I'm lazy and it's late and all I want to say now to finish what was kind of a weak year-in-review:

- get Lykke Li's debut, it's the best happy-sad music in the world; great when you're lonely and even better when you're not
- get Sun Kil Moon's new album, even though it's no Ghosts of the Great Highway
- Damien Jurado inspires me, confounds me, mesmerizes me, I hope he does the same for you and frankly I wouldn't be one bit surprized
- it's tasking to post mp3s when yr laptop is broken, but I'm working on it
- I can't wait for the new J. Tillman record
- music is good for living things


It was a good year, a lot changed for me. I'm hoping the wheels keep turning. Good night. See you next year.


2K8 In Review

Why did so many people care about Amy Winehouse?




At first, I was infatuated, bowled-over, stupefied with glee as though deep-down I'd been waiting for a band just like this -- chamber music, hymns and west-coast blissed-out prettiness and bits and pieces of American folk music and artrock, these are all things I like quite a bit from time to time and it's all there.

So why am I so indifferent to this band now?

And why -- I mean, REALLY? WHY? -- is their self-titled record so many people's favorite album of the year?

I don't have answers for the second question, and only a scattershot guessing mess of reasons for the first one.

Maybe I got bored of the record; I listened to it a lot, and while everything is very neatly arranged, it's not deep, not the kind of record where you notice something new every time. It's not filled with subtleties. It just is what it is. It's also terribly monotonous; when I first discovered them early in the year, I noticed on their Myspace that they'd made it a point to describe themselves as "not a rock band" and while at first I thought that slightly misleading, it turns out to be true in an unfortunate way: they are hardly exciting. (Anyone else notice that the bassist always and I mean always looks bored?) They are content to make pretty music with pretty harmonies, and too rarely do they push the decibel meter. It makes all the very-hushed parts in their songs feel cheaper for the lack of dynamic. (Quiet is the new loud? Again?)

Most of all, I get tired of wading through songs with uninspired segments. Off the top of my head, there's moments in "Ragged Wood", "Quiet Houses" and "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" that actually annoy me, passages that seem to try too hard to be melodic or weird, instead of just sounding good, instead of really waiting for inspiration -- and these are three of my favorite songs on the record, in spite of their flaws, which only makes it more maddening. The album is absolutely thick with ideas, most of its songs have more ideas than some whole albums, and most of the melodicism is highly sophisticated. Yet it gets too melodic, as if they don't know anything else, as if they think music can only be carefully composed, as if chance doesn't belong.

I think it was Clay who said that the album almost sounds like an assignment. I wish that didn't sound right, but it does.

With all of that said, the fact of the matter is that Robin Pecknold is oftentimes very inspired -- take "Blue Ridge Mountains", "White Winter Hymnal", "Oliver James", all of which are vivid and warm, melodic and ageless. And it's a mightily impressive debut record, despite its flaws (again). I think the main reason I've fallen out of touch with Fleet Foxes partly has to do with what I thought they were when I first heard them. Nowadays, I hear The Beach Boys, sun-baked and immaculate, and brilliant. Before, I heard The Band in all their early glory, in their strange still-unmatched way of singing through and above and past one another. Back then -- think Music From Big Pink -- The Band was both crazy-loose and crazy-tight. While I like The Beach Boys, I hardly ever listen to them -- mostly I admire and respect what they could do, but really enjoying it, or more importantly loving it? Not-so-much. The Band is a different story. (Go on YouTube, check out Fleet Foxes' video for "He Doesn't Know Why". See the resemblance?)

I've got a prediction. Whether or not Fleet Foxes trims the fat and comes up with something truly great next time around, a lot of folks will at some point in the next few years re-scan their best-of-2008 lists and wonder, When was the last time I listened to this album?



"eyes glueup sittin in dark sun peekup" - Oliver Ignatius

Can you make out what those ethereal, hints of whispers you can't be sure you hear in the early morning are saying?  They echo silently before the rain lets up and the sun rises, leaving no trace they were ever there.

Every morning, the witching hours fall slave to the sun, and every night the sun sinks in tiresome defeat. The Aztecs, at the height of civilization, were never quite sure if the sun would rise again once it had set.  Blood offerings were made to assure existence would continue as normal.

Can you imagine?  Every day could very well be everybody's last?  Everyone believes this?  And you're all OKAY with that?

The lonely distortion at the very beginning of everything begins to tell me my fortune until it's drowned out by the brief stints of rain.  It appears again and again, but suddenly the rain stops.  Predictions of my unclear future reverberate in my head.  

The guitar continues to sing cryptic messages.  A tarot spread, a crystal ball.  A cell phone rings somewhere.

Over and over, I can hear you talking in your sleep.  "And we called it lightning," you seem to say between even breaths.  To dream of something so powerful!  

I envy the world you find in your reveries.

I don't care if this song is just a demo: it's beautiful in it's imperfections.  I hear T. Rex behind the veil, and hints of John Lennon's soulful swagger in the delicate melody.

Oliver has continued to create.  I've failed to post.


on another note:
Did you know the term "bling bling" apparently originates from this song?

"Bling Bling"  - Juvenile & Lil Wayne




I don't really know where it began in earnest. Of course it's been going on for a long time, but I don't know when it really took off, when people started to take notice -- I remember reading about it a few months ago in The New Yorker, and before that in a profile of T-Pain.

Ah, T-Pain. Maybe I don't know exactly what it is I love so much about you, maybe I never will. Yr music conjures drinks and dancefloors and the nighttime-as-the-righttime and excess and indulgence and fun -- little to none of the hazards, and when things go wrong it's funny, like "that'll be sixty bucks" and the one-drink-too-many. I think when I first heard you I must have thought This is so not me and at the same time I love this to death, what the fuck? In some crucial ways it is me because -- how do I say this -- I like being taken out of my element, I want to be bewildered once in a while.*

And "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" is absolutely bewildering because it never lets up and yes it has hooks but it's more than that, it bleeds you to death before you even hit the bridge (which is AWESOME) and it's like everything I loved about that Basement Jaxx record Kish Kash condensed into one perfect pop song (almost?), a song that if it doesn't get you going it makes you feel helpless because what else could possibly get you going if not this? The first time I heard it was after they made fun of it on Saturday Night Live and all I could focus on was the dancing and how they looked like weird mechanized bird-humans running around in circles and WOW THIS RHYTHM IS HYPED UP and it was all very funny to me but now I hear this song on the radio and it feels like exploding non-stop for three-and-a-half too-short minutes. And when the hooks pile on at the end it's like Beyoncé is telling you this weird secret, unraveling this mystery: It's fabulously easy, you just need to sing all the best notes in the best way.

And then Kanye West comes in and he's melancholic and he's the biggest pop star in the world (right?) but he's a hip-hop star, I thought; and he's making a record about death and break-ups and fame and disappointment but none of that matters so much as the example he's setting as a pop star. And it's a good example: make what you want, what you're feeling. Get away from yr bread-and-butter, pivot toward yr milk-and-honey. West's first three albums are genius and he's always made it look easy, but this is more than just great music, this is his Sgt. Pepper, his Bringing it All Back Home, his middle finger to Nashville, his true colors in other words; and maybe the best part is the irrational distaste so many people are going to have for it and how he knew that and did it anyway. (Unbridled emotion and simplicity don't sit too well with the in-crowd. Or the critics. All the better.) This is what "psychedelic" should mean because it's an out-sized, out-of-body, larger-than-life thing that's going on and forget about wishing that Kanye was more humble or down to earth -- shine on, you crazy diamond.

*Addendum: On second glance that sounds like a shallow appreciation, and the last thing I want to suggest about this music is that it's somehow shallow, or that I think it's shallow. So let me clarify: I think it's GRAND, particularly because it does so completely what all my favorite music does, it transports you into a not-real-until-right-now place, and in T-Pain's case it's the club-circus, the bar-sitcom. Like a dreamy Alice-in-Wonderland vision of the best party ever. That's what it does for me. Down the rabbit hole...


More later this week! Finished with finals today, so I'll have more time.


Long After an Accident Outside Rio Gallegos: A Haiku

Smashed truck by God-crushed,
Huge Sky, Sun-side, His target
Poor Driver, life-road.


We landed running at the end of the world
It was too cold to camp at the end of the world
so I stayed in a hostel at the end of the world
I met familiar faces at the end of the world
The sun set late and rose very early at the end of the world
I climbed a glacier at the end of the world 
and ate snow at the top of that glacier at the end of the world
I ate king crab and drank beer at the end of the world

Mountains towered over us at the end of the world
I met two Basque brothers at the end of the world
Who spoke strongly about their struggle for independence, at the end of the world

I found an apocalyptic safe haven at the end of the world
People live in the wilderness at the end of the world
(whatever that means) at the end of the world

Shipwrecks, stray dogs, and abandoned outposts at the end of the world
The water frothed under us,
Clouds moved in and out and passed over us,
Then I, too, passed over the end of the world.



I found this "Life plan" I wrote for myself on October 27, 2006.

Let's see what I've accomplished in two years.

1. Learn Carpentry
2. Graduate College
i. Learn Spanish
3. Go into the Peace Corps
4. Record Songs, Make Music for fun.
5. Direct a film I've been writing. If it succeeds, become a film maker. If it flops, do something else.
6. Possibly get married (i suppose that depends on the circumstances)
7. Open a photography business- either become a freelance or journalisitic photographer, hopefully for National Geographic. Possibly a photography firm. Shoot and sell fine art prints.
8. If photography and film making fail, become a carpenter
9. Travel and create.
10. Retire. Travel more. Create more. Die.


Now, let's look at the revised one.

1. Graduate College by May 2011
i. Learn Spanish.
2. Learn some kind of trade. Carpentry? Teach Yoga maybe?
3. Grad school, Montreal, Fine Arts.
4. Find some way to pay back my student loans.
5. ???
6. Die.


The Year, Sorta Discussed

(Subtitle: Favorite albums of 2008?!)

THE PROBLEM: Digitalageayedeeachedee. Trends galore. Broken laptop. Singles-prominence. Googlepediatube. Autotune/T-Pain.

THE SOLUTION: Listen to the radio. Leave the house. Buy music MAKE MUSIC. Unplug the stereo when you're not using it. Autotune/T-Pain.


I couldn't even begin to give you an honest Top-5 or Top-10 or Top-Multipleof10 list this year. I just didn't listen to that many albums. Maybe I'm losing patience like everyone else, or maybe it was just that kind of year; music and I fall in and out of love. (Sometimes, for months at a time, it's nuthin but lust.) But I could really only name you six or seven albums I even listened to the whole way through, and while they're all worthy, I bet that if I'd been more adventurous, if I'd soaked up more content (digital sponge) those 6-or-7 would be in considerably hotter water.

So instead, I'm just going to list, in no particular order, new music that I loved, whether it be an album, a show, a song, or a video. What-fucking-ev-fucking-er. While I am utterly ambivalent about the structure this list takes, all the music is earnestly and passionately loved from the bottom of my heart, music I savored and learned inside and out and will keep listening to for -- well, let's be honest, at least months to come. (But probably more.)

Today is PART I. As you'll see, each entry is a little long, so I'm going to space this out over the next week or two. As of now, I don't know exactly where this list will go or who/what it will include -- you'll know when it's over around the same time as I do.



I went to two "shows" this year -- quotations meaning I'm not counting shows I played or shows my friends played; only two shows where I went to see a band whose record I liked. The first one was Bon Iver, back in February. (Here's what I wrote about it.)

For Emma, Forever Ago has nothing if not staying power: these are songs that have real emotional depth, by which I mean the more you listen to them, really listen to them, the more they reveal their insides, hurts and joys, hopes and wants, scars and mistakes. Musically it seems innovative and forward-thinking, but what it boils down to is that even if you stripped away the words, the stories you've heard about the album's maker -- its sound is startlingly, intensely personal -- and therefore unique. It's an album that gets better, which is really another way of saying it gets truer.

Justin Vernon self-released For Emma in 2007, but the record didn't see official release until February, through Jagjaguwar; anyone who has been paying attention since then already knows that it's been a huge year for Vernon. Bon Iver is now a band, and an exciting one at that: at this point, Mike and Sean are inextricable, as much a part of these songs as Justin -- I forget at times they're not on the album. Bon Iver was my first show this year, and they'll be my third in a week and a half -- and just to witness the journey this music has taken, to see its growths, has my head swelling with excitement.

Then again, that has a lot to do with who'll be opening for Bon Iver...

2. THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH. (Previously on TWSH.)

The day I heard Kris for the first time, I'd spent some time teaching myself one of my favorite folk songs: "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground". I stumbled on TTMOE the way I usually stumble on new music -- through browsing music blogs -- and these were the first words I heard: "If I ever see the morning / just like a lizard in the spring."

Now, I'm typically a rapt listener, I don't make up my mind about a song within the first few bars and turn it off if I don't like it. Songs hold and keep my interest, even bad ones, and unless it's physically hurting me I'm not going to reject it that quickly. With that said, I can't remember ever feeling so immediately attached to a piece of music as I was to "I Won't Be Found" that evening. It may have been the connection to "Mole in the Ground" in the lyrics, which admittedly made me feel what I guess you might call a fast kinship with Kris, like when the pretty girl on the bench has "over a cardboard sea" written on her shoes.

But in contrast with that feeling of closeness was the sense that this was something foreign, something unlike any folk music I'd ever heard. The singing has a lot to do with it: Kris doesn't sound distinctly Swedish or distinctly American, and his lyrics have (for me) no obvious lineage, though they are as rich and poetic as any I've heard. There's an air about him, a gulp of syrup and a handful of myth in that voice.

His debut album, Shallow Graves, might as well be legendary, considering how flabbergastingly great it is. It's the album I listened to most this year, at least in part because it's the most elliptical, the toughest egg to crack. It made me wonder: where are these songs coming from? How is he doing this, goddamnit?! Every melody so instantly infectious, not in the way pop music is, but the way it feels when you create something -- the way it feels in the exact moment something rises out of you, and then when you fall in love with what you (little strange unknowable you) made. Maybe that makes sense, maybe it doesn't, but that's what listening to these songs feels like for me now -- I'd probably hate Kris if I didn't love his music so much, because he's done exactly what I wish I could. In that way, it's strangely the most personal record of the year for me, for all its otherworldly strangeness. (Obviously, I'm especially excited to see him perform next Monday night.)


MORE LATER THIS WEEK. Or next week. Expect words about Fleet Foxes, Lykke Li, Damien Jurado, Kanye, Sun Kil Moon . . . and . . . yes . . . T-Pain.



so THIS is what I can expect to become in the next few years?
Croissant with eggs, croissant with coffee, croissant with soup, croissant on pizza.  
I was brought up bourgeois, and God damnit, to hell with me if i forget my roots.

Second day in a row in a cafe in the West Village where a friend works but isn't here, I'm sipping on black coffee and my new staple: a flaky, warm croissant with some jam.  Jazz emanates from the walls, the dimly light room lets me think straight or get things done.  

Actually, my procrastination is more productive.  I'm crossing things off of the other to-do list; the things that don't deal with homework, time, or paying bills.  The to-do list for the right-brain.

I suppose New York might be where you go if you want to get confronted with all your existential crises at once.  December here will only be more frenzied than the last few months.

This cafe is my quiet hideaway.