Winter 2011 Mix

Here’s a digital music mix for Winter 2011, songs to fit snowy days shut in.

Tracklist

1. We Are the Sleepyheads – Belle & Sebastian
2. Fallen Snow – Au Revoire Simone
3. Union Hall – Foreign Born
4. Cold World – The Electric Soft Parade
5. Kids – MGMT
6. Til Dreams Come True – PG Six
7. Nomenclature – Andrew Bird
8. Empty Room – Arcade Fire
9. Big Louise – Scott Walker
10. Terrible Love – The National
11. Too Dramatic – Ra Ra Riot
12. There Are Many Of Us – Aska Matsumiya
13. Hold It In – Jukebox the Ghost
14. When They Fight, They Fight – Generationals
15. Day Is Done – Nick Drake

Tune-age: End of Summer Mix 2010

Here’s a mix for your downloading pleasure. It features songs that I first heard this summer, or have some sort of connection to a mood or tone during this season for me. Enjoy.

1. Money – Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
2. City With No Children – Arcade Fire
3. The Happy Goth – The Divine Comedy
4. Lady Luck – Richard Swift
5. Teenagers – Department of Eagles
6. God Help the Girl – God Help the Girl
7. Airplanes – Local Natives
8. Kim & Jessie – M83
9. Flash Delirium – MGMT
10. Crash Years – The New Pornographers
11. Melectric- Ramona Falls
12. Sleep All Day – The Rural Alberta Advantage
13. Home – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes

Click here to download

Tune-age: Arcade Fire – "Suburbs"

Arcade Fire – Suburbs (2010, Merge Records)

To try and define the Arcade Fire’s sound is an impossible task. When I first heard “Wake Up” in Brent Hamric’s car in the spring of 2004 I immediately thought of The Flaming Lips. One track later and that was changed. Three albums later and they are still too eclectic to pin down. A lot of music critics wait like vultures for the bands they love or others love to slip up, so that they can pounce and claim that the grandeur that once was is lost. Arcade Fire seems to dare them to try it, by dropping the dark gloom of Neon Bible and adopting a more pop-folk vibe. There’s some familiar sounds to bring you back in, but then suddenly things change up and we hear some arrangements and instruments that show the band is still testing its limits.

It seemed a natural fit for Arcade Fire to score a film, and they did so last fall for Richard Kelly on The Box. While the music there resembled Bernard Hermann more than any of their typical music, they still have a cinematic sound in this latest album. It’s a very West Coast, bouncier collection of songs. Every few tracks there’s that dark underscoring that comes through, but for the most part this is a pop-ier album, very much music you could dance to. Like all their work, the cinematic qualities come from the story being told in the lyrics. Each album has felt like a dystopian novel, touching on themes of the end of our civilization. It sounds like heavy material to be working with, but they manage to make tracks that you tap your foot to. The voices in these song stories are typically disaffected twenty-somethings reflecting on the desolation around them.

The opening track “The Suburbs”, has a bouncy piano underscoring the song which came as quite a jolt when I started the album. For the first time on their albums, I find lead singer Win Butler sounding like a spiritual successor to Neil Young. And this opening song, like a couple others, have a folk-rock element to them. “Ready to Start” is the track you expect to hear on an Arcade Fire album, there’s pounding drums and alt-pop guitar riff. References are made in the lyrics to “the kids”, a recurring noun in all their albums, that seems to represent youth in general who has an awareness above the adults. “Modern Man” is back in Neil Young country, but also made me think of some of The Talking Heads’ work in the early 1980s and is a song I would not have guessed was an Arcade Fire song if I didn’t already know it. “Rococo” seems to be a mix of expected elements and this new West Coast folk sound being incorporated now. “The kids” are back again, a force of apathetic destruction, constructing massive pillars of junk to burn down. “Empty Room” begins with some wonderfully light strings and then turns into a classic right out of the standard playbook, with some very Kate Bush like vocals led by Chassagne Butler. “City With No Children” evokes thoughts of *gasp* Bruce Springsteen, a comparison I never thought I would make. There’s a strong of sense of small town nostalgia woven through the song and even the arrangement feels like a track off Thunder Road.

“Half Light I” and Half Light II” continue the nostalgia trip, and I have a feeling the band made this album as homage to their own youths growing up in the 1980s and the music that filled their lives during that time. It is a good explanation for how the album is able to evoke memories of so many different artists of that time, yet is still able to not go off the rails. “Suburban War” comes back to Springsteen but not as heavily, its much more Arcade Fire gloomy. “Month of May” is yet another splash of ice cold water as the band is backed by the unceasing guitar of what could easily be a Ramones song and more mentions of “the kids” as a defiant force of purity. “Wasted Hours” is back to folk pop guitars and continues the themes of adolescents tooling around the desolate wastes of Southwestern small towns and looking back on this time as something to be missed. “Deep Blue” is one of the few tracks where Win stands alone, his voice turned into an echo-y voice mourning the past, but also makes use of that same bouncy piano rhythm from the first track. “We Used to Wait For It” continues on from “Deep Blue”, now talking about the time spent by youth in anticipation of the future, only to look back on their youth as adults and want to somehow return to it. “Sprawl I (Flatland)” is Win Butler returning to his childhood home, singing out from open landscape and becoming lost looking for it. This is a track so full of narrative elements, it makes you want the band to compose an opera. And where that songs leaves us mournful, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond) is a chorus of angels beyond the hills that surround this small town lifting our protagonist up and away. The album wraps up with a short and haunting track, reprising the opening song, where Win states that if he could have the time back he wasted as a child, he’d simply waste it again.

Arcade Fire proves that they are about revisiting the same ideas thematically, but constantly experimenting with their sound. This by far the most listener friendly album they have released and every track could easily find a place in the radio rotation. They take a lot of chances and flirt with mainstream sounds, only insomuch as they hearken back to brothers Win and Reg Butler’s youth in the suburbs outside of Houston. For all its slightly dark atmosphere at times, there’s a revelry in being a kid without responsibilities or being forced mete out time as a valuable commodity. A great album from one of the best bands of the 21st century.

DocuMondays – loudQUIETloud


loudQUIETloud (2006, dir. Steven Cantor, Matthew Galkin)
Featuring The Pixies (Charles Thompson, Kim Deal, David Lovering, Joey Santiago)

Kelly Deal, sister of Pixies’ bassist Kim Deal, sums up the nature of the band in very simple terms. She tells her sister, “You are four of the worst communicators I have ever seen!” And she is most definitely correct in this summation of the group. Throughout their 2004 Pixies Sell Out tour, the bandmates communicate with each other the barest minimum, retreating into their individual solo projects when not on stage in front of fans. What the documentary confirms is that there is no new Pixies material coming any time soon, and that the band simply got back together because, like most of us, they have bills to pay.

The Pixies were formed in the late 80s and fell apart in the early 90s, particularly from in-fighting between Charles Thompson and Kim Deal. As the film opens, Deal has recently come off a rehab stint for alcoholism and is accompanied by Kelly on the tour. They travel in a separate buses from the guys in the band because Kim must stay away from alcohol. Drummer David Lovering is also dealing with issues of substance abuse, though he hasn’t come to that realization. The rest of the band is visibly uncomfortable in his presence and eventually confront him about his constant cocktail of booze and Valium. The film is a meditation on what happens when a group of people who produce great art end up absolutely hating each other.

The most telling aspect of the picture is Kim Deal and her sister in this separate bus, following the guys. Even on the guys’ bus, Charles is caught up in negotiation a switch to a new recording label, Joey is working on the soundtrack for his documentary film, and David is unnatural chipper from the drugs in his system. These were the twentysomethings of the 1990s, now in their late thirties and completely self absorbed. Kim plucks away on demos for the new Breeders album, writing songs for it, never once thinking about new songs for the Pixies. At one point a reporter from Rolling Stone interviews Charles and asks about new material. Charles says he’s been keeping his solo demos around and letting the band hear them to hint about getting some new stuff together, but from seeing the rest of the film he seems disinterested, and often times annoyed to work with these people.

It’s interesting to see the enthusiasm of the high school and college aged fans who became aware of the Pixies years after the band fell apart. In their eyes the Pixies are a single unit and unreal. One girl brings a sign reading “Kim Deal is God”. She manages to slip Kim a copy of Brave New Girl, a novel whose protagonist is an obsessive fan of the Pixies. The camera is on Kim later in her bus as she thumbs through the book. Her reaction is one of distress, she quickly puts the book down and lights a cigarette. These people are simply that, people. Nothing more. They are in the middle of divorces, struggling with addictions, and trying to get by.

DocuMondays – Kurt and Courtney



Kurt and Courtney (1998, dir. Nick Broomfield)
Featuring Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, and a cast of thousands…of junkies

I was thirteen when Kurt Cobain killed himself, and honestly the front man for Nirvana existed on my periphery. The whole grunge scene has never been a music genre I enjoyed, I’m more of a 90s BritPop fan (Oasis, Blur, The Verve). But I can understand why the movement was so big, as it was a big deviation from the musical norms of the time. This docu, by Brit filmmaker Broomfield seeks to stir up some of the conspiracy theories surrounding Cobain’s death and in the end isn’t really about Kurt or Courtney, but about famewhoredom.

What stands out most about the film is the shoddiness. Made on the cheap, the documentary is narrated by Broomfield who doesn’t do much to play the neutral observer, but pretty much interjects his personal opinions throughout. That doesn’t make the film any less fascinating though, especially with its parade of “friends” of the Cobains. In particular, one young woman who takes Broomfield to a club where Kurt performed during his early days, and whom talks with expertise about seeing the Cobain couple shoot heroin. She promises Broomfield photographic evidence, and when he returns to her apartment later she is anxious and befuddled and has a million excuses as to why she hasn’t been able to provide the photos. The woman is incredibly reminiscent of how Courtney Love is described throughout the documentary.

Broomfield pursues some wild leads, including the claim by S&M band member El Duce that Courtney offered him $50,000 to kill Kurt and “make it look like a suicide”. A less reliable source you couldn’t ask for. There’s Courtney’s former private investigator who now has “scientific” evidence that the amount of heroin in Kurt’s blood made it impossible for him to handle the shotgun. However, Broomfield provides actual scientific evidence proving that it is possible, to which the investigator simply ignores. The most awful of Broomfield’s interviewees is Courtney’s father, a man writing and publishing books condemning his daughter for the murder of Kurt in what he explains as a way to keep in touch with his daughter.

Broomfield reasonably comes to the conclusion in the film’s epilogue that Kurt most likely did commit suicide and that Courtney didn’t pay anyone to kill him. What the documentary revealed to me was that at the end of the day both people came from incredibly messed up homes where a strong parental presence was absent. Kurt seems like a very personable, intelligent guy in some of the interview archival footage, and Courtney seems like a sad woman who made a habit of latching onto local musicians in the hope of grooming them into the next Sid Vicious, as a compliment to her Nancy Spungeon. The person you feel the saddest for is poor Frances, their daughter, whose childhood couldn’t have been an easy one.

Kurt and Courtney is currently available to view on Hulu.com