Some bands you should check out

Horse to Water is the soulful project of someone I've known for awhile but in a very different, non-musical context. So this is, of course, a pleasant surprise. There is a great deal of range in Joe's work. I can't decide which I like best: the folksy Americana or the quicker-paced songs with bits of distortion. Either way, check out his website and stream some songs.

On a similar note, two bands from 307 Knox Records:
Humble Tripe's Counting Stars features a gorgeous layering of the harmonica and an acoustic guitar with a quick enough tempo to balance out the forlorn, but smart, lyrics. The band, originating from Durham, NC, has a vocalist who sounds like a cross between Natalie Merchant, Bob Dylan, and Sam Beam. Serendipitously, I listened to this album while driving back from a recent trip to Durham, and it was the perfect soundtrack to the passing landscapes.

Humble Tripe: Traveled

Birds and Arrows joins a long list of married-partner duos that I enjoy, like Mates of State and the Submarines but with a distinctly southern warble. Their album, Starmaker, is nothing if not earnest. The complexity of all of the production techniques make it sound as if there is a soundtrack of rain showers and slow, sad violins playing in the background of two lovers singing one another throaty songs.

Birds and Arrows: Starmaker


this may be my second greatest (band) crush of all time

If my beloved Magnetic Fields did not exist (which is both a blasphemous and terrifying thought, I know), I would be totally content with listening to Cataldo's Signal Flare, which I wrote about last week-ish, all the time, over and over, until the end of time. You can stream it from the website but you really should buy it, sing along, and give in to being utterly taken with it, because you will be. And I'm not just saying that because there is a tall, bearded man involved. Okay, maybe it has a little bit to do with that, but it is also because I am completely dismantled by this album in a way that I haven't been in a long time.

Streetlight Manifesto: "Julio"

Apparently Victory Records is giving them the runaround, so they've posted the first single from the new album online.

Listen to it here.


The Magnetic Fields, Town Hall, NYC, 3/10/10

I planned a whole trip around seeing this show, because if I hadn't, it would have been the first time in nearly a decade that I hadn't seen The Magnetic Fields tour. This month also marks a decade since I finished buying 69 Love Songs. Having grown up in a small town without a record store, I had to save up my money and get someone to drive me all the way to the Virgin Megastore in a nearby megamall. I bought the set in 3 installations, though my introduction to the band had been through "Busby Berkeley Dreams," on vol. 3, heard on a college radio show when I was 13. Over the next year or so, I caught up on buying all of the earlier albums (at the Virgin Megastore), and the rest is history.

Getting to the venue was a bit tricky because I was staying in Union Square and when I got off of the subway, Times Square was blocked off for a Black Eyed Peas concert. There were a lot of disorienting, flashing lights and so forth, but I decided to believe that they were indeed prophecying how good my night was going to be. After making it around the block, I hung out a bit in front of the venue until they let us in.

Luckily, I had entered on the side next to the merch table, and so I saw Mike and Emma immediately and had a good chat about travel and previous shows and the Strange Powers documentary. Apparently, my outfit was also orch-folk approved by Emma, who is herself an adorable creature.

The lights at Town Hall went down at exactly 8 p.m. Laura Barrett, the opener, was gorgeous. She thanked the Black Eyed Peas for opening for her (haha) and played an instrument that I could not quite identify. It was either an mpc or some sort of stringed instrument in a box that is played with the thumbs. I quite enjoyed her song/commercial jingle about the robot pony.

After an intermission, The Magnetic Fields emerged, all of them looking quite demure. Stephin, in his usual brown and beige palette and tiny ukulele , sat next to Sam Davol, who is kind of a fox and whose face I can never forget from the 69 Love Songs album art. John Woo, with his acoustic guitar, sat between Sam and Claudia, who played a keyboard. Finally, the lovely Shirley Simms sat at the end with another instrument that I am having trouble naming. Some sort of lap harp perhaps?

I was sitting in the stage right orchestra at this point, and while I had a view, it wasn't a great one. Stephin noticed that the first two rows were empty and asked people to come sit in them. And so I found myself at Shirley's feet, close enough to see the details on everyone's shoes. Sitting that close to one's favorite band (after a week of seeing a number of other nostalgia-inducing things) is so overwhelming. I cried through nearly every song while grinning widely. A few times, Stephin looked straight at me and I tried to crack a smile, but surely looked somewhat deranged with my tear-stained eyes.

Before I go through the set list, I should share the best banter of the night:
Stephin: "How about those...sports teams?" And then he mumbled a bunch of sports-related words like "semifinals," "triple hitter," and I don't remember what else because I was too busy laughing. Stephin took out some sort of sheet of paper with sports statistics on it and started reading them, and Sam took it away and put it under his seat.

Anyway, the show itself went like this:
1. Lindy-lou (The 6ths)
2. You Must be Out of Your Mind
3. The One You Really Love
4. Interlude
5. You and Me and the Moon (There were a lot of songs from Get Lost on this setlist, which made me happy to no end. Also, Stephin dubbed this song "yet another song about threesomes with inanimate objects")
6. Better Things
7. Falling in Love With The Wolfboy
8. I Don't Want to Get Over You
9. I'm Sorry I Love You
10. Acoustic Guitar (with Claudia sounding better than ever)
11. Nun's Litany (Shirley)
12. I Don't Know What to Say
13. Night Falls Like a Grand Piano (The 6ths)
14. Falling Out of Love With You (The 6ths)


15. Kiss Me Like You Mean It (Shirley's twang was so good on this one)
16. We Are Having a Hootenanny (at which point, I realized how funny they look on stage with all of those instruments)
17. All the Umbrellas in London (triple swoon--it was a bit slower and more sad than in the recorded version)
18. Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget
19. The Dolls' Tea Party (probably the orch-folkiest song of the whole set, in its adorable, whimsical way. why do people always say this is a throwaway song on Realism?)
20. I Don't Really Love You Anymore (the humor really came out in this one because the vocals were so clear)
21. Always Already Gone (I don't remember when the banter was, but at some point Claudia started dedicating songs to professors at NYU and Columbia and Stephin was like, no, this song is not dedicated to anyone. I went to NYU. Which maybe explains the Derrida reference. At any rate, the crowd laughed and Stephin had to stick a finger in his ear).
22. Walk a Lonely Road (this was so perfect with the next song, and struck me as kind of a corollary to 'Born on A Train,' as well)
23. Fear of Trains (all of the songs from Charm of the Highway Strip were so delightfully twangy)
24. Summer Lies (I can't remember who did vocals on this one, but I am inclined to say it was Stephin)
25. From a Sinking Boat

26. I'm Tongue Tied
27. 100,000 Fireflies (such a perfect end to the night)

Overall, I was really happy about how much of the pre-no-synth stuff made an appearance (and how well the band adapted using the cello, to be honest). There is a great set of photos over at Brooklyn Vegan and some more on the aforementioned TMF tour blog (where you can also see a picture of Claudia with Paul Rudd, who I somehow managed to miss seeing).

After the show, we went to Serendipity where I nearly ate a huge bowl of cheesecake, strawberry ice cream, and fresh strawberries before it utterly defeated me.

Seriously, best week of my life. Thanks to all involved for making it possible.


Cataldo: Signal Flare

My favorite poem by Bertolt Brecht, called "Motto," reads,

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

I linger in the space of these verses often; it is a place in which language is subtle and yet, somehow boldly self-conscious, where the enormous weight of darkness is almost crushing and, yet, there is a courageous chorus of voices articulating an authentic, painful, affective experience while enmeshed with the sad and beautiful idealism of what could be. Every sung song inks the air in shimmering, dark gold.

Occupying this place is always elating but becomes immensely satisfying when the song that you hear is one that speaks a language that only you and your aural interlocutor(s) seem destined to understand. Cataldo's Signal Flare finally made it to the top of my listening pile today while I was in exactly this place. There isn't anything particularly revolutionary here--both in the productive sense and in the Brechtian. Somewhere, though, the earnestness of an album so well composed and crafted crosses over from the poetic to the mythical, and at the threshold of that crossing over, shimmers magically. I have listened to the album three times in the last hour, and still find myself stuck in the daze that I entered about halfway through "Tendon Skin."

The last time I remember feeling this way was on the first spin through Holiday, which, similarly is a collection of songs that emerge gloriously (but with tinges of irony) from a tragic darkness with which you would have to be familiar to even decipher the traces of. It is the darkness from which a song like "6'6"" emerges: "I'm taking all my underwear/and sewing up the flies like they were tears./What does this brain wonder? What does this head care/ if it's lower body isn't even there?"

I need to mull over this one awhile longer, given the blogging massive backlog (have I even seriously written about Realism yet? I can't even remember). But, I will tell you that when I read the liner notes, where a special thanks extends to Stephin Merritt, I almost cried. In a brief exchange a few weeks ago, Eric told me that he borrowed a lot of production ideas from 69 Love Songs, but I feel like this album is lyrically closer, if anything else. Can't you imagine Stephin writing something like,

"'The Past' are just two words
for things we can't undo.
So when they're fixed the old it becomes new.
I won't be obtuse:
it feels like you got an acey from a deuce,
to make the grayest skin turn chartreuse."


"My fingers trace your back's outline,
No tattoos, just clean skin on which I can write
thick letters, an X you don't have to sign"


"We were burning boys and girls
with sweaty hands and sticky hair in disarray."

Before I gush to the point of embarassment, I will also say that Tim Kasher should officially cover this entire album. Or amend The Good Life's Album of the Year to at least include the Cataldo song, "Signal Flare."