Everyday Epiphanies with Patrick Watson’s Adventures in Your Own Backyard

patrick adventuresSometimes music can be the palliative you need to redirect and refocus your perspective and energies. Patrick Watson and his talented crew of musicians did just that for me on Sunday evening.

Patrick Watson’s name and work has been percolating through my headphones at various moments throughout the year. Based on repeated mentions and features on NPR, we had some frequent interactions wherein I enjoyed myself, but didn’t get engulfed in what I now see is the genius of Adventures in Your Own Backyard, his newest record released earlier this year.* So, this is not a “new” record given our 21st Century society’s fascination with immediacy, but still fairly fresh off the press and I’d venture to say that with few exceptions (NPR listeners and the Patrick Watson faithful) a fairly under-the-radar album. Why is that? Well, I’ve got some thoughts, including the fact that most of the songs aren’t your traditional pop or radio friendly edits, in other words, extended cuts with non-traditional tempo and mood shifts. But, I’ll return to this in a second, let me just get back to why Patrick has been on my mind of late and why it took so long for this record to grow on me (and why I think it will grow on you too).

…after a series of enervating events (not quite rising to the level of the travails faced by the Baudelaire children), I found myself this Sunday pondering a jaunt to go see Patrick Watson perform because of all the praise lavished by Bob Boilen of his live performances during the past year. But, given the rather disappointing experience the previous evening seeing the Alabama Shakes with a noisy, raucous, and disrespectful crowd that included people hooting and hollering only during the moments when Brittany uttered the few curse words in their songs and countless gentlemen checking their dimwitted phones for updates on college football scores, I was on the fence. (Sidenote: the band did a great job in spite of the circumstances.) However, as is often the case, I’d rather regret doing than not, given that life has a way of rewarding risk taking. (Or, as John Lennon said best, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”) What I serendipitously stumbled across was one of the most beautiful live performances of the past couple of years.

Let’s paint the picture for those who weren’t there.

IMG_8736First, Patrick predominantly plays the piano accompanied by a number of musicians who play your typical guitars and percussion but the more atypical violinist in the wings. Second, on stage right there was a gauzy, muslin covered circle, which I surmised was for visual (e.g., lighting) purposes but turned out to be a backdrop for projecting images and colors. The latter was not merely enhancement but really an essential part of the total work of art. Third, the stage was low light (mostly up lighting) with a series of bare bulbs scattered throughout for illumination and a constant stage mist. (Yes, something resembling a SteamPunk haunted house.) Last, the crowd was patient, respectful, rhythmically swaying, minimally status updating or Instragraming, and fully invested. From the opening notes played on Patrick’s piano, the evening was shrouded in the sort of serene and pensive aura often reserved for places of worship. And, the analogy is fitting if for two reasons: (1) the calming and reenergizing perspective it helped induce in my mind and (2) I often equate the feeling produced by great art as transcendental and spiritual, the very things for which devout worshipers seek from their religion and holy places. Peace of mind comes in many shapes and sizes. I’ve found it in the loud blaring guitars and drums of Japandroids to the muted whispers of a Steve Reich symphony. Patrick Watson’s performance ran this gamut in its own way. A great deal of the songs both in his performance and on Adventures in Your Own Backyard are slow building, deeply layered, richly orchestrated and delicate works with a meditative quality. But, at countless moments throughout the evening and within tracks, the tempo will shift entirely and a veritable hootenanny will arise or, at the very least, a groundswell of power and emotion that incite a body to dance and sing along. One such moment occurred during “Into Giants” that begins as a soft melodic ballad that explodes into this euphoric chorus about promise and possibility; the moment at which all the voices on stage joined into the recurring chorus of “started as lovers don’t know where it’s gonna end” sent shivers through the tightly (yet not uncomfortably) packed building (Lincoln Hall in Chicago, perhaps one of the best venues for live music I’ve ever been to). At another instance, a solo Patrick (as the band took a dramatic and practical break) encouraged audience participation with the following instructions: “when you sing these lines bring the emotions you have when a driver cuts you off, you know a little road rage.” The ensuing series of choruses grew with volume and enthusiasm in a psychic purging of our shared frustrations; it was the literal catharsis great art should always offer. I could keep gushing over the evening and the work but I’d rather you listen and experience the brilliance for yourself.IMG_8731

Now, before I do that though, I should give just a smattering of descriptions and comparisons to further entice those still unconvinced (or as I was Sunday evening on the proverbial fence). To begin with, this music and album takes some patience and an open mind, not to say its quirky and experimental, but, rather, its genius lies in its subtly and complexity. Throughout the evening I kept thinking of three artists in particular: the soul-stirring, falsetto of Jeff Buckley (the aural equivalent of Patrick’s vocal performance), the eclectic, rustic, baroque compositions of Andrew Bird, and the lush, atmospheric, expansive work of The Antlers. Of course, it’s not as though Patrick’s music is composed of simply those elements. At times, there are musical ventures into spaghetti-Western, Southwest infused soundscapes or folk-pop ballads, but it all happens in very contained and calculated ways.

Hopefully, at this stage, you are ready to listen to Patrick Watson’s Adventures in Your Own Backward** in its entirety, if so go here.

post-Posting update!! I almost forgot that NPR also has a live recording of Patrick Watson and band playing at the 930 Club in DC.  So you can see and hear what I saw here.  Isn’t technology sort of amazing sometimes.  (Except when it isn’t and complicates our life.)

(Non-Spotify users go to his website: http://www.adventuresinyourownbackyard.com/.)

a.a.

IMG_8732

*It is distinctly possible that his previous records are of an equally genius quality but I’ve yet to get to visit with them. Soon I’m sure.

** Also, this is a great title and reminds me at once of my favorite poet (e.e. cummings) and Yo La Tengo‘s …And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, which is also a very similar record in tone.

Everyone is a DJ, but Not Everyone is a Musical Genius: John Cale and Philip Glass (Remixed)

As a kid I loved radio shows of all sorts, mostly having to do with music but the occasional radio play also wowed my fancy. Over the last decade or so, radio has become seemingly a dying art form. Some of it has to do with the for-profit nature and over commercialization of the medium (but let’s be honest this was always underneath the surface), the rise of DIY DJ-ing and the increased access to new music via the internet, and the inevitable transformation in cultural and entertainment preferences. However, if there is one place where radio is alive, thriving, and still inspiring it’s definitely at the public radio level and through the growth of podcasting. On a number of occasions, I have mentioned my absolute obsession with NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast and the exquisite taste and impressive insights of its hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton. Their ability to cull through the hundreds of songs and records being released on a monthly level and highlight artists and albums from a wide breadth of mediums and genres is impressive. Unlike many DJs and musical curators, I find their taste refreshing and inclusive, often turning to other fellow radio employees for their own deeper knowledge of mediums like electronic music, hip hop and rap, and (for a lack of a better term) world music.

One segment that always excites me is the recurring guest DJ segments because it allows the listeners (and fans) to get an insight into the taste of legends or artists currently in the limelight. Last week, Bob brought the Welsh-born, John Cale, into the “studio” to shed some light on his newest album, his astounding work with the Velvet Underground, and his own personal “education” in the realm of music both past and present. The songs he chose and his rationale blew me away. Often I’ve found that artists aren’t always great at vocalizing or explaining themselves and their history, not that this sort of thing is easy to do. But Cale was impressively candid, forthright, and amusing in discussing (spoiler alert) his fascination with Snoop Dog’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” as well as what it was like to make popular music in the wake of totalitarian regimes that co-opted artists and their composition for nefarious ends. Even if you are not a fan of the Velvet Underground, I think the 45 minute discussion by this brilliant septuagenarian and music lifer is worth a listen.

If you are intrigued (and I hope you are), download or stream the All Songs Considered: Guest DJ John Cale podcast here.

…and while you are on NPR’s site listen to the stunning new remix album of Philip Glass’ body of work, Rework_Philip Glass by the likes of Beck, Amon Tobin, Dan Deacon, Memory Tapes and more!

as always/enjoy,

a.a.

Pump It Up: Detroit Electronic Music Fest and Japandroids

…a quick post here for some excellent trance inducing beats and adrenaline pounding rock to get you geared up for the weekend (a sort of follow up to yesterday’s dance infused post).

Detroit Electronic Music Festival (via NPR)

Check out NPR’s coverage of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival with Bob, Sam Yenigun and Morgan Tepper here.

Electronic music is not everyone’s cup of tea but perhaps owing to my Miami roots, I find myself grooving to a lot of the  beats emanating from DJ booths and dance halls.  There is a great mix of techno, house, downtempo and just straight up dance music.  Great music to play as you prep your mind for a relaxing weekend.

Love the Benoit and Sergio remix/cover of the Metronomy song and the closing track “Sunrise BCN”!!!

(NoteIf you want to listen to the music without the banter (but I adore the banter and think it’s informative), then simply add individual tracks to the playlist.)

This show and mix of songs gets me excited and thinking “Next year in Detroit!”

Japandroids Celebration Rock (stream here)

NPR is streaming the new record from this Vancouver Duo, one of the hardest rocking bands out there right now.  I adore their brand of full on anthemic punk rock.  I think I’ve listened to this stream at least four times in the last day (easy to do cause it’s just 35 minutes in total!) and it’s growing and growing on me.  A perfect  fist pumping way to wrap up the day before leaving the office, classroom, house, or wherever you might be spending the day.

Also, these guys are on tour and you HAVE to go see them — far and away one of my favorite live acts of the past decade.

enjoy the non-silence,

a.a.

Talking About Music: Low Times and other Podcasts

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the NPR All Songs Considered Podcast and its new summer quest in search of albums that we all love. Following up on this thread, I listened to a number of Podcasts this past week, in part because I “needed” to catch up and as a distraction/palliative to the sleep-inducing work in which I was enmeshed. The Podcasts that I subscribe to fall into two very distinct groups: (1) music related and (2) comedy shows. With the ever diminishing number of quality radio programs and “live” (as opposed to computer programmed) radio stations, I, for one, find the podcast format a means of capturing the best of what Radio use to do and what it meant to me and many others in our “youth” – a place of informed and intelligent conversation about music, showcasing new music, quirky off-beat reflections on the times in which we live. The shows I gravitate towards have a healthy dose of all these elements in varying degrees. So without further ado, here are some Podcasts of interest to music lovers and people who like to laugh.

Low Times Podcast featuring Ezra Koening, Colin Hay and DJ Spooky.

By way of background, Low Times is almost entirely a podcast filled with interviews of contemporary musicians. The interviews are conducted by Tom Scharpling, Daniel Ralston, and Maggie Serota. (In case you are not familiar with Tom Scharpling, he is the host of The Best Show on WFMU out of New Jersey. If you are a music fan, you should definitely check out – see here.)  This episode of the Low Times podcast was particularly engaging in my opinion because it focused on three very different artists and perspective on music.

  • Ezra Koening of Vampire Weekend discussed issues of privilege and people’s perception of his band and their relationship to privilege and “preppy culture”. Personally, I think this interview should be heard by all their detractors because I think Ezra has some pretty intelligent responses to the critiques that folks have directed them. There is also a great deal of New Jersey love spilling from Ezra’s and Tom’s lips.
  • Colin Hay, formerly of Men At Work and now a solo artist in his own right, talks about going from icon to starting over and going at it alone – i.e., without a record label or distribution.
  • DJ Spooky is undoubtedly one of the most unique and clever music makers in the business and listening to this interview you will also be impressed by his unique take on contemporary social/digital media (“There is too much of everything, . . . there isn’t too much information, there are just bad filters”). Also, I totally agree with his critique of algorithm-based internet radio stations  (aka Pandora or similar sites, personally the beta version of Pandora years ago was better). According to the interview, he owns 20 to 25,000 records (!!!) and has them in storage.  Man I would love to dig around that storage space.
Comedy Bang Bang Third Anniversary Special featuring Zack Galifianakis and St. Vincent

Quick background: A comedy show hosted by Scott Aukerman who invites fellow comedians to come in and discuss their careers except that crazy celebrities always appear to interrupt and hijack the mics.

I think this show is always hysterically funny but this was an explosion of laughter. I had to bite my hand not to laugh out loud in the space I was working. I still have bruises. A special treat on this episode is hearing St. Vincent perform three stripped down, acoustic songs from Strange Mercy including “Cruel” and “Cheerleader”. It’s worth listening just for that.

Plus, Zack G. and a parade of fellow comedians including Harris Wittels (who writes for Parks and Recreation) and Nick Kroll (from The League) make this an especially amusing episode. Advance warning, there is a healthy dose of “adult language” on this episode, so if you get offended by this kind of stuff, best to avoid.

Sklarbro Country
Another comedy show hosted by twin brothers from St. Louis, who love indie rock music and sports, and discuss and regularly feature both on their show. For the non-sports fans, this show isn’t about stats or opinions about games/players, instead, the Sklar brothers tend to focus on the more amusing (and also triumphant) side of sports.  Personally, I enjoy their educated, comical, and impassioned discussion of sports and entertainment.  Plus, they tend to have pretty great taste in music too.

Two recent episodes that I think will be good introductions include Episode 94 with Madmen‘s Jon Hamm (forewarning there is a great deal of discussion of the St. Louis Cardinals on this episode, a fast forwarded that part) or Episode 93 with Chelsea Peretti (this one included a great discussion about why Chelsea and the brother Sklar like sports).

Perhaps these can provide some nice distraction or entertainment on a lazy Sunday afternoon, on long drives, or during a long day of work.

a.a.

NPR’s Albums We ALL Love

Is it possible for people to agree on a single album that “we” all like? Is there a record that when it plays on the radio or at a party everyone in the room can really enjoy no matter what form of music they generally prefer? Although the skeptic in me might think that it’s somewhat mathematically improbable or impossible, the music lover in me begs to differ – contrarianism as idealism, what a novel concept. Well, if there is such a “holy grail” of an album, NPR’s All Songs Considered is on a summer long quest to find it.

The dynamic musical duo of public radio, Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton, are inviting its listeners to chime on in the albums that they feel are “universally” loved and they will be sharing the results and conducting polls to find the ten albums (?!?) that everyone can agree to agree on. Personally, I’m curious to see what might come of it. Now, it is important to note, as Bob and Robin do, that this isn’t necessarily a survey of “the best”, “greatest”, or “most important” records. This might lead to a great deal of disharmony. Rather, the goal is to find common ground across the wide breadth of musical preferences. I draw your attention to this particular segment of All Songs Considered because I think Bob and Robin talk about music in a way that demonstrates their love and passion for music as well as presenting material, new and old, in a manner that all folks can relate to, a sort of everyman’s radio show.  I think this first installment of this recurring series perfectly encapsulates their appreciation for a broad range of music from Billie Holiday (a personal favorite) to Bob Marley (amazing song choice by Glen Hansard) to AC/DC and Boston, both of which are bands that you wouldn’t think two nerdy music types would dig. (I do have to agree that Back In Black is definitely a killer record.)

If you’ve never listened to the All Songs Considered Podcast I would MOST DEFINITELY encourage you to start listening, and this might be the perfect introduction. (If you like it, I would also suggest that you either subscribe to their podcast (it’s free!) via iTunes or their website or listen via Google Listen (for Android users) or the NPR Music App (for the iPhone). For the record, I don’t work for NPR, I just really appreciate what they do and trying to spread the word about their non-News features.)

  • To listen to the first installment of NPR’s “Can’t We All Just Get Along? Our Search For The Albums Everyone Loves” podcast, click and stream here.

You can also nominate albums for their consideration in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

In case you are wondering what I would add to the list of albums not already showcased or named on the show, here’s a small handful:

  • Van MorrisonAstral Weeks
  • The Beatles – Abbey Road
  • Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
  • the Band – s/t
  • Bob Dylan – Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan or Blonde on Blonde
  • Stan Getz and Joao GilbertoGetz/Gilberto
  • Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
  • Fleetwood MacRumours
  • Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

Yes, this list contains not a single album after about 1985. This isn’t to say there aren’t great records that have been made in the past thirty years. I just couldn’t really think of anything of recent memory that has “universal appeal”. Artists like the Smiths, Nirvana, Radiohead, R.E.M., Belle and Sebastian and Wilco dominate my record collection and personal favorites list but I know lots of people to whom these don’t appeal. The only record of recent vintage I thought of including was Mumford and Sons Sigh No More because it has the sort of cross-over appeal of say the Once soundtrack.

What would you suggest? Feel free to submit your thoughts in the comments section here (but please do add your thoughts to NPR’s site as well!).

a.a.

p.s. In other NPR news, check out the new records on First Listen (here’s a Link), including:

  • Regina Spektor
  • Sigur Ros !!!
  • Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
  • The Walkmen
  • Saint Etienne !!!

Through the Looking Glass: Julia Holter’s Ekstasis

You are late. For a very important date. A curious journey into a strange realm of delicate and somber layers of sound. Follow me, if you will, for a brief diversion into a land of dream sounds and reveries. Follow me down the rabbit hole into Julia Holter’s Ekstasis.

A digression on terminology…. For the classic language scholars, perhaps the origin of the word or term Ekstasis is not lost on them. For the remainder (of us) who traffic in the more contemporary languages, Ekstasis is the Greek form of “ecstasy”. As defined in the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary1 , “ecstasy” is: (1) a state of being beyond reason and self-control; (2) a state of overwhelming emotion; esp: rapturous delight (3) Trance; esp: a mystic or prophetic trance.2

Each subtle variation on the definition of “ecstasy” is both an apt description of and excellent synthesis of this unique album by Los Angeles’ Julia Holter. As you might have gathered by way of my introduction, Ekstasis is not your traditional or conventional record. Holter is regarded as “experimental pop music” by certain music media (read: Pitchfork by way of whom I discovered her music some months back). However, I think the term “experimental” in this context does not connote the usual associations one tends to have with experimental, such as “atonal”, non-melodic, improvisational, lacking structure, etc. Rather, Holter’s music is experimental in so far as it eschews (for the most part) the traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure and focuses more on layering various instruments, sounds, and vocal arrangements to create a soundscape of dream-laced compositions. In many ways, she is no different than a number of DJ/producers such as Four Tet or The Books (now defunct); instrumental-only indie/rock bands such as Tortoise; or more recognizable dream/fuzz-pop bands like the Cocteau Twins, Beach House, the Lower Dens, or, even Bon Iver, on the last album. Perhaps, the term “experimental” is used for branding purposes. Or, then again, it may be a way of situating Julia in the tradition of musicians on the margin between music and performance art such as Laurie Anderson or Meredith Monk. Personally, I find Julia’s work leaning more towards the music side and is “arguably” more accessible (in part because I don’t think you need to “get the work” to appreciate the work).

But, what does it sound like? A delicate quasi-Baroque chamber orchestra overlaid with a cascade of Julia’s siren-like vocals, subtle synthesizer melodies, and minimal percussion (for accent). Of course, each song has even more nuanced variations on this theme, but the whole record has an otherworldly, old-world meshed against modernity feel evocative of Dead Can Dance or Kronos Quartet (both exquisite synthesizers of eastern and western musical traditions). Although this is a record that (I would argue) is about the sum of its parts, there are two stellar tracks that could stand on their own: “In the Same Room” and “Marienbad”. “In the Same Room” was the first track that caught my attention and it has all the elements of baroque production and vocal layering previously discussed. However, unlike the remainder of the album, it is has the feel of a “traditional” pop song in part because of the percussion at the outset of the song which lays a blueprint of anticipation for what is to come – don’t be surprised, though, if expectations aren’t met. (If you are a fan of Beach House, this track will definitely appeal to you.). On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Marienbadwanders in a series of varying vocal motifs of curiosity, whimsy, nightmare, and, finally, epiphany. If Philip Glass set out to make a mini-vocal arrangement in the vein of Einstein on the Beach and invited David Lynch3 to supply the aural narrative, this would be their scion. Enough discussing the odd and opulent landscape of Ekstasis, please take venture into its rapturous delight below:

  • Listen to the entirety of Ekstasis here via Spotify.
  • Listen toMarienbad” here. (For non-Spotify users)
  • See the video for “In the Same Room” here.
  • Visit Julia Holter’s website here.

First Listen Alert!!! As always, I try my best to update on bands and records, being spotlighted on NPR’s First Listen. Starting today, NPR will be streaming the following three records for free (click on name to listen):

It is pure cosmic coincidence (or the Super Moon?) that I am writing about Julia Holter’s record on the day that two artists who traffic in a similar aesthetic (i.e., Beach House and Exitmusic) are being streamed on NPR. Although I’ve only listened through the Beach House and Exitmusic albums once, they are excellent background/atmospheric music to accompany a day of work — who knows you might impress your co-workers.

May your day be merry and bright,

a.a.

1 Note: From the print not the online version. As a recalcitrant Luddite, I maintain an unhealthy collection of dictionaries of varying lengths. One day, I will be bold enough to graduate to the OED’s voluminous and tiny print, but for now the MWCD will do.

2 A fourth entry exists which references the pharmaceutical “party” drug of the late 80s/90s most often associated with raves, house music, and the European trip-hop scene. I am venturing a guess that Julia was not referencing this usage.

3 I tried so hard not to invoke David Lynch, but, if ever the term Lynchian or Lynch-esque were appropriate, then Ekstasis captures it. (Think more of the mid-early Lynch work, i.e. Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, or Twin Peaks.)

Bellingham’s Brightest: A Death Cab for Cutie Mix

“…this is fact not fiction for the first time in years.” – ben gibbard

In anticipation of this evening’s Death Cab For Cutie concert at the Chicago Theatre, I decided to put together a medley of my favorite songs produced by the band over their decade plus recording career.

Click here for the Death Cab Mix: Songs Composed While You Were Sleeping (via Spotify).

Although over the years many of their original fans have fallen by the wayside because the band has moved towards an arguably more mainstream pop sound, I still find myself reveling in their music old and new.  Admittedly, I do not think anything will ever capture the intimacy and the brilliantly layered lo-fi musical landscape of the first four records (see “Transatlanticism” which best encapsulates this style), Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla, and company can still write poignant and eye-watering pop-songs better than most song writers. While the lo-fi buzz and hum of the early records has disappeared, the band has moved towards creating gorgeously orchestrated, almost symphonic indie-pop chamber pieces.

By this stage, I assume most folks are familiar with Death Cab (after all they were featured in the Twilight soundtrack) and I need not enter into an extensive history of the band.  However, I will encourage everyone to visit or revisit the first three records if they haven’t recently because taken as a whole they are little gems.  Check Out:

  • Something About Airplanes
  • We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes and
  • The Photo Album (all available on Spotify).

I will report back on the show post-performance.

Two quick tidbits of historical information:

(1) the title of this post references the fact that DCFC is from Bellingham, Washington (which for sports fans is also the home of Ted Williams) and

(2) the origin of the name (because many have asked in the past) is as follows: “Gibbard took the band name from the title of the song written by Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall and performed by their group, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, in The Beatles’ 1967 film, Magical Mystery Tour.” from Wikipedia so it must be true, right?).

LISTEN TO THIS!!!  Before I go, I highly encourage folks to check out this week’s NPR All Songs Considered Podcast featuring awesome new material from Hot Chip, Japandroids, and Bobby Womack (you might remember him from the Gorillaz “Styllo“).  (In case you listen to just the tracks, I am particularly fond of Sarah Jaffe’s “Glorified High”)).

a.a.