Monday, November 19, 2007

outta the way, here comes W.

I am currently sitting in the Richmond airport waiting to board a plane that should have left twenty minutes ago. Travel delays typical of Thanksgiving week, perhaps? Nope. The airport is on lockdown. Looking out the window as I typed the last sentence, I watched Air Force One cruise by on the tarmac with El Presidente aboard. He apparently has decided that Thanksgiving week would be an excellent time to make a quick little jaunt down to Charles City County to visit Berkeley Plantation. Thank the good Lord W. will be on hand to "talk about what we as a nation can be thankful for during Thanksgiving," as one White House spokesman put it. I'll tell you what I WAS thankful for an hour ago, Dubbs: flying on Monday of Thanksgiving week in an attempt to get home in a timely fashion and avoid delays later in the week. Instead, I'm now sitting in a crowd of people who are thrilled - no, really, just THRILLED - that your arrival has meant the delay of thousands of passengers during the busiest travel week of the year, since no one in the airport can move a muscle or look sideways or sneeze while your plane is on the ground.

And now, there goes the Presidential motorcade. Tax dollars hard at work. Anyway, don't mind us - you go enjoy Berkeley Plantation. Take your time. We'll just wait here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

now hear this...

Resting on my blogging laurels again...for a whole month (plus) this time. Whoops.

I seem to remember expressing an intention to post thoughts on a variety of topics a while back. Obviously I have some catching up to do. To begin, a few bits of compelling music that have been using using up my mental bandwidth lately. It’s worth noting that memorable songs tend to pop up with some frequency. But in last few months I’ve come across several albums - both intentionally and by chance - that have lodged themselves in my psyche. I don’t intend for the thoughts below to be comprehensive reviews, rather a collection of impressions about each of these particular albums and artists.

Surprise - Paul Simon
The title couldn’t be more apt. The conversational patter of lyrics and complex intrumental layering are quintessential Paul Simon, as are the unexpected rhythmical accents and shifts that have been keystone’s of his music since “Graceland” and “Rhythm of the Saints.” But this album is...different. First of all, it’s produced by Brian Eno, who is best known for his extensive production work with U2. Eno tends to use a lot of electronica and unexpected sounds to create sonic landscapes. It doesn’t sound like something that would work with Paul Simon’s style at all. But somehow, it does. It’s similar to the way the songs on David Gray’s “White Ladder” mesh perfectly with the electronic undercurrents on that record. But here, it’s more interesting, more in the forefront, more a defining piece of each of the songs without getting in the way of the musical textures and lyrics. For example: in “Everything About It Is a Love Song,” the first verse begins with a loping, syncopated feel. But halfway through the verse, the electronic rhythm pattern kicks in, and suddenly the song has a straight-ahead double-time feel. An unexpected "surprise." Good stuff. One of my favorite lyrical lines comes in that same tune:
A tear drop consists of
electrolytes and salt -
the chemistry of crying
is not concerned with blame or fault

Other album highlights: “How Can You Live in the Northeast?”; “Outrageous”; “Wartime Prayers”.

Emotionalism - The Avett Brothers
Each Avett Brothers album seems better than the one that preceeded it. Without a doubt, there are some real gems on Live Vol. 2, Mignonette, and Four Thieves Gone. But if one looks at the Avett Brothers’ work through the lens of their previous albums, Emotionalism represents a vision coming into focus. The sound is still raw and heart-felt (you never doubt that they mean every word they sing...or scream), but the playing here is just better, the singing is tighter, and the songs are well-crafted and downright catchy. Their melodic lines are the best they’ve ever been, and the album has a consistent feel throughout. I find myself picking through songs on the Avetts’ earlier albums. Definitely not the case here: I love this album as a coherent whole. I love it for its musical and lyrical honesty. I love its inherent melodrama (it IS called “Emotionalism,” after all) and the fact that it somehow manages to feel exposed and vulnerable rather than contrived. In short, I think it's pretty brilliant.
Album highlights: “Die, Die, Die”; “The Weight of Lies”; “Pretty Girl From San Diego”.

Kismet - Jesca Hoop
I came across this album by accident, and now I can’t even remember how. Was it an recommendation? An iTunes highlight? Did I read about it while searching for info on another artist? I honestly can’t remember. But I’m glad I found it. Jesca Hoop grew up Mormon in Northern California, broke away from her family tradition, and lived in the Wyoming wilderness before coming back to California and working as a nanny for Tom Waits’ kids. Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up. Kismet is a quirky album. There are several different styles and genres going on here, all of which make sense when you read Jesca’s myriad musical influences. In the first few seconds of “Summertime” (the first track), one has the sense that this might be another cheesy pop album. And then, something happens. I’m not sure what. It builds. There’s a hint of opening and widening. She sings variations on the syllable “la” in a way that, for me at least, conjures images of running and African grasslands. I have no idea why. And just as I begin to get used to the feel, to come to terms with it, there’s a totally unexpected chordal shift. Abrupt without sounding ridiculous. The whole album is inexplicable like that. Songs morph from one genre to the next, but they’re all connected by an intricacy that is perpetually unexpected and refreshing. Interestingly, the best song on the album is the last. The first time I heard “Love and Love Again,” I said out loud (to no one) at the end of the song, “Oh my God, that’s really good.” And I went back to the beginning of the song. Three times. The melody line is so well written it sounds as if it would be right at home as a musical theater ballad. In fact, it conjures the same sensation that one gets when watching a play, the sensation that the too-perfect backdrop and too-convenient love story and too-perfect timing just might be real in some parallel universe. And this is the theme song for that parallel universe.
Album highlights: “Enemy”; “Love Is All We Have”; “Havoc In Heaven”; “Love and Love Again”