Friday, January 29, 2010

Aural Fix 1/29/2010: "Something" by The Leisure Society

(The Leisure Society)

Earlier this week my musical paramour and I watched a NOVA episode on the annual migration of monarch butterflies. Call me a nerd, but I love this stuff. I had no idea about the perilous 2,000 mile journey of the butterflies from Canada to Mexico. Sure, I knew they migrated, but I didn't know how far, and I didn't know they ended up in a very specific Mexican village just in time for the Day of the Dead. The newly arrived butterflies blanket the trees like lovely little leaves, and the Mexican villagers celebrate them as much as they do the spirits of their ancestors.

It's good to appreciate the beauty of the moment and pay homage to the past at the same time. Londoners The Leisure Society do both in their cover of the Beatles' "Something." There's nothing overly complex about this straightforward cover, but it's pleasing to the soul like the whisper of millions of butterfly wings.


Download "Something" [mp3]

The Leisure Society's debut album, The Sleeper, was released in July 2009.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Blue Note's Haiti Benefit Show and Leo Kottke This Weekend


Columbia has several shows going on this weekend, including your chance to see local favorites the  Foundry Field Recordings at Mojo's on Saturday.

Also on Saturday night The Blue Note and 102.3 BXR have put together a Haiti Benefit Show with donations to the Red Cross accepted at the door (any amount is appreciated). Come help the earthquake victims while Nonreturner, Ptarmigan, Cantalouper, The Aunt Eehks Road Show, and Please Please Please shake The Blue Note stage. Doors open at 8:00. If you're a Ptarmifan, this show marks the triumphant return of Ptarmigan, along with The Blue Note debut of The Aunt Eehks Road Show.

If you can't make it, you can still donate here.

(Leo Kottke)

On a pricier and less charitable note (you are your own best charity, right?) Leo Kottke takes the stage at the Missouri Theatre on Sunday night. Tickets are still available at the box office. Reserved seating is a hefty $30, but I've heard Mr. Kottke and his 12-string guitar virtuosity are well worth it. Doors open at 7:00.

Here's a much younger Leo Kottke performing his infamous "Vaseline Machine Gun":

Support Haiti and the local music scene this Saturday, January 30, at The Blue Note. Doors open at 8:00. Check out Leo Kottke on Sunday, January 31, at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. Doors open at 7:00.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January Makes Me Feel Like This

Some days I wake up in the winter and feel as eloquent as Fever Ray accepting an award with her face all melty-like.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Missing Persons and Camera Obscura

Sunday night my music pal and I were dredging up old 1980s videos on YouTube. He had a particularly vivid memory of a woman singing in a metal bikini but couldn't remember the name of the band. Hmm... it did seem to ring a bell (and apparently still rings his bell).

After Googling "80s video of woman in metal bikini," we were able to track down Missing Persons and their video for "Words." Do you hear her? Do you care? I don't think anyone was actually listening, but I'm pretty sure most adolescent boys were looking and cared.

Unfortunately, all embedding was disabled by request for every YouTube video I found, but this shot should get the point across:

Metal bra and horrible song equals instant MTV gold, a trend that continues to this day:

(Lady Gaga "Just Dances", or something.)

And now Missing Persons are just what their name would imply.

Meanwhile, sick of the rampant 1980s nostalgia, we called up the Camera Obscura video for "French Navy" and saw no metal bras and lots of Serge Gainsbourgish nostalgia, and this was well and good.

Does this mean that because Camera Obscura are better known for their music than their appearance that they will outlast performers like Missing Persons and Lady GaGa? Not necessarily. But they do make me happy.

And then I confessed that one of the first cassettes I ever bought was by this guy:

That's Matthew Wilder. We found a clip of him performing on Solid Gold, and I realized that I had never actually SEEN him before. Someone should "Break His Stride" for that mustache. Maybe if he had worn a metal bra instead, he wouldn't be M.I.A. today.

He did try sporting the white man fro sans mustache:

I'll stick with Camera Obscura, thanks.

Monday, January 25, 2010

She and Him "In the Sun"... and Me at My Desk

This weekend I took advantage of our rainy waste of a Saturday to buy and hook up a wireless router in my apartment. This may not sound exciting, but I was previously doing all of my surfing and writing on the floor of my living room, hooked up to a short modem line running through my television. Now I have a real home office. My desk and my laptop have been introduced in the spare bedroom, and there is serious chemistry.

(Yes, the desk lamp needs a shade.)

Having this amazingly comfy space to write makes me want to write more. It's akin to buying a new pair of running shoes or a new cookbook. There's revived interest. Why is it that our passions flag and then come back with renewed vigor? Do we just need breaks from them to appreciate them?

(Fashion Plates... I never stopped loving you.)

Whatever the reason, I've been enjoying sitting at my desk and computering. I spent some time on Saturday staring out at the rain and just searching for new music. Sunday, of course, it was blustery but sunshiney, and I didn't spend much time at my desk at all, choosing instead to goof off downtown and get some beach gear at The Alpine Shop for my upcoming vacation with my favorite music buddy.

Turns out, I'm not the only one who's spent some time in the sun lately. She and Him have a new album coming out March 23, titled Volume Two, and the first single is "In the Sun." Listen below.

"In the Sun" by She and Him

Download "In the Sun" [mp3]

Zooey Deschanel still has healthy bangs. The song is as fluffy as said bangs, but it's a good theme song for a sunny Sunday. As the duo's website states, "... the prevailing mood is bittersweet, dreamy, and romantic." Another blog I stumbled across stated that Deschanel wrote all of the tracks on Volume Two, with M. Ward producing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Tonight

Thanks to a lost Internet connection last night, I have a very brief post today. What the hell MEDIACOM? Even better, I came home from work to find that my fridge had died...and so had all the food within it. There was something very rotten in the state of my apartment.

But I did meet up with my new string group last night, which was much smaller than expected, but probably a good thing considering we're beginners with squeaky strings and no finesse. It redeemed an otherwise shitastic day.

I do want to mention, however, that you can catch Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing: A Django Reinhardt Centennial Celebration as part of the We Always Swing Jazz Series over at the Missouri Theatre tonight at 7:00. Doors open at 6:00. I had planned to see this show but forgot to get tickets when I still had money, and this week I'm too poor. It looks like there are still tickets available if you're interested—and not too poor.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


We've been swathed in fog for days, and I find myself missing the sun and whining about it, but then I see the news reports from Haiti. Fog? Seriously? Is this the worst of my concerns?

Here's a brief run-down of what some in the music world are doing to help out:

Arcade Fire's Régine Chassagne recently wrote an editorial for British paper The Observer urging people to donate money for Haitian relief to Partners in Health. Chassagne has familial ties to the country, which she explored in the song "Haiti" (one of my favorites, off Funeral). Her editorial tackles the issue of the underlying corruption revealed by the tragedy.

Fucked Up and Matador are auctioning off the band's forthcoming singles comp Couple Tracks and the "Couple Tracks" 7" on eBay, with all donated money going to Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. The Matador warehouse is also running a Twitter contest in which donations to Oxfam get you entered to win a Couple Tracks test pressing.

KCRW in Los Angeles has a huge list of links for donations, etc. on its site.

As mentioned above, I happen to love the song "Haiti," and it seems pretty appropriate to include it here. Here's Arcade Fire in Paris in 2007:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jack Rose's "Luck in the Valley"

This past Friday night I went to a small informal benefit at The Blue Note and heard a local band play—mostly Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Barenaked Ladies covers. It's not really my thing, but I can appreciate the fun people have when they get together and bang away on their instruments. I'm joining an amateur string orchestra this week, and while I'm not sure how it's going to go—my only experience playing with others being piano duets with my mom and sister and clarinet in seventh-grade band—I have high hopes. Music is meant to be shared, and it's much more fun to play badly with someone else than sit at home and practice badly alone. If I'm going to suck, I want the world to hear it!

Next month you can buy the posthumous LP of a guy who loved to play his guitar and did not suck. Jack Rose passed away on December 5 from an apparent heart attack, but he recorded some impressive ragtime and country blues in his 38 years on the planet, combining old-time playing with styles as diverse as baroque folk and Indian raga. His final LP, Luck in the Valley, is set for release on February 23.

"Everybody Ought to Pray Sometime" by Jack Rose (from Luck in the Valley)

Download mp3

Rose was one of the latest wave of fingerstyle guitar players. When you hear the peaks and valleys of his playing, you realize how blissed-out music made him.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I Have a Dream... No Work on MLK Day

My dream is actually a reality. I'm not working today—it's a university holiday—and neither is my blog-writing brain. Back tomorrow...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Laura Veirs, This Week's Aural Fix

I know, I know: I'm all over the place with my "Album of the Week," "Track of the Week," and now "Aural Fix" shenanigans... I like to keep my options open and just give you new stuff I happen to like weekly, whether it be an album, a track, a compilation, a band, a monkey with cymbals, etc.

Actually, I'm not the only one who's been all over the place. Laura Veirs, whose latest album, July Flame, came out this week, has been getting loads of press lately. Veirs has literally been all over the place. She lived for a year in Malaysia with her family and trekked through Asia before falling in love with China and studying Mandarin Chinese and geology as an undergrad. She completed her senior geology project in a Chinese desert region that happened to be non-Mandarin-speaking, which made her skills as a translator rather null and void. Fortunately for Veirs, she bought a guitar in Beijing and discovered a love of song writing.

Veirs prefers touring in Europe because of its sense of community (group dinners before shows, etc.), but it hasn't stopped her from traveling around the United States with The Decemberists and Blind Pilot. She was even in Columbia in October at The Blue Note. (I saw her after the show in the lobby but missed her opening act.)

I caught an interview with Oregonian Veirs last Saturday on NPR's Weekend Edition. The music from the new album is melodic, with My Morning Jacket's Jim James guesting on some of the tracks. Last time I mentioned Veirs in this music blog, I compared her vocals to Suzanne Vega, and I think this still holds true—hers is an icy voice like frost on grass—but it adds an otherworldly glow to her very real songs about nature and the great outdoors. (A "july flame" is a type of peach Veirs saw in her local Portland farmers' market.)

"July Flame"

Download "July Flame" [mp3]

"Life Is Good Blues"

Download "Life Is Good Blues" [mp3]

"Sleeper in the Valley"

Download "Sleeper in the Valley" [mp3]

On a side note, Veirs is expecting a baby in April. She's keeping a blog on her site about touring with her own little july flame.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Eric Seat Explores His Sense of Self at the Columbia Art League

If you don't make it to Ragtag for Sweet and Lowdown on Thursday night, consider going to the Columbia Art League's opening reception for its latest exhibition, Sense of Self. Local artist Eric Seat (just call him "The Loveseat") has some amazing illustrations in the show. Seat's work has been featured in several publication annuals, and his portrait of Kurt Vonnegut appears on the cover of the Hungarian edition of Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

(Portrait of Kurt Vonnegut by Eric Seat)

Seat is still fairly new to Columbia, having moved to the city from Washington, D.C., a little over a year ago after receiving his BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. He was featured in the Columbia Tribune a year ago as the "Niche" artist of the week.

My partner in music crime was introduced to Seat at the ticket office of the Missouri Theatre this week and was impressed by his genuine nature—and, of course, by his incredible talent.

(Seat 1 by Eric Seat)

(Cover for Animal Farm by Eric Seat)

I remember being impressed by the painting below at the last CAL show in December.

(Lone Walker by Eric Seat)

It goes without saying that local artists need your support, whether they're musicians, painters, or documentarians. If you have some time, stop by the CAL to see how Seat and other artists like him color our world.

The opening reception for the Columbia Art League's Sense of Self is from 6-8 pm Thursday, January 14. The exhibition will be on display through February 20.

RIP Jay Reatard

On a sad note, Jay Reatard was found dead in his home early Wednesday morning. He played a show in Columbia in 2008.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Get the Sweet and Lowdown at Ragtag, 1/14/10

Ragtag Cinema is showing Woody Allen's classic Sweet and Lowdown (1999) this Thursday evening as part of the We Always Swing Jazz Series' Body and Soul: Jazz on Film. The film starts at 7:00; tickets are $8 ($4 for students).

Despite living above a Woody Allen enthusiast in Chicago for several years and borrowing most of his Woody Allen DVDs at one time or another, I never saw this one. Sweet and Lowdown is the swing-era story of Emmet Ray (Sean Penn), a fictional jazz virtuoso with a stormy personal life involving alcoholism, gangsters, a mute girlfriend (Samantha Morton), and an heiress wife (Uma Thurman). It's been called a tribute to Fellini's La Strada (1954).

I don't know much about the film except that Penn's character idolizes Django Reinhardt, and I happen to love me some gypsy jazz. I don't know if I'll make it to the show Thursday, but it sounds like a good way to spend a weeknight and also check out some Howard Alden, who plays the music in the film.

Even better, if you show up at 6:30, you can hear live music from Django's Tiger.

Interesting fact: Django Reinhardt's third and fourth fingers were badly burned in a caravan fire when he was 18, leaving them partially paralyzed. I couldn't resist sticking a Django video in here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ready, Set, OK, Go!

OK Go's new album Of the Blue Colour of the Sky is available today. It's the third full-length from the former Chicagoans best known for their treadmill antics in the Grammy-winning 2007 video for "Here It Goes Again."

The new album is getting good reviews so far, and OK Go is working on a video for each of the album's 13 tracks—attempting to preserve their status as the most downloaded band of all time. This could mean more coordinated dance moves involving workout apparatuses. They don't call this group "power pop" for nothing, which actually tempts me to shun them like Sandra Bullock's latest, but this record is being described as a much darker and more introspective work, influenced by the current global state of gloom and doom. The band says that when starting work on the album, they found themselves burned out on power chords and anthemic rock and wanted to return to the types of music that influenced them as kids, namely Prince, Depeche Mode, and Led Zeppelin.

See what you think. Have they successfully shed their "power pop" mantle? I don't know that the tracks I've heard reflect any "dark" sensibilities—mostly just Purple Rain-infused funk and glam—but maybe at the time of its creation this album served as a release from the heavy personal issues affecting various members of the band. It's definitely a departure from their previous sound, veering heavily into MGMT territory.

"This Too Shall Pass"

Download "This Too Shall Pass" [mp3]

"I Want You So Bad I Can't Breathe"

Download "I Want You So Bad I Can't Breathe" [mp3]

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Iceland Cometh

January is dusting me with melancholia, leaving me feeling like I'm stuck in some sort of crevasse. On Sunday I was feeling the need for something lovely and sad, and then I found this.

Sigur Ros at La Closerie in Paris:

Sigur Ros - Við spilum endalaust - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

I don't know why I crave bittersweet sounds when I'm feeling subdued, but I do.

On a related note, Sigur Ros frontman Jónsi Birgisson has a new solo album, Go, scheduled to be released March 10. The first single from the album is an exuberant little number called "Boy Lilikoi."

"Boy Lilikoi"

Download "Boy Lilikoi" [mp3]

The song comes on with a swirl of glittery snow before cutting loose into ice capades of anthemic joy. Suddenly everything seems okay.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Internet Snow Day

The A Ravenous Horde staff-of-one is experiencing technical difficulties. My Internet connection seems to be as frozen as the great outdoors.

Try to stay warm this weekend, and I'll see you next week.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Y2K Flashback

I've been thinking this week about where I was ten years ago and what I was listening to at the start of the oughts. In Y2K I was wrapping up my English degree and spending lots of time with the Daedalus catalog, which, if you're interested, still exists in both web and catalog form. (In fact, out of nostalgia, I just requested the book, cd, and dvd catalogs.) I was renting the top half of an old house in Springfield, Illinois, for $300 a month, working at a picture framing store, taking care of my pet rabbit, Oscar, and doing lots of mail-order shopping because I didn't know what else to spend my money on. (I do not have this "unfortunate" money malaise these days.)

Daedalus was a catalog I discovered from my mom, who in turn discovered it from my brother. It filled a music void in my life created in the late 90s when grunge and alternative bands gave birth to truly wretched OffspringLimp Bizkit, Slipknot, 311, and Incubus. Tired of reading articles on Eminem and Kid Rock, I canceled my Spin Magazine subscription and started buying world music and jazz cds from musicians I'd never heard of. I spent most weekend afternoons playing 81/2 Souvenirs, the Buena Vista Social ClubSusanna Baca, and Cannonball Adderley as loudly as I could in my upstairs apartment, my bunny sitting on the window sill chewing a piece of timothy hay superciliously.

(c. 2000)

I was also fortunate at that time to be in control of the frame shop's sound system. And so I became a surreptitious dj, creating mxtapes for my shifts and observing customers to see if they tapped their feet in the store while flipping through the print bins or picking out mats and frames. It made my day when someone asked about the music.

These were my jazz/world music years. I remained stuck in this phase until around 2001 or 2002 when I moved to Chicago and realized music was good again. Thank you, Lin Brehmer and 93XRT. Between NPR and Brehmer, my daily commute became two hours of bliss.

(Elliott Smith)

In retrospect, I now realize there was a lot of good music being made in the late 90s, but I had no computer and no access to the Internet, and so I missed out on many seminal classics from Whiskeytown and Elliott Smith. I became a different sort of music snob—a completely geeky jazz and world music one—and had to start all over when I received a laptop from work and the ability to burn cds and explore iTunes. It was a whole new world.

(Harry Belafonte shakes, shakes, shakes senora.)

The first cd I ever burned features some Harry Belafonte mixed with Thom Yorke and Herbert. I was all over the map on that one, which actually makes that first cd a classic. I continue to throw a broad mix of music styles on my cds because it's just more fun. The only type of music I have yet to successfully integrate is classical: it tends to be recorded quietly and causes awkward pauses in the flow of a mixtape. It's too bad, really. I think I could handle some Erik Satie hovering between my Patrick Watson and Air France.

At times I regret my music coma in the late 90s and early 00s, but it wasn't exactly a coma. I ended up falling in love with music I might not have discovered for many years had it not been for Daedalus. Those were magic years when brown shipping boxes appeared on my porch full of cd wonder. And now I can't wait for my first Daedalus catalog in ten years to arrive so I can reopen the portal on worlds of sound.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fran Healy Takes a Holiday from Travis

In the spirit of newness this week, here's a demo track from Travis frontman Fran Healy's debut solo effort, Wreckorder, still in production. It features a diverse group of guest musicians, including Neko Case, Tom Hobden from Noah and the Whale, and Paul McCartney from, oh, the friggin' Beatles. (In order to thank McCartney for laying down a sweet bass line on one of the tracks, Healy decided to become a vegetarian. McCartney, in turn, gifted him with three Linda McCartney cookbooks.)

"Holiday" by Fran Healy

Download "Holiday" [mp3]

I think we could all use some wrecked order and a holiday from business as usual. The best part about January is tearing all the old stuff down and starting over. I suspect that's what was going on in Healy's head, too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Breaking News from BriTunes

My mom once remarked that my favorite music geek bears a slight resemblance to Brian Williams, news anchor extraordinaire over at NBC. Hmmm, now that I think about it, my friend likes Great Lake Swimmers ... Brian Williams likes Great Lake Swimmers. My friend likes Camera Obscura ... Brian Williams likes Camera Obscura. My friend likes Jason Isbell ... Brian Williams ALSO likes Jason Isbell. The similarities, it seems, do not end with the cut of the jaw.

And how do I know all this? Brian Williams likes to rock out more than he lets on, judging by the fact that he recently launched his own music blog, titled, unfortunately enough, "BriTunes." (Apparently, Williams did not choose the name and is quite nonplussed about it. Then again, some of us choose random names for our music blogs based on dumb jokes and later live to question them, so maybe he should be glad he can blame someone else for his blog's title.)

Williams interviews up-and-coming musicians for the site and posts his own playlists, a.ka., "What Brian Williams Loosens His Tie to When He Gets Off Work." I have no problem with a somewhat stuffy news anchor listening to the same music I do. However, some small-minded critics view him as an interloper and question his ability to connect with the twentysomething anti-establishment, citing his parental interview style, a.k.a., "I Actually Don't Know How to Loosen My Tie, So This Is Me Being as Hip as I Can Be with Your Bearded Indie Ass." One blog I read said that in Williams' Deer Tick interview, he comes across like an oblivious parent trying to connect with his son's stoned friends (think lots of mumbling and smirking from Deer Tick).

You can watch for yourself...

Laugh all you want, but Mr. Williams has surprisingly good taste, and it all begs the question: Why should a music fan have to look a certain part to enjoy the same music as someone sporting skinny jeans and mutton chops? If you love music, who cares where you get it and who else listens to it? Age, income, and personality should have nothing to do with enjoyment of music. When my friend and I went to see Grizzly Bear at The Blue Note in October, we were easily some of the oldest people there, but we enjoyed every minute of the show, seemingly more than the drunk sorority girls around us who texted and talked the entire time about how bored they were. Sure, Williams has a signature interviewing style, which may seem parental or awkward in a hipster context, but we still learn about Deer Tick from his interview. So why shouldn't Brian Williams be allowed to "interlope" with rock musicians?

Will music snobs check out BriTunes? Probably, but they might be too ashamed to tell their friends. My favorite music geek was actually the one to point out BriTunes to me this past weekend. We giggled a little, but then we started discussing The Seeds and Antony and the Johnsons and Fanfarlo and The Crystal Method and Florence and the Machine, all of which are posted on BriTunes, and then it didn't really matter that Williams might not look the part of an indie music fan. For that matter, I don't look the part of an indie music fan, and maybe that's why this whole music snobbery thing rankles so much. I don't necessarily look hip, but I love music made by people who do.

Music snobbery is a savage beast. I've been guilty of it my entire life, and it is not an admirable or, really, an enjoyable thing, especially now that I'm getting older and losing whatever shred of coolness I may once have achieved. When it all comes down to it, just listening to music without having to project a certain image or worrying what other people think should be the most important thing.

Let's hope harsh comments from readers don't stop Williams from posting about The Dead Weather on his music blog or cranking the album when he's pouring himself a Scotch after work in his mini-mansion out east. Really, it's none of our damn business if he throws on a flannel and pops a Miller Lite instead. I think it's great he has a forum to share his love of music, and I wish him luck.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ringing in the New Year with Broken Bells

I'm feeling well-rested after a much-needed New Year's break... or at least, I was until I woke up at 6:30 this morning to come back to work. This is one of those days when I wish I could drive my avatar through the work day from the comfort of my own bed. (Yes, my friend and I took his mother to see Avatar in 3D on New Year's Day; I do not condone works of art by the self-proclaimed "King of the World," James Cameron, but I have to confess I got completely sucked into the story and was dazzled by the special effects. I did love it. I did.)

And now 2010 is upon us. There's something exciting about a new year of new artists, new albums, new songs, new concerts, and new collaborations. Over the holiday weekend, I got inspired to start digging for new material to make my next mixcd. It's not like I even had to dig; it was all there pouring in an endless stream of overwhelming newness right into my lap (or laptop)... like a glut of newness, really. There isn't much effort required to find new stuff these days, which has taken some of the fun out of discovery, but I can still get sucked into iTunes and The Hype Machine for hours on end.

In the spirit of newness, Shins' frontman James Mercer has just formed a new duo with producer Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley) called Broken Bells. Their self-titled album isn't available until March 9, but the first single, "The High Road," is out now.

"The High Road" by Broken Bells
[Link and player removed by the powers that be! You'll have to check this one out at the website below.]

You'll hear Mercer on vocals, bass, and guitar, and Danger Mouse on drums, piano, synth, and organ. It's a simple affair to help ease you into the new year.

(You can also download the song from the Broken Bells website in exchange for your e-mail address.)

Welcome to 2010.