Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I Get Too Tired After Mid-Day Lately (or, Wait What Give Me Back My Summer)

Music post! God yes! It's been almost a month since I even posted a single track, and a month is a long time for me to go without trying to push my tastes on anybody I can corner sharing wonderful music with other people as best I can.

At the start of the summer I had intended to be passing along delightful summer songs every so often, but I let myself get caught up in other things and now I'm finding it's increasingly too late.

And here I had promised myself this would be the year that I wouldn't just work all summer and miss everything.

I had grand plans, you know; I had believed my contacts at the placement agency when they told me that my temp gig was, well, temporary. They had given me an exit date (then another, and then another, until eventually they stopped humouring me entirely), and I had been eagerly looking forward to it; imagine my surprise to find myself at the same position, in the same place, two months after my initial exit date came and went. Oh, the things I had dreamed of doing! Go out with my guitar and busk on the street, hop in the car and spend a few weeks hunting down old ghost towns, drive out west to visit my Dad, maybe sneak in a dentist appointment without having to cancel a day of paying employment, organize my paperwork around the house -- you know, fun stuff.

Alas, not. Now I'm going to have to go back in time and tell myself from four months ago that I was lying to him about the whole thing; he always looks so sad when I do that, and I always feel bad about doing it, but maybe next year things will be different.

It's already far too late for this year. This seems certain.

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and stores already have their Halloween decorations up; I walked out my door to go to work a handful of mornings ago and realized I could see my breath. I hope you had a nice summer; if you didn't, I suspect you've missed your chance.

As such, the subject of summer slowly and softly slipping away -- I am given occasionally to brief bouts of alliteration -- leads us into our first track:

Husky Rescue - Summertime Cowboy (Country Falls, 2004)
[buy | site | myspace]

If you've never heard Finnish ambient synth-country before, well, now you have.

I don't know what imagery this song will conjure up in your mind's eye, but my imagination definitely churns out some strange goings-on. I'm envisioning a primary-coloured plastescine rider on a primitive mechanical horse, composed entirely of blunted silver cylinders; the passage of time is represented by different colours of lasers across the sky, and the last thing you want is to be riding out there when the seasons change.

I love the atmosphere going on in this song, as though the percussion is there specifically to power the electronics and the electronics are the only thing that can keep the singer from crumbling in on herself. As a whole the song puts on a brave but hollow face, like a smiling mask hammered out of cheap tin -- and so it shores its determination, grits its teeth and plows ever forward, churning ahead if only because stopping and looking around would be too depressing to contemplate.

Even the tambourine's entrance into the track, a minute in, seems hesitantly timed and comes perilously close to missing entirely; a hair later and it would have been too late, the whole thing would have ground to a halt, and it... and... okay, I can see that look you're giving me. Stop that. I'm in an odd mood today; occasionally when I'm writing I just get going on something, and you have to bear with me until it's out of my system. You know how it is.

Oh, what? Don't give me that look! Look, fine -- just never mind all that up there, then. (No, Mom, I'm not on 'the drugs'.)

Perhaps the problem is I'm just not starting off with a very accessible song, and then as such I'm trying too hard to draw people into it. Now, I'm sure this song is probably the most natural starting point for a listener to jump into Finnish ambient synth-country -- but, well, it doesn't change the idea that it's still Finnish ambient synth-country. So let's jump from here into something a little more palatable right off the hop, something that most passers-by would enjoy dearly without my prodding... something like--

José González - Killing for Love (In Our Nature, 2007)
[preorder | site | myspace]

Ah! Right on. A timely slice of universal goodness, surfacing from the upcoming sophomore release of a Swedish folk sensation. The previous song might not have been to everybody's tastes, but this song is practically a Voight-Kampf test in audio format; if you can't enjoy this at some level, if this song does absolutely nothing for you, then baby you've just gotta be some sort of android.

José González (not to be mistaken with Invader #1, although I think I'm likely the only one here who would have made that connection) has basically been lighting the internet on fire since his first album hit widespread release a couple of years back, and rightfully so. If you'd missed the previous furor, hop over to his MySpace; both Crosses and Heartbeats stream from there, and between those two songs you'll have heard almost everything we all went mad over. (He's done a few other covers besides the Knife one, including a Massive Attack cover that'll be appearing on this next album.) Given the popularity (and sheer quality) of those two songs, you can imagine the hype surround this upcoming disc -- but if the whole album sounds like this song, then clearly nobody has anything to worry about.

You may have noticed by now that I'm big on songs that could have been written anytime, not just fitting into but easily thriving in any era; this song is timeless right from the second it starts up, beautiful and simple and fiery and classy all at once, a call to arms against anybody who would insist that they just don't write songs like they used to these days.

Twenty years from now, when they're releasing Best Of The '00s compilations, the future compilers will have scores of such instant classics to choose from. They'll go through all the incredible music that rose from the explosion of the internet, countless moments of brilliance spanning and bending genres and styles -- and, after all of that, they're going to jettison José González from the prospective list and instead include the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps". That is why twenty years from now I will be around specifically to punch compilers' faces clean off of their skulls. Eat shit, replicants! Ha!

So the new album from José González drops September 25th, and it should be pretty good. That's all I'm getting at, really. Moving on!

Nathan - Stone (Jimson Weed, 2004)
[buy | site | myspace]

Every so often I will reminisce briefly about something and then suddenly feel bizarrely old; this is one such time. Local alt-country darlings Nathan (sometimes written 'nathan'; the capitalization seems optional) have been getting the attention and acclaim they justly deserve over the last few years -- and I was happy to see this happen, because I started listening to Nathan in the summer of 2001 (!) when they played the Brandon Folk Festival (!!). I still have my prized copy of their three-song 2000 EP; I say 'prized' because that was the year I won the festival draw and took home a CD from almost every artist.

Yes, that's right -- I own the initial EPs of bands you didn't probably even like for another three or four years! How indie am I? Damn!

Don't worry, though; all three tracks ended up on their first album, Stranger, so you aren't missing anything. I just like to puff up my music-dork reputation from time to time, and by that I mean pretend I have a reputation to puff up. LET ME HAVE MY FUN

Ahem. Anyway.

If you're passingly familiar with Nathan, no doubt you've heard or seen "Sunset Chaser". It was the single from Jimson Weed, their sophomore release which was for all intents and purposes their breakout album.

"Sunset Chaser" is an absolutely lovely piece, very charming, very poised; you'd be hard pressed to find a sweeter, gentler song these days. But still it isn't what I would have chosen as the single. That's how much I enjoy the other song I've chosen.

"Stone" picks up all the best parts of "Sunset Chaser", piles them on its back, and then jogs off into the distance carrying them along at a brisker pace. It brings the same sense of melancholy, the same endearing melodies and harmonies, but the faster tempo better preserves an optimism that refuses to roll over and die; it also makes the song more fun to sing along with, which is a surefire way of enlisting my loyalties.

But singing along isn't half as fun unless the words have some thought behind them, and the lyrics definitely bring the goods in this one:

I threw a stone in the river for you
I saw the water turn black
and the moon laughed so hard at me
for wanting that stone back

Awwww. If I heard somebody say something like this aloud, I'd feel bad if I did anything but hug them and tell them they were doing the right thing.

So I like "Stone" better than "Sunset Chaser" -- but, then, I'm only one dude. And picking "Sunset Chaser" as the single worked out pretty damn well for them, all things considered. So one day, sometime in the future when I've finally got around to forming a band and we've laid some tracks down, remind me of this discussion -- and then tell me to do the right thing and let somebody else pick the singles, because clearly I can't be trusted with this decision.

Stars - Elevator Love Letter (Heart, 2003)
[buy | site | myspace]

(It's the strangest thing -- I enjoy a great many of the Broken Social Scene-related artists and bands, but I could go the rest of my life without listening to Broken Social Scene as a whole ever again. Beats me why that is, but oh well.)

It would be easy to envision our previous selection, "Stone" as taking place out in a small rural village somewhere -- or maybe alongside a deep, still lake, a short drama of love and loss played out in the space between cottages. With Stars and "Elevator Love Letter", however, there's no question about the scenery -- this is a song that takes place in the big city, and everybody in the song feels worse off for being there.

The effect isn't isolated to this single song, mind you. Remember how I had brought up mental images earlier, mind's eyes and imaginations? Every Stars song I've ever heard sounds to me like a big, cold, lonely city where the sky is always the same shade of gray and snow starts falling lightly across the buildings halfway through the second verse. For all that, though, "Elevator Love Letter" is the one that best conveys this -- or rather it conveys it most explicitly, which I suppose is the same thing.

This could be considered the definitive urban love song, through and through, except that 'love' obviously isn't the right word to use; "I don't know how to love" is the most beautifully straightforward line I've heard in a long time, and I get shivers each time each of the lonely voices sings it. Both sides of the conversation are lost, burned out, overwhelmed and unsure; it's a wonderfully evocative song, and it has a wonderfully evocative video to accompany it.

And as an avowed bass player (I've been playing bass for almost... for... it's been nine years? Oh hell--), let me take this opportunity to marvel at the job the bassist does here to carry the instrumentation along; the bass work is what maintains the aimless urgency that makes the song exactly what it is, and without its prominent force the song sounds absolutely gutted. Good show, Evan Cranley of Stars; make like Barry Horowitz and give yourself a pat on the back.

Music post! Whoo! I was a couple of hours off from squeezing it into the completely arbitrary timeframe that I'd set for myself yesterday extra late Sunday night -- but sure enough I'm getting my form back, and it feels like I've got another few music posts in me yet. It's fortunate for you guys that my music ramblings are way easier to skim past in text form!


Rex said...

Geez, way to make me feel terrible for completely ignoring "nathan" at folkfest in favor of exciting sounding bands like 'final fantasy' or 'bela fleck and the flecktones'. Well, make that awful just for ignoring them, because even if this nathan shat rainbow-laser-bork-bork-robots, I would still favor the other two group/artist mentioned, because ONE OF THEM IS BELA FLECK AARGH.

On a side note: Though I am almost notoriously terrible at 'jamming' on my taiko, that doesn't mean that I am against trying, and am curious about what this kind of 'drum & bass' would sound like.

James Howard said...

I assure you that you did the right thing under the circumstances. Yes, because Bela Fleck -- but also because local bands are safer to pass over at big festivals. With local acts, you know that there will be plenty of chances to see them in the future (and there are; from the looks of their MySpace, nathan will be playing the Times Changed five times in the next two months) -- whereas bands like, say, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones only pop up around here every fifteen years or so.

As to side notes, holy damn I hadn't even considered that. D&B is one idea, yes -- but remember, you're dealing with a bassist/guitarist/singer-songwriter/lunatic here. We'd be one bassist or guitarist away from a complete band, albeit one where the drum kit is replaced by a single giant uberdrum. Man, now I'm curious as to what all this would sound like.

Rex said...

er, actually, I also play the fue (japanese bamboo flute), plus significantly smaller, slightly more conventionally-sized drums too (think snare). And the shaker?

James Howard said...

Then it's settled. We'll each need to clone ourselves at least twice.

James Kim said...

Did you know that I met the lead singer of Nathan when I was getting tutored in Grade 12 Physics? Turns out that she was doing her day time job as a receptionist for Kumon (You know that Math/English thing?). Had I known she was part of a band or even become THIS big, I would have taken a picture and gotten an autograph, oh well.