andrew on music

18 03 2008

My close friend and audiophile Andrew Hall compiled a beautiful annotated list of spring break music, and graciously gave upside down again permission to print it. So for your amusement and enjoyment:

samamidon – sugar baby

[Here’s a video, I think]I’d listened to this once or twice before I think it and the rest of its accompanying record, all is well, finally hit me. I was flying back here and had to turn my iPod off after playing the first track, what with impending descent and all, and Sam Amidon’s vocals, which convey some sense of longing that I just can’t shake, especially on this song, threw me the hell off. The arrangement – the sparse strings, the electric/acoustic split by channel that somehow doesn’t come across as a dumb gimmick, and just about everything else – is stunning. 

There’s something about Iceland that just gives everything that comes from it – even traditional Appalachian folk songs reinterpreted by a 26-year-old from Vermont – this sound. Maybe I’m giving the country too much credit, given that I’ve heard it’s more than a little overpriced and Sigur Rós are supposedly dicks (see that disastrous NPR interview for evidence), though they do have striking volcanoes and attractive women, and I’m okay with that. And it could be just the fact that this record was produced by Valgeir Sigurðsson, who also did a Bonnie ‘prince’ Billy record called the letting go, also in Iceland, that this reminds me of. The fact that Amidon sounds a little like Will Oldham probably has something to do with it, too.

the magnetic fields – california girls

The trick to distortion is that that the distortion is a gimmick. The songs have pretty straightforward acoustic arrangements buried beneath sheets of noise because Stephin Merritt has some idea about psychocandy by the Jesus and Mary Chain being the last significant event in pop music. I’d ask him to explain himself, but I’ve already read a whole lot about how Stephin Merritt is a terrifying interview and I do enough heavy sighing by myself, making his presence on the other side of a phone line unnecessary. 
The other trick to distortion is the fact that none of these songs make even the slightest first good impression. I fell hard for 69 love songs almost immediately, as I did holiday and the charm of the highway strip. Parts of get lost don’t click for me, but I think enough of both “When You’re Old and Lonely” and “All the Umbrellas In London” that I’ll probably buy it if and when it gets a vinyl repress. Butdistortion forces one to meet it on its terms, which is tough, since it’s neither noise nor pop but it isn’t the best noise-pop record, either. Hearing these songs performed live confirmed it, since “California Girls” performed with acoustic instruments and the unnecessary laughter of a bunch of Seattlites, mostly couples, was completely and totally irresistible. I even kind of like the studio version now, though this was best presented with Shirley Simms reproducing the song’s fade-out by whispering the chorus’s final repetition to a silent, adoring audience before it bursts into applause, prompting hyperacusis sufferer Merritt to frown and cover his ear. 

studio – no comply

There was nothing Swedish on this list, it wasn’t long enough because I write too much, and this list needed some very serious Swedish music with very serious Swedish guitar solos and very serious Swedish vocals. If it wasn’t so good it’d be filler.

the mountain goats – autoclave

In the heretic pride press kit drawn by Jeffrey Lewis and written by John Darnielle, he describes this song as being the product of his thinking about “people whose hearts involuntarily pulverize any good feelings that come within a city block of them.” He also makes mention of the fact that the song came to shape while he was in Alaska, and this does feel like a strikingly Alaskan song to me, even though all I remember about Alaska was the fact that everyone seemed to die really young for some reason. 
When I was five, I remember being in a car with a friend of mine I haven’t seen in something like seven years and probably won’t ever see again. We drove by the Dimond Center, and he told me it was the dying center, since a man died there. He actually died from inhaling toxic fumes from the machinery that kept the ice rink in the basement cold, but I came to mythologize him for years as the guy who got hit by the zamboni. Note that to my knowledge, no one was ever hit or killed by a zamboni on the ice rink at the Dimond Center, and if I have cost them any business by perpetuating this lie, I am sorry.

neon neon – steel your girl

Gruff Rhys has always been obsessed with puns. Apparently his first solo record, the all-Welsh yr atal genhedlaeth, is titled after a terrible pun, as are all of the songs. That’s the best justification for the title I can give, but it really doesn’t need one, since the Neon Neon record has the best pop songs Gruff Rhys has been involved with since two or three Super Furry Animals albums ago. It reminds me of something that band would’ve done on guerrilla, which is easily my favorite Furries record and probably one of my favorite records of all time. It’s heavier on synths than anything else, but it maintains the same sense of sparkling production and Rhys can make something sound massive without the heavy-handedness that’s made me dislike the Flaming Lips so much in the last few years. But I guess my summary could be reduced to something like “It’s really good” and I don’t say that very often, since I’m kind of tired.

sm & jicks – gardenia

This is the only song on real emotional trash that doesn’t break the three-minute mark. I told people that the record was really jammy, because it is, given that over 60% of the album’s songs break the six-minute mark, and that it wasn’t as fun as face the truth, because it isn’t. 
This one’s great, though. It’s weird to hear female harmonies backing Malkmus given that there were never any women in Pavement and I still think of Pavement or the Christmas party at which I met SM’s parents more than I do his solo records, but they’re there, as is Janet Weiss, who, given that she is Janet Weiss, is all sorts of excellent. There’s also some line in the chorus about a freeway and rejection, but I gave up on trying to figure that out pretty quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets heavier rotation in the middle of the summer, though I have no idea where I’ll be or if there’ll be a pair of shitty speakers to blast this through there. 

los campesinos! – knee deep at ATP

The easiest way to win over lovelorn music nerds is to write songs about being lovelorn music nerds. This is one of them, given that the song’s entirely about a music festival that happens a couple times each year in the UK, meeting a girl there, and the inevitable complications. Gareth Campesinos! says it’s about how he makes himself expendable by valuing people based on the bands they like. I’m not quite willing to admit it yet, but I’m also more likely than not completely and totally guilty of this.
It also has music nerd appeal because it makes mention of things like correctly-used apostrophes, ellipses, and K records T-shirts. It’s also over in under three minutes, which is a plus, given both that the whole record’s mixed way too loud and that it covers a whole lot of territory given how short it is. It’s quite the buildup going on in that last 40 seconds or so. 

beach house – home again

Probably chosen just because of where I happen to be. I don’t know if this is home anymore, or if I’m comfortable calling anything home right now, but that’s not important. What’s important is that Beach House should’ve released this in November when it wasn’t sunny outside every other day, since the only beachlike imagery I could even begin to associate with this record is a vision of a single house on some coast, either near a dying city or a dead town, early in the morning, surrounded by fog in the dead of winter. Twice a day someone emerges, realizes they’re still alone, and goes back to sleep. On the weekends they visit a grave, but nothing encouraging comes of that, either. 
I don’t know why it is that I actually like devotion given that beach house did nothing for me. I’ll admit that I was, more than anything else, taken by the cover, a photo of band members Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally eyeing a cake with the album’s title written in icing across the front. Then there was the realization that everyone who compared this band to Low, easily among my favorite bands, Galaxie 500, who I love, Mazzy Star, who are responsible for the single sexiest pop song I have ever heard, and Slowdive, who I don’t think of much right now, were completely and totally wrong. This is a particularly warped take on girl group music that sounds nothing like proto-shoegaze or slowcore or whatever and everyone who says otherwise is lying. Once I realized that, it started to click, and then I fell hard.

semi-irrelevant additional material: 

A few nights ago Peter, Nadim and I were driving around Seattle. We were blasting singles from dear catastrophe waitress by Belle and Sebastian. Peter heard “Your Cover’s Blown” for the first time and we all agreed that it was still pretty great, and we listened to “If You Find Yourself Caught In Love” and “If She Wants Me” before we got back to his house. I said I wanted to listen to the life pursuit as we drove to the airport the next morning, hoping for a sunny day, but it was pouring, so devotion won, Seattle weather once again victorious.

why? – good friday

If elephant eyelash was Yoni Wolf falling in love and the inevitable breaking up, as well as  contemplating suicide, alopecia is the sound of him documenting the fallout (and, yes, contemplating suicide). This one reads like a straight-up confession with such specificity that in a world where Yoni Wolf wasn’t so much a songwriter as he was a compulsive Livejournal updater, the material would transition almost effortlessly. I, for one, am pleased that it took shape like this. And yes, for the record, the bear from Showbiz Pizza does look pretty scary




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