It Started With A Mix #2: And Another One Goes By – Matt’s Pitchfork Mix, 2009

26 06 2009

Pitchfork Music Festival is the second in the triumvirate of music festivals I attend every year. While this April marked my fifth Coachella, meaning I’ve now attended half of the festivals in Coachella’s 10 year existence, this year’s Pitchfork will be my fourth, meaning I’ve attended every year that the festival has existed. I’m still on the fence about Lollapalooza. I’ve been every year since the festival took up residence in Chicago, but this year, due to a combination of mediocre lineup and a hectic schedule, I may be staying home or only going for one day.

I mentioned in a previous post that over the past five years, I’ve made it a tradition to make a preview mix for every musical festival I attend. One of the keys to a successful mix is, of course, song selection. The centerpiece of a good festival preview mix is a collaboration that brings together two or more of the artists from the lineup, the kind of song that takes on a unique significance in the context of that particular festival. It may be a cover, like TV on the Radio doing the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Modern Romance” for my 2006 Coachella mix; a collaboration, like Kanye & Lupe (plus Pharrell, who wasn’t there) borrowing a sample from Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser” on “Us Placer’s” for my 2008 Lollapalooza mix, the year Radiohead played; or a remix, as is the case on this year’s Pitchfork mix with Final Fantasy’s string-heavy treatment of Grizzly Bear’s “Don’t Ask.” I almost threw in “Hey Dad,” a collaboration between Final Fantasy and Beirut’s Zach Condon, as well, but decided I didn’t like the song all that much.

The mix I ended up with starts off minimalist and mysterious with a piece from Tortoise’s TNT, but quickly builds towards increasingly noisy and spazzy rock tracks, climaxing with the Jesus Lizard’s pornographic classic, “Lady Shoes” and m83’s gorgeous epic “Don’t Save Us From The Flames” before leveling off for an eclectic jaunt through a variety of genres and ending on an emotionally bare but ultimately uplifting note with Frightened Rabbits “Modern Leper,” which goes out to a friend of mine who is deathly afraid of leprosy.

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I’ll Tell You of Every Dream – The Walkmen [Guest Post by Milo Cantos from Zombie Public Speaking]

23 06 2009

It hardly needs to be said that I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve just moved back to Chicago less than a week ago, and my time’s been pretty well occupied finishing things up in California and getting them started up over here. I’ll have some more free time now, which might mean I go back to blogging, or it might not – I do hope to post a Pitchfork Music Festival preview mix in the next week or so, though. In the mean time, here’s a guest post on the Walkmen from Heaps front man, Milo Cantos of Zombie Public Speaking.

EDIT: In conjunction with his post below, Milo Cantos has just posted a couple of Heaps covers of the Walkmen on Zombie Public Speaking, along with a pretty on the mark review of what this blog is trying to do. Read it here.

For a band that so frequently mentions dreams, The Walkmen ends up saying very little about what happens in them. Rather than providing vivid, surrealistic images, The Walkmen’s songs are dreamlike only insofar as the lyrics are fragmentary understatements which nonetheless guide us to the sort of unfounded certitude we feel in dreams whereby we know that both hitman and target can both be us. The Walkmen tease us with just enough to think we could complete the puzzle even though many of the pieces aren’t there.

Let’s start with “I’m Thinking of a Dream I Had” off of 2004’s Bows + Arrows (their best, and not just because it had “The Rat” on it):″

I’m waiting on a subway line
I’m waiting for a train to arrive
I’m thinking of a dream I had
Maybe you’re right

we’re gonna have a good time tonight
when you’re coming around you’ll be sorry for the plans we made
when you’re coming around, you’ll be sorry for the things you said

Don’t lead me on

And when you’re coming around you’ll be sorry for the things you said
because no one speaks to me that way, I’ll be hanging from the ceiling fan

Like most Walkmen songs, here we have a mixture of diegetic fragments (“I’m waiting for a train to arrive”), vague apostrophes (“maybe you’re right”), and hazy images (“I’ll be hanging from the ceiling fan”). For many years, I thought of the first and second verses as unconnected actions by the speaker–first he thinks backward to a dream (which he does not elaborate) then he thinks forward to the continuation of a previous disagreement with the song’s addressee (the “you” of the chorus). As he imagines renewing the disagreement, he both concedes the weakness of his own position (“maybe you’re right”) and fantasizes about punitive suicide (“no one speaks to me this way / I’ll be hanging from a ceiling fan”). That latter seemed to me a stunning illustration of the limits of overdrawn emotional exhaustion and furious powerlessness. The choice to consider the verses separately seemed supported by the chorus of “maybe you’re right”–which suggests a cognitive move away from memory to evaluation–and the kick-off of the second verse with the placeholder hype of “we’re gonna have a good time tonight.”

When I took on the task of trying to figure out just why The Walkmen weren’t explaining their dreams, it occurred to me that perhaps we should take the “tonight” of “we’re gonna have a good time tonight” literally and assume that the proposed rematch is actually slated for the speaker’s forthcoming dream. By attributing the speaker’s brittle threat of suicide to dream logic, we dampen its cry for help (unless we take the simplistic view of dreams as solely wish-fulfillment, which we do not). It’s also quite possible, given the proximity of the first mention of the “dream I had” with “maybe you’re right” that the addressee’s initial accusation may have occurred in the dream that the speaker considers on the train platform, and thus dreams act as both potential solution to and potential source of psychological distress.

Next, “Brandy Alexander” off of the underrated A Hundred Miles Off:″

Finally close the door
you’d left open wide
locked it for me inside
lay me down
count me out

wash it off, it’s all on you
there’s worse ways to see it baby
set a fire and watch it burnin’
come here sit next to me
I’ll tell you about a dream

i’m looking out on the world
I see it through your eyes
burn you down
bury you

i tried to see it plain
there’s worse ways of getting here
you don’t hear me complainin’
i’ll tell you of every dream
i’m holding for you and me

look out now it’s all on you
those colors are fading
outside the wind is howlin’
stop talkin’, listen to me
I’ll tell you of every dream

The sense of “dream” here may actually be the easiest thing to identify about this song; “i’ll tell you of every dream / i’m holding for you and me” may not disclose the contents of the dream(s) to the listener but perhaps they are whimsical plans meant only for those by the fireside to know. The real problem of the song is how we should reconcile that cozy image against three disconcerting elements: (1) the repeated command for silence, (2) the apparent kiss-off of the first verse, and (3) the burning and burying of the second verse. We may chalk the first concern up to a general gruffness of Leithauser’s speakers, always request people get them a lemon or lime. As for the second, I originally assumed that the phrase “finally closed the door / that you left open wide / locked it from the inside” was the speaker characterizing his previous relationship with the addressee, closing off himself a nagging possibility of their return, but why then do they appear in the rest of the song? Perhaps the closing of the door is a simple diegetic statement instead of something deeper–perhaps the addressee left the literal door carelessly open when they arrived at the cabin. We lose what seemed like a poetic statement about the positive side of burning bridges, but we gain better continuity with the rest of the song (where speaker and addressee huddle by the fire in opposition to the “howling” wind outside).

With the third concern, though, we have to decide if, like in the previous song, we want to relate contiguous elements that are not definitely entwined. Is “seeing [the world] through your eyes” one of the speaker’s dreams? If so, “dream” is being used in a different (or at least ‘additional’) way than I initially assumed. Also, if the speaker dreams of being the addressee, should “burn you down / bury you” be understood as coming from the speaker’s perspective or the addressee’s (as inhabited by the dreaming speaker)? Either way, the threat of burning and burial is defused by being stowed in the innocuous illogic of dreams–hopefully, these images are not the same “dreams” the speaker has for the addressee’s future.

Lastly we come to “If Only It Were True,” the closer of last year’s You & Me:″

If only it was true
I’d go with you
If only it was true
I’d say, “I do”

And all the things that we do
I could face the day
And all the long night too
If only it was true

My head is all full of dreams
It’s nothing new
But maybe dreaming is all a man can do

So don’t come calling for me
Cause, baby, my dream ain’t through
And when, when I’ve had enough
Oh, then I’ll die in dreams of you

In the second verse, “dreaming” seems implicitly opposed to real-world action in a straightforward way–the speaker has unidentified plans that he cannot realize but cannot bear to abandon. By the chorus, though, the opposition of dreams to life seems to have dissolved–the beloved’s temptation of a conjoined stability is also identified as a dream. The first verse had suggested that this “dream of you” is readily realizable–the agency to say “I do” and accept a life together is in the speaker’s hands–but this tempts us to read the speaker’s forecasted death (“die in dreams of you”) through the conventional wisdom that 19th century novels ends with the protagonist’s marriage or death, both of which put an end to social “life”. Opposed to this dim view of his beloved as a second-place finish beside his dreams, we have the possibility of a second, more poignant reading: in the end, the beloved is represented as dream rather than reality because the speaker recognizes that, by refusing the call when it was offered, he has made it into something he cannot realize, even if he ever becomes ready. Thus, rather than the forward-looking “dreams” of “Brandy Alexander”, here “dreams” may point backward as an alternative to memory that allows the dreamer to do what he could not and never will.

Best Music of 2008, Part III (Albums 10-6)

20 01 2009

{{{ Sunset }}} - Bright Blue Dream10. {{{ Sunset }}} – Bright Blue Dream (Buy It)

Highlight: “Bright Blue Dream” (Download)″

Track 3 of Bright Blue Dream starts early: 47 seconds of a faint, rumbling bass note, and Bill Baird coughs out the first lyric, “Paper clips and…” then stops abruptly, begins the song again, and corrects his placement of the lyrics. The stutter is an outtake, an artifact of the recording process that Baird has let accumulate alongside the detritus of his waking life: paper clips, motorcars, dry-eraser stains, etc. The first half of Bright Blue Dream concerns such detritus: “diamond studded caskets that roll around on wheels,” “the only free ferry left in the states,” the tattered life of a broken friend, etc. Baird, formerly of SOUND Team, whose Movie Monster LP made my list of top albums of 2006, has been releasing pieces of these songs for years on a jumble of lo-fi cassettes, CD-R’s and mp3’s formerly available on his formerly maze-like website. Bright Blue Dream puts the pieces together into a world-weary collection of forgotten songs which, while not technically a debut, will serve for many as the first introduction to {{{ Sunset }}}. In that first half of the album, images build like a thick, sedimentary residue on the conscious mind, just as Baird’s production layers lethargic, apathetic, somewhat facetious vocals like “we will, we will,” “I love my job” and “just try to smile” on faint, vaguely psychedelic arrangements of warm electronic tones, blunted percussion and muted chimes.

Midway through, though, the album takes a turn with the title track’s exhortation, to “sleep, sleep darling…as you dive into a deep blue dream.” For the next 14 minutes, “Bright Blue Dream” jettisons the images of sleepwalking through our waking state and gently wake-walks the listener into a dream. At the end of the next track,”Moebius,” after nearly 20-minutes of lulling, ambient effects, we emerge on the other side of the dream and into the warm embrace of “Old Sandy Bull Lee”:

Sandy Lee, Sandy Lee, hold your head up high
When you die you will turn to cosmic stardust in the sky
When you were a child, running brave and free
That’s how your world will be again and that’s where you’ll find me

Our love will feel new again like when we first met
We’ll laugh at silly things and share cigarettes
So tear up my ticket, melt it in the snow
The glow of your skin supplies all I need to know

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes9. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (Buy It)

Highlight: “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” (Download)″

Dear shadow alive and well, how can the body die, you tell me everything, anything true…

The best description I’ve read of this album comes from an incidental comment in an Animal Collective review: “a time capsule from a great American past that no one has ever experienced but have somehow remembered upon hearing.” Fleet Foxes is a beautiful pastoral album filled with exquisite harmonies and some stunning moments, such as when the instruments drop off at the end of “Oliver James” and Robin Pecknold’s voice rings out by itself all echoey, “Oliver James, washed in the rain, nooooo lonnnnggeeerrrrr….”

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!8. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!! (Buy It)

Highlight: “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!” (Download)″

Meanwhile Larry made up names for the ladies / Like miss Boo and miss Quick / He stockpiled weapons and took potshots in the air / He feasted on their lovely bodies like a lunatic / And wrapped himself up in their soft yellow hair

I can hear chants and incantations and some guy is mentioning me in his prayers / Well, I don’t know what it is but there’s definitely something going on upstairs

Dig!!! Lazaurs Dig!!! begins with an urban retelling of Lazarus’s resurrection, Larry reborn as a lowlife, dopefiend, womanizing hipster thug just dying to crawl back into the grave. The rest of the album follows suit, asking, “Does Jesus only love a man who loses?”, mining the language of resurrection and salvation for all the filth of original sin. Cave and his company are profane in a way that even the Stooges weren’t ever profane, slow, stewing, comfortable in their profanity, without all of that pent up aggression pulling them outside of themselves. Dig!!! Lazaurs Dig!!! wears its filth on its crusty sleeve, not only in the Howl-ish pseudo-spiritual sleaze of its lyrics, but also in every element of the sound. From Nick Cave’s voice like Neil Diamond run through a meat grinder, to the scuzzy bass lines, slick guitar bends, and hollow percussion of the Bad Seeds, this is an album that oozes filth like a syphilitic corpse in a house of ill repute, without joy or remorse, with only that smirk of the profane.

Shearwater - Rook7. Shearwater – Rook (Buy It)

Highlight: “Rooks” (Download)″

When the swallows fell from the eaves and the gulls from the spires / and starlings in the millions will feed on the ground where they lie / the ambulance men said there’s nowhere to flee for your life / so we stayed inside / and we’ll sleep until the world of man is paralyzed

Rook (n.): a slight, fragile thing, harbinger of storms, that, when surrounded by other slight, fragile things, speaks for its life, lest it be torn to pieces in a cacophonous flutter of black wings

Among the slight, fragile things on this album are a harp, a glockenspiel, a dulcimer, various woodwinds, a piano, and the trembling voice of an ornithologist who once sang with Okkervil River.

The Walkmen - You & Me6. The Walkmen – You & Me (Buy It)

Highlight: “On the Water” (Download)″

So here’s one to the pigeons / And the tugboats on the river / Here’s one to you / For walking in my shoes

You & Me is, for the Walkmen, the equivalent of what happens when you stand next to your TV antenna at the exact right angle so that the static clears and the picture finally comes in clearly. Oh, so this is what they’re supposed to sound like! Strip away the haze of Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone‘s merry-go-round pianos and the bitter sting of Bows + Arrows‘s angular fuzz and it’s suddenly clear that what made those albums great wasn’t their post-punk pretensions, but the straight-up rock chops underneath. Cleaned up and allowed to resonate, the Walkmen’s guitars and organs take on a new gravity, while Hamilton Leithauser’s characteristic dry-throated howls, seething with a singular choked-back bitterness, add a road-weary resignation to lyrics of well-traveled loneliness and disillusionment. In addition, Matt Barrick once again proves himself one of rock’s best contemporary drummers as the Walkmen work waltzes into rock & roll and mine deceptively simple, plodding melodies for the weighty anticlimaxes they portend and struggle to restrain.