Guest Post: Gone Mild’s Review of Brill Bruisers by New Pornographers (Album of the Week)

Dan is having some WordPress issues, so he asked me to post his review of this week’s album.

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I missed the rise of the The New Pornographers.  During the early 2000s, I was listening to NPR news programs and MP3s of songs and bands I already knew. Blissfully unaware of The New Pornographers, I had no idea who they were or what they sounded like.  I suppose I probably heard a few of their songs somewhere mixed into a soundtrack or something, but they were a nullity to me until Robin chose this album for our series of reviews.

On first listen, I got distracted by the gloss and didn’t really hear the music.  In my own defense, this is slick power pop, perfect for background music while you’re driving or focusing on other things.  It’s pretty and it’s energy – you don’t need to pay attention to enjoy this album.  You can skip along the surface of this album in a way that you simply cannot with something like Lucinda Williams yowling over a steel guitar.

By the second listen, though, I started to appreciate what is going on here.  This is a group of hardworking, talented musicians who know how to put a song together.  In the second song, Champions of Red Wine, I felt like they were calling me out:

We’ve waves to root for

You’re coming over

You’ve done your research

It has the force of water

And we’ve got a lot here

There is a lot there.  The band is packed – guitars, synthesizer, drums, harmonies, bass, lush production, etc..  At 8 members, this is not a band to hire for your house party.  The album comes across like the big project that it was – no corners cut, no expenses spared, no off notes tolerated.

Soul music this is not.  If you played this album in a Mississippi blues joint, the place might collapse – or, to make the metaphor more accurate, it might explode from the energy and buoyancy packed into this album.  This is car music, meant to be played on a summer day with the windows down.  It’s not something you would sit down in your easy chair to sip whiskey or even chamomile tea to.

That’s not to say that the album is shallow or inane, because it isn’t.  There is a joy that pervades the music, but the penultimate song on the album warns:

You’ve proved your poison is more than noise

And the joy’s addictive although restrictive

Fan baby beware, I’m not always square

By no means is this a deeply poetic album to be parsed for meaning like an early Dylan bootleg or a Joan Baez number, but songs like “War on the East Coast” and “Another Drug Deal of the Heart” keep the album from being lightweight dance music, to be spun and forgotten.

I’ll be going back to listen to the albums of The New Pornographers that I missed during the start of the century.  That’s one of the reasons I am so enjoying the project of choosing new albums to listen to on a mostly-weekly basis.  It’s too easy to get calcified listening to great musicians like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, while totally ignoring the bands who are doing new things brilliantly.

Next up: Diploid Love, by Brody Dalle

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Good Things – Special Edition

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Goodness. Where to start here? Having been over two weeks since I have ventured to write about good things, my small band of readers may be worrying that that is because I had no good things to report. Not the case. The last couple weeks have kind of weird in their compilation of good things. I will accept that willingly.

To avoid claims of favoritism, I am going to do the #1 and #2 spots in chronological order. Reading on, you will understand why. These things are major.

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  1. Wedding Dress Shopping – I know that there are shows devoted to it, but it has pretty much escaped me that buying a wedding dress is a social event. When I bought my wedding dress, I believer that I went to the shop within walking distance of school – between classes – picked out a dress  - and got back in time for botany. Different times. I am not stuck in the past! I can adjust! And I was thrilled that Ali wanted me to be there to help her pick out her dress. I flew down to New Orleans on a Thursday. I got to spend some time with some adorable 1st graders on Friday, and on Saturday we met up with friends and new family to find the dress. It was a wonderful and poignant thing to help my little girl into dresses that transformed her into a princess. Seeing how happy she is, and excited she is to begin a new part to her life story, made me more than happy to be there. As it turned out, there were not dozens of dresses tried on. When she tried on number three, all gathered knew that it was the place to stop. She tried on a few more, but we came back to #3. I can’t wait to show a picture of it, but those who have seen it agree that it is her. And I am so glad that I was there!DSCF7624
  2. Another Wedding in the Family – Before I even met her, and before they were even deep into their relationship, I knew that Sam and Jean were good for each other and that they were going to get married. I did tell a few people that, so the record will indicate that my “I told you so” dance, is justified. Last week, we found out that I was right. Probably sooner than later, Sam and Jean will get married. They have chosen a very simple ceremony.  After that, they will bring together special friends and immediate family to celebrate. It fits them, and I am again, so happy that they have found each other, and happiness, and partnership. Having Jean in our family, as it is for Jose, seems natural.

I was going to write  about other good things, but I want to leave it there. After all, if I want anything as a parent, it has always been to have my children happy and healthy. The most important good things ever! Those parents out there who are reading this, know that that isn’t always possible.  Sometimes it takes more directions than your nervous system has the capacity for. But this week, I feel pretty lucky. I am not Pollyanna-ing and saying that Sam and Ali have storybook lives ahead of them. But, I am lucky to know that Dan and I are both here for all four of them. We are here and available to guide them when they want, comfort them when they need, advise them if they ask, and celebrate them whenever we have a chance. That is more than good.

Torch Song by Radiator Hospital (Album of the Week)

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Album: Torch Song

Artist: Radiator Hospital

Year: 2014

Details: 15 songs; 33 minutes

Choice: Gone Mild

If my memory serves me correctly, when I was in college there between 1978 and 1982, winters in Schenectady, New York lasted from late October until April. May would inevitably be a muddy mess due to April showers and the melting of about 4 feet of snow and ice. But then it would happen. Spring days. The beautiful green spaces of Union College would fill up with people who had been swaddled in rag wool sweaters and socks, corduroy, and LL Bean down for months. Windows would open and speakers would be propped into them so that everyone sitting, standing, running, or laying outside could enjoy shared energy that had been dormant and waiting to reemerge. In my mind, those were days of pure bliss, and the music memory of that joy is New Wave music. Radiator Hospital recalls that music memory. While it is not all guitar-y driven rockers, there is enough there that anyone who was there during those days would know what I am talking about. I liked listening to this.

The band offers their music free on their Bandcamp website. Donations are encouraged, but not required. Dan paid for the download for our listening these past couple weeks. Whatever he paid, was money well spent. 15 songs in 33 minutes! The songs come and go with haste.

The lead singer, to my ear, is a vocal doppelgänger of the lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel. He has one of those slurry, nasally styles that makes it hard to pick out the words. That made it easy for me to just let the music play over my ears and not necessarily permeate my brain. Dan notes over on Gone Mild that the energy of the music belies the more serious nature of the song-writing. I get that, but I am okay to do this one my shallow way.

Sometimes reviewing these albums is made harder by the fact that it is not music that I would listen to, making it difficult to find space in my musical vocabulary to fit it in. This one, while it may be more than the good time and the sound memory that it provides to me, I am content to leave it there.

Next Up: The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers

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Last Week’s Good Things

bookI am finding it incredibly hard to believe that we are approaching the middle of August. The autumn happenings that seemed so far away, are now rapidly approaching. In the midst of the blur of last week, were some very good things. These were mine:

A new shower head – We live in an old house which brings with it all of its charms, as well as all of its challenges. We have beautiful plaster walls and hardwood floors. We also have questionable water pressure. This week we made some changes that included the replacement of a showerhead. It is a little thing, but when the first activity of your day includes water at a good temperature in an abundant quantity at an acceptable pressure, you are a step ahead.

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National IPA Day – Last Thursday was National IPA day. An IPA is a style of beer – an Indian Pale Ale. To me, the defining characteristic of an Indian pale ale is hoppy goodness. To celebration of this special day last week, Dan poured me a special beer. Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware makes something that they call 90-minute IPA. For this beer, they continuously add hops to build the flavor that becomes almost raisiny, It is deliciousness. Unfortunately, this beer is not available in Missouri. Fortunately, when Dan travels, he brings me home souvenirs.

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Miso – Having two tastes for this years post is something that I don’t usually do, but I figure that it isn’t a bad thing. I have not used miso much in the  past, but this week, I used it in two different ways. Miso is a fermented soybean product. I still don’t get what umami is, but miso is umami – salty, earthy, deep. The first use of miso this week was to mix it with butter and use it for corn on the cob. It really transformed the corn in such an interesting way. The second use was a salad dressing. This is a work in progress, as I think the version I made was a little too salty, but it was a good starting place.

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TED x KC – Saturday night we went to watch 11 people take a stage by themselves and without a script, talk for an alloted amount of time on a particular topic. We heard a 16 year old girl’s original songs and how she has funded programs in countries of need, we heard about fusion energy, we heard about a new paradigm for entrepreneurship. and about bullying, and politics, and economics, and using humor … We were in a freaking beautiful auditorium that gave a standing ovation to a political scientist!

Slate Audio Book Club – A few days a week, I listen to podcasts rather than music on my short trip to and from work. I have my favorite podcasts that I tend to go to, but there are a bunch of others that I download, but then don’t listen to. The Slate Audio Book Club was one of those, until last week. I listened to two episodes during the week. One was on My Stuggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, and the other was Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation. To spend drive time listening to people enthusiastically talk about books – lordy me! That is good. I am not eager to read My Struggle, but I am glad to know about it. Jenny Offill’s book I need to read.

What were your good things last week?

Voyager by Jenny Lewis (Album of the Week)

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Album: Voyager

Artist: Jenny Lewis

Year: 2014

Details: 10 songs; 40 minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

There are several ways you could come to know Jenny Lewis – her 1980s sitcom roles as a teenager, her band that was (Rilo Kiley), or Jenny Lewis, solo. I discovered Jenny Lewis on a cd that I bought at a Starbucks. It was a compilation of songs put together by Elvis Costello. The Rilo Kiley song on it was “Does He Love You?” It is a humdinger of a punch-in-the gut kind of a song.

I listened to and loved that song in 2005. There has been plenty of time for me to get to know Jenny Lewis better. I haven’t really done that. She doesn’t put out much music. She has changed formats and collaborations a few times. While she tends to get well reviewed, her next move seems uncertain.

Last month at Forecastle, I spent an hour listening to and really loving Jenny Lewis. I decided that I needed to listen to more. Her new album, Voyager came out the end of last month. It made sense to start with this one.

The first go through on this made me think very much of Best Coast - one of my favorite feel good listens. There is a California pop thing going on in many of these songs. Some of them could definitely be tracks on a “songs of the summer” playlist.

But listening to this more closely and paying attention to stylings, there is not a single sound on this album that allows for a pigeon-holing. The album’s longest, and my favorite song, is Late Bloomer. Whether it is autobiographical or not, the story seems so personal. With a fresh “Chelsea Girl” haircut, the song’s sixteen year-old protagonist escapes to Paris. She says she is furious and restless, but the song paints a sensitive, vulnerable girl. That seems to be the theme throughout. There is a lot in here about growing up and growing older.

She recently said in an interview that she wants to write happy songs, but she acknowledged that this album didn’t really reflect that. Break-ups, a parent’s death, biological clocks, life’s complications – show up on this album. She questions roles in both humorous and serious ways. She confesses to being completely in love, but damn, those slippery slopes when you are out on the road and there is whiskey and coke involved. She wants a ring, but not really, she looks horrible in white. “She’s Not Me”  is in the same vain as my first Jenny introduction – this time she is calling out to the guy that she cheated on, who is now about to become a dad with someone who is whole hell of a lot easier than she was.

While he liked the album a lot, Dan thinks that the polish of this album creates a void – a lack of soul. I think that is unfair. Jenny Lewis has a pretty voice. Jenny Lewis writes songs that tell stories that seem to be her own life lessons. She mixes those with production that bring interest – whether it is acoustic and laconic, or electric and percussiony. I’m not sure that it is her soul I see, but I think that album stands up strong.

Next Up: Torch Song by Radiator Hospital

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Last Week’s Good Things

weekAfter the tumultuousness and eventfulness of June, July gave some weeks to regroup and begin to get back into normal. By the last week of July, I was definitely feeling that I had regained a little of the structure that had been lost. I am not completely there yet. There are things – like going to the gym – that still haven’t made their way back into my schedule. They will. And looking back at last week, I can already see some  old faithfuls returning on my list of good things. Here are five of the ones that I made note of:

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  1. Begin Again – We had begun a movie night date with friends at the beginning of the year, but it took a couple month hiatus. Last week, we got it back into the schedule. We started our night with cocktails and Chinese food in a restaurant that could have been taken out of Lost in Translation. Our movie choice was Begin Again with Keira Knightly and Mark Ruffalo. It was – like its creator’s predeseccor, Once – a sweet film about connections and choices and music. There is nothing bad about sitting in a theater with people you like, enjoying a movie with loaded listenable tunes.HPIM0800
  2. Yssel getting married – Dan has been in Rotary for a number of years. I have written before about what a great organization Rotary is, and what wonderful work they do. Beside that, we have reaped Rotary benefit by getting to host international visitors who come to the Midwest to learn about many different things. A few years ago, we hosted Yssel, from South Africa. He was the first guy we would host, so I wasn’t sure how that would go. Turns out, it went great! We had so much fun with him, and over the course of a few days, we became solid friends. This past weekend, Yssel got married and pictures of him and his bride greeted us on Facebook. Life gives you lots of opportunities. Getting to know someone from another country is a pretty great thing! There should be more of that going on.marigold
  3. Giant Marigolds and Zinnias – My favorite flower, I think, is the marigold. It is strong and colorful and I marigold smell is an all time favorite scent. This year, I planted marigolds and zinnias in my raised bed. I planted them from seed, and I expected they were just your standard variety. The plants that are filling my bed are monstrous. Most of them are taller than me. I am short, but that does not mean that a marigold should tower over me. It is pretty stunning sight, and every time I walk out my back door and see them, it is a super good things!
  4. Pasta with Beans and Rosemary – On my day off last week, I wanted to cook something different. Even though it was a beautiful day, I wanted to do a pasta – but not something too heavy. The recipe was from Smitten Kitchen - one of my favorite sites. It worked for me, but I can’t see how one could go wrong with al dente pasta – a light veggie sauce with tasty beans and a rosemary, garlic oil sauce.
  5. Working on my book – Also to celebrate getting back to normal, I returned to my desk to work on my book on my day off! The section that I am working on is pretty amazing. It really reflects how people can put their mind to something and make it work. It was so nice to be back with the story.

I hope your week was a good one, and the days ahead are even better!!

Put Your Needle Down by The Secret Sisters (Album of the Week)

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Album: Put Your Needle Down

Artist: The Secret Sisters

Year: 2014

Details: 12 songs; 44 minutes

Who’s Choice: Gone Mild

This may be the meanest thing that I have ever said about an artist. The Secret Sisters are a band that I could imagine happening upon as a live performance and enjoying it. However, at the end of the night, when Dan asks if we should buy their album, I would say, “nah.”

That being said, it ended up that both Dan and I bought copies of this week’s listen. You win that round, Secret Sisters!

I will begin by saying that there is nothing in particular that makes me want to complain about this album.  The sister duo, Laura and Lydia Rogers have strong musical roots in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. They have T-Bone Burnett producing them. They perform an interesting variety of musical styles and they do all of it well. Luka is a ballad that sounds like a southern gothic family tale that Bobby Gentry would send up. Dirty Lie reminded me of Shirley Bassey singing “The minute you walked in the joint” (interestingly, this was a song that Bob Dylan started writing many years ago, and gave to the sisters to complete and perform). Pocket Knife gave me vibes of Dolly Parton singing for independence. Black and Blue is Everly Brothers pitched up. There is even a song that made me think of Tori Amos. Perhaps that is the problem for me. It is kind of all over the place without giving me a good dose of what they are. To me they are two singers who really sound good together. I don’t mind listening to them, but after this week, I won’t make a point of returning to them.

The album does sound nice. The arrangements have good instrumentation with some nice guitar picking and violins. This is not lost to me. It just doesn’t stick with me. In that we have had this album of the week going for multiple weeks, I have listened to it a fair number of times. Even with that, I don’t have songs stuck in my head. That is not like me.

Over at Gone Mild, Dan writes about his own inability to connect with this album. The fact that he is a little shocked that I didn’t fall under its charms adds to how confusing this album is for me.

I worry when I don’t give female artists a good review that I am doing my sex a disservice. Reading up on this duo, it is apparent that I need not be concerned. They get a good amount of love from many quarters. Even so, I need to make myself feel better about my music championing. I need a next album pick that I can be confident that I can feel better about reviewing. Don’t do me wrong, Jenny Lewis.

Next Up: Voyager by Jenny Lewis

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Last Weeks’ Good Things

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I have two weeks worth of good things to report on. We had a great roadtrip to Louisville, Kentucky for the Forecastle Music Festival. That occupies most of the spots in this recap, but there were other mentionable good things too.sharon

  1. Lots of festival music – Over the three days at the festival, we moved from stage to stage to hear some amazing and fun music. The three headliners that ended the nights were Outkast, Jack White, and Beck. I loved them all, but Beck was my favorite. While his latest album is rather quiet, you would not have thought so listening to his show. He covered lots of his territory along with some covers like Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean – and then he finished with Where it’s At. It was enough for Dan to throw a somersault into his dancing. I also saw my man, Jason Isbell who was fantastic. My best surprise was Sharon van Etten. I had her on my list to see, but didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. She was great and her personality was winning. Sun Kil Moon was disappointing, but the set-up just didn’t work well for his quiet style. Hayes Carll (more on him later), delighted me. He was on the smallest of the stages and it worked fantastically. Others on my dancelist: The Black Lips, Spoon, Against Me, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Lord Huron, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Dwight Yoakam (wasn’t expecting much from this one, but it was great fun – especially watching Dan enjoy it!), Jenny Lewis. Music is good for the soul.hayes
  2. Hayes Carll – After enjoying the show at Forecastle, we realized that Hayes Carl was going to be in Kansas City this week. On Wednesday, we went to Knuckleheads and enjoyed another show by this great storyteller. His Louisville and KC sets differed quite a bit. If you have not listened to this guy, I would recommend you take some time with him. He is another one of those songwriters with a gift for language and his songs tell life stories. Wednesday, in honor of his son’s birthday, he sang a sweet and tender song about his love for magic. The very next song was a hilarious one about his baby stealing all of his wife’s attention. Good stuff.bourbon tent
  3. Fancy, air-conditioned portable bathrooms – WIth our festival tickets we also sprang for tickets to the Bourbon Lounge. That got us a fun, insulated cup that vendors inside this huge tent, willingly filled with bourbon. That was great, but as good was that it also gave us access to these special portapotties. This may be a thing, but I have never seen them before. It was like a big trailer that had regular stalls. It was kept clean during the day, and it was air conditioned. I adore this concept.
  4. Lending an Ear – I was sitting alone at the Jenny Lewis concert when the woman sitting behind me asked if she could join me. I said sure and she proceeded to pull her blanket up and we chatted on and off during the show. She seemed to have a bunch going on and she teared up a little as she talked. It wasn’t a big thing, but when the show was over and we got up to leave, she gave me a big hug and thanked me for my kindness. That felt good.ali & jose
  5. Roadtrip meet-up – The other great thing about the trip was not only being able to travel with J & M, but we also met up with Ali and Jose, who made the trip from New Orleans. Over the days, we got to share in some fun music watching, silly dancing, good food sharing, bourbon sipping, late-night pizza ordering, and Catch-phrase competitions (even though the boys won the last night, I am confident that the girls were superior).braceletsThose weeks will be tough to beat, but I am ready for what this week has to offer. How about you? What good happened during your week?

Last Week’s Good Things

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Last week’s good things were multiple, but here are a few of the more noteworthy ones. 

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Jason Isbell, Willie Nelson & Alison Krauss at Starlight – As I have noted before, Jason Isbell is one of my all time favorite musicians – maybe my favorite. My most recent opportunity to hear him was at Kansas City’s Starlight Theater – a beautiful outdoor theater in Swope Park. The sound that night was spectacular! Jason was the opener, so he only had six songs, but he was brilliant as usual. I have not listened to Alison Krauss much, so I didn’t know what to expect there. She has a lovely voice, a great stage presence, and her sharing the spotlight with her other bandmates is winning. Willie Nelson put on a great show. We had heard him a few years ago at Red Rocks. That night he was okay. At Starlight, he seemed to really bring it more and more as the night went on. The night ended with all of the performers on stage singing gospel songs and looking really happy. So was I!

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Keeping Positive – Our new office building is wonderful and to have most of our group in one place is the best! Last week, we had our first Division meeting and there were loads of good sentiments passed on by attendees. I was the recipient of some words that mean so much to me. There is a good vibe in the new building that is palpable. One thing being done is having everyone write on an index card what positive commitment they are making. These are hanging on the bulletin board in the breakroom. Seeing the number of cards grow each day is heart lifting!

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Jean’s beer – After her visit here with Sam, Jean sent Dan a bottle of special beer. It came with a very sweet note and explanation of the contents. Of course, this spoke to Dan in a big way and he reciprocated with a flowing thank you and commentary on hows and whys of beers. Then we actually drank the beer, and enjoyed it for what it was and how it came to us. The whole process – seriously good!

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Scanning Pictures for Ali and Jose’s Engagement Party – We couldn’t attend the engagement party that Ali’s New Orleans’ friends threw for them. What I got to do, however, is provide a photo history of Ali that they used. Sitting and looking through photo albums is the best history ever.

Dan and Pet Videos – Our morning routine during the week is early rising, Dan making breakfast, watching the news, reading the paper, and looking at our computers. Dan laughing at pet videos in the morning makes my morning.

I hope today and every day has many good things for you!

Bonus Good thing: Jason Isbell singing Cover Me Up at Starlight Theater