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 Another artist who has also withdrawn to a great degree from public life is Jeff Mangum, formerly of Neutral Milk Hotel.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.