman Album)
I'm sharing Bright Eyes' rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for the next couple of days only (unless Blogger deletes it first). Bright Eyes' picture is from his page.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Featured Artist: The Tallest Man on Earth

You're at the end of the world. It appears science was wrong - the world is not round, but does indeed have an edge. In fact, you're standing quite near it. But you're not afraid; this place is out of phase with the earth you knew. It's filled with green hills and forests, small ponds shine in the ever sinking sun and twilight is always on the horizon.

In the forest there are people sitting by the fire, wondering how they got there. They are welcomed by the same voice that tells you you've come home, to rest. That voice sings of the world you've left behind and about how it could be. That voice has been there and back. Some of the people on the ground might mistake it for Dylan at first. Not you; you've seen him stride the rolling hills sure footed, you know the depths in his voice and soul. To you, he seems like that mythical Beorn, a roaming forest poet, always with some room to spare by the open hearth.

Or maybe he's Kristian Matsson from Sweden. Right now, at the edge of dreaming, it doesn't really matter.

I highly recommend his debut LP "Shallow Grave". Be sure to check his MySpace, and personal and record label pages.

The Tallest Man on Earth - It Will Follow the Rain

The Tallest Man on Earth - I Won't Be Found (Live)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Festive Pause: Eatliz's "Hey"

I've finally been able to get into some festive, mildly happy mood. The last paper, barring anything I'd have to re-submit for some unknown yet awful reason, is ready in its first draft. It totally sucks, of course, but I'm not too worried. This means I have about two days to review it and make enough adjustments to it (as in MAJOR adjustments) to be qualified as a good enough paper (which means I can just barely submit it without being completely overcome with shame). Yay!

In honor of this wondrous achievement and the somewhat deceiving sense of freedom accompanying it, I want to share this beautiful and rather disturbing clip for "Hey" by the Israeli alternative indie-rock band Eatliz (MySpace,, home page).

According to Guy Ben-Shitrit , main creator of the song and the video clip, the production took almost 3 years to realize - and it shows. It was featured on Aniboom, Youtube and MTV and is available to download here (as well as just the song).

Eatliz - Hey (from Violently Delicate)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Song of the Morning: Brown Piano

It's dark. There's little light coming from the window, with it a distant voice. A woman, you think, and she's speaking. Yes, it's a woman. You struggle to breath.

You take a few deep breaths. You're awake. It was just a dream. The woman is still speaking and you strain to understand. Is it some sort of latin langauge? What is she saying?

The music surrounds you. It becomes a gravity well and you're drawn into it, falling and swirling in the vortex. The woman is speaking, somewhat sad, somewhat disenchanted, but always to you.

The music intensifies, picking up pace and suddenly pauses. People are singing, delievering their tale and the punchline that continues to evade you. You think you feel it, you think you understand. Have you heard it in a dream, now mostly forgotten? It was just a dream, after all. The music stops but doesn't really end in your mind.

It's dark. There's little light coming from the window, with it a distant voice.

A Mountain of One ( page, MySpace) are described in their page as "coming from the world of underground techno" and create electronics infused post-rock and psychedlics. But they're not for the faint of heart.

A Mountain of One - Brown Piano (from Collected Works)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Featured Artist(s): Avoidance Theory

I've been avoiding and evading a lot in my life. It is no secret. I've made several new year and other resolutions trying to ammend this, but it seems my resolve melts in the presence of my esacpe-artist-like persona. It's not like I can't commit to people, ideas or courses of action; I can. It's that, that in order to actually bring myself to face these decisions, it takes a lot of patience and determiniton from myself and those around me. It's kinda like navigating an air-craft carrier in a way: small successive changes of course will have more impact than a solitary command to change.

So, as I stuggle with the currents of life, both real and imaginary, trying to decide which is the iceberg and which the safe haven to dock in, I have to be on alert. Not just for people and situations around me, who sometimes seem to drift by never to be seen again, but also for myself. I watch myself, the lonely captain, wondering how much would I allow myself on the next encounter, and how much does it, this fear, really matters.

That's my theory (and practise) of avoidance. Fortunately, I know of a better one. Avoidance Theory is actually Bryan and Linda of California, creating dreamy bedroom indie pop. Bitter-sweet, their unique balmy melodies and matching lyrics offer a kind of a green grove imbued atmosphere, which is in fact the main theme of one of their CDs (The Shape of Trees).

Perhaps it's nice to flee this world from time to time, to the waiting glade of Avoidance Theory.

Avoidance Theory - Neck of the Woods (from The Shape of Trees)
Additional tracks are available on their official site and their page. The picture (songs of the trees?) is from their website.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Song of the Morning: What's Up?

"And so I cry sometimes when I'm lying in bed
Just to get it all out what's in my head
And I, I am feeling a little peculiar
And so I wake in the morning and I step
Outside and I take deep breath
And I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs
What's goin' on".

Even now, 15 years later, I still have no idea what's going on. In today's language it would probably be articulated as 'WTF', but the question is still justified none the less.

Finding that great hill of hope, let alone climbing it, can also be rather difficult. To me this song is about the struggle we all seem to experience: trying to understand, to cope, to have faith, to keep what little sanity we think we may have. In short, to live.

What a great song (Youtube vid).

4 Non Blondes - What's Up? (from Bigger, Better, Faster, More!)
4 None Blondes' picture is from their page.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Featured Artist: Geoff Ereth

Imagine tranquility for a minute. Not the phony kind you get with a relaxation tape or the heavy numbing feeling after a large meal.

Picture it: you're a farmer returning from your daily labor in the fields, an 18th century idyllic setting sun still lingering over the long boulevard of trees and your home looms just over there, below a huge silvery moon. Soon the stars are coming out and the crickets welcome you with song. You've come home.

As you approach the gravel path leading slightly up the hill to your door, your iPod (for no 18th century is complete without some sort of damnable contraption) soothly plays your favorite play list and comes to Geoff Ereth. He hasn't been born yet, or maybe you went to his Brooklyn concert just the other day; it doesn't matter. He sings your way home.

Geoff Ereth - Paramystical Parachute {MP3} (from the forthcoming Drunk With Translation [iTunes])
Geoff Ereth's picture is from his page on (where you can listen to a few more of his tracks). Also try his MySpace for more details and updates.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Looking Backwards, Looking Forward

I don't particularly like to make 'top 10' or 'best of' lists. I've listened to a lot of music this year and thanks to sites like and many of my frequented music blogs, I've also developed a somewhat more keener musical awareness. So, for me, a lot of the music that accompanied me this year was new even if it was released last year or 50 years ago and a lot of the 'old familiar' music was listened to with a fresh appreciation and perhaps a little understanding. For example, I've rediscovered Bright Eyes' "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and it was one of my most listened to albums of the year. Why? Perhaps it was a little more difficult year than I had previously perceived.

Just for the record though, here are my top albums that were released this year (other than the first one, there is no particular order):

1. Shearwater - Rook: In many ways this was the year of Rook for me. As I mentioned here
before, I am still addicted to the album and I don't want it to stop.

2. Sigur Ros - með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust: Highly anticipated and completely not
disappointing would be a severe understatement. This is a great album.

3. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: A wonderful surprise for me.
They also had Sun Giant.
4. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid.
They didn't get the Mercury for nothing.
5. The Dodos – Visiter.
They are contagious, in a good way.
6. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges: Getting to know Jim James and company.

7. Cat Power - Jukebox. Also loved her Black Sessions performance.

8. Portishead – Third.
Anticipated, much.
Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride.
Radiohead - In Rainbows: Though digitally I became enamored with it on late 2007, this
album and it's sequel (In Rainbows 2) were definitely dominant in my stereo.

I don't know when The Middle East's "The Recordings of the Middle East" came out. I first heard of them and the album just a few months ago and I am very glad that I did (thanks Guy).

Three other albums in particular, not released in 2008, were also a huge impact on my life: Eddie Vedder's "Into the Wild",
Bright Eyes' "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and Idan Rabinovici's "Bedroom Folk". Thank you.

On a side note, this year also marked for me the continued return to classical music, both old and new (Nico Muhly, for one). Instrumental music in general with post-rock and electronics in particular were also interesting developing trends for me. I've learnt a lot (and there's much, much more I still don't know).

There were many other albums more than wore mentioning (and certainly buying and listening to) that were released this Indie year; each had its own distinct effect on me and I am changed through them:

MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Avett Brothers – Second Gleam

Black Moth Super Rainbow - Drippers

Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst

Grand Archives - The Grand Archives

M83 - Saturdays = Youth

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

Thao Nguyen - We Brave Bee Stings and All

Nada Surf - Lucky

A Weather - Cove

PlayRadioPlay! – Texas

Tokyo Police Club – Elephant Shell

Spiritualized – Songs in A&E

Chad VanGaalen – Soft Airplane
Bloc Party – Intimacy

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – Cardinology
Wixel - Somewhere Between the Sun and the Moon
Get Well Soon - Rest Now, Weary Head! You Will Get Well Soon

With 2009 looking to be a tough year, I need all the good music I can get.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Featured Artist(s): Wixel

Wixel is a post-rock-indietronica-alt-folk band from Belgium that would make your dreams glitter and hum as though they were struck by a particularly intelligent magic wand.

Led by Wim Maesschalck, founder of the slaapwel indie records label (that specializes in music to fall asleep to), the group is releasing these days its second LP, Somewhere Between The Sun and The Moon.

According to Wim (and the album itself), the tracks provide a feeling of a wintry dark voyage between the sun and the moon, with only the light of the stars to guide the way. This takes careful balance on the borders of melody and coherence, edging on sanity itself.

In his words (and check the site and blog for other goodies and intriguing influences): "
I really like dense layers of sound where lots of details are tickling your ears, some begging for attention, but the most beautiful ones are all hidden in a wild stream of melodies and sounds. Think of Sonic Youth or Mogwai. To counter that, I can't deny my love for a simple single melody. In my world, it's the core of music. So sometimes you just leave a melody alone, which in itself can be incredibly beautiful."

While this album is not about happiness or joy, it is still possible to immerse yourself in it and smile, filled with contentment and peace. The dreams will follow soon enough.

Wixel - Outside Your Locked Heart (from Somewhere Between the Sun and the Moon)
Wixel's picture is from their MySpace.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Song of the Morning: Welcome Home, Son

It may have the rhythm and hand claps associated with a stormy flamenco, but Radical Face's "Welcome Home, Son" is much more than the thunderous chorus it packs. It is a powerful song that, perhaps not unlike The Mountain Goats' "This Year" I've mentioned before, hints of a very painful story.

The unique capability of music to communicate and convey emotions is utilized here in its fullest. Coupled with the poetic lyrics that suggest a certain line of domestic history, it delivers the message home, to the waiting listener. So when the uplifting rhythm and melody of the chorus are synced with the repeating phrases "come home", the result is culminated in explosions of emotions, imbued with each listener's own history and interpretation.

Press play, crank up the volume and listen.

Radical Face - Welcome Home (from Ghost)
For more great music and art go to Radical Face's site here, MySpace and pages.
Radical Face (Ben Cooper) picture is from his MySpace page.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Featured Artist(s): Get Well Soon

Get Well Soon is a German band led by Konstantin Gropper. From the sounds of his music you may guess he's a talented multi-instrumentalist or that he's classically trained. You may infer from his sombre lyrics that he prefers English to German as his choice language of creation. You'll also notice his sources of influence and inspiration: gently silhouetted giants like Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Nick Drake and Thom Yorke.

You can expect all of this and still be overwhelmed. Perhaps being overwhelmed is not the right phrase for it; a bewildering shadowy mixture of grand and real, a remnant of an alternate twentieth century 20's and 30's in a steam punked world and the creeping feeling of something else... something strange somehow. Strange, hauntingly sad and beautiful.

Be sure to check his rather eerie site here (including a few more clips) and his MySpace and for a few streamable songs. Mostly, I recommend his debut LP, "Rest Now, Weary Head! You Will Get Well Soon" (Amazon).


Friday, November 28, 2008

Song of the Morning: Titled Untitled

As predicted, I've procrastinated enough of last weekend and the first part of this weekend to be significantly behind my original papers writing schedule. On the up side, though, I still have a little under an (extended) month to complete these last two papers. On the down side, I may have to re-submit a paper on a topic I've already moved on from since. However, you know what they say of self-fulfilling prophecies... (No, what?)

I sometimes can't help but wonder if this is all that life has to offer - a series of things to do and accomplish, write that paper, date that person, go to that job interview, don't eat that food, look for something else to pass the time. Until the end. You can almost wish for it, except there's not likely to be anything afterwards (and perhaps, hence the appeal). But maybe it's just me. Maybe life doesn't have to be so mundane, so normal, so boring and repetitive.

I wouldn't really know anyway. But I can feel that there are alternatives. My senses may be dulled by the mind numbing routine of work and occasional grocery shopping, but I can still feel. Thus I know that this, whatever this is, is not enough. That it can be better.

But the obvious choice is to head into another form of routine, perhaps by adapting someone else's - their kind of job, their kind of family. And that would not do at all.

So, what is the answer? Perhaps there isn't one. Perhaps all I have is questions. Maybe I just need to ask them.

This post is dedicated to Kathleen Edwards, a Canadian alt-country indie artist who's making it. The song is taken from her out of print debut EP "Building 55", which Aquarium Drunkard fortunately shared a couple of years ago. I don't know if the song is based on actual occurrences, but I can imagine a fiery glare from the singer, accompanying it. Also check her latest album from 2008, "Asking for Flowers", where Edwards continues to develop as an artist (though I keep a warm spot for "Building 55").

Be sure to check Edwards' blog and her rather extensive tour list (currently in Europe and then back to America).

Kathleen Edwards - Titled Untitled {MP3} (from Building 55)
The MP3 will be hosted for a limited time only and is intended for introductory purposes only. For quite a few more downloadable and streamable songs (as well as for their purchase) go to Kathleen Edwards' site or just a selection on the page. Kathleen Edwards' picture is from her MySpace page.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Featured Artist: Fredrik

It's night. A full moon above. You're in a forest clearing surrounded by fresh green trees. It's quiet. And suddenly you hear it.

A night march. Silent, delicate but persistent and strong. You feel it carries its ancient history with it. You hear pride and self assurance but also sadness and remorse.

It inspires you. You can't make out all the words but it touches you. Something has awaken inside of you. The forest around you is stirring, marching with the music.

Finally, the musical echoes fade away in the distant. You open your eyes and stare at the stereo. A lone leaf remains.

Fredrik is a Swedish band creating wonderful music. Perhaps you can catch them out of the corner of your eyes on your next moonlight walk.

Fredrik - Black Fur {MP3} (from Na Na Ni)
The MP3 will be hosted for a limited time only and is intended for introductory purposes only. For a full listen of the album (and purchase) go to the site or just a selection on the page. Fredrik's picture from their MySpace page.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Gift Of Selfish Rain: Imperfectly

My Gift Of Selfish Rain: Imperfectly

My muse seems to be on an extended holiday these days, but I hope to call her back by reading creative and mysterious poems such as this.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Facing the Music: The Two Stevens (and John Darnielle)

I'm dedicating this weekend to music. You might ask: "how's that different from most other weekends thus far?". Well, first, thanks for the question. Second, it's not going to be dedicated (just) for listening but also for a rather heroic (and probably futile) attempt to start and finish the one-before-last of my papers, which deals, surprisingly, with music. More specifically, it deals with the controversy of whether music plays a role in human evolution and if it does, what is that role.

To do this, I will need to describe two of the main sides in this controversy, namely that of Steven Pinker (music is an auditory 'cheesecake' and Not an adaption) and that of Steven Mithen (music and language both developed from the same proto-musilangauge with music having a distinct role to play in human evolution). Naturally there are other views (such as one that claims that music is an adaptaion without any specific claims to a joint music-langauge progenator), but I do have to set bounds for this paper (and besides, those other researchers may not be named Steven...).

As this question deals with evolution it has no clear and resounding answer - which is a good thing (there would be no controversy otherwise!). Personally, I'm not sure I want this issue resolved. Having a mystery such as music in my life seems almost like a privilige in this rather explained age. Why Do we love and need music when it does not seem to have any survival-related benefit (or so some claim)?

To me, music definitely has survival related benefits. As most who know me may guess, a large part of my nutrition is actually non-physical in origin. So apart from the usual soul food, music is top in my dietary requirements. There are all sorts of musics and songs: some dietary, some require longer digestion periods, other are quick on the ear (and tounge) and just melt away. And there are those that provide energy and inspiration for the short and long runs.

The Mountain Goats' "This Year" began for me as such a song: an upbeat, determind melody with the repeating chorus saying "I am going to make it through this year if it kills me" (and the final lines closing in "there will be feasting and dancing in Jerusalem next year"). For a tough a year as I'm having, what could be more fitting?

But a caerful listen to the lyrics (and the other songs in this beautiful album) revealed a more complex story. The determination in the song was now filled with pain and resolve born out of past fear and experience. The hope to hold on for just one more year had possible departure or esacpe at its end rather than your ordinary "prize". This is because this song deals in painful earnest with the lyricist's history as an abused child, and specificaly describes one day of temporary escape from it. All of this hasn't hindered this song's capacity for inspiration; it may even have increased it (even if for some additional reasons).

The video clip below perplexed me for a bit as the storyline (the band being held hostage and forced to sing) is somehwat odd and does not deal directly with the lyrics. However, it may be delivering the message as a metaphor by Darnielle being forced to finally tell his story, a sort of a theraputic endeavor. So music does serve a purpose, it seems.

The Mountain Goats - This Year {MP3} (from The Sunset Tree)
The MP3 will be hosted for a limited time only and is intended for introductory purposes only. I recommend buying The Sunset Tree as it should be listened to as a whole album.
The Mountain Goats' picture is from their page.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Song of the Morning: Murder In The City

Getting up can be tough sometimes, especially when you spend the latter part of the night tossing and tumbling with one strange dream after another. Among these fleeting dreams are, sometimes, the songs of the morning, those I wake up to. I don't always realize what song it is. Sometimes I don't even hear it - until the chorus comes crashing in while I'm brushing my teeth or the silent final few chords whisper softly as I turn around the house before I leave for work, wondering what I've forgotten to do this morning.

Sometimes I realize what song it was only hours later, when it's actually playing on the stereo. This is the case with this post's song, The Avett Brothers' beautiful "Murder in the City". Because sometimes it's not enough to simply get up in the morning. Sometimes you need to wake up to reality (even if only briefly) and see that things can be better. The creative art, genuine enthusiasm and uniqueness of the Avetts is a good enough such reason to wake up (and go to one of their fabled concerts if you're on the same continent).

The Avett Brothers - Murder in the City (from The Second Gleam EP {The Avett Brothers Store, Amazon}) Also highly recommended is their latest album Emotionalism, from which the second clip ("Go to Sleep") is taken. Their picture is from their official website.

The Avett Brothers - Go To Sleep

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Featured Artist(s): Chapman & Brocker

Chapman & Brocker are a duo of brothers from Los Angeles, who create the most wonderfully lush and subtly rich music. And that's not all - their lyrics echo landscapes and atmospheres birthed in dreams and 19th century styled novels.

For example, "Chimes" speaks of a dream-like experience rooted in some faraway personal mythology of longing, love and the underlying desire to cross over - where exactly we don't really know; we can only feel our way there. As Obscure Sound, a great music blog that had a feature on them states, Chapman & Brocker “create stories that could be experienced rather than merely understood”.

Their debut album, "Dance of the Crazy Man", which was 3 years in the making and released on late 2007, contains 11 such mystified tracks. Like their earlier work, a soundtrack for the surfer film "Best Hours of the Day", this is also a soundtrack - for an inner voyage. Just close your eyes and take a step.

Chapman & Brocker - Chimes {MP3} (from Dance of the Crazy Man)

The MP3 will be hosted for a limited time only and is intended for introductory purposes only. For a full listen of the album (and purchase) go to their site or just a selection on their page. Chapman & Brocker picture from their MySpace page.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Pause

In writing this blog I'd hoped to do something I normally desperately am trying to avoid - getting noticed. I admit, I wanted someone to hear me, someone to read this. Now, it seems that I have been noticed, only that by the wrong people.

I received an e-mail today from Blogger saying that they've removed my latest post due to copyright infringement. This is a fairly scary message to receive as it contains many strange, legal-minded words. However, as the infringing content has been removed and I have no intention of posting such material, I hope that this is the end of that unfortunate affair.

This leaves me puzzling how exactly will I be able to share my thoughts and feelings about the music I love without actually sharing the music itself. As I am very much aware of a lot of other music and MP3 blogs, I suspect some sort of sharing is possible. The question is how or perhaps whose. It seems that the more indie and low profile the artist the better - as these artists tend to share their music more readily and freely, with free songs on their websites and such.

If that would not be possible, I would revert to a more empathic form of writing, perhaps one that is more natural to me. Ironically, the incriminating post (now restored without the infringing content) may be the first of its kind. I'd like to explore how a song or music in general affects me, how and what and why I feel it and perhaps offer an interesting interpretation of my own.

I do not concede defeat; the battle just got more interesting.

The picture above was taken by me on June 2005 (around midnight), near Dawson City, Canada. It is a remnant from a period my personal mythology and history refer to as "the best time of my life". Happiness is possible, even if only for a little while.

Song of the Morning: Blue Jay Way (ver. 2)

Note: This is a re-post without the song (the original post was removed due to copyright infringement).

It begins in mystery and suspense: a fog upon L.A. and your friends have lost their way. You know that they are supposed to come over - you've talked to them and they've assured you that they're on their way.

So, what went wrong? You don't want to be alone and sleep is creeping in. Maybe you're all alone in the house, maybe you're all alone in the world, and your friends are no where to be seen. You don't want to fall asleep alone in this place but you're tired, so very tired.

Maybe you can dare a glimpse outside? It's dark and you can't see the stars. That damned fog is consuming the city. And no, they're still not here. You start to panic. Surely they could ask some policeman on the street for directions? Policemen provide a sense of order and security, even in L.A. And there are so many of them - you remember joking with your friends about the large number of coppers in the city. You wish they managed to meet even one of those now.

You finally go outside and sit at the door step, rocking yourself slightly as the darkness swoops in: "Please don't be long, please don't you be very long, please don't be long". Do I belong?

This beautifully sad-but-also-hope-promising song was written by George Harrison, and is evidently based on a true story. I guess Hollywood can be pretty rough for the uninitiated.

Beatles - Blue Jay Way (appears on Magical Mystery Tour).
Beatles picture appears on their profile.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Featured Artist: Nico Muhly

Nico Muhly
is a contemporary classical music composer I've recently had the good fortune of stumbling upon. It's very hard to define exactly the kind of music Muhly, who has worked with artists like Björk and Philip Glass, is creating. Just what is "contemporary classical music"? How do you know if it's "classic" when it's contemporary and still fresh, perhaps too fresh, in the ears?

The simple answer would be that it depends on the type of musical instruments, arrangements and scores being created, and whether it was similar to the works of the recognized classics. Muhly, who is greatly influenced by 16 and 17th century English liturgy and choral music, however, seems to take a different approach. And no, it's not fusion. It's a sort of a minimalistic, stripped down approach to music, celebrating the creative process from a unique place of personal and cultural history and that somehow emerges, seemingly effortlessly, from the artist.

This post's musical piece is in fact the closing piece (in three parts) of Muhly's second album, "Mothertongue", produced and performed together with
Samamidon (Sam Amidon). In his words, it is part of an emotional reaction against the "totally pussified" or "wimpy guitar based thing" folk music that abounds these days and that lacks "blood and guts and infanticide" (featured prominently in the folk songs the piece is based upon).

Nico Muhly - The Only Tune (parts 1-3) (from Mothertongue)
Nico Muhly's picture is from his page.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Song of the Morning: Amos the Transparent

As I'm writing this the voting has just started and though the polls do show a certain trend, past campaigns have shown it's important not to count the proverbial eggs before they're hatched. Still, as the votes are being counted, I can't help but wonder how these elections and their outcome will be remembered and analyzed in the future.

Will those in the future mock us for our expectations and hopes? Will they admire our courage? Will they condemn us for falling for the folly of youth and charisma? Will they mark the 2008 elections as a significant transition point from the racist era of the past or perhaps the continued rise of corporations and mass media giants?

At the end of the day, no matter who wins, there will be unavoidable disappointments from each of the candidates. It would be up to them to realize the national dreams and hopes of their voters, despite the sometimes hostile Houses, in face of a teetering economy, global climate problems, troops in faraway countries, a lousy international image and ravenous powers behind the corner. A change, such as it may, will come. That doesn't guarantee it will be liked by all.

But for now, let us celebrate, a storm crow's cry north of the US, in Canada. This post's haunting song is from the band (primarily a duo) "Amos the Transparent" ( for more details and Facebook for more updates). Their sound can be defined somewhere between folk and indie pop, though I'm not sure neither of those definitions will do. Make sure to check their website and meet them in person (or at least in a series of videos).

Amos the Transparent - Title Track (from Everything I’ve Forgotten To Forget )

Amos the Transparent picture from their MySpace. A re-post.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Featured Artist: Idan Rabinovici

To continue the trend of correcting oversights, I want to dedicate this post to singer-songwriter Idan Rabinovici. As his last name appears to be a certain point of contention among his fans, I'll stick with the official version.

Idan divides his time and possibly his sources of inspiration between the US, the UK and Israel, writing and performing soulful (as in personal and powerful, not necessarily the Aretha Franklin way) songs. He also took part in a sort of art-urban activism project called 'the collective' and recently served as the opening act for José González (in what is said to be one of the best performances in recent times; naturally, as a complete idiot, I didn't go).

His debut album, "Bedroom Folk", which I bought shortly after it release in early 2008, is a beautiful piece of modern urban folk. Though I'd recommend the entire album, my favorite tracks are "Morning Song" (the ending makes me want to get down on my knees and pray), "Jared's Blues", "Jungle Man" and "Butterfly". The latter has a few lines that speak to me these days, spoken in a certain defiance:

"I'm alive,
yeah, I'm alive;
We do the best we can
or at least we try".

I don't think I'll miss the next concert.

Idan Rabinovici (MySpace, - Butterfly (from Bedroom Folk [Basement Records, CD Baby])

Idan Rabinovici's Photo by Goni Riskin, see

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Song of the Morning: Psychedlics, Samples and James Bond

I know. I've been overly negligent in not writing so long. I wish I could say I had a good reason like finding the love of my life or even a bad reason like being at work. Instead, I have to settle for just not feeling up to it, as though my creative sap has dried up all of a sudden.

It hasn't just yet. As much as I love the winter (my favorite season), it needs some getting used to, and this is but the middle of autumn. So I'll trudge on with a few more bouts of dizzy spells and that'll be that, I expect.

This period has allowed me to be finally exposed to some good music from a few years back and some more recent work. Most seem to follow the trend of deconstruction, of moving away from the more traditional song writing styles into a more chaotic structure. Some, like The Avalanches, build on samples and the joining of bits and pieces into creating a new and sometimes strange or wonderful whole. Others, like Black Moth Super Rainbow, seem to build from the ground up, except that the ground is sometimes up or inverted or in some Alice in Wonderland styled caterpillar world that somehow meets a vision of a weed-clutching/acid-dropping San Francisco of the early 70' (that's what I got, and I don't do drugs).

And yet, the song that is haunting my mind these days is entirely simple in form and lyrics. I can't really explain why
Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds are Forever" won't leave me be (those closing lines might have something to do with it). Maybe I need something as simple and clear as that song every now and again - the messages is clear, the lyrics are simple and logical and the melody is very catchy. Mostly, it had the good fortune to be sung by the powerful voice of Ms. Bassey - it has no choice but to be hurtled on over to the listener, so fitting in the traditional James Bond world settings.

As odd as it may seem though, wisdom can be found even in James Bond songs. Take "You Only Live Twice" (lyrics) for example (what a great title!). Again, in simple, perhaps a little corny but direct lyrics and presentation (Nancy Sinatra), you get the all too important place of love in your life as well as the rather lucid view that your dreams are also important, perhaps as important as the dull day to day existence sometimes mislabeled as 'life'. So, when you meet that strange dream, that risk called love, hold on to it. Who wants to wake up?

Black Moth Super Rainbow - Happy Melted City (from Drippers)

Black Moth Super Rainbow picture from their profile.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Celebrate life (or death)?: Elliott Smith

As our friends on 'haoneg' and other places have noted, today is the fifth anniversary for Elliott Smith's death. To my shame, I was introduced to him only after he'd died, but this unfortunate fact does not stand in the way of his music.
I'm still a bit self conscious when I approach him, almost reluctant, as though I am afraid to hurt him or maybe just feeling exposed by the lyrics and the music that seem to envelope him.

Sorry. The piano on "Color Bars" just hit my tender spot.

So why mark this day, the day we became angry at him for leaving us behind, for not being strong enough for us? Why not settle for his birthday (August 6th) as the nexus of potential was just beginning? Is this just another part of the artist-following relationship where we continuously make demands for more, even beyond the grave? What do we hope for? What can we hope for?

'Cause in the end there's just the music; the first song that we hear, the first that we love, the one we share with that special person, the one that is just our own. And then there's the man: a painful reflection of our everyday hurts, dreams, loves and silence.
A cup of tears filled to the brim.

Here's a live cover of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord". The song begins thus:
"My sweet lord
Hm, my lord
Hm, my lord

I really want to see you
Really want to be with you
Really want to see you lord
But it takes so long, my lord"

So long, Elliott.

Elliott Smith - My Sweet Lord (Live George Harrison cover)
Elliott Smith's picture from

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008 - Poverty

This blog is participating in the 2008 Blog Action Day, this year directed against poverty. The declared goal is to create a discussion on the web on the selected topic, a rather ambitious (perhaps presumptuous) goal. What sort of discussion or debate? That would depend on the blog and its readers - as long as it is connected to the topic.

So, what is poverty anyway? I'm not an economist or a sociologist but it seems to me that the definition for whoever is poor and whoever isn't poor changes from person to person and depends on many factors (status of the bank account [if there is one], nutritional health, socio-economic status [place of residence, mode of transportation, clothes, accessories], employment, litteracy, amount and quality of leisure time, social and cultural contexts and many more).

How do we fight something like that, that its very definiotn changes and varies from place to place and time to time? Perhaps the answer is that there is no one answer, but instead a multitude of local answers, more fitting to the plights of individuals and families (and then there's the problem of poor nations; is that a different sort of poverty or the same, only on mass scale?).

Why do we wish to fight poverty? Because it is a state of people suffering due to the extreme lack of (mostly?) material wealth relative to the cultural and social contexts.
Because children are malnutrituned, because they get laughed at behind their backs or to their faces because their parents couldn't afford that particular "cool" shoes or the school field trip.
Because the fridge is empty.
Because there is no fridge.
Because of TB, HIV and a host of other preventable or treatable plauges affecting people where a simple sex education program or a basic health system do not exist.
Because corruption kills.
Because of cultrual heritage items, antiques and works of arts being smuggled, destroyed or sold out.
Because of religious fanatics who exploit distress to fuel hatred instead of cultivating hope.
Because of children scavenging for dangerous waste metal scraps in Africa, homeless elderly in the cold streets of Washington, D.C. and dying cramped Chinese immigrants in a shipping container.
Because no one seems to care.

Poverty has many faces and many forms, all of them human.

Think hard and do good; try some of these links for ideas on what you can do to help:
Stand Up
The United Nations End Poverty by 2015 Campaign
Blog Action Day Resources

Finally, a couple of songs. Originally, this post was to be about spiritual poverty, which is a sort of asceticism, but I guess I got carried away a bit. Regardless, the first of the songs, Kristin Hersh's (MySpace, homepage) rendition of "Poor Wayfaring Stranger", sort of touches the subject. The other song deals with what some may consider globalization or maybe just capitalism and its effects on communities.

Kristin Hersh - Poor Wayfaring Stranger (from In Shock)
Welcome Wagon - Sold! To The Nice Rich Man (from Mews Too: An Asthmatic Kitty Compilation)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Song of the Morning: Forgiveness

So it's Day of Atonement, again. Sounds like something out of a science fiction or a fantasy movie, doesn't it? The weird though friendly aliens have a bizarre and morally intriguing day long ritual in which we (the viewers) get a glimpse of some ancient and wise culture (though we, through the main protagonist, eventually refute or reject its ideas, while keeping good relations with the locals in case we ever need to refuel there again). Or maybe I've just been watching too much Star Trek lately?

I'm not a practicing Jew and I have no intention of starting now. Saying that, there are some interesting ideas this day can symbolize. Unlike Christianity, Judaism has no regular absolving mechanism except in the sanctity of this day. Even so, folk beliefs stress that the important area in which to ask forgiveness for and reconcile is the human relations (while the relations between man and god are important, you must first deal with the people you live with). God, it then says, sits in judgment and determines, not too much unlike Santa Clause, whether you've been a 'good boy' and so deserve to live or maybe you've been 'naughty' and would have to end your sorry existence on this earth. Also, there are no presents and you have to fast for 24 hours.

But seriously, the day does carry special meaning and significance even to non religious people. It is the single day in the year when it is quiet. No cars, no radios, no TV. Just children on bicycle in the street, families strolling by, echoes from the synagogues. It's as though the universe changes into some mirror existence of a simpler (somewhat boring if you're of a certain mindset) life.

I find it strange and simultaneously very human and understandable that we still need some God figure (or is it father/mother figure?) to turn to, to make sure it will be alright, that if we follow the rituals it will all be forgiven and washed anew. As Kant said, man refuses to grow up, and who wants to anyway? Why not remain the rebelling teenager who secretly admires and resents his maker, knowing that he will be forgiven no matter what?

A hard day for hard thoughts. Almost like any other.

Engineers - Forgiveness (from Forgiveness)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

(Bleeding) Song of the Morning: Words, etc.

Blimey, what the heck is wrong with this darn pre-owned vehicle? This bleeding Judas Priest won't play!
Ah, I had you there for a moment. No? Then how did you figure out what I was talking about?
I'm thinking about exploring the subjects of euphemisms and minced oaths and trying to tie them into the use of tautologies in natural languages. After all, maybe we're talking about similar phenomenons from different perspectives. They all utilize expressions and words to signify something other than the given text (or, indeed, the written/spoken words themselves).

In tautologies, especially cliches, the meaning can and usually is different from any direct and immediate interpretation. For example, the Yogi Berra saying "You can observe a lot by watching" seems like a tautology (rhetoric and logical and thus provide no new information on the world) but can actually carry added meaning (the importance of gathering intelligence, for one). Ah, pragmatics.

In euphemisms and minced oaths the meaning is also "hidden in plain sight", to use a cliche. It's obvious to the listeners or the readers a profanity was used and its exact type (and thus meaning) can be readily deduced or inferred from the form of the replacing word or expression.

So, in both cases a decoy that everyone involved in a certain context knows it as such is being used, while the true (or added) meaning is silently pointed to, in a civilized fashion.

Anyway, the Indie paper is currently under review and an abstract of it will be posted here (eventually). Till I get to the whole tautologies business I have some ancient Chinese logic tricks to unravel (don't ask). So in the meantime, here are three songs to use as a bridge between the previous paper (Indie music) and the next ones (tautologies and Chinese logic-music). The first is a classic by Mother Love Bone (which also deals with how words are used by different people). The other two songs are from the Irish indie rock-classical (yep, classical) band Clockwork Noise (MySpace, sort of associated blog), the first of which also deals with words while the other has a lovely violin riff.

Mother Love Bone - Man of Golden Words {MP3} (from Mother Love Bone)
Clockwork Noise - Choose Your Words {MP3}
Clockwork Noise - Egocentric {MP3}
Mother Love Bone's picture from their spot on

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

It's all about the fun (and the music)

I am progressing somewhat in my indie paper, enough to help me appreciate the hard work and energies pouring into the efforts of a struggling artist. But it's not just blood, sweat and tears. It's also about enjoying yourself and having a lot of fun while you're on the road.

This post is dedicated to webepisodes and music of a Florida alternative rock/power pop band called "We the Kings". They're 4 young energetic guys (god, I sound old...) with an equally young and energetic crowd. Their self produced short clips (properly named "The King's Carriage") taken while on the tour bus not only allow a glimpse into the mysteries of the rock star's life (skittles, anyone?), but also to their real life (McDonald's, anyone?).

Here's one about the confining tour experience. The rest are here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In the Night: (sort of) Live Blogging

Nervously, I unlock the door and step outside (01:30).

I find myself walking the streets of Tel Aviv at 02:00 in the morning. I'm not drunk, I haven't done any drugs (except my naturally spewing endorphins) and I'm alone. My destination is relatively near. I'm trying to play some songs in my mind and when that doesn't quite work I use the infernal contraption (my iPod). I listen to the chorus: "In the night, in the night" but I just can't make out all the words. Thanks, Basia.
I expected the streets to be rather busy with people as this is Thursday and people go out, even at these hours, but it's quite desolate. Plenty of cars, though. I try to slip by.

It's about 02:30. I don't know how long I have to wait. I'm feeling very nervous but also quite still. It will all be over soon enough, I tell myself.
02:35 - There's nothing on TV. Who's great idea was it to play "300" in the middle of the night in a waiting room? I find the sight of people hacking at each other quite unappealing so I try to look away. Should I use the iPod again? Maybe I should try to read some more in that very long paper I carry around in the bag? But no, that would just stress me out some more. I wait.

02:45 - Finally, I enter the room and deposit my metallic stuff. Half blind, I stumble unto that hard and narrow bed. No, I don't want any shot of chemicals. Yes, it's OK.

02:50 - I close my eyes. The world is now composed of two things: loud metallic clanks, sounds and odd noises emitted by this tube I'm in and me, trying to count and differentiate the assortment of auditory assaults I'm experiencing. I remember counting to over a thousand the last time I was here. I wonder how high I'll reach this time.

???? - It's over. No, there it is again: life composed of a cross between a WWI sinking submarine and a washing machine-dryer combination with a few nails and shoes tumbling inside. It's not perfect, but it's home, at least for the next 10 minutes or so (which seem like forever right now).

03:10 - It's over and man, have I got a headache. I smile feebly as I gather my stuff and walk away into the night.

03:55 - It's still very dark and marvelously quiet. I climb into the bed, sighing.

03:57 - I forgot to blog it live. Do I have to do it all over again?

Basia Bulat - In the Night {Video} (from Oh, My Darling)