Song obsessions are those songs that get stuck in your head. This series of posts isn’t about what I or the other panel members think is best, but what our brain latches onto, those ear worms that loop around and around in your head.
I’ve been enjoying the Tyler Lyle album so when I saw this new song, recorded quickly while waiting at a restaurant for brunch, on Fuel/ Friends, I listened to it posthaste. And, wow, it’s good. A really lovely melody, a compelling arrangement, and name-checking Keirkegaard without sounding pretentious. I only wish winter would have lasted a little longer so I could really get the full effect of this song.
Just a song that brings back the moments when I started to really hear the style of ‘folk’ music that Justin Vernon made popular a few years back. Not that it sounds like Bon Iver specifically, but that style of vocal delivery with guitar strumming is just so damn catchy that you can’t get it out of your head. It has been a few months now, but it sounds fresh each time I listen…which is often. There are a few similar tracks on his album over at his bandcamp that are a must hear.
I’m actually more than a little obsessed with the whole album (Myth, released 2/28, and it really feels like an album, not just a collection of songs). Something about the looping background vocals over the new-wavey-slow-dance synth drums made me keep listening to this one over and over.
In the Aeroplane over the Sea is an album of great importance–perhaps so Important that it needs to be capitalized–to me, as it is to many people, so you would think that I was unbelievably excited about this show in the days leading up to it.
I was excited but I tried to keep things realistic. Jeff Mangum is a guy that wrote some songs–they happen to be very very good songs–but they’re still just songs. I read some reports from earlier shows and it seemed like he might not actually be every fan’s hermit-savior, despite how nice the mythology of that idea is.
Sanders Theatre is a 1166 capacity wooden theater inside Memorial Hall–a list of all the Harvard students to die in the Civil War is etched into the stone of the lobby–on Harvard’s campus. Completed in 1875, the wood has the weight of history in it; it also was built for an era prior to amplification and the natural acoustics of the space are pretty amazing.
During the time between the string quartet, the anticipation built up in the theater. With tickets selling out within a few minutes of going on sale six months ago, you knew the people in the theater were true fans, perhaps even in the original fanatical meaning. Minutes away, one of my and their favorite artists was coming out to play his first songs in the area since Neutral Milk Hotel’s July 24, 1998 show at the Middle East.
Mangum came out to thunderous applause with some people even giving him a standing ovation before he even played a single note. He sat down in a plain chair surrounded by four acoustic guitars and with a small music stand just to his right. Wearing a brown-and-white plaid shirt, brown corduroys and a black fisherman’s hat over his chin-length hair, he looked not too different from what he did thirteen years prior in the few promotional photos now floating around the internet.
As the applause died down, he started into the somber epic “Oh Comely”, which lasts 8+ minutes on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and ends with someone in the studio yelling “Holy Shit!” While the performance was immediately good–deft guitar playing and singing in a clear but slightly nasal voice–the expletives likely to be going through audience members’ heads was about seeing Jeff Mangum live rather than about this particular song.
That quickly changed for me on the second song, “Two Headed Boy, Part II.” On the album version (as well as some live versions like that on Live at Jittery Joe’s) he sings in a fragile, almost-broken voice which was lacking on Friday, which left me initially disappointed, but by the time he sings “In my dreams you’re alive and crying// As your mouth moves in mine soft and sweet” I had chills and I was forgetting any comparisons to the album.
Much like the rest of the night, the end of the song was met with a loud round of applause and shouts which seemed to bring out a big grin on Mangum’s face.
After a disappointing miss with the Roky Erickson cover “I Love the Living You”, he invited the audience to sing along to “In the Aeroplane over the Sea”. In a cathartic moment for me and likely many others, we sang along, knowing all the lyrics notes and inflections by heart. (We even sang the fluegelhorn solo later in the song.)
A man from the balcony yelled “I can now die happy!” Mangum had him repeat it twice more, apparently not able to hear him. After considering for a moment, he said he was singing well that night and that he could also die happy.
After the On Avery Island opener “Song About Sex”, he played another track from that album, “Baby for Pree”. With some feedback and some issues with too much reverb on the vocals, the sound hadn’t been perfect all night, but it reached a new low during this song when the microphone cut out immediately. Jeff turned this potential problem into perhaps one of the most awesome moments of the night, walking to the front of the stage while continuing to play, taking a knee and finishing the song unamplified. The acoustics of the hall proved to be excellent as I could hear clearly from my 3rd-to-last-row seat in the balcony.
The set continued. He played a long-time favorite “Naomi” and had us sing along at the end of “Gardenhead”. “King of Carrot Flowers, Parts I-III” quickly became a singalong, with more people in the 20s and 30s hipster set heartily singing ‘I Love You Jesus Christ’ than has probably been seen in a long time. He finished the set with the favorite “Holland, 1945″ which lacked a little bit of the urgency (and all of the distortion) of the recording, but still sounded great.
After leaving the stage and a short amount of booming applause, he returned to play “Holland, 1945″‘s b-side, “Engine”. Then he left the stage again to loud applause.
He obviously hadn’t planned on playing a second encore, but the applause continued. After a few minutes, they brought up the house lights. The applause continued. After a couple more minutes, they started playing some music over the house speakers. The applause continued. It continued, in fact, till Mangum probably had few other options but to return to the stage.
He grabbed his chair and a guitar and brought them to the front of the stage to play a song unamplified. The audience’s focus was intense as he played “Two Headed Boy”. People sang along but quietly. Even in the balcony I could hear his voice ringing out with a supporting chorus of a thousand fans all pleading a surreal story of freaks and sex and love and World War II atrocities. Getting quiet to hear the end, Mangum told us “sing it” and we did. “Dah dee dah dee dee dee// Dee dee dah dee dee dee dee deee// Dee dee dah dee dee dee dee dee deee.” And then we walked into the night, hearts swollen and satisfied, seeing the moon a bit bigger and the sky a bit closer.
Jeff Mangum @ Sanders Theatre, September 9, 2011 setlist:
Two Headed Boy, Part II
I Love the Living You (Roky Erickson cover)
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (singalong)
Song About Sex
Baby for Pree/ Glow Into You (finished unamplified after mic went out)
Ghost (singalong at the end)
King of Carrot Flowers, Parts I-III (singalong)
Two Headed Boy (unamplified, singalong)
Here’s a video of the second encore from this show. Definitely worth watching.
If you haven’t heard, a vinyl box set with all of the release Neutral Milk Hotel along with 16 unreleased tracks will be out in November. (The unreleased tracks will also be available for digital download.) You can pre-order it now (and hear an unreleased track) at the Neutral Milk Hotel website.
The recently reunited Archers of Loaf (myspace) played on Jimmy Fallon last Friday. I haven’t found a late night performance so inspiring in a long time. It makes me want to play in a rock band. Thrash around on guitar. Or bass. Write cryptic lyrics about life and girls. Jump up and down. Yell so hard at the mic that spit flies everywhere. Do sweet air kicks. Turn turmoil into distortion and distortion into music.
First is a video from Zambia. Traditional guitar and vocals with adorable kids and grandmas dancing and singing along. Take note that the (homemade?) guitar has bottle caps attached to give a buzzing quality to the sound. That buzzing timbre is common to African music, but it’s most common in West Africa.
Fool’s Gold is possibly just another white American group using African idioms in their music, but I have to say they do it really well. I love the track, but not this particular video. Good thing there’s another video of a hot live version at KEXP. I love it when they put the song into overdrive at the end.
Ghanan-American MC m.anifest now lives in Minneapolis. I believe the above video, though, was filmed in his native Accra. Gorgeous visuals and solid rhymes over a laid back beat make for a really enjoyable video.
Tuks aka Tuks Senganga (previously mentioned) is my favorite South African rapper. I’d never seen the above video until today. Sweeping and bleak-but-yet-hopeful views of Johanesburg (or ‘Jozi’) mix well with the amalgamation of compelling English and Setswana vocals make for a great video.
One may wonder how I’m so lucky. I often wonder the same thing. A great going away party has all your friends, plenty of good conversation, and maybe some beer if you’re into that sort of thing. Add to that an intimate, acoustic performance by one of your favorite musicians and it’s really hard to describe how amazing the outcome is.
John Vanderslice (myspace) did just that for my going away part. He and Jamie Riotto (on upright bass) played about an hour with no mics or amplification whatsoever. The gathered audience, sitting on the floor of my cleared out Mission apartment, was entranced. There was hardly a sound except for thunderous applause and “woos!” after each and every song. Figuring that the effect of having this show in my own apartment and for me had skewed my perspective, I said to a number of people afterwards “that was pretty good, right?” Every single one of them corrected me: “No, that was amazing.”
Thanks, JV, for making it a wonderful evening an unforgettable one. And if you were in the audience, thanks for coming. These videos and photos don’t do it justice, but they’re something I’d like to share here anyway.
Volcano Choir is a side project of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. This track was not what I expected, but it’s quite catchy/ good. And Justin’s vocals are wonderful as always. Volcano Choir – Island, IS (mp3)
Soul Sides has been posting some fantastic stuff lately and you’d be remiss to not check it out. Bobby Freeman’s “Good Good Lovin'” is a classic blues-based, Motown-sound track with a hard driving sax part. They posted two tracks by the Metros and both are excellent soul tracks, but I like the dark, swaggering “Since I Found My Baby” better.
And, finally, if I’m posting, I feel it’s my duty to mention the great KevvyKev’s (one of KZSU’s own) 25th anniversary Bang the Drum concert with 25 DJs and 25 MCs. It’s definitely another impressive line up. Check out all the details.
Here are a bunch of links and thoughts and things that have come up over the last few days.
Yup, Michael Jackson died. I’ve been pondering whether to post about it. If you want a proper tribute and a truly excellent MJ mix, head to Soul Sides.
I think something that people do realize and what I think is most amazing is that Jackson holds the record for best selling album of all time by a factor of >2X. That is, if the second best selling album ever (Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon and AC/DC Back in Black) sold twice as many records as they ever had, Thriller would still beat them by 20 million units. And with the way that record industry is going, I doubt that record will ever be broken. It had seven top 10 singles on it. You can say what you want about radio payola and major labels force-feeding people music, but I doubt a single record will ever capture so many people’s attention again.
Here’s a nice post with reminiscences by engineers and producers that worked with MJ. It gives a bit more insight into the musician Jackson was.
Ali Akbar Khan also died last week. He was one of the foremost proponents and teachers of classical music of North India. A master of the sarod, Khansahib was recognized, along with Ravi Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee, as having been instrumental in bringing Indian music to the west. The Ali Akbar Khan College of Music was local here in San Rafael and Khansahib lived locally so this is also a great blow to the local music community.
Listen to this beautiful piece that really shows his mastery of the sarod.
Finally, I don’t really get ripping on P4k. I don’t really pay attention to much that they do anymore (except for their news section), but Popsense took a different take: they reviewed every thing Pitchfork did for a day. Their final rating? 6.7. Pretty well done.
Song obsessions are those songs that we listen to on repeat. I noticed that my obsessions are often a week long. I also thought that other people might have similar obsessions. I’ve collected a panel of a few like-minded individuals and gotten their “song obsessions of the week.” Quite often it’s easy to explain why the song is good; it’s much hard to explain why we’re obsessed. Maybe you’ll become obsessed with one of these.
While I’m still listening to that Adele song a lot, this video–or really the audio from the video, as I rarely actually stare at the video while it’s playing–has caught my attention big time. (And it’s caught at least one other panelist’s attention; see below). I loved when he did a version of “Too Much Time” like this in January but with the studio version more prominent in my head, the magic of the orchestral version had faded in my mind.
I’m so glad this captures something like what that concert felt like.
So many fantastic lines in this loopy lead-off to their most sublime pleasure, Ill Communication. Donâ€™t know if the Rod Carew or grey hairs references are my favorite, but with the new Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 movie coming I definitely recommend resisting the Tony Scott urge and seeing the original.
I’ve been obsessed with Other Lives and their self-titled album for a few months now, but their trip into the studio for our recent live session took me to stalker level. “Paper Cities” is one of my favorite tracks from the session and the album. I’m a little shocked we’re not seeing more buzz about them on the blogs.
[see video above]
I had heard the album version (above) before and really liked it, but there’s just something about this that really grabbed me. The string arrangement, drum, and even JV’s delivery add so much energy that it feels like a completely different song, it’s almost cinematic. I’ve definitely been walking around humming this one.
You may remember my crush of a little band called Fanfarlo (myspace) out of England. I may have have mentioned them a few other times as well. Last week, their debut album, Reservoir, got released, though it’s still in limited quantities, it looks like.
What can I say about this band? Sitting somewhere between the sweet emotional pop songs of Belle & Sebastian and the crescendo-filled orchestrated rock songs of the Arcade Fire, the band makes fun but nuanced songs that are filled with hooks while managing to not be too saccharine. They also put on a great live show as evidenced by the last twoSxSWs. This year they filled the Central Presbyterian Church with gorgeous songs.
Reservoir has a number of tracks from previous EPs and singles (including some that I raved about previously) as well as a few new songs. The older songs were rerecorded for this album so it has a consistent aesthetic to it. But enough from me, just check out these songs.
Brian Williams interviewed Deer Tick in the first of ‘BriTunes’–yes, the real name. Once you get past the shock of it–is it a good interview? No, not really. I’m sure they’ll get better as Williams realizes bands shouldn’t be interviewed like they’re a cabinet member.
Daytrotter has a set with J Tillman. It was recorded at SxSW and contains a number of song he was playing a lot around then, including the lovely solo version of “Master’s House”. I also found an interesting profile of him in the LA Times.