January, 2011 Archives

31
Jan

Fleet or Out-Foxed?

by Lefort in Music

Fleet Foxes

Critics slobbered all over the Fleet Foxes’ first album that was released in 2008 (Pitchfork even made the album its “Album of the Year”–gads).  Though the album had its moments (and they separately released at least one beauty of a song, Mykonos), after being bored to tears repeatedly when watching them on the talk-shows and in various formats, we wrote the band off until “next time.”  One of the main Fleet ones, Robin Pecknold, didn’t help matters much with his self-indulgent solo opening set for Joanna Newsom at the Lobero this past summer.

And now “next time” is upon us.  The Fleet Foxes next record, “Helplessness Blues,” is due to be released on May 3 by Sub Pop.  The band also announced that they will tour for the first time in two years, including a stop at the Hollywood Palladium on May 7th.

You can listen to and download the title track via the image below.  To our ears, while pleasant enough, the song doesn’t break any new musical ground.  And despite a decent “message” the lyrics are mostly treacly and fatuous (read:  more of the same).  Take, for example:  “like a snowflake, distinct amongst snowflakes, unique in each way you can see.”  Really????  Indeed, but you might want to keep that to yourself.

But that’s just us talkin’ over here at Lefort.  Perhaps the rest of the record will overcome this first reaction.  Listen in yourself, and let us know what you think.


29
Jan

Iron & Wine at the Wiltern 1/26/11

by Lefort in Music

We rolled down the 101 on Wednesday to the Wiltern to take in Iron & Wine in concert for the first time.  Like many, we’ve been spirited away by this “band” since their first record (“The Creek Drank the Cradle”) was released in 2002 on the prescient Sub Pop label.  Despite efforts to the contrary, we had never been able to catch Sam Beam and his entourage-of-one (or more) in a live setting until this night.  This was the second night of a sold-out, two-night stand at the Wiltern in LA, one of only two U.S. cities (NYC being the other) to be graced by the band before they head off to Europe to tour in support of their new record, “Kiss Each Other Clean.”

Like many in the audience (one of the most respectful, though ardent, audiences in recent memory), we were there to hear the songs performed live that have been burned into our minds and hearts from that first record forward–songs with carefully-crafted lyrics and hum-worthy melodies.   The original one-man-band of Sam Beam has grown since that first record from guy-and-guitar to legitimate large-band, and in large part the 11-member Iron & Wine did not disappoint at the Wiltern.  Beam and the band have evolved over time from hushed solo singing to a more dynamic and varied sound, that evolution beginning with the comparatively hi-fi second record, “Our Endless Numbered Days,” then progressing further with 2007’s varied and Waits-ian, “The Shepherd’s Dog,” and finally breaking more barriers with the new record, “Kiss Each Other Clean.”  Though Iron & Wine throws in some serious twists and turns on the new record (Caribbean, Motown, 70’s rock and dub reggae elements are added to the mix and embellished with horns and synths), Beam hasn’t gone to Adz-ian extremes like Sufjan, and his lyrics, stories and vocals are largely still intimate, aching and haunting, filled as they are with romanticism and Biblical iconography.  We have marveled over the years at his ever-evocative lyrics, the art of which goes unabated on the new record (a few of our favorite Iron & Wine stanzas are set forth at the end of this post since they are worthy of reading if you haven’t).

The band immediately drew the audience (including Scarlett Johannson–oh we are feeling so TMZ here at Lefort) in by starting off their set small, with just Beam on acoustic guitar, a mandolin/banjo player, a keyboard player, and backup vocals (the perfect Rosie Thomas and Marketa Irglova–the latter of Swell Seasons/Once film fame).  The small group matched the intimate opening sounds well as the audience sampled its first taste of Beam’s valid vocals, including a newly-added high-howl-away-from-the-microphone effect that was striking and effective.  And we all leaned in to grasp our favorite lyrical moments and resonant storylines.

Beam began this small-group segment with a number of older songs, including He Lays in the Reins and crowd-favorite Naked as We Came (in which two lovers grapple with their inevitable mortality), before moving to the new album’s Big Burned Hand and Godless Brothers of Love, and then returning to older songs Bird Stealing Bread and Teeth in the Grass. These older songs were given new arrangements which added complexity to the originals, all of which was well-received by the crowd.  But it was the lyrics and singing which drew us further in, with lyrics like the following from the new Big Burned Hand that rendered the audience rapt:

“When the arrogant goddess of love came to steal my shoes
She had a white-hot pistol and a homemade heart tattoo
Singing, ‘one’s to give and one’s to take away,
But neither of them will keep you off your knees’
Her children bowed and bolted off the stage
While the lion and the lamb kept fighting for the shade tree.”

Throughout the evening, Sam was greeted by loud cheers mixed with good-natured heckling, and Beam deflected the heckling in a relaxed, ingratiating manner.  When Sam asked if the audience had attended the prior night’s show, an audience member jokingly yelled out that Sam better do a better job, and Beam just smiled and reassured the audience that he’d try. He later commended the balcony for not being afraid of heights. When certain songs were called for from the audience Beam patiently grinned and said he didn’t “want to let the cat out of the bag, just yet.”  Throughout  he was conversational and clever, and in short order we all just wanted to buy him a glass of the red and have a good chat.  But after a while, as nice as he was, we grew somewhat tired of the banter and wished, given the breadth of his discography, that he had spent less time talking and more time singing more songs.  We admit being greedy.

At the end of the small-group segment,  we sensed that the crowd was drifting a bit despite the band’s mesmerizing delivery on Teeth In The Grass.  Fortunately, Sam shored up the proceedings by adding to the band’s ranks with a three-member horn section, bass and drums.  The crowd’s interest renewed, Beam used the larger-band to great effect with a rousing reading of the new Tree By The River.  For better and worse, this was not the same old (Iron &) wine.  The big band brought some funk and 70s sounds to the proceedings and, get this, this Iron & Wine audience was seen to (gasp) dance and rock a bit.  The horns and drums, and altered arrangements, lent some new life to old favorites like “Boy With a Coin” and “Cinder and Smoke.”  Fortunately, Beam is less mischievous and more-respectful of his fans than Dylan circa Rolling-Thunder-Revue, so the songs were still recognizable and hummable.  But if we had one particular complaint it is that the bigger sound dilutes some of the emotional wallop and confessional tone of the old stripped-down Iron & Wine settings.  Like seeing Sufjan this past Fall when he purposely left out his old banjo-and-hush songs, at times this night we yearned to just have Sam by his lonesome with solo guitar (perhaps with one background vocalist).  We understand, though, the need for artists to evolve and stave off the crushing boredom of singing the same song in the same fashion for the thousandth time.  So the old-school fans may have been somewhat disappointed by the big band, but in general we laud and respect the new tact from Iron & Wine.

With all of these thoughts rumbling ’round our graying gray-matter, and Sam having apparently read our minds, for the encore Beam came back out solo with only his steel-stringed guitar and proceeded to overwhelm us with one of his finest songs, The Trapeze Swinger.  We’ve never heard such a quiet Wiltern crowd, and we all sat enthralled by the storyline and sheer poetry of this song.  Sam began appropriately plaintive, while singing his request to another that they “please remember me fondly.” But in short order he gathered momentum in telling “that the pearly gates had some eloquent graffiti like ‘We’ll meet again’ and ‘Fuck the man,’ and ‘Tell my mother not to worry.'” Sam described the eloquent graffiti in earnest, giving one the sense that these pearly gates may have been tagged by those that were rebuffed from entry and intimating that we all are trapeze-ing between our own heavens and hells.  And so the audience trapezed with Beam throughout the near-nine minutes of this powerful song.

This was the Iron & Wine that we had come to hear in all its (his) glory.  A man, a guitar and some of the best songs ever written.  Done, Sam.  We will remember you and this evening fondly. 

You can see the encore in all its glory at the link below, followed by a fine Austin City Limits version:

Also check out this intimate duet courtesy of the great Daytrotter:

http://www.daytrotter.com/vi/iron-and-wine-concert-video/1002675.html

Below is the band’s set list, followed by a translation thereof, and our favorite stanzas.

He Lays in the Reins

Naked as We Came

Big Burned Hand

Godless Brothers of Love

Bird Stealing Bread

Teeth in the Grass

Tree By the River

Love and Some Verses

House by the Sea

Monkeys Uptown

Sodom, South Georgia

Carousel

Boy With a Coin

Me and Lazarus

Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car

Cinder and Smoke

Encore:

The Trapeze Swinger


Some of our favorite Iron & Wine stanzas:

Two Hungry Blackbirds

Spoke to a mother whose baby drowned
Gave me advice, or a rumor she once heard:
“Heaven’s a distance, not a place,”

The Trapeze Swinger

But please, remember me fondly
I heard from someone you’re still pretty
And then they went on to say
That the pearly gates
Had some eloquent graffiti
Like “We’ll meet again” and “Fuck the man”
And “Tell my mother not to worry”
And angels with their great handshakes
Were always done in such a hurry

So please, remember me mistakenly
In the window of the tallest tower
Calling passers-by but much too high
To see the empty road at happy hour
Gleam and resonate, just like the gates
Around the holy kingdom
With words like “Lost and found” and “Don’t look down”
And “Someone save temptation”

And please, remember me seldomly
In the car behind the carnival
My hand between your knees, you turned from me
And said, “The trapeze act was wonderful
But never meant to last”, the clown that passed
Saw me just come up with anger
When it filled with circus dogs, the parking lot
Had an element of danger

Carousel

Almost home and got lost on our new street
While your grieving girls all died in their sleep so the dogs all went unfed
A great dream of bones all piled on the bed
And the cops couldn’t care
When that crackhead built a boat
And said, “Please, before I go,
May our only honored bond
Be the kinship of the kids in the riot squad”

Lion’s Mane

run like a race for family
when you hear like you’re alone
the rusty gears of morning
and faceless, busy phones
we gladly run in circles
but the shape we meant to make is gone

and love is a tired symphony
you hum when you’re awake
and love is a crying baby
mama warned you not to shake
and love’s the best sensation
hiding in the lion’s mane

so i’ll clear the road, the gravel
and the thornbush in your path
that burns a scented oil
that i’ll drip into your bath
the water’s there to warm you
and the earth is warmer when you laugh

and love is the scene i render
when you catch me wide awake
and love is the dream you enter
though i shake & shake & shake you
and love’s the best endeavor
waiting in the lion’s mane

Upward Over the Mountain

mother don’t worry, i killed the last snake that lived in the creek bed
mother don’t worry, i’ve got some money i save for the weekend
mother remember being so stern with that girl who was with me?
mother remember the blink of an eye when i breathed through your body?

so may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
sons are like birds flying upward over the mountain

mother i made it up from the bruise of a floor of this prison
mother i lost it, all of the fear of the Lord i was given
mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to
mother forgive me, i sold your car for the shoes that i gave you

so may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
sons are like birds flying upward over the mountain

mother don’t worry, i’ve got a coat & some friends on the corner
mother don’t worry, she’s got a garden we’re planting together
mother remember the night that the dog had her pups in the pantry?
blood on the floor & the fleas on their paws
and you cried ’til the morning

so may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
sons are like birds flying upward over the mountain

Passing Afternoon

There are times that walk from you like some passing afternoon
Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon
And she chose a yard to burn but the ground remembers her
Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms

There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she’s chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from the piles of fallen leaves

There are sailing ships that pass all our bodies in the grass
Springtime calls her children until she let’s them go at last
And she’s chosen where to be, though she’s lost her wedding ring
Somewhere near her misplaced jar of Bougainvillea seeds

There are things we can’t recall, Blind as night that finds us all
Winter tucks her children in, her fragile china dolls
But my hands remember hers, rolling around the shaded ferns
Naked arms, her secrets still like songs I’d never learned

There are names across the sea, only now I do believe
Sometimes, with the window closed, she’ll sit and think of me
But she’ll mend his tattered clothes and they’ll kiss as if they know
A baby sleeps in all our bones, so scared to be alone

Resurrection Fern

In our days, we will live like our ghosts will live
Pitching glass at the cornfield crows and folding clothes
Like stubborn boys across the road, we’ll keep everything
Grandma’s gun and the black bear claw that took her dog
And when Sister Lowery says “amen”, we won’t hear anything
The ten-car train will take that word, that fledgling bird
And the fallen house across the way, it’ll keep everything
The baby’s breath, our bravery wasted and our shame

And we’ll undress beside the ashes of the fire
Both our tender bellies wound in baling wire
All the more a pair of underwater pearls
Than the oak tree and its resurrection fern

In our days, we will say what our ghosts will say
“We gave the world what it saw fit and what’d we get”
Like stubborn boys with big green eyes, we’ll see everything
In the timid shade of the autumn leaves and the buzzard’s wing

And we’ll undress beside the ashes of the fire
Our tender bellies wound around in baling wire
All the more, a pair of underwater pearls
Than the oak tree and its resurrection fern

Sodom, South Georgia

Papa died smiling
Wide as the ring of a bell
Gone all star white
Small as a wish in a well
And Sodom, South Georgia
Woke like a tree full of bees
Buried in Christmas
Bows and a blanket of weeds

Papa died Sunday and I understood
All dead white boys say, “God is good”
White tongues hang out, “God is good”

Papa died while my
Girl Lady Edith was born
Both heads fell like
Eyes on a crack in the door
And Sodom, South Georgia
Slept on an acre of bones
Slept through Christmas
Slept like a bucket of snow

Papa died Sunday and I understood
All dead white boys say, “God is good”
White tongues hang out, “God is good”

THE TRAPEZE SWINGER

please remember me, happily
by the rosebush laughing
with bruises on my chin, the time when
we counted every black car passing
your house beneath the hill, and up until
someone caught us in the kitchen
with maps, a mountain range, a piggy bank
a vision too removed to mention

but please remember me, fondly
i heard from someone you're still pretty
and then they went on to say that the Pearly Gates
had some eloquent graffiti
like: “we'll meet again” and “fuck the Man”
and “tell my mother not to worry”
and angels with their great handshakes
but always done in such a hurry

and please remember me, at Hallowe’en
making fools of all the neighbors
our faces painted white, by midnight
we'd forgotten one another
and when the morning came i was ashamed
only now it seems so silly
that season left the world and then returned
and now you're lit up by the city

so please remember me, mistakenly
in the window of the tallest tower
call, then pass us by, but much too high
to see the empty road at happy hour
gleam and resonate just like the gates
around the Holy Kingdom
with words like: “lost and found” and “don't look down”
and “someone save Temptation”

and please remember me as in the dream
we had as rug-burned babies
among the fallen trees and fast asleep
beside the lions and the ladies
that called you what you like and even might
give a gift for your behavior:
a fleeting chance to see a trapeze-
swinger high as any savior

but please remember me, my misery
and how it lost me all i wanted
those dogs that love the rain, and chasing trains
the colored birds above there running
in circles round the well, and where it spells
on the wall behind St. Peter's
so bright with cinder gray and spray paint:
“who the hell can see Forever?”

and please remember me, seldomly
in the car behind the carnival
my hand between your knees, you turn from me
and said the trapeze act was wonderful
but never meant to last, the clowns that passed
saw me just come up with anger
when it filled the circus dogs, the parking lot
had an element of danger

so please remember me, finally
and all my uphill clawing
my dear, but if i make the Pearly Gates
i’ll do my best to make a drawing
of God and Lucifer, a boy and girl
an angel kissin’ on a sinner
a monkey and a man, a marching band
all around the frightened trapeze-swinger

nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah …
25
Jan

America’s Poet Laureates, Finally Together

by Lefort in Poetry

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This is the beginning of what appears to be a great year for poetry in our lives.

Someone finally had the sense to gather in one compendium, the poems of all the American poets who have been appointed over the last 75 years to the office of “Poet Laureate.”  The sensible one here is Elizabeth Hun Schmidt, “Forwarded” and abetted by none other than justly-popular poet, Billy Collins (who held the Poet Laureate office from 2001 until 2003).  The book is a treasure trove for those who love American poetry (legions, I know).  The surprise is that the book, while presenting some of the best poetry by the normal suspects of 20th and 21st Century American poetry (Frost, Lowell, Bishop, Williams, Lowell, Kumin, Brodsky, Haas, Gluck, Pinsky, Merwin, etc.),  manages to introduce us to some great poetry from poets that were previously unfamiliar to us (we’re ashamed to admit: Kay Ryan, Rita Dove, Stephen Spender, Leonie Adams and Louise Bogan).

Below is a sampling of our favorites from this fine collection.  Please give a close read, and give poetry a chance to immeasurably illumine this life.

The first reminds us of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the Live Oak Festival and other enchanting environs where folk music flourishes.

Song from a Country Fair

by Léonie Adams

When tunes jigged nimbler than the blood
And quick and high the bows would prance
And every fiddle string would burst
To catch what’s lost beyond the string,
While half afraid their children stood,
I saw the old come out to dance.
The heart is not so light at first,
But heavy like a bough in spring.

Solitary Observation Brought Back from a Sojourn in Hell

by Louise Bogan

At midnight tears
Run in your ears.

Halley’s Comet

By Stanley Kunitz

Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there’d be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground’s edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
“Repent, ye sinners!” he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I’d share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family’s asleep
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.
Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street—
that’s where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I’m the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.

Daystar

by Rita Dove

She wanted a little room for thinking:
but she saw diapers steaming on the line,
a doll slumped behind the door.
So she lugged a chair behind the garage
to sit out the children’s naps

Sometimes there were things to watch–
the pinched armor of a vanished cricket,
a floating maple leaf. Other days
she stared until she was assured
when she closed her eyes
she’d only see her own vivid blood.

She had an hour, at best, before Liza appeared
pouting from the top of the stairs.
And just what was mother doing
out back with the field mice? Why,

building a palace. Later
that night when Thomas rolled over and
lurched into her, she would open her eyes
and think of the place that was hers
for an hour–where
she was nothing,
pure nothing, in the middle of the day.

Love Song

by Joseph Brodsky

If you were drowning, I’d come to the rescue,
wrap you in my blanket and pour hot tea.
If I were a sheriff, I’d arrest you
and keep you in the cell under lock and key.

If you were a bird, I ‘d cut a record
and listen all night long to your high-pitched trill.
If I were a sergeant, you’d be my recruit,
and boy i can assure you you’d love the drill.

If you were Chinese, I’d learn the languages,
burn a lot of incense, wear funny clothes.
If you were a mirror, I’d storm the Ladies,
give you my red lipstick and puff your nose.

If you loved volcanoes, I’d be lava
renlentlessly erupting from my hidden source.
And if you were my wife, I’d be your lover
because the church is firmly against divorce.

Money

by Howard Nemerov

an introductory lecture

This morning we shall spend a few minutes
Upon the study of symbolism, which is basic
To the nature of money. I show you this nickel.
Icons and cryptograms are written all over
The nickel: one side shows a hunchbacked bison
Bending his head and curling his tail to accommodate
The circular nature of money. Over him arches
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and, squinched in
Between that and his rump, E PLURIBUS UNUM,
A Roman reminiscence that appears to mean
An indeterminately large number of things
All of which are the same. Under the bison
A straight line giving him a ground to stand on
Reads FIVE CENTS. And on the other side of our nickel
There is the profile of a man with long hair
And a couple of feathers in the hair; we know
Somehow that he is an American Indian, and
He wears the number nineteen-thirty-six.
Right in front of his eyes the word LIBERTY, bent
To conform with the curve of the rim, appears
To be falling out of the sky Y first; the Indian
Keeps his eyes downcast and does not notice this;
To notice it, indeed, would be shortsighted of him.
So much for the iconography of one of our nickels,
Which is now becoming a rarity and something of
A collectors’ item: for as a matter of fact
There is almost nothing you can buy with a nickel,
The representative American Indian was destroyed
A hundred years or so ago, and his descendants’
Relations with liberty are maintained with reservations,
Or primitive concentration camps; while the bison,
Except for a few examples kept in cages,
Is now extinct. Something like that, I think,
Is what Keats must have meant in his celebrated
Ode on a Grecian Urn.

Notice, in conclusion,
A number of circumstances sometimes overlooked
Even by experts: (a) Indian and bison,
Confined to obverse and reverse of the coin,
Can never see each other; they are looking
In opposite directions, the bison past
The Indian’s feathers, the Indian past
The bison’s tail; (c) they are upside down
To one another; (d) the bison has a human face
Somewhat resembling that of Jupiter Ammon.
I hope that our studies today will have shown you
Something of the import of symbolism
With respect to the understanding of what is symbolized.

I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great

By Stephen Spender

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

In addition to these great poets and poems, we were struck by a portion of the introduction to the collection.  In these times and with recent political events and histrionics we would all do well to stop, read and consider the words of John F. Kennedy and the verses of Robert Frost, who was Poet Laureate from 1958-1959, and whom JFK invited to speak at Kennedy’s Inauguration in 1961.  Kennedy had this to say:

“I asked Robert Frost to come and speak at the Inauguration…because I felt he had something important to say to those of us who are occupied with the business of G0vernment, that he would remind us that we are dealing with life, the hopes and fears of millions of people….  He said it well in a poem called “Choose Something Like a Star,” in which he speaks of the fairest star in sight and says:

It asks a little of us here.

It asks of us a certain height,

So when at times the mob is swayed

To carry praise or blame too far,

We may choose something like a star

To stay our minds on and be staid.

In other words, let us be methodical and slower to anger, and let us resist the urge to canonize or excoriate.  Instead, let’s be thoroughly thoughtful and give wisdom at least a toehold’s chance before speaking or acting rashly.  We have miles to go on this front before we sleep (yours truly, especially).

And as for poetry itself, in Tom Stoppard’s play “The Real Thing,” the main character has this to say:  “I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are.  They deserve respect.  If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little, or make a poem children will speak for you when you’re dead.”

We hope that poetry will nudge your world a little this year.

23
Jan

Lost in the Shuffle

by Lefort in Music

We recently read an interesting article in Under the Radar entitled “Houses of Hype?: Music Blogs and Websites Race to Find the Next Big Thing.” In the article, the authors observe that in this post-Pro Tools world there are untold numbers of  unheard new (and old) artists and a buzzillion blogs and websites competing with each other to be the first one to hype/break these artists and/or their songs.  Then the article gets to the heart of the inquiry:  “In the race to find new bands, are too many bands being hyped up? Once something is hyped up on one notable blog/website, all the other blogs/sites pick up on it and the thing goes viral.  But what about the listeners who can only listen to so much music and can only afford to buy so many albums? How do they filter through all these new bands being hyped?”  And, we would add, after the initial hype of a band, what do the listeners and the hyped-bands do when that band’s second or third release doesn’t get the continued huzzahs and hype from the media (in certain instances despite qualitatively deserving continued praise, but in other instances because the band’s talents and creativity have played out)?  The net result may be disservice to listeners and the hyped bands alike (we can’t wait to read the blogs when the next record by the over-hyped, undeserving Sleigh Bells comes out–we predict the silence and/or derision will be “deafening,” so clap your hands and say buh-bye Bells).

These are conundra that currently confront every music lover and band.   For the music fan specifically, how do we find the new music we must have to maintain our souls and sanity now that the old musical levees have broken and the metronomiacal floods are upon us (which reminds us of the appropriately-named UK blog “Drowned in Sound”)?  And how do we do this with so many demands on our attention and time in this digital age? Some give up and beach themselves, bloated on familiar musical shores where the soundtrack consists only of music they grew up with (Sinatra, Presley, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Marley, U2, Nirvana, Death Cab–pick your particularly pleasing audio anodyne).  While we agree that there is much great old music that merits re-visiting and re-examining (or, for the youngers and uninitiated, discovering for the first time), we hope that you won’t sink beneath the floodwaters or become beached and bloated while the new musical shooting stars flair all around us and go unseen/unheard against the brilliant and burdensome backdrop.

Come on!  Continue the quest.  Don’t give up the fight.  Untold rewards await.

Having said the foregoing, we confess that we may have been guilty of rushing to judgment and raving on these pages about a new song by one new artist or another, but then later (given more time and a more thoughtful assessment of the artist’s output) we have cringed after realizing that the artist’s long-term artistic prospects were on par with, oh say, Flock of Seagulls, The Buggles, A-ha, or some other one-hit hacks.  So we hereby resolve to not rush to judgment and renew our vow to only tout the best music that will stand the test of time.  At the same time, we vow not to praise a band and ignore their subsequent praise-worthy efforts.

To this end, the following are songs that have stood the test of a couple of months at the top of our playlist, but seem to have gotten lost in our year-end shuffle.  We hope you find them worthy of your attention and limited time.

First up is yet another song, Queen Black Acid, from Menomena’s fine album “Mines” (causing us to regret not including it in our Top Albums of 2010 list).   This is a beautiful, but harrowing, pop song replete with Justin Harris’ world-weary lead vocals, a perfect, intriguing  bass line, a majestic chorus,  and seriously dour lyrics (set forth below) to match Harris’ vocal.  Given the band members’ recent personal histories and the personality-histrionics within the band (Brent Knopf just quit the band to focus on his side-project, Ramona Falls), the lyrics convey the weight of a relationship, whether regarding a lover or band member.  Long live Menomena.

“I get so caught up in my ways
sometimes I overlook the simple plains
I feel like certain times in my life
are met with certain times for pain to thrive
you’re five foot five, not a hundred pounds
I’m scared to death of every single ounce
and worst of all is when it’s calm
cause I know the sea won’t be calm for long

you bring me down

I walked right in through the rabbit’s door
and walked right into the rabbit’s hole
I made myself an open book
I made myself a sitting duck

I don’t know how I missed the signs
I must have passed by them a hundred times
you barely notice what I say
you’re busy looking round the room instead
I get so caught up in my ways

I walked right in through the rabbit’s door
and walked right into the rabbit’s hole
I made myself an open book
I made myself a sitting duck
I’m walking down this rabbit trail
my feet grow heavy with every step
I stop to eat and take a nap
and now I can’t find my way back

you bring me down
so down.”

Menomena–Queen Black Acid

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/01-Queen-Black-Acid.mp3|titles=01 Queen Black Acid]

Another band that has proved its worth repeatedly is Athens, Georgia’s Deerhunter, who are fronted by savant terrible, Bradford Cox.  Their latest record, “Halcyon Digest,” dominated the Top Albums of 2010 lists, and for good reason.  The record is filled with varied and dense pop songs.  In addition to the ubiquitous pop of  Helicopter, the sax-infused Coronado, the heartfelt, driving lament of He Would Have Laughed (written for the late punk-genius, Jay Reatard), and the chiming jangle of Revival, there is the great psych-rocker, Desire Lines, which simply defines the album.  We love how the guitars take over the song at minute 3:00 and take the song to another level, reminding us a bit of seminal band, Television.  Magic.

Deerhunter–Desire Lines

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/06-Desire-Lines.mp3|titles=06 Desire Lines]

Speaking of bands that were unfairly cast adrift by the blogs after their much-hyped first record, Tapes N’ Tapes deserved much better.  They recently released their third record, “Outsider,” and it is further proof of this band’s worth.  Following their debut, “Loon,” they lost some media momentum, but bounce back strong with aggressive songs on the new record, as evidenced by Freak Out.

Tapes N’ Tapes–Freak Out

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Tapes-n-Tapes-Freak-Out.mp3|titles=Tapes ‘n Tapes – Freak Out]

But we have to also keep trying new bands and their songs, and the following songs by newer bands have also stood out on our year-end playlist.  If they continue at this quality level, we will continue to sing their praises.  If not, we will dutifully warn you.  Check ’em out.

Austin’s Voxhaul Broadcast have followed up their 2008 debut, with a great, driving song, Leaving on the 5th. Bodes well for their future.  Time will tell.

Voxhaul Broadcast–Leaving on the 5th

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Voxhaul-Broadcast-Leaving-On-The-5th.mp3|titles=Voxhaul Broadcast – Leaving On The 5th]

England’s Stornaway brings its folk-infused Brit-pop to the world with its latest record, “Beachcomber’s Windowsill.”  The band falls somewhere between James and Belle & Sebastian, leaning more to the latter.  Check out the horns and delivery on their catchy song, Zorbing.

Stornaway–Zorbing

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/zorbing.mp3|titles=zorbing]

Finally, we give you St. Louis band, Jumbling Towers.  The Towers mix the vocal sounds of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar with a melodic, electronica wash to great effect.  Though the jury is still out on this band, their EP, “The Ramifications of an Exciting Spouse,” has been on repeat the last month.  Amongst our favorite tracks is Typecasting in Eugene, with its allusions to “Oregon shores,” and lyrics telling of a “vintage store that Melanie owns, she’ll give you a job, you can manage the floor.”  While the song states that “It all feels right to dream, it’s your dream, a dream you had since you were 17,” we’re not sure if this is designed to comfort or deride.  Time will tell about the composition and the band.  We wish them well.

Jumbling Towers–Typecasting in Eugene

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Typecasting-in-Eugene1.mp3|titles=Typecasting in Eugene]


15
Jan

Even More Music From San Francisco

by Lefort in Music

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Last, but certainly not least, of our Bay Area discoveries, we have the more widely known Thee Oh Sees, who have garnered pounds of positive pixels and ink from critics in recent years.  Sporting an interesting mix of garage vibe and pysch-pop sound, Thee Oh Sees continue to evolve.  Check a couple of their songs out below, along with a video of Denied from the Fillmore.

Thee Oh Sees–Denied

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/theeohseesdenied.mp3|titles=theeohseesdenied]

Thee Oh Sees–Ghost in the Trees

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/theeohsees-ghostinthetrees.mp3|titles=theeohsees-ghostinthetrees]

12
Jan

The Real Country–No. 11 in 2011

by Lefort in Music

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After having made great country music since 1958, Waylon Jennings was one of the central figures (along with Willie Nelson) of the self-dubbed “Outlaws” movement that saved country music in the 70s.  At that time Nashville smugly controlled commercial country music and dictated a pop-inflected sound using its sterile studio musicians and strings.  Waylon, Willie, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and few others led the charge to overcome the dictates of Nashville and take back Real Country music.  In so doing, Waylon re-introduced stripped-down, Telecaster-telecasting, honky-tonk country music, and won back the hearts of those with hearts for real country music, and gave needed authenticity and renewal to the genre.

Waylon was at his creative and commercial best during the 70s with his albums “The Taker/Tulsa,”  “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean,” “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “The Ramblin’ Man,” “Dreaming My Dreams,” “Live,” and “Ol’ Waylon.”

One of our all-time country favorites is Waylon’s “Luchenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” with assist from Willie.

Waylon Jennings-Luchenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-12-Luckenbach-Texas-Back-to-the1.mp3|titles=2-12 Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the]

10
Jan

We Heard the News Today, Oh Boy

by Lefort in Music

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We were listening a couple days ago to Menomena’s fine album, “Mines,” which they released in mid-2010.  Mines is the usual Memomena magic, but with an extra dose of harrowing lyrics that limn the upheavals and events that transpired in the band members’ lives in the interim between Mines and their prior record.  So while we were listening, up came the great first single off the album, Five Little Rooms. The song begins with a heavy, fuzz-laden bottom end, drops in horn-sounds and piano penumbrae, and all the while the vocals are ominous and foreboding.  As we were listening, having only moments before heard the news about the shootings in Arizona, the following lyrics from the song came on:

“Hung on a pole,

right next to a McDonalds,

in a suburban shopping mall,

at half mast again,

between shootings.

All this could be yours someday,

All this could be yours someday,

All this could be yours, someday.”

To hear those lyrics at that time was an unsettling coincidence and evinced the power of art.

All this could be ours someday?  No thanks.

Menomena–Five Little Rooms

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/02-Five-Little-Rooms.mp3|titles=02 Five Little Rooms]

6
Jan

More New Music from San Francisco

by Lefort in Music

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As mentioned in a prior post, we ventured up to The City and came back with some musical finds to pass along.  We continue here, starting with some more SF pop-garage-magic (the Magic Bullets) before segueing into the more challenging, but worthy, Bay Area noise-pop bands: Weekend, Thee Oh Sees, Grass Widow and Young Prisms.

The Magic Bullets are foremost great songwriters. We hear, at the forefront, influences of the oft-ignored Orange Juice (where is the justice?) and the followers thereof, namely the Smiths, etc. Magic Bullets take the standard three (maybe four) minutes and fill that span with pop magic. They get in, deliver the jangly goods and get out.  Check ’em out.

Magic Bullets–Lying Around

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/magic-bullets-lying_around.mp3|titles=magic bullets lying_around]

Magic Bullets–The Book is Closed

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/MagicBullet-TheBookIsClosed.mp3|titles=MagicBullet-TheBookIsClosed]

Moving on to the wondrous San Francisco  noise-pop thread, we give you Weekend (who we missed when they opened for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at Soho recently and wowed the Santa Barbara crowd).  Weekend came out with its first record, “Sports,” on Slumberland this year, managing to perfectly meld the noise and the pop while lyrically shining their shoegaze with the gray fog of San Francisco.  The band falls into the My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain camp, but manages to make the sound and the atmosphere their own.

Check out their songs End Times, Coma Summer and Youth Haunts.

Weekend–End Times

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/WeekendEndTimes.mp3|titles=WeekendEndTimes]

Weekend–Coma Summer

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/weekendcomasummer.mp3|titles=weekendcomasummer]

Weekend–Youth Haunts

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Weekend-Youth-Haunts1.mp3|titles=Weekend-Youth-Haunts]

Next up is Grass Widow, the all-female band that had its major-indie debut in 2010 on Kill Rock Stars with “Past Time.”  The album is filled with deadpan harmony vocals, while sinewy bass lines and garrulous guitar riffs intertwine and frenzied drumming propels the songs along.  The harmonized vocals remind us at times of the great band Heavenly, and at others of Exene and John of X, while the music is a bit like Pinback at times and like Pavement at others.  And throughout there’s sweetness to go with the sour.

Grass Widow–Shadow

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Grass-Widow-Shadow.mp3|titles=Grass-Widow-Shadow]

Finally (for now), we give you the Young Prisms, who continue to quickly evolve, age by age.  They have pressed forward to further refine their melodies and musicianship, while building on their noise (and pop).  We expect to hear much more from The City about this band.

Young Prisms–I Don’t Get Much

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Young-Prisms-I-dont-Get-much.mp3|titles=Young-Prisms-I-dont-Get-much]
5
Jan

Local Natives on Fallon

by Lefort in Music

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More on more great San Francisco bands soon, but in the meantime if you don’t “get” the huzzahs for Local Natives, you owe it to yourself to check out their performance on The Jimmy Fallon Show two nights ago below.  Between the vocals and percussion, a stunning performance.

4
Jan

So This is The New Year

by Lefort in Music

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Following a brief hibernal hiatus, we are finally back for the New Year, 2011.  A quick jaunt up to San Francisco rejuvenated us and got our (musical) juices flowing again.  The City never fails to re-ignite and particularly in these halcyon days with a justly-deserved World Series Championship under its belt and a musical resurgence that is drawing international attention (turns out there’s music outside of Montreal, Brooklyn, Portland and Los Angeles–who knew??).

Following on the heals of the nationally acclaimed Dodos, Girls and Morning Benders are a host of up-and-coming SF garage rock bands to check out.  A few you may not be aware of are Geographer, The Fresh & Onlys and Sonny & The Sunsets. In the coming days we’ll tout some other great new music coming out of San Francisco for you to check out.  Following the music below are some more pixelated pixie sticks from The City.

First up is the great new find (for us), Geographer, which released its second recording, “Animal Shapes,” in 2010. Geographer is a guitar-cello/synth-drums trio making sweet noise around the Bay.  Mike Deni’s impressive vocals, personal lyrics and intimate melodies are coupled with the instrumental acumen of Berklee-trained bandmates Nathan Blaz (cello, electronics) and Brian Ostreicher (drums) to great effect. Geographer falls somewhere between The Antlers and XX, and what could be better?  Check out their well-mapped single, Kites.

Geographer–Kites

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Geographers-Kites.mp3|titles=Geographers–Kites]

Next check out The Fresh & Onlys and their flavorful fluid of a song, Waterfall, in both MP3 and official video iterations.  The Fresh & Onlys have quickly grown and evolved as a band, and released their second record, “Play It Strange,” in October of 2010.  Waterfall melds a meaty mix of musical influences with its jangle and reverberations.  We hear early Shins, R.E.M. and others, but the band makes the sound their own and delivers a sweet song.

The Fresh & Onlys–Waterfall

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/freshonlyswaterfall.mp3|titles=freshonlyswaterfall]

Finally (for now), check out Sonny & the Sunsets and their sweet song, Too Young to Burn. Sonny & the Sunsets have a swell throw-back sound that combines doo wop and Beach Boys influences with the fun-zone ambiance of Jonathan Richman.  Led by Sonny Smith, they have had a musical chairs lineup that now permanently includes, amongst others, the great Kelley Stoltz.  Their debut record, “Tomorrow is Alright,” hits on all the right notes with great melodies and Sonny’s lyrics entertaining with their storytelling ways.

Sonny & the Sunsets–Too Young to Burn

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/sonnytooyoungtoburn.mp3|titles=sonnytooyoungtoburn]

Photos by Lefort:

North Beach Sunset

Banksy on Commercial Street in Chinatown

Banksy at Broadway and Columbus

Lemon Sorbet–Caffe Macaroni Style

Fort Point–Hallway to Enlightenment

MLK Day Approaches–Due Respect Please

Our Favorite PhotographerSF MOMA

Pae White–Smoke Knows (2009, Cotton and Polyester)–SF MOMA

How Wine Became Modern–SF MOMA

Santa Surfs–Grounded Aerial

Sew What and How Many?


[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/MagicBullet-TheBookIsClosed.mp3|titles=MagicBullet-TheBookIsClosed]