Author Archive

June 20, 2012

David Lowery And Emily The Intern, Viewed Through The Lens Of Sir Paul

David Lowery made and makes some fantastic indie music, and writes deep, thoughtful blogposts on the state of the music industry that has both succored and frustrated him. Emily White is a college DJ and blogger whose stray thoughts on music as physical medium vs. free digital commodity got published by NPR. Sir Paul McCartney recorded Ram in an attempt to convince the world he wrote all of John Lennon’s Beatles stuff.

I kid, except I don’t: Have you listened to Ram? The thing these three people have in common is music, and its role in artistic achievement. White thinks music alone isn’t worth paying for, but the mechanism for receiving and sharing it might be. Lowery strongly retorts that music is the only thing that gives the mechanism any value, so why short the artists who create it? McCartney, perhaps more than anyone living, proved the power of music to establish an artist as a force in control of his or her commercial destiny. (The fallout from the Lowery-White tit-for-tat deluged Twitter on Sir Paul’s 70th birthday, and I love the synchronicity of that.)

When the Beatles ceased touring in 1966, no one at Capitol/EMI could tell them to get back on the bus. They’d sold too many records.

When McCartney and George Martin hired a string octet to record “Eleanor Rigby” on what was supposed to be a rock record, no one at Capitol/EMI could tell them to scrap the strings and plug back in. They’d sold too many records.

When the Beatles locked themselves into Abbey Road Studios for 129 days of late-night recording and mixing sessions, trying to create the most provocative, impressionistic and eclectic LP in rock to that point, no one at Capitol/EMI could order them into detox. They’d sold too many records. Also, detox hadn’t been invented.

When the Beatles decided they wanted control of their output throw their homegrown  Apple Records collective, Capitol/EMI had to come to the table and negotiate. They’d sold too many records.

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April 30, 2012

Angel And The Badman

She gave him a voice, he gave her stories. He gave her street cred, she gave him access. She gave him sweetness, he gave her menace. It wasn’t a partnership that had any right to flourish, but disparate backgrounds made for some kind of elemental magic.

In this segment, from the 1967 TV special “Movin’ With Nancy,” how many times does Lee Hazlewood raise his fist as if to belt Nancy Sinatra for doing something as harmless and flirty as pinching his ass? Yet a sense of threat was present in almost all their duets, and in the compositions Hazlewood wrote strictly for Sinatra’s voice (“these boots are gonna walk all over you”) across their intermittent four-decade partnership. The song they’re assaying below is a Jerry Leiber relationship ballad that puts the fun in dysfunctional — dark but sweet, and fitting for the duo.

Then there was dark for darkness’ sake.

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April 18, 2012

Swimming With The Current

Great Lake Swimmers‘ 2005 song “Various Stages” felt like a poem I had yet to write. The best complex pop songs have a way of doing that — introducing themselves as your own future ideas or unremembered dreams. (cf. Radiohead, Yo La Tengo.)

On the band’s latest album, New Wild Everywhere, GLS leader Tony Dekker has decided to allow little room for reverb, no patience for lyrical obscurity. (Maybe he just doesn’t want to be Bon Iver.) The result isn’t as radical and head-scratching as when My Morning Jacket gave up reverb and decided they were Prince, but as in MMJ’s case, it sounds little like the same band.

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February 29, 2012

Ezra Furman’s Absorbing Pessimism

The eternal wait in American rock is for “the new Springsteen” or, equally futile, “the new Dylan.” With fiscal graphs rollercoastering, the middle class shrinking, and #Occupy denizens resorting — in the age of Twitter and Pinterest — to the humble cardboard sign, maybe what we really need is a new Guthrie.

“There’s something in the water, something sick in the blood and the oil,” Ezra Furman sings against an intimidatingly locomotive guitar chug on “American Soil,” the second track on The Year of No Returning. In a cascade of pessimistic couplets, the San Francisco singer-songwriter marries ecological dread to economic ennui, and in the chorus casts doubt on the myth of American exceptionalism: “I can feel God taking his eyes off us.” Later, on the engaging rocker “Cruel, Cruel World,” he spells it out less allegorically: “Lost my job, lost my money in a flash/ Watched my old life turn to dust in a flash.”

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January 11, 2012

Guided Back: Guided By Voices Hears the Call of the ’90s

As Stephen King showed, self-cannibalization is hard. The title of Guided By Voices‘ 1994-96 “classic lineup” reunion album, Let’s Go Eat the Factory, seems to reflect this. Is it a reunion, a train put back on the tracks right where it derailed, or is it an act of self-mimickry? Had this thing dropped in early 1997, with its typically low-rent not-quite Hipgnosis cover art, it would have perched nicely amongst the band’s four-track masterpieces of the period.

The songs are short (naturally) bursts of intellect and anxiety. They’re periscopic too, which is kind of a first — Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout and company seem to be glancing at the world in slices and attempting answers. “Hang Mr. Kite” looks like a response of sorts to the Beatles, and “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” scans like an ode to the R&B hero who was unaccounted for in the days right after the Katrina flooding in New Orleans.

Guided By Voices, “The Unsinkable Fats Domino”

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October 5, 2011

How Abby’s Mixtape Project Almost Killed Me

I have an assignment! I want all of hearingade’s writers to post a mix of songs that define who they are. A musical autobiography of sorts. I’m thinking somewhere between 8-12 songs should be good. No rush on it. … But eventually, I’d like all of our personal mixes on the site so people can get a feel about who we are and whatever.

So spake Abby, mistress of this here blog, in an email to her minions last week. No problem, right? Except when you’re asked to pick eight to twelve songs that define who you are, you wind up lopping off your own fingers so you can preserve the thumb.

I don’t know that I’m any closer to a definition of myself through this process, except in the Nick Hornby “you are what you like” sense. And even that’s incomplete; in the great bucket of water that is what-I-like, this doesn’t even amount to a teardrop. What it best represents is songs I’ve wrestled with, in my head — they led me to think about them more deeply than other songs, because they appealed to me on some level that is either primal or intellectual, and demanded my engagement. Or they’re a moment in time, crystallized in song, as Rob Sheffield spelled out in his memoir Love Is a Mix Tape … not so much “you are what you like” as “you were what you heard.” There is no “story” of me in these songs … well, okay, there’s one, maybe one and a half. But they’re my songs nonetheless.

DOWNLOAD How Abby’s Mixtape Project Almost Killed Me

This mix was boiled down from a starting lineup of seventy. (That’s 70.) A list of castoffs is at bottom. The total seventy is still not even a thimbleful in the bucket — I’m a complicated man; no one understands me but my woman. So what Abby did was make me turn around to face myself, scalpel in hand, prepared to amputate. And even then I never had the nerve to make the final cut — my mix ended up with not twelve but fourteen songs, just like Paul Westerberg.

Schoolly D — Who’s Schoolin’ Who?
An attack, a nervous foot on the accelerator, a muscle memory. This song jumped up from the 1990 soundtrack to A Matter of Degrees — an indie film about indie rock that nobody saw but whose music cues circulated on tapes through half a million colleges — and latched onto me like a facehugger.

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