mixing the sound of autumn
I’ve not really got around to listening to any new music lately because I’m (still?) stuck on a handful of music mixes that I just repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and … And because
- I’m a friendly soul who likes to share, and
- even more because I’m just so in love with this music and need to infect other people with the virus as well, and
- even even more because the people who have put together these mixes have put so much thought and love and passion and time into it and really deserve some appreciation,
I’m linking them all up here for you. All you need to do is click on these beautiful, enticing, mysterious pictures to be taken to some of the best sounds your ears will have heard in a long time.
First, there’s this beauty. Lots of soothing sounds and gentle harmonies that have the same effect on me as standing underneath an autumn trees that softly rains its golden-yellow leaves down on my head.
Then, there’s this: the bitter-wet freshness of decaying leaves alternates with the crisp edges of sound as all the trimmings are falling away.
This one is more about the whole getting-back-to-school feeling of glorious autumn days gone past, with the undercurrent brimming full of memories of love lost, childhood gone and dreams of space and home.
And then, there is this: a magical, no-nonsense, laughing-through-the-tough-times, sparkling gem with the energy of summer and the sharpness of burning leaves.
And as a bonus I’m also adding this, which only went up today but which I’m loving very much already for its tones of irreverence and the feeling of space and the smell of woodfires and the memory of people stomping, dancing and clapping in a wooden-beamed pub (which is not my own memory, but feels like it could be…).
After more than a week mostly away from the internet, my laptop and even my mp3-player, I’ve been back at a desk again (my sister’s, not mine, but still) and breaking my music fast.
Yesterday was The Lumineers. Their debut album has been out for half a year now and I knew the songs, but for some reason, I hadn’t listened to the whole album in one go. I did yesterday. I played it in a continuous loop on my headphones while working out some characters for a story that came to me in a dream. Actually, a lot of story ideas come to me in dreams, but that’s another blog post altogether. Right now, I want to tell you about this album that kept me tapping my feet, drumming on the desk or just rocking the desk chair.
The eleven songs on this are all beautiful. I can’t even decide which one I like best. On one listen it’s the one, on another it’s a different song. Each one is precious and all of them have intriguing lyrics.
You know how sometimes you go on listening to a song and you can sort of sing along but you don’t really know what they are singing because you haven’t really listened? And then, suddenly, a line will jump out at you and grab you by the throat and you will be mesmerized. It’s like walking along the road and watching all the flowers, and then seeing a glint on the floor, so you bend down to have a closer look and you realize there’s a bit of gold on the road and then you look up and you see that the whole road is made out of gold.
That’s what happened to me yesterday, not with only one song, but with the whole album. Every one of those eleven songs suddenly turned into something personal and significant and wonderful. It’s already breath-taking when it happens with one song, but when it’s a whole album? No words left to describe it.
Go and support this young band: buy the album, have a look at their videos or see if maybe they play somewhere near you. Unfortunately, they won’t be anywhere near me, but I just now, while typing this post, wrote a post-it for my sister, at whose desk I am seated, and stuck it to her wall, right on eye-level, because they’ll be performing quite near her in mid-November.
That’s all. Oh, wait. I’ll leave you with this wonderful, wonderful weekly collection of links that my friend Adam puts together every Monday on songsfortheday. Apart from general awesome music and info, he put up a video of The Lumineers, so it’s quite topical.
Re-listening Dylan: Bob Dylan (1962)
Bob Dylan is playing a concert in my small, rural home town this summer. Because I cannot afford a ticket and that fact is breaking my heart, I have decided to create my own Dylan-centered activity – I will pay homage to the master by re-listening to all his albums. Chronologically.
It’s March 1962. I won’t be born for another twenty years. And one month. The young musician depicted above has his first album published. He’d got a break some six months before, thanks to Columbia’s talent scout John Hammond. He was signed to the label and recorded the songs for his first album in two days – after weeks of listening to mountains of folk songs. And now it hits the record stores.
This album is not one that gets a lot of spin time from me (ehm… rather less than that, even), so even though I know the songs, listening to them now, with the intention of writing about them, is almost like a fresh experience. The one thing that hits me straight away and stays with me throughout the thirteen tracks is that of youthful irreverence. This is a guy who doesn’t care about how the traditional songs he sings are ‘supposed’ to be sung.
Let’s have a look at those songs:
The first song hits straight out with that irreverence I was mentioning. ‘You give me the blues’, he sings, but really he doesn’t care one way or the other. He’s almost laughing about it all and singing and playing at a pace that has nothing to do with the blues.
‘Talking’ is perfectly right. No way is this singing. Instead, he tells the story in a sing-song voice, accompanied by fast guitar and short bursts of the harmonica. This is one of only two original songs on this album and it’s such a perfectly typical Dylan song – the delivery, the wry humour, the art of the throw-away remark and the story told with a straight face, so that you’re never sure whether to believe a single word or not.
This is a lament. And that’s how it’s sung as well. Compared to the other songs, it’s slow and quiet. I find it hard to remember that the guy singing this is a boy, barely twenty years old. The voice shows depth and experience as its wails in an intensity that is very honest and personal.
I connect this song first and foremost with ‘O Brother where art thou’, the movie by the Coen brothers and since I love that movie, their version is the one I have in my head. Dylan’s is very, very different. This is closer to sorrow than the movie version, but even then, it’s not real sorrow. It sounds more like weariness. Or even boredom? No, not really. Just a dusty, weary ‘whatever’.
Here I hear real emotion, not so much the mocking that is part of most of the other songs. Again, the voice, the message, the delivery are all deeply incongruous with the photo on the album cover of a smooth-faced, unscarred, slightly arrogant young boy.
Talking of mocking… Poor pretty Peggy-O gets a good dose of that right in the beginning when he opens the song with ‘Been around this whole country, but I never yet found Fennario!’ And he continues in the same spirit – just listen to how he pronounces ‘dove’ when he sings that she’s as pretty as one. If you ever needed a lesson in what irony sounds like, listen to this. Oh, and I can’t help comparing it to the lovely version of Simon & Garfunkel, which couldn’t be more different in any way. (And if you make me decide, I will choose that version over Dylan’s!)
His voice changes throughout the song, from a pressured belting, to a wailing cry, to a dipping, quiet, almost talking style. There’s real emotion here – if he can’t have this, he doesn’t care for the rest either and I believe what he’s saying.
8. Gospel Plow
As with most of the traditional songs on this album, Gospel Plow is fast and has very little to do with gospel. It’s strongly delivered, but with a distinct disrespectfulness – as if he’s secretly laughing about anyone who follows the advice that the song gives.
9. Baby, let me follow you down
Quieter. He doesn’t belt or press out the lyrics, nor howl them. Instead, there’s more ‘conventional’ singing, although even here, there are a few unexpected skips or dips of the voice. It’s not mocking, and it’s not bored, but there is also no noticeable passion for ‘baby’. I still really like it.
This must be one of the most-sung, most-covered songs. I don’t know any statistics on this, but I think every singer or band who is even only remotely connected to folk music, has recorded this song at some point. Here, Dylan sings it in a (comparatively) slow, serious, grieving, drawn-out voice. The inevitability of the end is audible from the beginning.
Despite the title, there is no trace of any blues feeling in this song. It’s a fast, joyful celebration of wanderlust, sung with a whistle-blowing, train-break-screaming, rail-screeching voice.
12. Song to Woody
This is the second song on this album that is a Dylan original (… at least the lyrics… the melody comes from the same person that the song is dedicated to). As with Talkin’ New York, it is so very typical. The rhythm, the way he sings, the way he draws out the words, and the homage to the masters that went before him – it’s real, and honest and very touching, even if it might come off as arrogance on his side to string his name into the line of the great musicians he mentions – I choose to hear it as the confidence of youth and the promise to carry on the heritage.
13. See that my grave is kept clean
Very strong delivery. It starts slow but picks up a little speed. Despite the fact that his voice is strong and distinctly not close to death, it doesn’t sound ridiculous when he sings about his heart stopping to beat and his hands turning cold.
… it’s a fun little record that already shows the great potential of the singer. Despite the rather random collection of songs, the fast, almost hasty, way in which it was recorded (later John Hammond said that Dylan was the most undisciplined artist he’d ever had to work with) and the fact that only two of the songs are his own, the album as a whole has personality and foreshadows the future.
My favourite song? Well, I love the arrogant, mocking, individual way he deals with the traditional songs, and I like the melody of Baby, let me follow you down, but the two Dylan songs are my favourites – Talkin’ New York because of the talking style and the dry humour, Song to Woody because I find it so very touching.
even the darkness is made of love / Union Chapel, 25.11.’11
We’ve just come in from standing outside in the cold for almost an hour. They said the doors would open at 7pm and we were there early, because we didn’t have tickets and were banking on still getting some on the door. Needless to say, they didn’t let us in till 7.30. Shortly before that, I was close to turning to my friend and saying: “You know what? Let’s forget it and go see a movie.” Of course I didn’t. And now we’re inside, I’m deeply grateful that I disregarded my numb feet and frozen face – this venue is one of the most amazing I have ever been in, if not the most amazing.
I sit in a wooden pew, near the front, in the middle, pretty much where you want to be. My friend has gone to get us two cups of hot tea. I can feel people streaming in from behind me, surrounding me, hushed chatter rolling around the octagonal room, while above us the wooden, carved ceiling arches high, guarding the silence. It feels special to be here, in a church, a holy space and the place where so many great artists have performed wonderful concerts before. The air hums with expectancy and very soon all the places are filled up, and while people still move about, there’s many who watch the stage, talking quietly to their friends and neighbours, waiting. Music is played softly over the speakers, Greg Brown’s deep voice singing some of his more melancholic songs, and others I don’t recognize.
Suddenly a girl walks on the stage, young, red hair in two braids. She picks up a guitar and whispers into the sudden silence “I’m This is the Kit” and starts playing. The first line intrigues me (“tonight we are the same age”), and the many repetitions heighten my anticipation, but unfortunately there is no resolution. For the second song she takes up a banjo and, most endearingly, asks one of her friends, that she thinks she has spotted in the audience, if he could play the guitar part for this song. He comes up to the stage and they play the song ‘Easy Pickings‘ together. The whole set lasts only a bit more than half an hour. Overall, I think that This is the Kit is a very young performer that still has quite some growing to do. I like her voice, I like the way she plays the guitar, I like the melodies and she seems a very sweet person, but her songs lack impact. The lyrics are unsatisfying and less of the ‘ooh’-ing could be an improvement. All in all, it was very pleasant to listen to, but none of the songs stand out, and after the last note has sunk, nothing has really stuck with me.
We have about half an hour now. Most people get up and mill about. My friend gets us a hot chocolate to share, while I scribble down some notes and impressions and enjoy the atmosphere. The sound system is trickling … well, I guess it’s music, but it sounds like a guitar being tuned. Whatever it is, it’s slow and quiet and hypnotic. We exchange opinions about what we’ve so far heard.
Then, suddenly, quietly and modestly, Alexi Murdoch walks on the stage, picks up a guitar and starts fiddling around with the technical equipment laid out on the floor of the stage. Still standing sideways to the audience, he starts picking the guitar and fine-tuning the loop pedals. Nothing can be heard in the hush of the chapel except his guitar and the weird guitar-tuning sounds coming through the loudspeakers. At a nod from Alexi, those stop and he turns fully to the audience and starts playing over the looping guitar.
I’m not a fan of long standing. I have known his name for a while, I’m in love with ‘All my days’ and I like the juxtaposition of his first and last name (one so Greek-Russian-orthodox, the other so Scottish-dour-correct), yet the very first song makes me tear up. I sit there, staring at this unpretentious young man who seems to effortlessly reach inside me and touch my innermost self. The music does not need to wind through my ears and my mind – his voice simply removes all outer layers and speaks directly to my heart. I try to film or take pictures, but I simply feel too emotional, too overwhelmed to be able to concentrate on something as mundane as that. It is as if he is singing exclusively to me, and from the absolute stillness around me, I think that he has the same effect on everyone else. This is the most intimate performance I have ever had the amazing luck to attend. He seems to be equally impressed, whispering into the microphone: “This place is amazing. Where did you find it? Where did you all come from?”, then segueing immediately into the next song.
I’m impressed with is his musical virtuosity – Alexi Murdoch changes between guitars, and between guitar and other instruments easily and smoothly. He plucks a violin like a guitar, he plays a beautiful little impression on the piano, he uses a hand organ, something I have never experience live, and he employs another instrument played with his hands, which is a total mystery to me and looks more like a toy than a serious instrument. All of it is done with grace and naturalness. If it weren’t for the fact that I am totally in awe of him, and trying to deal with the raw emotions coursing through me, I would certainly be developing a most serious case of fan crush right about now.
A recurring theme in his songs is the sea. And darkness. All the pictures he draws are somewhat dark and while they certainly aren’t light and joy-filled, they aren’t sad either. They are as inevitably honest and as unchangingly real as the coming of night at the end of the day, or the ebb and flow of the tide. The stunning setting that he performs in tonight adds to the depths of his words. The sensation is quite indescribable when his quiet voice reaches up to the ceiling of the chapel, soaring in this beautiful building with the words: “there is no God, there’s only love”.
He uses words with the same ease and lightness of touch that he uses his instruments. It seems to me that he writes songs the same way that the stonemason in the old story makes the statue of a lion by simply chipping away all the rock that doesn’t look like a lion. He seems to have a vision of what a particular song is supposed to sound like, and then takes away everything that is unnecessary until he reaches that sound. The fact that the songs still sound full and gorgeous and perfect is proof of his mastery.
On the records, his sound reminded me very much of Nick Drake – a certain quality of languid beauty, quiet desperation and overarching love is in both of them. Live, however, the songs are much starker, increasing the impact. There is no resemblance to Nick Drake left, instead I can hear a certain Irish-Celtic sound in some of the songs that I never noticed before. It’s not in his voice, but more in the way he sings. It gives the music a deep wealth of connotations.
Towards the end, he engages in more talk, saying that he isn’t sure how much time he has left and that he always thought this whole encore-thing “a bit of a sham”, but since it makes him feel good, he will now play the last song, “if you know what I mean”. This ‘last’ song finally topples me over the edge that I have been hovering on since the first line of the first song and tears are rolling down my cheeks and breathing has suddenly become hard, because my throat has closed up and I have only ever once before felt like sobbing my heart out while at the same time being so ecstatically happy that I feel as though every cell of my body will explode with it. I am being blessed by music.
During the encore he shows his kindness, including a song that he forgot to play at the very earnest-sounding request of a fan. It’s another stunningly beautiful song, and while the words of the fan thanking him (“Thank you. That was cool.”) seem to me extremely inadequate, the emotion is clear and he accepts the thanks with a little nod, before playing the encore he had planned.
When people are filing out of the chapel afterwards, I linger, unwilling to break the spell. Talking is hard. And there is no need for talk anyway. Everything has been said.
the serious game of growing up / The Garage, 9.11.’11
How much do you bring to a song and how much is there already?
Maybe it’s because I’m grappling with this situation myself at the moment but the main theme of last Wednesday’s concert at The Garage seemed to me to be that of coming to terms with growing up, connecting the support and the headlining act in a very smooth arc. Maybe all that I heard was only my interpretation. Maybe it was there anyway. I’m not sure. What I am sure about is that it was another beautifully passionate concert by The Head and The Heart, with the support of Singing Adams, who set the mood just right and introduced me to some wonderful new songs.
Steven Adams, Matthew Ashton, Melinda Bronstein and Michael Wood have songs that extend from dancable to personal hymns. In the former category are songs like Injured Party, Good Luck or Building a Wall, while the latter holds I Need Your Mind, St. Thomas and my personal favourite, Sit and Wait.
All the songs have lyrics that in some way deal with loosing dreams, realizing that priorities are changing, becoming aware that personal ideals aren’t what they used to be anymore – in short, they deal with the transition from the adventurous, finding-onself part of adulthood to that part where things become more serious, where reality checks some of the wild ideals and first disappointments happen. Does this sound very sad and dismal? It’s anything but. The lyrics are witty, ironic, nice-at-first-glance-until-you-really-listen-and-have-to-laugh-from-surprise. The music is has driving rhythms (girl drummer, yeay!), solid guitars and the singing a cheerful, yeah-it’s-a-bit-tough-right-now-but-let’s-not-take-it-so-serious attitude. And at least two of the songs (I Need Your Mind and Sit and Wait) felt like hymns-in-the-making to me, the kind of hymns you sing at the top of your voice.
(this is from the actual concert)
The Head and The Heart
*sigh* What can I say? I love them. In my eyes they couldn’t do anything wrong. Even better, they didn’t do anything wrong. They delivered everything I expected: beautiful songs, a passionate performance, down-to-earth attitude and heaps of fun. There isn’t a TH&TH song I don’t like, but I do have some that somehow touch me more than the others,and Lost in my Mind leads on that, with Ghosts following closely behind. All of them, however, gave me chills, made me dance and some of them almost made me cry (Lost in my Mind and Josh McBride) . Chasing a Ghost, the first encore performed by only Jonathan and Charity, was almost painful in its beauty.
Drops of sadness:
a) Singing Adams didn’t hang around long enough for me to get the chance for a chat, while The Head and The Heart were beleaguered and therefore equally inaccessible (very sad!!!)
b) The London crowd’s disinclination to dance. It’s very boring/frustrating to dance to songs you love in a whole crowd of people standing still and giving you strange looks.
All in all – non-dancing crowd, but soul-freeing music in an interesting venue that I will check out more. A great evening!