Thursday, December 31, 2009

Track of the Week, 12/31/09--"I Love You, But Goodbye" by Langhorne Slim

2008 was one of the worst years of my life—death, moving, and a crushing incubus of ennui sitting on my chest sucking away all motivation and joy. Not to get all heavy on you, but wow, was I happy to see 2009. It's been good to me. 2009 and I are friends. We get together and rip on 2008 now that it's turned its back. Sadly, it's time for 2009 to hit the road, opening the door for a brand new decade.

This week's track of the week by Langhorne Slim (a.k.a. Sean Scolnick and friends), puts it best: "I love you, but goodbye."

Langhorne Slim's latest, Be Set Free, came out on September 29. I first discovered the Pennsylvania native late last winter while compiling a mixcd to chase away my winter blues. I picked up on his mellow voice in the single "Restless," although I'm not sold on every song I've heard: sometimes Slim has a tendency to get all messy with his vocals and songwriting—and not always in a good way. Still, this track is a great ending to a fantastic year.

"I Love You, But Goodbye" by Langhorne Slim

Download "I Love You, But Goodbye" [mp3]

Wherever you find yourself this New Year's Eve, have a good one. I'll be helping my partner in musical crime play tour guide for his visiting parents. We talked about taking them to First Night Columbia, but it involves buttons and buses—never a good sign. We might end up being lame tour guides and keeping them at home where it's warm.

Happy New Year, and see you in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

Everyone else is doing it, and so am I. It's that wrap-up time of year, right? I already brought you the COMOCYCO's top 10 albums last week, and here are mine... Actually, I compiled this list in response to a request from local blogger comoprozac over at living in misery. Be sure to check out his incredible month-long project of best-of lists from guest bloggers near and far, including one from yours truly. You'll find lists of obscure bands, popular bands, and even a list of "10 Best Things I Ate in 2009." Definitely check it out when time permits and get to know some local music lovers.

Without further ado, here's the list I sent to comoprozac:

Top 10 Albums of 2009

1. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest

2. Le Loup, Family

3. The Antlers, Hospice

4. We Were Promised Jetpacks, These Four Walls

5. Portland Cello Project, The Thao and Justin Power Sessions

6. Great Lake Swimmers, Lost Channels

7. Andrew Bird, Noble Beast

8. Kings of Convenience, Declaration of Dependence

9. Blind Pilot, 3 Rounds and a Sound

10. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca

If you're particularly vigilant, you'll see that Blind Pilot's album was actually released in 2008. Oops. I realized this after sending off my list.

I had a really hard time making this list because of my tendency to listen to only one or two tracks per artist—a very guilty habit, but I suspect I'm not alone. I promise to be better in 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's Up in the Air

Ah, the first snowfall of the season... it's always great when it arrives on Christmas Day on Interstate 70. I do not handle snow driving well, but I was determined to make it home in time to eat turkey and cranberry sauce and open presents with my favorite music geek. And so I braved the highway of snowy death and slid into Columbia just in time for a cozy Christmas weekend. There was much snow appreciation for us, including a long hike in the white stuff Saturday with a crazed pup who jumped into frigid Gans Creek like it was a thermal spring.

On Saturday night we went to see the much-hyped Up in the Air, featuring the I-want-to-hate-him-but-can't George Clooney. Clooney plays a corporate downsizer in perpetual flight—both to his next round of layoffs and from any sort of human attachment—who finds himself crossing flight paths and falling for a fellow frequent flyer (Vera Farmiga). As he works his way toward a mileage milestone, he is forced to tow a snot-nosed newbie (Anna Kendrick) through the American heartland to show her the ropes of sue-proof firing. Then there's his sister's pending marriage and her request that he carry a cardboard cutout of the happy couple-to-be on his travels to snap photos of it in front of the Luxor hotel and noteworthy airport terminals before the wedding.

The film is perfectly aligned with the current state of economic affairs and will strike a chord with most audiences, but it also emphasizes the importance of human connectedness. Cardboard cutouts do not travel by themselves; they need a network of friends to transport them, a realization that comes for Clooney's character at his sister's wedding when he looks at the hundreds of photos her friends have snapped for her around the country.

(Clooney and Anna Kendrick)

I liked the movie: it made me sad, it made me laugh, and it felt real. The soundtrack isn't bad, either. It ain't the best thing since in-flight movies, but it goes with the film and is highly listenable. Further research reveals the following short and sweet tidbits:

  • The movie was directed by Jason Reitman, who also gave us Juno and Thank You for Smoking.
  • The film features a song by The Black Keys, but the soundtrack does not.
  • Charles Atlas is not the bodybuilder but an instrumental/ambient duo from Brooklyn.
  • Kevin Renick, whose title track plays during the closing credits, is a freelance journalist in St. Louis who was himself laid off as an advertising proofreader in 2008, allowing him to pursue a long-standing singing/songwriting dream. He met Reitman at a college lecture and handed him a cassette recording of his song about the recent layoff, titled—surprise!—"Up in the Air." (For the record, the film is actually based on a 2001 novel of the same title by Walter Kirn.)

(Kevin Renick)

Up in the Air soundtrack tracklist:
(I managed to track down one or two of the songs for downloading.)

1. "This Land Is Your Land" by Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings
2. "Security Ballet" by Rolfe Kent
3. "Goin' Home" by Dan Auerbach

Download "Goin' Home" [mp3]
4. "Taken at All" by Crosby, Stills and Nash
5. "Angel in the Snow" by Elliott Smith
6. "Help Yourself" by Sad Brad Smith
Download "Help Yourself" [mp3]
7. "Genova" by Charles Atlas
8. "Lost in Detroit" by Rolfe Kent
9. "Thank You Lord" by Roy Buchanan
10. "Be Yourself [1971 Demo]" by Graham Nash
11. "Snow Before Us" by Charles Atlas
12. "Up in the Air" by Kevin Renick

Definitely go see this movie. It was worth every recession-era penny. You might not be blown away by the soundtrack, but you will tap your feet to it, and besides, Young MC makes an appearance in the first half of the film for a live rendition of "Bust a Move." Classic. You want it, you got it. You want it, baby, you got it...

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Return to Work

I'm giving myself a bit of a blogging break today. Wish I could say the same for today's eight-hour commitment, yet here I sit. Bah! In my ideal world, the situations would be reversed.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Track of the Week, 12/25/09--"Covered in Snow" by William Fitzsimmons

Merry Christmas 2009.

In honor of today's weather forecast, I bring you William Fitzsimmons' new video for "Covered in Snow." Filmed in Brussels earlier this month during his European tour, the video is a striking testimony to the beauty of Fitzsimmons' frost-fragile voice. Capturing sadness in his snow globe of sound, he lets it fall quietly, shaking it out with a whisper.

"Covered in Snow" is a reflection on Fitzsimmons'  father, who left home at Christmas time. According to Fitzsimmons, it was written "with the hope of mending the memories of the holiday and restoring my faith in the season."

William Fitzsimmons: "Covered in Snow"

Fitzsimmons is the youngest child of two blind parents who raised their family in a house filled with music instruments, including a custom-built pipe organ and some talking birds. Fitzsimons had just achieved his goal of becoming a mental health therapist when he decided to launch another career as a singer/songwriter. Some of the songs on his latest album The Sparrow and the Crow are dark compositions inspired by his recent divorce. My partner in music crime was lucky to share a beer with him earlier this year before he played a set at Mojo's and describes him as an all-around likeable guy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Wishes from Cat Woman

I'm heading home to Illinois to eat lots of gingerbread as usual this Christmas. My car is loaded with presents, one cello, and a mixtape for the three-hour road odyssey through the Scylla and Charybdis of boredom and inclement weather. I don't even celebrate Christmas, nor am I even remotely religious, but this whole holiday thing is habit: Drive to Mom's, drink too much, eat too much, open gifts, feel fat, drive home.

I should thank be thankful my car is in one piece. A friend of mine just totaled his Jeep in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood a few days ago. While I can't buy him a new Jeep to replace the mangled one, I can give him an unmangled—as in, original—version of "Santa Baby," as sung by Miss Eartha Kitt herself. The infamous Cat Woman passed away on Christmas Day last year, but she remains a favorite.

Happy Holidays to all—no matter what this day means to you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

To Laura on Her 38th Birthday

It's my sister's birthday today. Laura is a mother, an ultra-marathoner, and a curator of sorts at a small folk museum in northern Illinois. When she isn't running or playing the piano or guitar, I suspect she is taking my niece ice skating or my nephew to his guitar or karate lessons or planning a vacation with my brother-in-law somewhere where sharks could eat them, which leaves no time to read her little sister's lame blog. However, I hope she is checking it today, so I can say, Hey, you're awesome. Happy Birthday!

I will always be indebted to Laura for introducing me to one of my favorite albums of all time, The Cure's Disintegration. She always supported my musical obsession with Smashing Pumpkins and the Lemonheads and tolerated my love of Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Many of my finest cassettes were gifts from her, and while one of the few musical events we ever attended together was a Michael Crawford love-fest at the Riverport Amphitheatre in 1990, she still managed to be cool for days after while playing "The Music of the Night" on the piano.

Laura was my Brat Pack film buddy. How many times did we sit through Pretty in Pink or Weird Science? We saw Better Off Dead and Can't Buy Me Love at the mall movie theater and made mixtapes that included our favorite singles from John Hughes films.

 (Danke schoen, Laura. Danke schoen.)

These days we live roughly five hours apart. I don't know what her plans are for today, but I hope she's doing something to distinguish her birthday from the holiday hysteria. This video is just for her:

Altered Images, "Happy Birthday" (1981)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shining a Major Lazer on COMO CYCO's "Best of" Lists

I ran into the COMO CYCO's very own Grand PooBah downtown recently, chaining up his ride to a post outside Lakota Coffee with an insouciant air that can only come from sporting a bright red fez and cycling knickers. Concealing his identity with a white silk aviator scarf, he promised to provide me with a list of his top 10 albums of 2009 and also of the decade in exchange for a pumpkin pie latte. His voice may be acerbic, but his tastes are sweet.

I can't vouch for the spiciness of the latte, but the Grand PooBah delivered a spicy list a few days later. Who is the force behind Columbia's own Cycling Cooperative? A frequent commenter on this blog, and a disdain disseminator on his own site, the PooBah obviously has impeccable taste in music, as evidenced by the following lists. He may be mocking your bike, but, rest assured, he's listening to good tunes while doing it.

COMO CYCO PooBah's  Top 10 Albums of 2009 (in no particular order)

1. Middle Cyclone by Neko Case

2. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear

3. The Sparrow and the Crow by William Fitzsimmons

4. This Empty Northern Hemisphere by Gregory Alan Isakov

5. 3 Rounds and a Sound by Blind Pilot

6. Lost Channels by Great Lake Swimmers

7. The Woodlands by The Woodlands

8. Strict Joy by The Swell Season

9. Tribute To by Yim Yames

10. Oh My God, Charlie Darwin by The Low Anthem

COMO CYCO PooBah's Top 10 Albums of the Decade (in no particular order)

1. Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams (2000)

2. Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie (2003)

3. Our Endless Numbered Days by Iron and Wine (2004)

4. Tiny Cities by Sun Kil Moon (2005)

5. Descended Like Vultures by Rogue Wave (2005)

6. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Neko Case (2006)

7. Everything All the Time by Band of Horses (2006)

8. The End of History by Fionn Regan (2007)

9. April by Sun Kil Moon (2008)

10. For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver (2008)

The PooBah also sent me his pick for best video of 2009 to make sure we're all scared "straight sexy" into our weight loss resolutions for New Year's. Not only have I embedded this video in today's post, I have inadvertently embedded this song in my head. Curse you, PooBah... you and your fez.

Major Lazer - "Keep It Goin' Louder" from Downtown Music on Vimeo.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gregory Alan Isakov at Cafe Cedar, 12/19

This past Saturday night my partner in auditory crime and I, along with two friends from Manhattan, Kansas, caught a private Gregory Alan Isakov show at Cafe Cedar in eclectic Parkville, Missouri, just outside Kansas City.

My friend has been following Gregory for some time and burned me a cd of some Isakov tracks a few days ago. After listening to Isakov in my car Saturday and then hearing him play a few feet away that night, I can honestly say there is no distinction between live Gregory and recorded Gregory. This guy is the real deal. He has a voice as full and strong and passionate as any Ray LaMontagne or Glen Hansard. Quite a few of the songs on his fourth album, This Empty Northern Hemisphere (May 15, 2009), feature pal and touring partner Brandi Carlile, who also possesses powerful pipes but never comes close to overpowering Isakov on their shared tracks.

When we first got to the restaurant Saturday night for some beer and baba ghanouj, Isakov was one of the first people to make eye contact with us. Sitting on a chair while opening act Sara Swenson warmed up, he smiled a hello at us, and I thought, "Hey, that guy looks nice." It took me a few minutes to realize who he was. Gregory was amazed when my friend told him we'd driven for two hours from Columbia just to hear him play. Not only is he an amazing singer/songwriter; he is also cool, accessible, and humble. He even gave props to local college radio station KCOU when we were describing Columbia to him. "Don't you guys have a really good local station there?" he asked. (He's visited the KCOU station in the past.) Based in Boulder, Colorado, Isakov comes through Parkville once or twice a year, thanks to growing friendships in the area, and we not-so-subtly suggested he drive an extra hour or two for a set at Mojo's or The Blue Note some time. He seemed to like the idea.

Local opener Sara Swenson set the mood for the evening with her Feistian vocals and acoustic songsmithery, backed by pedal steel guitar. She is warm, genuine, and talented... and also interested in Columbia venues. Perhaps we'll see her in CoMo in the future. Her set was low-key and cast a hushed spell over the small crowd of 30–40 people.

(Sara Swenson)

When Gregory sat down to play, he filled the room with nothing more than his voice and acoustic guitar, and all that mattered from then on was the music and the shivers running up our spines. His renditions of "Virginia May" and "That Moon Song"? Flawless. His Leonard Cohen cover of "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong"? Haunting. Sara Swenson yelled out a request for "San Francisco," and Isakov delivered with soul and a smile. Isakov even explained the story behind "Evelyn," his song about a disgruntled service employee, who, it turns out, is a crabby woman working in the gas station across the street from his Boulder apartment.

For his encore, Isakov played a new song that may have been about a casual affair between two friends (at least, that was my interpretation) and followed it up with (I think) "That Sea, the Gambler" (I wasn't familiar with the song, but someone requested it).  My friend was hoping to hear "Idaho." In the end, we had to be satisfied with the amazing show we'd just seen in an intimate setting unlike any other. (A birthday party, the event involved streamers and matching napkins; Gregory said it was the first time he'd played under a birthday banner.)

Isakov has come a long way. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised in Philadelphia, he's toured with everyone from Ani Difranco to Rodrigo y Gabriela and Alexi Murdoch. I haven't seen a tremendous number of shows this year, but Isakov's performance was by far one of the best. This was also the first time in my life the opening act has told me to "drive safe" when leaving a venue.

In case you aren't familiar with Gregory Alan Isakov, here's a sampling of his sublimity:


"One of Us Cannot Be Wrong"

"Virginia May"

"That Moon Song"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Track of the Week, 12/18/09--"Blue Christmas" by First Aid Kit

Several things...

First, I'm now featuring a "track" of the week instead of an "album" of the week, mostly because I'm a lazy music blogger: I fall in love with individual songs and never check out whole albums, and it makes me feel like a fraud to promote releases I may never hear in their entirety. So, R.I.P. "Album" of the Week.

Second, this year's holiday music selection has been rather dismal.

And third, First Aid Kit is one of the few groups who's released a holiday track this year that's simple and endearing and recognizable. As their MySpace page says, "We aim for the hearts, not the charts!" Okay, perhaps it's a bit hokey, but these two have nice voices, nice Swedish voices. The sisters, Johanna and Klara Soderburg, will be releasing their first full-length album sometime in 2010.

"Blue Christmas" by First Aid Kit

Download "Blue Christmas" [mp3]

Before they started covering Elvis tunes, First Aid Kit gained attention for their YouTube rendition of Fleet Foxes' "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song." And before that, they were hanging out in the suburbs of Stockholm, listening to Britney Spears. Actually, maybe that was last month—these girls are only 16 and 19.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Curling Up with J. Tillman

Tuesday night saw a weird pairing of things: music by J. Tillman and curling on television. The two have absolutely no connection, other than the fact that my friend and I were there and were both drinking free white wine left over from that earlier arthritis benefit we attended. I don’t understand curling—hog lines? Stones? It’s all Canadian to me, but like a cold Molson, I can appreciate its regional flair on some level.

J. Tillman is not Canadian; he’s from Seattle, actually, and just happened to be playing on my friend’s laptop while we were sitting on the floor, drinking our benefit wine, and trying to decipher the rules of curling. Tillman has the most amazing voice: it skims the ice of my winter blues, sounding like a frosty Ray LaMontagne. I may be missing something with the sport of curling, but I completely get the goodness of this man’s voice.

Tillman is currently the drummer for Fleet Foxes, but he’s released many solo albums since 2004, including this year’s Year in the Kingdom, which includes the following tracks:

"Earthly Bodies"

Download "Earthly Bodies" [mp3]

"Though I Have Wronged You"

Download "Though I Have Wronged You" [mp3] 


Download "Crosswinds" [mp3]

I don’t think I’ll ever watch curling again—the curlers’ voices were the opposite of Tillman’s: abrasive little Canadian harpies shrieking “Hard! Hard” as they chafed the ice with their brushes—but I will keep an eye out for Tillman and his future projects.