Friday, May 29, 2009
A while back, I spent some time comparing "Guys Eyes," from Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion, to the Beach Boys' "You Still Believe in Me," from Pet Sounds. It looks like somebody picked up on another similarity between "Guys Eyes" and a Beach Boys classic--this time, the link is even more inescapable. Check out this YouTube mash-up of "Guys Eyes" and "All I Wanna Do," from the largely forgotten gem, 1970's Sunflower.
Someone named Scott Karahadian seems to have had the idea, and after just one listen to the each individual tune, it's apparent why. The songs' opening lines are almost identical--and they're in the same key. Both bands go on to use characteristically lush vocals and sparse percussion; on "All I Wanna Do" the electric bass is what really keeps the pulse going, and the only consistent drumming comes from a lone snare.
The haunting similarities between Panda Bear and Brian Wilson aren't on display here, as Mike Love, Wilson's cohort turned nemesis, takes the lead vocals.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
What was I thinking? If you've been wondering, I don't blame you. I've been drawing false lines around bands, tying artists together with ersatz thread, acting as if one group's music can possibly be defined as the offspring of one influential parent. In truth, each new song is no less than a singular brew culled from the reactive cauldron where every bit of music that's ever been heard resides. Even we, as human daughters and sons, are products of our surroundings, the languages we learn, the friendships we make, the sex and stock villains we see on TV, more than the genes we've been stuck with. If it were the other way around, Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers might have really had something going for them. But alas, all we've got to hang on to is "One Headlight" and that catchy song where Adam Duritz wails his big old heart out on the background vocals.
When I set out this January to write a column tying one new album each week to a classic progenitor, I anticipated relatively smooth sailing. But early on, I found that it could be impossible to pair up a great new musician, no matter how "retro" he was, with a single forebear. In a piece about Raphael Saadiq's The Way I See It, an R&B record that seems to be obsessed with hearkening back, I couldn't find a single past album that would do it justice. I paired The Way I See It with a Motown hits collection, allowing myself to discuss an array of Saadiq's influences from the early days of soul.
In my article on Wynton Marsalis' new album blending spoken word and instrumental jazz, I didn't bother tying him to anyone else -- I compared the new He and She to an old Marsalis record with a similar bent. In my piece on King Khan and the Shrines, I had to spend a solid third of the article detailing my struggle to tease out the most appropriate reference point.
And for all the difficulty I've had deciding which old albums to highlight, what's to say a band's musical predecessors are its most important influences? Had I chosen to write about Inside the Human Body, Ezra Furman and the Harpoons' latest LP, I might have been better served tying it back to the literature courses Furman took while majoring in English at Tufts University, or to his favorite novel. After all, it's his glowing narratives and self-excoriating lyrics more than anything else that make him such an exciting new talent.
I think Stephen McBean of the band Pink Mountaintops has it about right. McBean told Stereogum last month that the group's newest record was influenced by "weddings in Montreal, winter, Pink Floyd's 'The Final Cut,' Christmas albums, that one Exile song and that one Echo and the Bunnymen song, the Bermuda Triangle, being depressed in the sunshine, people who haven't made out yet but will in the future, The Everly Brothers, clowns in the ceilings and bedrooms where skinheads used to live."
The best I can hope for, to quote Stephin Merritt, is that my comparisons' "truth or falsity is moot" because I've turned you on to some great new artists and maybe even a classic record or two that you'd never heard.
A version of this piece first appeared as a column in the May 17 issue of the Tufts Daily.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
It must be a chore to be loved by Will Oldham. For the very same reasons, it is spectacular to hear him sing his songs.
The Kentucky-bred musician drenches the glorified sentimentalism of country-western parlance in the corrosive waters of philosophical disquiet. His intellect and self-doubt would probably be endearing if they didn’t have that nasty habit of seeping outward, like a puddle of scalding coffee from a chipped mug. They attack all the things he dares to love, and warn him quietly: “Beware.”
Cloaked in blue-and-white striped overalls and the pseudonym Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Oldham began Wednesday night at the Estragon in Bologna, Italy, with a series of relatively traditional saloon crooners. A stirring rendition of “You Don’t Love Me,” off his latest full-length, was an early highlight; Oldham and fiddler/secret weapon Cheyenne Mize called to each other in harmonies, at once wrenching and as sweet as funnel cake at the state fair: “You don’t love me, but that’s alright / ’Cause you cling to me all through the night.”
And then, somewhere about five songs in, the aircraft that’d been hovering in the ether over Dallas-Fort Worth International renounced the landing strip and headed for the stratosphere. With natural ease but fearsome adamancy, Oldham and his four-piece band careened into a set packed with equal parts summer love and hard-rock desperation—at times, the tempo changes and snare slams sounded about like a Liars concert would if a fiddler came in tow.
The passion that keeps Oldham on the avant-garde and pushing outward bursts from his pores in concert. He appeared to have situated the microphone six inches too low specifically so that he would have to contort himself to reach it, and when he put down his guitar for a few songs it was clearer than ever that he simply couldn’t pour everything he wished to into each song. He was left squirming and kicking and wrapping his black leather shoe around the back of his other ankle as he sang. On “Love Comes to Me,” he yelped and hopped between verses.
For all this helpless hungering, he was a man in control; there was a sureness in his eyes that he must have picked up at some point in the past 16-plus years of touring. I was convinced he had a towering stature until his roughly 5’8” frame sauntered up to the bar after the show.
In a thunderous depiction of “There Is Something I Have to Say,” Oldham cried out, “I feel deserving of love / Can it be something I dispose of / Or put away in a box under the bed?” It’s true that there is “I” splattered all over his lyrics. But simply calling Oldham a solipsist is as insufficient as calling him alt-country. For him, these are points of departure; where another musician might end a song, he and his band turn up the tempo and enter into a vicious call-and-response of guitar and fiddle and pounding drums. Where another lyricist might drown, poignantly enough, in his own sorrow, Oldham blends doubt with hope, hope with a vicious distrust, and then turns it all on the rest of the world. “And love will protect you / To the edge of the wood, / And a monster will get you / And love does no good,” he cautioned the flock of Italian-speaking spectators during “Even if Love.” And they believed him.
Note: the above photograph is not from Wednesday's concert; it was uploaded to Flickr on March 24, 2007, by user elspop :: concert photography.