Sunday, May 16, 2010

The 2009 According to Duke

Hey, all.

Obviously my year end is the best. I encountered a lot of music in 2009, though I don't know if any year will ever be able to compare to 2008 (in which I became acquainted with both Shearwater and the National). My year end for 2008 is a fire hose: way too intense. So be glad I'm not posting that here.

My year end rules are different from Steve and Barbara's. I limit the number of my songs by length: if it's long enough to fit onto an 800 MB CD-R, I can have thirty; I don't really care, so long as the play time is just under an hour eighteen.

You'll notice, if/when you open the mix that there are just fifteen songs. Initially there were twenty, but because I spent so much time meticulously tinkering with the mix, I found these fifteen produced a smoother, more unified listen. The extra five songs were admittedly a lot more energetic: I lost Blackdown by Patrick Wolf and The Cave by Mumford & Sons. But this set gets a lot more at how 2009 actually felt.

The ordering of this playlist is a play on Steve's (forthcoming) alphabetized form. More like a pantoume, if you will. I knew I wanted the first and last tracks to be 2008 and When I See You, which were perfect for an alphabetized ordering, but I didn't like any of the transitions. I took the alphabetized order and switched the second and second to last songs, left the third and third to last songs alone, then more, working inward. Therefore, were it nine songs:

1  --  1
2  --  8
3  --  3
4  --  6
5  --  5
6  --  4
7  --  7
8  --  2
9  --  9

Unnecessarily complicated? Check. But there is rhyme to my reason.

And I typically don't care if there's more than one artist, but there can't be more than one song on the mix from the same album. For me.

Blech. Here's the tracklist:

2008 - Hello Saferide
Werewolf - Michael Hurley
Castaways - Shearwater (it was an early single!)
Splinters - 16 Horsepower
Hi - Psapp
Southern Point - Grizzly Bear
O, Ohio - The National Lights
Oh No - Andrew Bird
Seven Dwarves - The Social Services
Mary Come Alive - Marissa Nadler
A Special Providence - Chris Kiehne
Finally - The Frames
Though I Have Wronged You - J. Tillman
Bellyfulla - Ramona Falls
When I See You - Steve Slagg

Download the mix here.

Oh, and the album artwork is a photo taken by me and my friends as a redo of the original Being Human TV Series promo shot

UPDATE: My dear friend Blade has provided some better album artwork. Enjoy?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Two Thousand Nine

Within the next few days we will be posting our respective 2009 playlists. Each of us has a unique modus operandi for determining which tracks make the final cut. I'll let Duke and Steve speak for themselves. Naturally my methodology is the best.

Barbara's Rules:
1. The mix must be comprised of fifteen tracks.
2. No artist/band is allowed more than one song.
3. The sequence is determined chronologically.

Note well that this is not a mix of my favorite songs that were released in 2009. Rather, it's a collection of songs that reflects or brings to mind significant events that occurred over the course of the year. Occasionally a song will make the final cut simply because I was addicted to it at the time. However, in the spirit of this blog's namesake, I have to admit that most of these tunes are tied to specific aesthetic experiences. And since this damn post is already sufficiently esoteric-sounding, I'll spare you the juicy details.

p.s. You'll notice the name of my playlist is simultaneously original and memorable. Initially it was going to be Jesus in California but then I had a dream wherein I met Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler at a bar in New Orleans. Ouch.

Karin and Linford, silently judging me

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Duke's Top Albums: The First 5

I'm posting my 20 favourite albums--I suppose you could say of all time. Maybe this reveals my geeky roots, but I'll freely admit it: I grew up listening to video game and film soundtracks. And Enya. What I've got here is my top 20--albums that have both meant a heck of a lot to me, which I will also defend on artistic grounds. I'll admit I've got some blind spots; if I were being completely honest, A Day Without Rain by Enya would probably be a lot higher. I've also omitted artists I have completely discredited and, in some ways, have left behind. Not to say that I won't take them down from the shelf for the occasional listen, but it's music I in which I can't place much value. That goes for most other Enya cds as well as Evanescence.

I can't be objective, but I've done my best to at least try to keep things in a broader perspective and not clutter up the list with music over which I've been recently obsessing/listening to. For most of these there's at least a blanket of a year's worth of listens. These are albums that have gotten under my skin and won't leave.

1 Palo Santo - Shearwater

As I've said before, it's a flawed work, but utterly raw and beautiful. The lyrics are continually compelling and paint a picture of a world left in shambles. The reissue brings out the greatest texture and showcases the band's scope and talent. The music has mirrored most any landscape for me as I've grown with it: on my better days it peels away the layers of the world to show me something new, and on the worse days it wraps me up in its weird narrative. I've written short stories based in the world Shearwater introduces on this album, some depressing, some not, though all of them contained the weird static twinge that opens and closes this piece.

2 Boxer - The National

This album is late night bourbon served with a side of middle class angst. It's every day I spent in a trailer home in my childhood, every night I spend awake thinking about what it even means to be American and human and screwed up. Unlike Palo Santo, I can't really place much fault with this album, though I'll admit the second half definitely sags before the quick whizz-bang of the two closing tracks.

3 Kid A - Radiohead

I won't echo the simpering fanboyishness of the pitchfork top album review, but I will say that this album is one heck of a sucker punch. I listened to it on one of the worst days of my life all the way through repeated again and again, and it paints a desolate landscape. Again, why is such a depressing album on my top 20? Call me a masochist.

4 Kirite - Yasunori Mitsuda

This is essentially a video game soundtrack, though it's to a book. Everything that I love about Yasunori Mitsuda is here: the violin, gregorian-ish chants, and etherial melodies. Yet it's an actual cd, not a soundtrack, with an arching storyline. As is the case with most of my favourite cds, the work done here is aural--a crafting of a sonic landscape. I can remember nights curled up in my first winter back in America listening to this cd.

5 Funeral - The Arcade Fire

Every time I put on this cd I'm reminded of sweltering manic afternoons skipping in time to Neighborhood 2. This was my sophomore year of college: all the hormones and pollen and the crazy plans to ship myself off to Norway with whoever'd take me with. Win Butler's lyrics are crazy, out of sync, and every verse is like a battle cry. I had to grow myself into this cd, though. It was very much a part of my own personal evolution as a music listener. I didn't understand why everyone liked this cd, but I was curious enough to put my ears through the blender for the first several listens until I got the idea.

6 Wind in the Wires - Patrick Wolf
7 Up - Peter Gabriel
8 Geogaddi - Boards of Canada
9 A Boot & A Shoe - Sam Phillips
10 A Day Without Rain - Enya

11 OK Computer - Radiohead
12 Chrono Cross OST - Yasunori Mitsuda
13 Pray For Daylight - Chris Kiehne
14 Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs - AB
15 Rook - Shearwater

16 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
17 The Dead Will Walk, Dear - The National Lights
18 The Mask & The Mirror - Loreena McKennitt
19 Lullaby for Liquid Pig - Lisa Germano
20 I Am the Fun Blame Monster! - Menomena

Monday, April 5, 2010

Turning Your Orbit Around

Though I'm certainly a fan of planned aesthetic experiences - concerts, vinyl listening parties, etc. - the best ones occur when they ambush you. I'll be taking in the specter-like beauty of swamps on an October drive through southern Louisiana and then... bam! the opening measures of "Jesus, Etc." envelop the car as strings give way to Tweedy's insistence that our love is all we have. Or I'll be sitting in my monastic cell of a dorm room junior year of college, trying my best to finish a philosophy of science paper and then... bam! the first movement of Beethoven's Emperor piano concerto begins to converse with the breeze billowing in through the curtained window. It commands my full attention even as it encourages me to focus on the task at hand. Two years later I cannot for the life of me remember the topic of that science paper, but the 'wound of beauty' remains, and for that I give thanks.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Technical Issues

Sorry, folk(s). We're currently experiencing an excess of lethargy amongst a few key members of our group. We promise we'll have something up soon!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Golden Archipelago

Shearwater is my favourite band out there right now. I love every inch of their arty pretentious emotionally-fueled rock, and now we’ve found ourselves rewarded with their latest album, The Golden Archipelago.

2006’s Palo Santo was a raw affair, a concept album conceived by the band as they struggled to find their footing after Will Sheff’s exodus. While it featured what I believe to be the band’s strongest and most consistent lyrics, the sonic texture of the album was extremely uneven between the ambitious arrangements of the five standout tracks (1, 2, 5, 8, 10) and the slower songs like Failed Queen and Nobody. This disparity was made more acute with the release of the deluxe edition in 2007, which featured vastly improved recordings of the five standout tracks.

I’ll stand by Palo Santo; it’s still my favourite, though it’s a flawed record. When I write stories I find they typically reflect the sentiments and emotional timbre of the music I’m most attached to at the moment. I wrote a series of short fictional “dreams” based on seven different faces of the Tarot, though as the writing progressed it became increasingly clear that Shearwater provided most of the inspiration for the work.

I came to Shearwater through their 2008 release Rook. Where Palo Santo was rough and course, Rook was as smooth as glass. I can’t name a single weak song on the album: each one is well-constructed and minutely refined, like a delicate piece of stained glass or an ice sculpture. The whole album swoops, flutters, dives, much like its namesake.

And while I found Rook to be technically satisfying, breathtaking, I couldn’t help but find the textured sound of Palo Santo more compelling. I’ll freely admit that Rook is the “better” album, but Palo Santo got under my skin in a thousand different ways, and each time I listened through I found something new, some lyrical hook or link I hadn’t found before.

So far I don’t know what to make of The Golden Archipelago. I do know that, from listening through it dozens of times, the album manages to hone the band’s sound. The raw energy of Palo Santo meets the careful construction of Rook. The sonic landscape of the album is entirely new as well. Palo Santo sounded like an undercover transmission from across enemy lines in some war-torn wasteland, replete with an unsettling feedback interference that pervaded every track. The album is uncomfortable in every respect. Rook took me north to a landscape of craggy glaciers and moonlit wastes. The waterphone “South Col” impresses the image of a graveyard of wrecked ships captured in the ice, the wind scratching across their hollow shells. Take a look at Kahn & Selesnick’s most recent project, Eisbergfriestadt (from which the cover image was taken) and you’ll get a clearer sense of the sonic landscape Shearwater are building.

The Golden Archipelago journeys south to the Pacific. The album hits you like the swelling of some huge wave: the sea, the storms and the tide create the heartbeat of the album, which is warm where Rook was cold, welcoming where Palo Santo was alienating. Like Rook, The Golden Archipelago is all about the narrative and emotion, less about the strength of the individual songs, though each song possesses a singular and unique effect as each one did in Palo Santo. I can’t pick a single song I don’t like. That said, I’ve yet to be impacted by the lyrical content.

Having grown up in Nabire, a small town on the beaches of Western New Guinea, I find the album’s approach to be quite powerful. The Papuans, descendents of the Aborigines, have found their freedom hounded away by the constant press of the Indonesian military. As a people their very identities are being auctioned off to machine gun carbines and motorcycle smoke. Songs like “Uniforms” and “Runners of the Sun” embody the steady attrition of this people’s way of life. It’s an album of unimaginable scope and scale—encompassing every facet of the landscape I grew to love, from the slow moving glaciers up in the mountains to the humid chokehold of sea level. And always the sensation of wind and rain, the images of the sea woven throughout, the devastation of the tidal wave and the fury of a volcanic eruption.

Yeah, I’m all about the hyperbole. Shearwater invites these images, though. I remember when I first introduced my friend Josh to the band on the floor of my parents’ basement in Colorado (“La Dame et Licorne” from Palo Santo) he got this far away look in his eyes and told me this was the band he’d been looking for. Fire and water and earth and wind: it had them all. Shearwater gives voice to the unspoken fury and serenity of the natural world, a rage in the face of all we’ve taken for granted in the day-to-day ho hum of concrete suburban/urban life. Take this band up the mountainside or into the blanketing quiet of your bedroom and you’ll find yourself transported to a world with its own mythology and a pulse all its own.


An Insular Life (My current favourite on the album--a dark little short story of sorts, all of it midtempo and very restrained)

PS: For Golden Archipelago lyrics, check out my blog. They're quite poetic.

Friends, Romans, Fellow Aesthetes . . .

We are three people who love music.  We write about the music we love and why we love it.  

Barbara coined the term "Aesthetic Experience".  It sounds kind of lofty, but for her it's an everyday occurrence--a moment when the music intrudes from the background and takes over.  Duke and Steve have adopted the term as well, though not without smiling when they say it.

We all love different things about the music we love.  Sometimes these differences have brought us close to the point of exchanging blows.  But we all recognize that, no matter much we may think we know about music, no matter how on top of the scene we may think we are, what it really comes down to each of us is that aesthetic experience.  It's very personal and very subjective. 

This blog is an attempt to share that personal, subjective experience of music with others.  We realize that even though we all have these experiences, we rarely talk about them.  Well, we will here,, with one another and hopefully with readers.  So join the conversation!