Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Truth Comes in Covers: The Swell Season

Here is the Swell Season covering my favorite track from my favorite record of all time.

I've sung this many times in the quiet dark of my basement trying to sound as good as they do here, and failing miserably. Every. Single. Time.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010
















I posted before about Sufjan's incredible "Djohariah". 12 minutes of guitar solo (and deconstructed guitar solo at that) is not what we've come to expect from this soft and warbly man. But the instrumental section is a perfect compliment to the subject matter of the song, which is entirely melodic and tragic and touching, if you've got the patience to wait around for it. Djohariah (the person) is Sufjan's sister, and has clearly gone through a heartbreaking experience. Has clearly suffered. The lyrics are so personal and immediate, and real. This one is for all the ladies out there (and not in the same way that "I Swear" and "Down On Bended Knee" are for all the ladies out there).

Don’t be ashamed, don’t hide from me now
For the woman is, the woman is the glorious victorious
The mother of the heart of the world


There is a time when the lights will arise
For the mother is, the mother is the glorious victorious
The mother of the heart of the world


Go on! Little sister! Go on! Little sister!
For your world is yours, world is yours
All the wilderness of world is yours

Go on! Little sister! Go on!
For you’re beautiful, beautiful
All the fullness of the world is yours


Of course, I haven't listed "Djohariah" here as number one, although I liked it in certain ways as much as anything I've heard in a long time. The song that I'm here to talk about is "Impossible Soul". And, where to even begin? Probably with a disclaimer. This little ditty is over 25 minutes long, so if the thought of investing a half hour into one song is a bit daunting, you're not alone. My heart sank when I first saw the track length. Would it be some kind of jam-bandy noodle fest? (No. Be at peace. I would ask that you not close the window and move on, but to give it a listen. If you choose otherwise, I completely understand. But I assure you, this song is a masterpiece.) "Impossible Soul" is the most impressive piece of art Sufjan has created to date. It is divided into 5 sections, with lyrics in first, second, and third person points of view. It is a window into his creative process, the psyche of Sufjan Stevens. It is introspective, it is critical, it is self-effacing, but ultimately it is hopeful, and encouraging, and motivating, and entirely joyful. Watching him play this at Kingsbury Hall a few weeks ago is right up there with my most memorable of all concert going experiences, and I've had some good ones. There was a truly genuine feeling of community, and togetherness, and confidence, and affirmation. "It's not so impossible!"


Sufjan Stevens - Impossible Soul (mp3)


Monday, November 29, 2010
















There probably aren't any lyricists out there that are as skilled as Joanna. She is ridiculously good. A genuine poet. Check out the final verse from "Baby Birch", a song I interpret to be an ode for all women who are denied motherhood in one form or another:

"There is a blacksmith, and there is a shepherd, and there is a butcher boy, and there is a barber who's cutting and cutting away at my only joy. I saw a rabbit as slick as a knife and as pale as a candlestick. And I had thought it'd be harder to do but I caught her and skinned her quick, held her there kicking and mewling, upended, unspooling, unsung, and blue; told her, 'Wherever you go, little runaway bunny, I will find you.' And then she ran, as they're liable to do. Be at peace baby. And be gone."

That's just one example of a an entire album full of stunning lyrics. "'81" (an amazing song about forgiveness and love), "Does Not Suffice" (One of the best breakup songs ever. That which is communicated in the "la la la" of the song's conclusion is remarkable), "Go Long" (an indictment against that thing in men that is violence and war and hardness and heartless and ruin), "Esme" (I remember reading it was written for the daughter of a friend) , "Jackrabbits"...etc., etc. Literally. Every. Song. Is. Nuts. Now some people don't like her voice. Get over it. Her voice is beautiful. There. That's settled. Perhaps (but only perhaps) my two favorite songs on the album are the following:

Joanna Newsom - Baby Birch (mp3)
Joanna Newsom - Good Intentions Paving Company (mp3)


Sunday, November 28, 2010














"This is Happening" is an amazing album. It blew me away. There has been much dancing in the kitchen from all members of the family. When the synth kicks in on "Dance Yrself Clean" it is pure joy. Movement is a given. And even though it clocks in at just under nine minutes, it isn't a second too short or long.

I could sit back and throw darts at the album cover and hit just about any song worthy of mention here. "You Wanted a Hit" is phenomenal, as is "All I Want" and "I Can Change". But I wanted to mention "Home", the record's final track. "This is the trick, forget a terrible year." James Murphy, I read, was referring to the death of a close friend in 2009. He closes the song with an amazing buildup by singing "If you're afraid of what you need. If you're afraid of what you need, look around you. You're surrounded. It won't get any better. Until the night."

These two tracks respectively set off and conclude the album, juxtaposing each other musically, and thematically. And he may be absolutely right about it not getting any better.

LCD Soundsystem - Dance Yrself Clean (mp3)
LCD Soundsystem - Home (mp3)

Saturday, November 27, 2010















"Angela Surf City" is right up there with the best of anything the Walkmen have ever done. Supremely good. The drums are just nails, and Hamilton's vocals are crazy good (as usual). The chorus just kills me. When he sings "you kept your jaw wide and closed, I never noticed before" I thought yes, that is it, they've done it, that is the peak. But no. It doubles on itself and goes straight to 11, "I couldn't see the signs, now I dream of the time..." Whoa.

The first time I listened to "Blue As Your Blood" I wasn't particularly impressed. It thought it was okay. I thought it sounded like some song born to be in a Tarantino film. But after a second listen I found myself craving it. Repeat. Then I realized I was frustrated because he never repeats the chorus, "Black is the color of your eyes. Spanish is the language of your touch..." I found myself wanting more of it. So inevitably I would just play the song over and over and over. Now it is one of my favorites.

The Walkmen - Angela Surf City (mp3)
The Walkmen - Blue As Your Blood (mp3)

Friday, November 26, 2010















I don't know how many times I've played "Out Go The Lights" this year. I adore this song. One of my favorite lines: "...and when that light turns back again you will remember the way they fall for you like a brick. Oh, but nobody loves you or woos you when you're down or kicked. Out go the lights. Never see that counterpoint. You always looked good that way, you with the one-two punch."

"Goodnight Laura" is a modern lullabye. It's fascinating how lullabies take on new meaning once you find yourself singing them to your own children. I've grown to appreciate them not only as an art form, but for the peace they are born to bring.

Spoon - Out Go The Lights (mp3)
Spoon - Goodnight Laura (mp3)

Thursday, November 25, 2010















I've probably played "Meet Me In the Basement" fifty times this year on my way to Jiu-Jitsu class to get pumped up for a roll. Great build. Here is a good fan made, and band approved, music video. "Sweetest Kill" is my other favorite from Forgiveness Rock Record.

Broken Social Scene - Meet Me In The Basement (mp3)
Broken Social Scene - Sweetest Kill (mp3)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010














The album "Teen Dream" was so good that picking the two songs I wanted to feature here was very difficult. Consistently good songs from top to bottom and Victoria Legrand's voice is featured better than it's ever been. So here you go, two songs which could just as well be any two others from the record.

Beach House - Zebra (mp3)
Beach House - Take Care (mp3)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010















"Odessa" is totally infectious. Amazing. There will be dancing. And "Jamelia", I love how it starts out so soft, with little punches of dissonant strings, and then just builds and builds into a sonic plea that perfectly complements the lyrics.

Caribou - Odessa (mp3)
Caribou - Jamelia (mp3)

Monday, November 22, 2010















Two amazing collaborations here from Damon Albarn. "Some Kind of Nature" featuring Lou Reed, and "Superfast Jellyfish" featuring De La Soul and Gruff Rhys.


Gorillaz - Some Kind of Nature (mp3)

Gorillaz - Superfast Jellyfish (mp3)

Sunday, November 21, 2010















Twin Shadow came out of nowhere this year and killed it with a beautiful marriage of 80's and post-alternative production. Both of these songs are so outstanding, I've been playing them non-stop! You'll see that each of the bands in my top ten get two songs. It is too difficult with these artists to choose one favorite.

Twin Shadow - Castles in the Snow (mp3)
Twin Shadow - Forget (mp3)




Saturday, November 20, 2010













This song came out the first week of this year, and I thought then that it would be right up there with the best of the year. A treatise on Charles Darwin, plus opera, plus the Knife, equals pure win.

The Knife - Colouring of Pigeons (mp3)

Friday, November 19, 2010













Perhaps this pick is kind of a cheat, since it's really just an 80's synth reimagining of one of my all-time favorites, "Else" by Built to Spill. The Electronic Anthology Project is just Doug Martsch taking some of his classics and looking at them through the eyes of M-M-M-Max Headroom, and renaming them in anagram. I've always loved "Else" and this genre is a perfect fit.

The Electronic Anthology Project - Eels (mp3)


Thursday, November 18, 2010













The drums and the brass in this song are so fantastic! The breakdown in this song is pretty much the high point of all Vampire Weekend, for me.

Vampire Weekend - Run (mp3)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010













Luke Temple's solo work is amazing, and although I haven't loved his band Here We Go Magic, they nailed this one. "Where'd you find all that time? A place for everything in the house? ...a peice of wood from Noah's ark, a thing collected from the start. And if there is another flood, your house will float on Noah's wood." Perhaps I need to hear this as an ode to my wife. Love, I will eat my words if there is another flood. You will have saved us, since we'll be floating on all that extra furniture we have lying around the house.

Here We Go Magic - Collector (mp3)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010













From "July Flame." This is the closing track, which features Jim James (My Morning Jacket) on vocals. Sweet. Strong. Pure. Built to last. Good.


Laura Veirs - Make Something Good (mp3)




Monday, November 15, 2010













"Dad rock" yes I know. Generally I don't get too into The National, because all their songs sound pretty much the same, all sharing a tempo without too much variation in emotion one way or another. But, I absolutley love this song! And a beautiful (tragic?) elegy to a spendthrift culture: "I still owe money to the money to the money I owe."

The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio (mp3)



Sunday, November 14, 2010













A rumination on the apocolypse. Radioactive teeth falling out of the head, nature's early morning fog combining with the unnatural fog of a nuclear power plant, and that understandable commitment to want to go, ultimately, on your own terms.

Strand of Oaks - Last To Swim (mp3)




Saturday, November 13, 2010













The idea is a good one, likening a relationship to a multi-decade arms race in which two countries amassed egregious amounts of nuclear weapons, where life as we knew it could have ended in a series of earth destroying concussions, or continued on in normalcy (that is, if you want to call the 60's and 70's normal).



The Morning Benders - Cold War (mp3)


Friday, November 12, 2010














Loved seeing them perform the Twilight Concert Series this year. They played this little rocker among many other perfect pop rock songs. Neko Case is pretty much amazing at everything she touches.

The New Pornographers - Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk (mp3)


Thursday, November 11, 2010













The title sounds a bit morbid, I know. However, I have seen the pain of grandparents as they lay in a hospital bed trapped, quite literally, in a body that does not function anymore. Yet their spirits and minds yearn to move on. I have seen families, conflicted as they may be, want the same. It is in that context that I hear this song, which actually makes it really beautiful.

Wye Oak - I Hope You Die (mp3)


Wednesday, November 10, 2010













The bombast of the drums coupled with the minimalist piano is amazing here. Not much else to say. Enjoy!

These New Puritans - Hologram (mp3)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010













Consider the first line of this song, “One’s not enough” (O.N.E.). Then these other lines: “You don’t move me anymore. And I’m glad that you don’t, because I can’t take it anymore”. Many people might hear this song and think the singer is addressing alcohol and drug addictions. But I think he is like me, and is addressing his embarrassing ice cream addictions. Despite the last 45 five seconds (which get oddly Maroon Five-ey) this is a very fun song.

Yeasayer - O.N.E.(mp3)


Monday, November 08, 2010













Jamie Lidell is such a talent. Although I didn’t love his new album this song got a lot of playing time. Infectious vibe. A primal desire for synchronicity with another human being. In fact, I think that is what the original lyrics said, “My primal desire for synchronicity with another human being” but it was later shortened to “I long to slip into your rhythm and your boom”. :)


Jamie Lidell - Your Sweet Boom (mp3)


Sunday, November 07, 2010













A departure, for sure, from gems like “Kids” and “Time to Pretend” on their previous album. But I really like the mellow, ethereal vibe on this song. I have no idea what it is about, however, other than the feeling that someone is missing.


MGMT - Someone's Missing (mp3)

Saturday, November 06, 2010













This is some serious mood music, and not for everyone. But I love it! The pacing of it is marvelous, the beat juxtaposed with silence. The samples. The single hand clap. This dude is an artist. Have you seen his cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love”? Also, probably we’re cousins. Probably.

James Blake - I Only Know (What I Know Now) (mp3)

Friday, November 05, 2010













It’s fun to see them bust out a synth. I’ve always maintained that Arcade Fire take themselves way too seriously, and they still do in this song (anyone with the will to move can solve the song’s central dilemma), but I still like them. This was my favorite off the album and the only one sung by Regine.

Arcade Fire - Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) (mp3)

Thursday, November 04, 2010













With Damien Jurado we often get hopelessness, but here we get hopelessness coupled with a sort of unconditional love. The song addresses a character with blood on his hands, having lied, caused trouble, etc. There is no evidence he will change, yet at the end there is this loving plea: “Shake off your doubt, grab ahold. Sometimes the hardest part is letting you go. You can always come back when you need. I’ll leave the light on, leave the light on.”

Damien Jurado - Throwing Your Voice (mp3)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010













I can’t deny that I’ve got a certain weakness for existentialism. “What is, just is, I know, so we’re trapped by answers.” The idea of the song, I suppose, being that we can look about and see life’s evidence (answers), while mankind, the “citizens”, spend our days searching for the questions. A bizarre form of living Jeopardy! The question James Mercer asks at the end is, “From the moment that we’re born ‘til we’re old and tired, do we ever know people?” A question I asked myself not so long ago.

Broken Bells - Citizen (mp3)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010













About as straightforward a rock song as you can get. Three chords. A borderline cheesy profession of love and devotion. And that sweet little syncopation of guitar and drum that comes at the end of each line.

The Black Keys - Everlasting Light (mp3)

Monday, November 01, 2010













In mourning for the loss of a loved one, comes this line, “It sounds like we would have had a great deal to say to each other. I bet when I leave my body for the sky the wait will be worth it.”

Local Natives - Airplanes (mp3)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Raking the Leaves

Apparently I have this thing inside me where, come years end, I feel compelled to share with the great Nowhere-of-the-Internets the music that has meant the most to me that year. I try to avoid doing this because I think it is a lame and fruitless enterprise, but can't. And this year is no different. Involuntarily I've been combing my iPod for all things 2010 and have made a list. Ugh.

Like the leaves on the tree in my front yard (here comes an analogy!), songs are deciduous. Each year gives birth to new buds, then leaves of all kinds. Eventually the autumn wind comes along and blows the leaves down. I bag most of them up and the city takes them away. Some fall artfully and dissolve into the soil to become my grass, my vegetables, my air. They continue with me. Then there are those few stubborn leaves that stay on the tree somehow, all winter long. I don't know how or why that happens, but I continue to hear them.

So in the spirit of leaf raking, in the spirit of housekeeping and this (admittedly nonsensical) business of list-making, I've got a November's worth of posts already written and scheduled to publish at the palatable rate of one per day. These are my favorite songs from 2010.

Enjoy! (or flame, as the case may be)

Here are a handful that I enjoy very much, but did not make the cut:

Gauntlet Hair: I Was Thinking (mp3)
Menomena: Queen Black Acid (mp3)
Active Child: She Was A Vision (mp3)
Clogs: Raise the Flag (mp3)
Ratatat: Drugs (mp3)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Led Zeppelin & Patty Griffin go Mormon


Well, not really. Robert Plant does, however, cover two terrific songs by Low on his new album "Band of Joy". Patty Griffin adds her vocals to the mix. It's official, the apocalypse is near.

Well, let's not hold our breath for a team up with MoTab. (Maybe post-apocolypse. Maybe.)

Robert Plant - Monkey (Low cover)


Sunday, September 12, 2010

In the Way of the Gift

Dancing on a Very Small Island - Brian Kershisnik

So, first of all, I'm not an indifferent slug of a movie watcher. I'm all about emotional involvement within bounds. In "Raising Arizona" when Holly Hunter and Nicholas Cage are driving off into the dark night with young Nathan Junior, I laugh (I just love him so much!). In "Children of Men" when Clive Owen's getaway car continually stalls as he and those precious women are running from the Fishes, I sit on my heels and groan. And in "My Life", after Michael Keaton's character ruminates on a life of experience, regret, imperfection, and beauty, he is at last wheeled into his backyard for his final birthday party, and I curl up into a fetal position in the corner and weep. Honest truth (except the fetal position part).

Christy doesn't like "My Life" for the exact same reason I love it - the emotional ride. For me, it's catharsis. For her it's forebodings. I respect that entirely. We can't help but think of our own children. How will they turn out? Are we performing our roles well? Do they know how infinite they are? How fulfilling and meaningful they have been to us?

Which brings me to Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorite novels. It speaks to these questions. The narrator is an old minister who, after spending a life of bachelorhood, marries and becomes a father in old age. He is haunted by the thought that he will die without ever coming to know his boy in earnest as he grows to manhood. So the book is, essentially, one long epistle to that boy. "My Life" on steroids.

These two sons of ours are a grace I don't think I'll ever fully wrap myself around. I don't even know if such a thing is possible. The minister writes, "There are so many things you would never think to tell anyone. And I believe they may be the things that mean most to you, and that even your own child would have to know in order to know you well at all." Lord, I suspect that is true. How will I know if I'm telling the right stories? Will they ever really know me? And me them?

The minister says, "In every important way we are such secrets from each other and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable."

"For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man, which is in him?" 1 Corinthians 2:11

If this is true, then perhaps I'm speaking Latin, and they English, and their unborn children some future cryptic dialect. This goes beyond mere generation gap. Perhaps we really are, to one degree or another, lost in translation. I hope to minimize that. And I hope to communicate a few things to them. Love is the given, obviously the foremost. I don't doubt that they feel it. But there is more.

One thing that has been on my mind, of late, is expressed so artfully in Gilead. The minister writes, "These days there are so many people who think loyalty to religion is benighted, if it is not worse than benighted. I am aware of that, and I know the charges that can be brought against the churches are powerful. And I know, too, that my own experience of the church has been, in many senses sheltered and parochial. In every sense, unless it really is a universal and transcendent life, unless the bread is the bread and the cup is the cup everywhere, in all circumstances, and it is a time with the Lord in Gethsemane that comes for everyone, as I deeply believe...It all means more than I can tell you. So you must not judge what I know by what I find words for. If I could only give you what my father gave me. No, what the Lord has given me and must also give you. But I hope you will put yourself in the way of the gift."

I suppose it must be the universalist part of me bubbling to the surface. I want my boys to close their eyes on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in a sacrament meeting (a meeting I loathe to miss) and experience sincere communion, as I feel I have done so often, with God (who is Love) and the Son (who was the ultimate expression of it). And I want them to extend the circle of that experience and see in their mind's eye other people in other houses the world over, some with steeples, some with crosses, some with drums. Some with wafers and wine. Some with menorahs and yarmulkes. Some with prayer rugs. And push that circle onward to our dear friends, who, instead of sitting next to us, are hiking in the mountains in search of their own transcendence. I don't want them to hoard validation. I want to weld with them, together in love, and tolerance, and understanding.

If we can consider this life a gift, we might imagine it hidden, or up there on a shelf just out of reach, or maybe right here in our hands unopenable, without seams. Or we might see it as relationships between ourselves and those around us, our language all of a color, absurd in its beauty, epiphanous in it's proximity. It may be that, or something else entirely, but "you must not judge what I know by what I find words for."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Starting Again in Eden



Consider the lyrics of Joanna Newsom's "'81". Any thoughts?

I found a little plot of land,
in the garden of Eden.
It was dirt, and dirt is all the same.
I tilled it with my two hands,
and I called it my very own;
there was no-one to dispute my claim.

Well, you'd be shocked
at the state of things-
the whole place
has just cleared right out.
It was hotter than hell,
so I laid me by a spring, for a spell,
as naked as a trout.

The wandering eye that I have caught
is as hot as a wandering sun.
But I will want for nothing more,
in my garden:
start again,
in my hardening to every heart but one.

Meet me in the garden of Eden.
Bring a friend.
We are gonna have ourselves a time.
We are gonna have a garden party.
It's on me!
No, sirree, it's my dime.
We broke our hearts,
in the war between
St. George and the dragon,
but both, in equal part,
are welcome to come along.
I'm inviting everyone.

Farewell to loves that I have known.
Even muddiest waters run.
Tell me, what is meant by sin, or none,
in a garden
seceded from the union
in the year of A.D. 1?

The unending amends you've made
are enough for one life.
Be done.
I believe in innocence, little darlin.
Start again.
I believe in everyone.
I believe, regardless.
I believe in everyone.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Triumphant Return of Sufjan Stevens, part II


First of all, nobody else is writing music quite like this. Asthmatic Kitty, Sufjan's label, describes "Djohariah", the final song of the EP, as "a 17 minute guitar jam-for-single-mothers." In reality it is about a 12 minute guitar jam, which segues effortlessly into a more traditional lyric song for the last 5 minutes. There is a lovely and heartbreaking female dichotomy at work here. Desertion, abuse, financial ruin, and shame juxtaposed with birth, victory, beauty, and love. No joke, no hyperbole...I am more moved by the final minutes of this song than I have been by any other in a long time. I say that as a son, a father, a husband, and a man.

No need for expounding. Here are the lyrics. Listen/Purchase HERE.

"Djohariah"
Know you won’t get very far
With the back seat driver in the carpetbagger
With the dagger heart grabber stuck in your car

And the yard is grown to a hilt
And the money spent money spent where it went
Embarrassment, embarrassment to pay for the car

And the man who left you for dead
He’s the heart grabber back stabber double cheater wife beater
You don’t need that man in your life

And you worked yourself to the bone
While the people say what they say
It’s the neighbors anyway
They don’t know what’s good for your life

And I see your head hangs low
In the black shadow, half shadow
Living room is fitting is sitting room is fit for your crying

Don’t be ashamed—don’t hide in your room
For the woman is, woman is the glorious victorious
The mother of the heart of the world

Djohariah Djohariah, etc.

And the time you held to the light
When water ran water ran with the strange attic
And when the walls were wet with your life

And you pushed yourself to the floor
And the spirit went where it went
Hovering discovering uncovering your life, on the floor

And the walls were wet with your love

For the mother is, the mother is the glorious victorious
The mother of the heart of the world

Don’t be ashamed, don’t hide from me now
For the woman is the woman is the glorious victorious
The mother of the heart of the world

Djohariah Djohariah, etc.

Don’t be ashamed, don’t cry in the bath
For it’s the story of, story of, morning glory story
It’s the gloriole that comes to your path

There is a time when the lights will arise
For the mother is, the mother is the glorious victorious
The mother of the heart of the world

Go on! Little sister! Go on!
For your world is yours, world is yours
All the wilderness of world is yours to enjoy

Go on! Little sister! Go on! Little sister!
For your world is yours, world is yours
All the wilderness of world is yours

Go on! Little sister! Go on! Little sister!
For your world is yours, world is yours
All the wilderness of world is yours

Go on! Little sister! Go on!
For you’re beautiful, beautiful
All the fullness of the world is yours
credits

The Triumphant Return of Sufjan Stevens, Part I


In 1965 Paul Simon dumped upon an unsuspecting world "The Sound of Silence", one of the greatest songs ever written. Beloved by everyone. Seriously, can you show me one (reasonable) person who does not like that song? And it is worthy, scalp to toenail, of all the praise thrown its way over the years.

The song's message has only become more relevant with time. Simon sings of a dark vision cut and complemented by a neon sign/idol distracting everyone "and in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. People writing songs that voices never share." The uncomfortable, damning silence is the communal response of his generation and continues to be so in ours. "'Fools', I said, 'You do not know. Silence, like a cancer, grows. Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you.' But my words like silent raindrops fell and echoed in the wells of silence." This silence metaphorically sends a message all its own, in many different forms all sharing a common root - at least part of which (in my ears) seems to be a lack of communion and dialogue. Simon says.

Here we are 35 years later, and Sufjan Stevens just released, yesterday, an 8 song, 60 minute EP titled "All Delighted People". The first and last songs are masterpiece bookends. This post is labeled part 1, because it deals with the first track, which his label describes as a "long form epic ballad...a dramatic homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui, and Paul Simon's "Sounds of Silence"".

Sufjan jumps right at Simon's vision in the first line, "Tomorrow you'll see it through the clouded out disguises put you in the room...and I remember every sound it made...I'm not easily confused...And the people bowed and prayed. And what difference does it make for you and me? All delighted people raise their hands." That refrain of "all delighted people..." becomes progressively more sad and ironic as the song progresses. Simon pleaded with the people to take his arms. Sufjan responds, "And I took you by the sleeve."

It's not the only time he's taken a sleeve. In Sufjan's song "No Man's Land" (which in was a response to Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land") he sang, "This land is not your land, for the right hand takes what it can. Ransacks with the madman. For this land is not yours or mine to have. This land was made for the good of itself." Our culture's obsessive solipsism and it's death grip on the world play a role here as well.

Ultimately the last stanza pokes at those existential questions. This is a bitter confused slosh of a world. "Oh! But the world is a mess. And what difference does it make if the world is a mess? If the world is a mess! I tried my best. I tried in vain. Oh! But the world is a mess!" The back and forth of it is painfully uncomfortable. We tend to reach plateaus in life where we think we've learned to cope & compromise with the unfairness/horrors/messiness of the world. Probably because its finger isn't immediately upon us at that moment. Then it touches us again and sends us spinning. There is a yearning in his voice for connection and communion. "Oh! I love you a lot; Oh! I love you from the top of my heart. And you can see through my mistakes." The last line is a plea for the children, "Suffer not the child among you or shall you die young...", that last ellipses alluding, but not yielding at last, to the song's title.

The subject matter is everything but "delightful". But isn't it an amazing, joyful, awe-inspiring, yea, even delightful thing that this song was even written today? Lady GaGa, despite all her shock and awe domination of music media, is entirely banal. And I'm not advocating that all music must be all Sound-of-Silencey all the time (I will sing loud and strong anytime "Since U Been Gone" and "Irreplaceable" pop up on my iPod). But I do worry, are we missing a dialogue here? Are we as a culture still spiraling downward in a lack of true human communication and connection? All delighted people, raise their hands!

Feel free to listen to the song free of charge HERE. And/or pay 5 bucks and buy the EP.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On Encountering and Countering Restlessness



Christy had been feeling down for several days. We were in that no man's land where we both knew something was wrong, but whatever the thing - the looming shadow of whatever it was, wasn't nameable enough to me to clearly discern. We both danced around it for a few days. Then a week or two ago she came into the kitchen and asked me, kindly and in her way - completely straighforward, to please compliment her more. All I could do was stand there, not disappear, and nod (because one can not, in that moment, despite complete and unfeigned sincerity say something about how beautiful she looks, or how funny and talented she is, or how artfully she brings out the personality of our children, and how utterly lost I would be without her. Even a dolt could see that it was a time to nod.)

It got me thinking about Bruce Springsteen's "Stolen Car", performed here by Patty Griffin:

Patty Griffin: Stolen Car(mp3)

I met a little girl and I settled down in a little house out on the edge of town. We got married, swore we'd never part. Then little by little we drifted from each other's hearts. At first I thought it was just restlessness that would fade as time went by and our love grew deep. In the end it was something more I guess. Tore us apart and made us weep. I'm driving a stolen car down on Eldridge Avenue. Each night I wait to get caught, but I never do. She asked if I remembered the letters I wrote when our love was young and bold. She said last night she read those letters, and they made her feel one hundred years old. I'm driving a stolen car on a pitch black night. And I'm telling myself I'm gonna be all right. I drive by night and I travel in fear that in this darkness I will disappear.


Monday, August 02, 2010

Clearly I'm Not Ready


Several weeks ago our Grandma Toni's younger sister Ann passed away. They were close and conversed daily. The morning I found out I visited grandma. She might be the toughest woman I know. Unflappable. Feircely independent by necessity. She migrated from post-war Holland in the late 40's with a three year old daughter following the accidental death of her husband. Never remarried. "I already have a husband" she said. She was the provider. Life was not convenient, but she found a way. She has always been governed by unconquerable faith which has, in its way, "brought forth unto it's own likeness".

I sat across the kitchen table from this remarkable woman. Her eyes well, but won't let fall the tears. "I can't quite believe she is gone," she says. "A thought comes to me, I go to pick up the phone, and then I remember." I don't want anything to go unsaid, yet don't know what to say. She has a deeply personal understanding of how to deal with death and loss. She says, in a moment of candor, something I will not forget. "Everyone comforts themselves by saying - 'She is in a better place. She is with her husband, and those who've gone before'. Well, I'm not ready to move on. I want to be with my grandchildren. I want to see everyone grow. Here is where I want to be."

What a beautiful sentiment. I'm not ready either. This world is both gorgeous and cruel, serene and relentless, generous beyond compare yet completely unfair. Death charms us all in different ways. And so here is a song, written by Vic Chesnutt (R.I.P.), performed by David Bazan.

David Bazan: Flirted With You All My Life(mp3)

I am a man. I am self-aware. And everywhere I go you're always right there with me. I flirted with you all my life. Even kissed you once or twice. And to this day I swear it was nice, but clearly, I was not ready. When you touched a friend of mine I thought I would lose my mind. But I found out with time that clearly, I was not ready. Oh, Death. Really, I'm not ready. Oh Death, you hector me, you decimate those dear to me. You tease me with your sweet releif you're cruel and you are constant. When my mom was cancer sick she fought, but then succumbed to it. But you made her beg for it Lord Jesus, please I'm ready. Oh Death. Really I'm not ready. Oh Death, clearly I'm not ready.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Truth Comes In Covers: Bon Iver


Here is Bon Iver covering the incomparable, the one, the only, Leslie Feist. Do you want to know how to write a sad love song? Look no further. In fact you may realize that the sad love song thing has been gutted, emptied, and done better than you could ever hope.

"Sadness so real that it populates the city, and leaves you homeless again. Steam from a cup and snow on the path. The seasons have changed from present to past. The past turns whole to half."

Bon Iver: The Park(mp3)





Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jamie Lidell

Among several terrific artists that will be gracing a new stage at the Twilight Concert Series this year is Jamie Lidell, whose album "Compass" dropped today.

Salt Lake City is a great place to live. Can you believe we get to watch this stuff for free?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Truth Comes In Covers: Regina Spektor


Regina Spektor covers Radiohead. "A heart that's full up like a landfill. A job that slowly kills you. Bruises that won't heal."

Regina Spektor: No Surprises (mp3)



Thursday, April 29, 2010

Though His Name Is Infinite, My Father Is Asleep

by Larry Levis

When my father disappeared,
He did not go into hiding.
In old age, he was infinite,
So where could he hide? No,
He went into his name,
He went into his name, & into
The way two words keep house,
Each syllable swept clean
Again when you say them;
That's how my father left,
And that's how my father went
Out of his house, forever.
Imagine a house without words,
The family speechless for once
At the kitchen table, & all night
A hard wind ruining
The mottled skin of plums
In the orchard, & no one
Lifting a finger to stop it.
But imagine no word for "house,"
Or wind in a bare place always,
And soon it will all disappear--
Brick, & stone, & wood--all three
Are wind when you can't say
"House," & know, anymore, what it is.
Say Father, then, to no one,
Or say my father was, himself,
A house, or say each word's a house,
Some lit & some abandoned.
Then go one step further,
And say a name is a home,
As remote & as intimate.
Say home, then, or say, "I'll
Never go home again," or say,
Years later, with that baffled
Ironic smile, "I'm on my way
Home," or say as he did not,
"I'm going into my name."
Go further; take a chance, & say
A name is infinite. Repeat all
The names you know, all
The names you've ever heard,
The living & the dead, the precise
Light snow of their syllables.
Say your own name, or say
A last name, say mine, say his,
Say a name so old and frayed
By common use it's lost
All meaning now, & sounds
Like a house being swept out,
Like wind where there's no house.
Say finally there is no way
To document this, or describe
The passing of a father, that
Faint scent of time, or how
He swore delicately, quickly
Against it without ever appearing
To hurry the ceremony of swearing.
And say, too, how you disliked
And loved him, how he stays up
All night now in two words,
How his worn out, infinite name
Outwits death when you say it.
And say finally how the things
He had to do for you
Humiliated him until
He could not get his breath, & say
How much they mattered, how
Necessary he was. And then,
Before sleep, admit, also,
That his name is nothing,
Light as three syllables,
Lighter than pain or art, lighter
Than history, & tell how two words,
That mean nothing to anyone
Else, once meant a world
To you; how sometimes, even you,
In the sweep of those syllables,
Wind, crushed bone, & ashes--
Begin to live again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Ache of Marriage

by Denise Levertov

The ache of marriage:
thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,
each and each

It is leviathan and we
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of
the ache of it

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Just This

by W.S. Merwin

When I think of the patience I have had
back in the dark before I remember
or knew it was night until the light came
all at once at the speed it was born to
with all the time in the world to fly through
not concerned about ever arriving
and then the gathering of the first stars
unhurried in their flowering spaces
and far into the story the planets
cooling slowly and the ages of rain
then the seas starting to bear memory
the gaze of the first cell at its waking
how did this haste begin this little time
at any time this reading by lightning
scarcely a word this nothing this heaven

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Youth

by W.S. Merwin

Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for

or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was looking how would I

have known you when I saw you as I did
time after time when you appeared to me

as you did naked offering yourself
entirely at that moment and you let

me breathe you touch you taste you knowing
no more than I did and only when I

began to think of losing you did I
recognize you when you were already

part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you

from what we cannot hold the stars are made

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Gentle Surgury

by Malachi Black

Once more the bright blade of a morning breeze
glides almost too easily through me,

and from the scuffle I’ve been sutured to
some flap of me is freed: I am severed

like a simile: an honest tenor
trembling toward the vehicle I mean

to be: a blackbird licking half-notes
from the muscled, sap-damp branches

of the sugar maple tree… though I am still
a part of any part of every particle

of me, though I’ll be softly reconstructed
by the white gloves of metonymy,

I grieve: there is no feeling in a cut
that doesn’t heal a bit too much.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hurricane

by Yona Harvey

Four tickets left, I let her go --
Firstborn into a hurricane.

I thought she escaped
The floodwaters. No -- but her

Head is empty of the drowned
For now -- though she took

Her first breath below sea level.

Ahhh awe & aw
Mama, let me go -- she speaks

What every smart child knows --
To get grown you unlatch

Your hands from the grown

& up & up & up & up
She turns—latched in the seat

Of a hurricane. You let
Your girl what? You let

Your girl what?

I did so she do I did
so she do so --

Girl, you can ride

A hurricane & she do
& she do & she do & she do

She do make my river

An ocean. Memorial,
Baptist, Protestant birth -- my girl

Walked away from a hurricane.

& she do & she do & she do & she do
She do take my hand a while longer.

The haunts in my pocket

I’ll keep to a hum: Katrina was
a woman I knew. When you were

an infant she rained on you & she
do & she do & she do & she do

Monday, April 19, 2010

This Much I Do Remember

by Billy Collins

It was after dinner.
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,

and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.

All of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of your
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of your shoulders

that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the way stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.

Then all the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row,
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from the millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.

Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kingdom
that we pace through every day.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The World's Lap

by Lance Larsen

The world keeps wanting to float off into Italian
frescoes, dissolve into acacias,
fall lightly like dust into the Indian Ocean.
Meanwhile the body, tired mule,
pushes the grocery cart through Perishables.
The math is simple.
Spirit + body = a sadness machine.

Subtract either spirit or body and you're left
with a story
problem for actuaries
Guillotines make permanent separation a snap.
Ditto famines and plagues,
ditto waves if you try to cross
the ocean without holding fast to a floating object.

But how to keep the machine happy--
supply it with live clams and dead auteurs?
Dance it through corn mazes
in the Midwest? An owner's manual
would help, but how does one translate
the Upanishads of the clavicle,
and where do you add oil in a sadness machine?

Once in a San Jose park, on vacation, I asked
my daughter, Where are we?
She looked up at me: My dolly sits
on mine lap, I sit on yours lap, you sit
on the chair's lap, the chair sits
on the world's lap. There are a million
ways to say "California." Only a few promise rest.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dance Yrself Clean


I interrupt this touchy-feely poetry fest to bring you breaking news from the world of music.

LCD Soundsystem is streaming their forthcoming album, This Is Happening, on their website. Be good to yourself and go listen to "Dance Yrself Clean". Turn up the volume. Perhaps, if you feel like it, move your hips a little. It's easily one of the best songs of the year.

The Poet Without Degree

{poem was here}

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Babies

by Mark Strand

Let us save the babies.
Let us run downtown.
The babies are screaming.

You shall wear mink
and your hair shall be done.
I shall wear tails.

Let us save the babies
even if we run in rags
to the heart of town.

Let us not wait for tomorrow.
Let us drive into town
and save the babies.

Let us hurry.
They lie in a warehouse
with iron windows and iron doors.

The sunset pink of their skin
is beginning to glow.
Their teeth

poke through their gums
like tombstones.
Let us hurry.

They have fallen asleep.
Their dreams
are infecting them.

Let us hurry.
Their screams rise
from the warehouse chimney.

We must move faster.
The babies have grown into their suits.
They march all day in the sun without blinking.

Their leader sits in a bullet-proof car and applauds.
Smoke issues from his helmet.
We cannot see his face:

we are still running.
More babies than ever are locked in the warehouse.
Their screams are like sirens.

We are still running to the heart of town.
Our clothes are getting ragged.
We shall not wait for tomorrow.

The future is always beginning now.
The babies are growing into their suits.
Let us run to the heart of town.

Let us hurry.
Let us save the babies.
Let us try to save the babies.

Friday, April 09, 2010

After Years

by Ted Kooser

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer’s retina
as he stood in the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

April Verses

Since April is national poetry month, I'm going to put myself out there a bit and share some selections of my own original poetry, alongside works from some of my favorite poets. I've already fallen several rejection letters short in my quest for publication this year, but there's no accounting for taste in the sour, overflowing inboxes of the blind assistant editors who've mistakenly cast me off. :) Out of respect for copyrights, revisions, and my own publishing aspirations etc. I'll only leave my originals up for a week or so before taking them down. And I gratefully acknowledge the copyrights of individuals whose poetry I'm posting. I will happily remove them upon request.

In the world of writing (oh, divine!), poetry is the ultimate craft. There are some great online publishers out there that are doing exciting things for poetry, some of my favorites being: Anti-Poetry, Sixth Finch, and SIR!. Check them out. I often let my inner demons or other obligations get in the way of my writing. I want to be more consistent, and less willing to let the muse get away - more like the fisherman in this outstanding poem by Raymond Carver.

After Rainy Days
Raymond Carver

After rainy days and the same serious doubts-
strange to walk past the golf course,
sun overhead, men putting, or teeing, whatever
they do on those green links. To the river that flows
past the clubhouse. Expensive houses on either side
of the river, a dog barking at this kid
who revs his motorcycle. To see a man fighting
a large salmon in the water just below
the footbridge. Where a couple of joggers have stopped
to watch. Never in my life have I seen anything
like this! Stay with him, I think, breaking
into a run. For Christ's sake, man, hold on!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Out Go The Lights


One of my favorite songs of the year is "Out Go The Lights" by Spoon. I can't stop listening to it.

"...and when that light turns back again you will remember the way they fall for you like a brick. Oh, but nobody loves you or woos you when you're down or kicked. Out go the lights. Never see that counterpoint. You always looked good that way, you with the one-two punch."

Spoon: Out Go The Lights (mp3)


But in a strange way there is something about this song that feels a little like the verse in Def Leppard's Hysteria. Am I crazy?

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Prodigy + Talking Heads

It's wonderful to see the unexpected marriage of two beautiful things.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Have Two On Me


She's pretty weird, very eloquent, and has that voice. She is also an excellent songwriter. Check out these two little beauties below from her upcoming triple album "Have One On Me". Ridiculously good.

Joanna Newsom: Good Intentions Paving Company (mp3)

Joanna Newsom: Jackrabbits (mp3)

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Grace Note

When life becomes less about logistics and figures and checkboxes, then our eyes are light, our hearts tickle, and our day becomes a vision of the beauty that surrounds us, and indeed that is within us, and indeed the music of all that we are a part of, and indeed playing.


"Grace Note" by W. S. Merwin

It is at last any morning
not answering to a name
I wake before there is light
hearing once more that same
music without repetition
or beginning playing
away into itself
in silence like a wave
a unison in its own
key that I seem
to have heard before I
was listening but by the time
I hear it now it is gone
as when on a morning
alive with sunlight
almost at the year's end
a feathered breath a bird
flies in at the open window
then vanishes leaving me
believing what I do not see

Friday, January 15, 2010

Record Club

Beck, the living legend, has an amazing little thing going on called "Record Club", which his website describes as "an informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day. The album chosen to be reinterpreted is used as a framework. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. A track is put up here once a week. The songs are rough renditions, often first takes that document what happened over the course of a day as opposed to a polished rendering. There is no intention to 'add to' the original work or attempt to recreate the power of the original recording. Only to play music and document what happens."

The album which is the object of the latest installment is Skip Spence's "Oar". We've got a team of Beck (of course), Wilco, Feist, Jamie Liddell, and others lending a hand. (Sweet!!)



Monday, January 11, 2010

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Proof of Love

I expected that Christy would have posted this long ago, but she hasn't...so I will do it for her. A few months ago Milo spit up on Christy's pants. It was clearly some sort of theophany, like the virgin appearing in the browned face of an unbuttered toast. Doesn't it just melt your heart?


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Best Button

Someday I hope to write beautifully, like Ada Limón does here in The Best Button.

Now, off to listen to some Van Morrison.

Colouring of Pigeons


Could it be possible that the best song of the year has already dropped? Check out the eleven minute monument...


The Knife: Colouring of Pigeons (streaming live from their website)