Sunday, June 19, 2011


I'm considering the idea of re-purposing this blog as a more personal space to share stories of battle. There are victories and defeats, scars and medals. I keep a personal, written journal, but it takes so long to write one's thoughts and I fear that it represents solely the pits and not the peaks of my life experience. I like the format of the online journal where you can post videos and pictures, a sort of scrapbook of what comes in and out of my daily life. However, there is always the fear of appearing as a self-indulgent jerk seeking the attention and approval of others. That is not my aim.

I'm considering....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ben Gibbard, Jay Farrar and Jack Kerouac: Beat Folk

Upon hearing that Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar would be doing a show to promote "One Fast Move, or I'm Gone," their Jack Kerouac inspired album, I jumped at the chance to see these two talented musicians perform in a small 280 seat theater. After a perfectly complimentary opening set provided by John Roderick of The Long Winters, Gibbard and Farrar joined the drummer, bass player, and multi-instrumentalist (slide guitar, piano, etc) that they brought together for this mini tour.

They opened the show with the song that opens the album, California Zephyr. Setting the tone for the show, this airy song echoes a trip down the 101 on a sunny Southern California day. Infused with troubadour sensibility the song introduces the listener to the theme of the album with the same ease you might expect of a seasoned tour guide. You know you're in for a journey.

With influences such as Country music, Los Angeles, San Francisco, agriculture, the beach and the mountains playing such a prominent role in the tracks, you feel as if you are getting the premiere beatnik tour of California. The sweep of the slide guitar, Jay's deep, slow-moving tone with just barely a hint of southern drawl, and Ben's voice with it's earnest hope are perfect compliments to the pastoral images in the lyrics.

In an effort to portray a full vision of the beat influence and not simply the idealized version that younger generations place on a pedestal there are darker songs. Breathe Our Iodine gives the folk album the necessary depth and dimension with a low, repetitive guitar and menacing organ channels Kerouac's own dark corners of alcoholism.

The show and the album are definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of either Jay's or Ben's, a lover of California history, beat poetry aficionado......or all of the above. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Windows down, volume up: Ladyhawke

The combination of beautiful weather, car culture and a love for loud music is the inspiration for this series I like to call 'Windows down, volume up." Sometimes there are just songs or albums that demand this series of conditions in order for maximum enjoyment.

The first induction to this series is the song Magic by Ladyhawke. This dance-pop single from her debut album Ladyhawke is a synth-heavy, dancefloor worthy, femme rock anthem. Van Halen style keys that channel neon and Aquanet seem to fit perfectly with an artist that has often rocked the black hat a la Debbie Gibson. Peppered with influences such as Roxette and Journey, this album is a great fusion of 80s dance anthems and modern club infused pop.

Proving that dance-worthy music does not have to be as obnoxious and over-indulgent as a Lady Gaga track, the rest of the album holds its own. My Delirium and Back of the Van are two more tracks that you may want to check out if the windows are still down and you haven't quite reached your destination.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Polite ghosts fading quickly

It is hard to believe that so much sound can exude from just three people despite a non-existent rhythm section and a guitarist who constantly looks at his own feet. When I walked into the Troubadour on May 29th, sound was already resonating throughout the building, bouncing off each wall and every swaying body in the packed house. As each song melted seamlessly into the next the delicate harmonies of twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza rose above the shoegaze synth and guided listeners through the intricacies of their dreamy lyrics.

School of Seven Bells was not even the headlining act at the Troubadour that night and yet the venue was packed to the brim. The crowd seemed mesmerized by the environment that these three musicians created. From the swaying chant of "Iamundernodisguise" to the pop infused "Half Asleep" it is difficult not to enjoy the breeze as you tumble down the rabbit hole.

Born out of a fusion of ideas and a convenient touring schedule, School of Seven Bells consists of former Secret Machines guitarist Benjamin Curtis and the Deheza sisters formerly of On!Air!Library!. The two bands were touring together opening for Interpol in 2004, but by 2006 Curtis and the Deheza sisters were committed to creating something completely new. The songs are largely shaped by the lyrics which come first and then are supplemented by music. Being fans of atmosphere and melody, the three try to enhance these elements in the creation process.

After the show, I was so impressed with the way these three had managed to re-create the web of sound in their live performance that had seemed so exacting in their studio recording that I was compelled to purchase a vinyl copy of the album. Rarely does a show encourage me to visit the merch table, therefore I wouldn't be surprised if I was still under the spell that the School of Seven Bells seem to cast over the entirety of the crowd at the Troubadour that night.

Monday, May 4, 2009

80's songs still haunting the present

The trend of covering 80's songs by contemporary artists persists much to the joy or chagrin of those who love the originals. As for me, I either like the cover or I don't, but whether or not someone thinks a cover is 'done well' seems to be a subjective matter anyway. My hypothesis is that one's opinion of whether or not a cover is 'done well' comes down to two factors, 1) how much they loved the original song and the band who wrote it (assuming the band wrote it in the first place) and performed it combined with 2) how much the listener enjoys artist performing the cover and how they decided to interpret the song. Personally, I can't seem to stomach a cover that is almost exactly like the original, I tend to think that any band who performs in a dive bar can take care of that. I want the artist covering the song to offer something more substantial; slow it down, speed it up, change the melody slightly, just do something so it doesn't sound like a night of karaoke was recorded.

A couple recent covers that have sparked my attention are Greg Laswell's cover of Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Kat Edmonson's cover of The Cure's Just Like Heaven. These are two classic 80's anthems that can easily be identified not only by those who owned leg warmers and abused gallons of Aquanet, but also by those born too late to succumb to the wrath of neon being in fashion. Kat's rendition of Just Like Heaven is a bossa nova jazz infused tranquilizer. Mild and mellow her pixie like voice is a gentle contrast to the driving energy of Robert Smith's exultation in the original. I think it was a brave decision to abandon the familiar guitar lick and rely on the lyrics to remind the listener of the original magic of the song. There is no doubt that I love the original version of Just Like Heaven, but Kat's cover also has a place in my music library (particularly in the chill- out playlists).

Greg Laswell's cover of Girls Just Want to Have Fun is an example of a stripped down and simplified version of the original. With just a piano and his wind scratched voice, he abandons all the flash and splendor of the original. Laswell also chooses switch up the two parts of the first verse and cut out a bit of the second. This gives the song an impromptu feel and the simplicity of the lyrics are transformed into a somber assertion instead of a boisterous declaration.

There are countless examples of covers gone wrong and covers 'done well.' I invite you to post some of your favorite covers here for embrace or scrutiny. And if you are interested in some more 80's covers, check out how they sound with a French touch with Nouvelle Vague's albums Nouvelle Vague and Bande a Part.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dizzy ground

Her music is layered with sweet melodies and sober realities. She is a singer songwriter which may instantly give you a picture of just another girl on stage with an acoustic guitar and a prayer, but once the song starts to emerge from Jesca Hoop, all conventions of her genre classification melt away.

Since a posting about Jesca Hoop cannot be published without the mention that she was once a nanny to the children of Tom Waits, I'll start with that. Although I must admit that one of my favorite descriptions of Jesca's music comes from Waits himself (according to her Wiki page) who says, "Her music is like going swimming in a lake at night." I couldn't agree more. Listening to her songs is like diving into something dark, yet warm and magical.

Jesca Hoop first appeared on the radar of the Los Angeles music scene when Nic Harcourt of KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic first started playing a demo she had submitted called Seed of Wonder. The song became so popular with listeners that it set a record for the number of times it was requested to be played on the show. Her debut album Kismet (which means destiny or fate) shows a colorful array of songs that force you to remember what a full and well rounded album actually sounds like. Songs such as Summertime, Money, and Intelligentactile 101 have a fun yet quirky pop sensibility and then as soon as you think you have her pegged she changes pace with songs such as Enemy, Love is All We Have (written about Hurricane Katrina), and Love and Love Again. Incorporating natural sounds such as the cawing of birds and echoes of a creaky boat into her songs, Jesca creates a landscape with her music and asks her listeners to stop and breathe it in.

In late 2008 Jesca Hoop released the ep called Kismet Acoustic which featured a handful of songs from her debut album in a stripped down acoustic style as well as a new song called Murder of Birds. This new song is one of those rare gems in my music collection, the song that can't be heard enough. The song seems to be invoke the spirit of a playful spring-time walk with a lover. It then subtly changes in tone when the lyrics speak of personal demons only to welcome you back into comfort with images of home-baked bread and turned down beds. Haunting yet sweet, it is a complex lullaby and I can't seem to help wanting to listen one more time.

Murder of Birds - Jesca Hoop

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Back in your head...

To be fair, I became familiar with Tegan and Sara pretty late. It wasn't until The Con that I really started investigating their music. They have unique voices that I thought might drive me nuts if I listened to a full album, but I couldn't have been more wrong. I went to their concert here in LA a number of months ago and was pleasantly surprised at what amazing performers they were. Engaging with the audience, entering into a dialogue with them, it felt like a much more intimate performance than it was.

The first Tegan and Sara songs that got me curious were Where Does the Good Go? and Walking With a Ghost. The candid and blunt lyrics combined with the melodic harmonies of Where Does the Good Go? was refreshing. Instead of dancing around what we want to hear from a significant other, they just lay it out there. No fancy metaphors needed. As one who tends to be more blunt in nature than passive, it appealed to me. In a similar way, the stripped down pop tone of Walking With a Ghost seemed to be a clean slap to modern pop music. Instead of being overwhelmed with synthesizers and other layers of sounds that don't come out of a typical instrument, there is restraint in the use of something other than a guitar and drums. The guitar riffs are quick, deliberate, and distinct.

When Back in Your Head started making the rounds of Los Angeles radio my ears perked again. Their distinctive style seemed more polished than ever and compelled me to finally download the albums So Jealous and The Con as an introduction to their music. I now consider myself a full Tegan and Sara convert. Their songs are intense, direct and a welcome dose of candor in an environment that seems more akin to romantic comedy musings.

Nineteen - Tegan and Sara