Sharon Van Etten recently played the final show of her tour here in Oregon. The Pickathon is a yearly music festival that happens outside of Portland. This year the festival was on August 4th and we have a really good recording of the entire set. Even more exciting is that this recording provides some really high quality versions of a few new songs that Sharon played that afternoon.
The first song, on my recording simply labeled “New Song” as she opens the set with it and doesn’t introduce it, but I think a fair bet is that the song is going to be called “I Know.” It’s a great choice for a set opener with just Sharon singing at the piano, her voice confident and stronger than ever. She moves effortlessly between a subdued, soft voice drawing us in, and a powerful full-voiced near shout at the top of her range before seeming to calm herself down singing “I know…..I know.” The dynamic play pushes and pulls us through the song, while melismatic turns casually float by before coming to an end with Sharon softly singing “all I ever wanted was you.”
Abut the other new track, “Tarifa,” Sharon explains,
“this next song is about a vacation, it’s a new one that we’ve been working on, it’s call Tarifa….it’s [in Spain] on a fucking cliff overlooking Morocco, but it is amazing – in the middle of nowhere. There was a bunch of bulls, that I was afraid of, in the pasture next to me, but they could give a shit that I was there. They didn’t try to run me over or anything weird. I had to ask my boyfriend, I was like ‘can I wear red? Are they gonna charge at me?’ They didn’t. I tried it out. It was fine. Anyway, this song is about that.”
It’s more fleshed out than “I Know,” beginning with Sharon and her guitar, and the rest of the band soon following. The verses move through a gentle waltz, while the choruses are more concerned with driving straight ahead.
And while you are checking those out, you should also head over to this site to purchase a t-shirt designed by Sharon with all of the proceeds going to charity.
“The artwork used is one of my early contour drawings when I first moved to New York and the charity chosen is Women in Need (WIN). WIN transforms the lives of New York City homeless women and their children by providing a holistic solution of safe housing, critical services and ground-breaking programs they need to succeed on their own – so the women can regain their independence and their children can look forward to a brighter future.”
So there you have it. Two new songs and a way to help a great charity. This is where I would normally say “you can catch her on tour” but, like I said, the tour is over. Look for the album within the year. You’ll forget by then, but I’ll remind you.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything new from Dirty Projectors. Dave Longstreth and company gave us Bitte Orca in 2009, and toured extensively on its success. After a deafening silence on their part a new song has appeared on their site, and on their label’s soundcloud.
“Gun Has No Trigger” focuses all of its energy on a funky bass and drum reduction in combination with the beautiful, ethereal backing vocals of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. The entire track is a slow build that grows through the choruses without the aid of Longstreth’s quirky, characteristic guitar playing. I would suggest listening to this track on headphones or a good system with the bass turned up. It picks up exactly where Bitte Orca closing track “Fluorescent Half Dome” left off.
The album is apparently, hopefully, going to be coming out this coming Spring, i.e. soon. Keep an eye out for it. If it is anything like Bitte Orca, or like this track suggests it is going to make your summer. Dirty Projectors also have started booking some dates in support of the album this summer, which includes their 2nd visit to the Pitchfork Music Festival. Check out the track below.
I jokingly tweeted that I should send an e-mail to bands if I’m able to listen to their entire album or EP without losing interest. Hey, we get sent a lot of music and unfortunately that means the music gets judged by how quickly it can grab us, and hold our attention. I’m not sure if the other guys would completely agree with me or not, so I’ll just say that that is true for me.
Last week Albany, NY band Alta Mira quietly sent me a link to their Soundcloud and Bandcamp sites, and I listened. After that I listened again, and as I write this I am listening yet again. It’s crafty pop music that is catchy and more on the quieter side at times, while more on the dance side at others. The mix is clean, and the tunes are solid on their forthcoming album entitled I Am The Salt.
Of the tracks available on their Bandcamp page, “Organ Anthem” opens up in the middle, when the vocals drop out, and just builds and builds before the driving and echoed guitar pulls us back in again. It’s probably my favorite of the 3 tracks available, and good on them for ending the release on a track that makes me want more. That’s the way to do it. Bands take note! The first track “Good Enough” makes me think of The Shins, but with perhaps a bit more layering and rhythmic drive.
It looks like they are already garnering some attention from reviewers from their previous EP from 2007 and a self-titled LP from 2009, so the only thing left for you to do is to check out their tracks. The full 10 song LP “I am the Salt” is slated for release on March 31st. You can download the first single, “Good Enough” below, and stream a couple more at their Bandcamp page.
Luke Roberts’ “The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport” is, on its surface, a collection of heartfelt emotional explorations. Continued listening reveals a deeper folk and country influence. Roberts’ delicate and finely crafted arrangements are spare one track, fleshed out the next, always finding the perfect balance of instruments to accentuate his plain-spoken lyrics.
The first thing that struck me upon hearing the opening seconds of “I Don’t Want You Anymore” slow, droning violin’s delicate vibrato and spare guitar chords was the way that it reminded me of Jason Molina’s work with Songs: Ohia’s final album “The Magnolia Electric Company”. This track opens like a country ballad, heartache weighing heavy in Roberts’ voice. The violin comments on the emotive quality of the lyrics in its moaning bleat that contributes a deeper level of emotional interpretation. Like many of the songs throughout the album this is a sparse voice and guitar affair, though Roberts’ intricate picking can weave a complex harmonic fabric with a great deal of interestingly voiced chords on tracks like “Second Place Blues” and “Cartier Timepiece”.
There are only a few tracks assisted by a full rhythm section, moving the songs from the Nick Drake territory of “Spree Wheels” towards the aforementioned Magnolia Electric Co. sound. Luke’s voice is clear and low, similar to Bill Callahan, conjured from a very personal place as evidenced from the first person perspective of the lyrics. Though even without the aid of a full band Roberts has a skill in filling the spaces. The excitement in “Lost on Leaving” rolls forward with harmonica and piano in addition to broad guitar strumming and the most hopeful words sung on the album: “With everyone smiling at me”. It’s impossible not to see Luke Roberts himself singing through a smile as the words cross his lips.
“Will You Be Mine” is strummed brightly as Luke’s voice cracks. He follows the line “I need you to call” with an extended pause that puts us as listeners in his place, waiting and hoping in desperation for fulfillment. The track consists almost entirely of two chords, but he shows us what can be done with only two chords in this track and the next track that is equally minimal in its harmonic changes: “Spree Wheels”. In “Spree Wheels” the guitar sound morphs into a full ensemble with the lower strings sounding clear and round like an upright bass.
The way in which the songs are recorded brings the listener in closer. From the dry drum sound on “Old Fashioned Woman” to the sound of fingers brushing against the guitar strings as they are plucked, to the directness and clarity of the voice; this album is very present. It’s hard to hide mistakes in a mix like this, and that high-wire act of sorts is exciting to listen to. Luke Roberts is a confident performer who doesn’t disappoint on any of these songs.
Standing in sharp contrast to the laid back and stripped down nature of the majority of the songs is the arrangement of “Old Fashioned Woman” with its distorted lead guitar line that slices right through every other instrument in the ensemble with a slight amount of reverb and delay that comes off as an otherworldly sound amidst the repeated lulling finger picked steel string guitar. Adding to the colorful arrangement in this track is the simple 2-note piano line that gives a bit more depth, complexity and reinforcement to the guitar line.
With “The Iron Gates at Throop and Newport” the artistry and craftsmanship of Luke Roberts as a songwriter, and guitarist is truly on display. He successfully navigates a wide variety of sounds and textures to great effect throughout.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/08-Lost-on-Leaving.mp3|titles=Lost on Leaving]
Head to Thrill Jockey right now to pre-order the album. It’s set for release on March 20. And if you are planning on purchasing the album in the vinyl format (as I wholeheartedly suggest), Thrill Jockey says:
The vinyl version of Luke’s debut Big Bells and Dime Songs sold out upon release, so do not hesitate.
Musicians are of that breed of individual that wear their emotions on their sleeve. They seem to feel them more intensely than others, or are at least worse at hiding their emotions than everyone else. So many musicians, that didn’t die from a drug overdose (which might be a reaction to feeling emotions in itself), chose to kill themselves after a life of writing desperately painful, heartfelt songs and honest lyrics. Mark Linkous shot himself in the heart, Nick Drake overdosed on his anti-depressants after several years of insomnia and depression, and Elliott Smith possibly stabbed himself in the heart.
Words can be powerful enough, but, combined with music, some artists can really pull a listener in and make them actually feel how they truly feel. It is the purpose of art to make others feel and this collection of lyrics certainly could make even the coldest heart empathetic.
Andrew Bird, “Armchairs” from the album “Armchair Apocrypha”
“You didn’t write, you didn’t call. It didn’t cross your mind at all.”
The despair in this lyric is pretty intense. It conjures images of waiting by the phone, hoping that the one person that you love will just contact you and let you know that they feel the same. The call never comes, your heart sinks in the realization of your unrequited love. The time comes where you have to slowly let all of those built up feelings go, as they were misguided in the first place.
This longing is only heightened by Bird’s arrangement at this point in the song. Considering that it is over 7 minutes long it is really a daring bit of songwriting and arranging. He manages to, just before this point in the song, strip away nearly everything until only his voice remains, whispering into your ear. As soon as the line in question is sun everything comes back after a brief and dramatic build. The solitary upper pedal tone produced by the violin highlights the deep emotional torment plaguing the narrator of the song. Very powerful.
Titus Andronicus, “No Future Part 3: Escape from No Future”, from the album “The Monitor”
“I used to look myself in the mirror at the end of every day, but I took the one thing that made me beautiful and I threw it away.”
This line pretty much speaks for itself. Taken from the perspective of someone who has, apparently, fucked up their life beyond repair, or at least beyond what they think is reparable. There is so much regret that he can’t even stand to face himself anymore. The absolute bottom has been reached, and what is worse is that he knows that things used to be better but is unsure as to whether or not things will return to the way that they once were.
Musically this song is set in 3 general sections. This line appears at the beginning of the 2nd of those sections. Patrick Stickles growls and spits these words out with ruthless efficiency. He knows the pain he feels, and angrily shouts it out through clenched teeth. In an album that is full of emotionally devastating and honest lyrics this one stands out to me as one of the most affecting.
Hurricane Bells, “This Year” from the album “Tonight is the Ghost”
“You can always walk away if you see me comin’. I don’t think about you, I don’t think about you.”
It’s hard to accurately picture this lyric or portray it outside of the context of the song, which moves ably from optimism to pessimism from line to line. There is a sense that two people need to be apart, but no reason is given as to why. Perhaps neither of them completely understands why they need to be apart. It is clear, however, that the narrator is trying to be strong about it, knowing that he is going to go on doing what he needs to do and if that other person happens to come across him then it is up to them to turn around if they don’t want to or can’t deal with the sight of him. Meanwhile he tries to convince himself that he doesn’t think about her. His repeating this immediately, like a mantra is telling of the fact that he really isn’t strong enough to deal with the situation.
The Burning Hell, “It Happens in Florida”, from the album “Tick-Tock”
“Love, it’s like a hurricane. It happens in Florida. It destroys everything.”
The Burning Hell are full of tongue in cheek, self-deprecating lyrics. This one hits close to the heart though. There is a sincerity in this song that seems to want to let the listener know that they are serious this time.
This line is the final lyric of the song that is one continuous build. It is preceded by other lines that are borderline absurd, but after hearing these words the simple chord progression continues, unchanged for 2 more minutes allowing the listener to ponder the gravity of some of those lyrics that they may have previously considered silly. I have already talked about this one in detail here.
Tom Waits, “Georgia Lee” from the album “Mule Variations”
“Be sure to find me. I want you to find me and we’ll play all over, we will play all over again”
Tom Waits is a true artist and prolific songwriter. The grit in his voice lends an emotional power that few are able to muster. The fact that this song is simply his voice and piano with double bass also adds to the desperate loneliness of the subject matter. Abandonment, from family and even from God. There is no way to write a more heart wrenching song. The line here is the definition of devastating, longing for the past that will never return. “Be sure to find me, I want you to find me” speaks of our desire to be wanted and loved by others, but this song doesn’t find any silver lining. Sometimes you will be forgotten. It isn’t ones right to be loved, it can only be a hope and dream and sometimes dreams go unfulfilled. Sometimes there isn’t a silver lining, sometimes there is no salvation for people. Tom Waits is honest enough, and artist enough to speak this truth and I can’t imagine a soul on this Earth not being deeply touched by the setting of this lyric.
I just want to write something, hopefully brief, about a single song. The song in question is by a band from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada that goes by the name The Burning Hell. The band’s personnel changes from album to album and from show to show, the two times that I have seen them. The main songwriter and driving force behind it all is Mathias Kom. He plays a mean ukulele and writes some of the best, albeit also some of the quirkiest, lyrics around.
There is an underlying feeling of tongue in cheek, self-deprecating humor present in most songs that Kom delivers in a very convincing and very low baritone. You never know if a song is going to be depressingly looking at the upside of things or cheerily looking at the depressing side of things. This song, falls more towards the latter, but not very much.
It begins with a lone strummed guitar, and the song continually builds for 5 minutes. It doesn’t simply build in volume, but instruments are added, lyrics become more dramatic, the singing becomes more desperate, Kom reels you in as if he is pleading with you on his knees.
There is no verse/chorus/verse structure in place here. Simply sets of couplets that each begin with the word “Love”, comparing it to everything from a monster truck, to an interstate, to a hurricane. Some of the comparisons initially elicit a smirk, or maybe more, but the tone of the song will instantly dart its eyes at you and make you feel awkward. This does not paint love in a favorable light by any means.
I think the lyrics speak for themselves. I have always just loved this song, it’s very moving, and very powerful. Have a listen via the link at the bottom of the post.
It Happens in Florida
Love, it’s like a hurricane:it happens in Florida, it gets into everything.
Love, it’s like a monster truck: it fills up whole stadiums, but it crushes smaller trucks
Love, it’s like a marmoset: it may be small and cute, but sometimes it eats its young
Love, it’s like a trailer park: ugly but functional, the rent is cheap enough
Love, it’s like a garbage man: it collects waste and filth, it smells like rotting flesh
Love, it’s like an interstate: it gets you from place to place, but it’s littered with dead raccoons
Love, it’s like a newborn child: seems interesting when it’s young, gets pedestrian after a while
Love, it’s like a hurricane: it happens in Florida, it destroys everything.