I’ve whiled away the past two weeks to the tune of Joy and Better Days by Hip Hatchet. This album instills cravings–a want for creaky floorboards in the lonely painted bar frozen in a moment on the cover and a whisky on the rocks to match. My particular favorites are the the fifth and sixth tracks “Sing Me a Reprise” and “Misdirected Man,” the latter of which has a GoPro video featured below.
PAPA’s much anticipated album Tender Madness finally dropped on October 8th, and I’ve spent much of this month listening and forming an opinion. As of today, the verdict is in: I’m obsessed. “If You’re My Girl, Then I’m Your Man” hits it on the head–bombastic intro settling into a love-torn confessional in which drummer Darren Weiss tells us what we want to hear. He’s our man, forget our plans.
Perhaps it’s the bias of dating a drummer, but I love a solid drummer-frontman and Weiss delivers. While this track “Put Me To Work,” and the album’s namesake “Tender Madness” are the strongest on the album, it’s a fruitful listen the whole way through and worth a purchase in total.
No one has ever accused me of being cutting edge. I’m generally the last to a trend, unless said trend has been a constant in my life for unrelated reasons–making me an accidental hipster. If you read this blog on the regular, you already know this as my Current Obsessions are generally not very current in a larger context, merely within my own life. With this in mind…Lisa Hannigan’s 2011 album Passenger has been on constant rotation this week.
After acting as the accompanying voice to Damien Rice for seven years, she released her first full-fledged album, Sea Sew, in 2008. While on the road in support of this effort, she wrote new songs that would become Passenger–infusing each tune with “the feeling of transience and nostalgia that this constant traveling” is prone to conjure. Produced by Joe Henry (whose credits include Elvis Costello and Loudon Wainwright III, among others), this Irish lass recorded Passenger in one week. Describing the quick turnaround process as “natural,” Hannigan told NPR that the album, thusly, felt like they “were playing to one person.”
This may be why the listening experience feels so intimate without sacrificing the type of grandiose imagery with which the Irish-born seem stricken. It’s almost as if the lush green landscape of their home turf is absorbed and returned to the land sonically. Irish writers possess the same gift, but return words to the land instead. The first track of Passenger, “Home”, illustrates this point well with its chiming, driving instrumental cacophony that forces you to dive into the album with two feet as she calls out “Home. So far from Home, so far to go and we’ve only just begun.” This is how we know as listeners that we’re to prepare for a journey.
Then come “Knots” and “What’ll I Do,” which are impossible to ignore as they endear you to Hannigan, in her high heels and old dress. This music is fun, she’s fun, and “What’ll I Do” will be stuck in your head for days. And just when you think she’ll be the next Pop Princess to be blasted at us, there comes “O Sleep,” a sublimely melancholy ode to strenuous nights which features Ray Lamontagne, and “Safe Travels (Don’t Die),” a stripped-down confessional of cautions born from love–a reminder of the cost that’s charged us when we’ve something to lose. Which is the point, right? We all have something to lose if we love, and long for it if we don’t. That’s what makes our wheels spin with traction and worlds turn with purpose. Realizing this we’re given “Nowhere To Go” a sweet reminder we’re not alone–a thought made more potent by the unassuming inflections of Hannigan’s ethereal voice.
For an album conceived on the road, it’s message grounds we listeners within our own lives as introspective beings. It allows us to review our own road in eleven easy songs, just one shy of a twelve-step program. Perhaps this is why I took to it so quickly: I’m just a kook looking for a guide. That would make sense since this girl is just a passenger taking notes.
I’m the worst at staying current with Pop Music. Some have chalked this up to my being a “hipster,” one close friend even blaming my Fella for being a “popular culture shield.” While the truth of these statements has yet to reveal itself, my learning curve is most definitely steep and slow. For instance, it took me two years to put a face to the name of Lady Gaga, a connection that was made only because I went to the Castro bar Toad Hall which plays music videos.
This is a long way of saying: I just jumped aboard the Lana Del Rey Train! While I knew about her (I don’t live underneath a rock), I paid her no mind until her track “Young and Beautiful” from The Great Gatsby soundtrack incited an addiction. The underpinning of my obsession is two-fold: firstly, she looks like a mash-up of every vintage movie starlet that ever existed–a fact she plays up well in her video for “National Anthem;” secondly, she covered a song by Leonard Cohen (“Chelsea Hotel No. 2”) which instantly endears me to an artist.
But this goes deeper than a historically-nuanced video and a cover song. I find her fascinating as an American Studies specimen with the way she uses a sexualized approach to denude classic American imagery and tropes such as “Blue Jeans,” the “National Anthem,” “Cola” and “Summer Sadness” which call to mind movies like Grease and AmericanGraffiti, if both of these films featured more adult content.While my snobbery precluded me from wanting to like songs with titles such as “Diet Mountain Dew,” I was seduced by her pairing of that clarion call voice with commentary on a scenario familiar to any red-blooded heterosexual female: loving the bad boy. Lana continually repeats this potent combination on her album Paradise and, god help me, I sure as hell relate to her motivations in songs like “Gods & Monsters.” Additionally, her song “American” is enchanting in its adolescent framework–a phrase that can easily be applied to American culture at large. The teenage linguistics of “American” are delivered in atop a fairydust hail of accompanying music that, for some odd reason, reminds me of instrumental tracks from the 1995 movie Casper, as does the song “Bel Air.”
All intellectual persuasions asides, Lana Del Rey’s music is catchy and allows us the opportunity for role-play. I’m not a Las Vegas club kid. My nether-regions do not taste of pepsi cola. I don’t date rich older men who like to party. However, when I’m folding laundry and singing my heart out to “Video Games,” suddenly I’m a coquette in a sundress instead of an archivist in leggings and an oversized Santa Anita Racetrack sweatshirt–a little naughtier, a little less up in my own head where I over-think everything. This last only a moment until my Fella or roommate come home, but in that moment I have released an entire week’s worth of stress simply by being outside myself.
Lana Del Rey is neither the pantheon of feminist empowerment nor the mascot of the new Americanism, but she is damn addictive. Her music and her personae make me question both of the aforementioned: what it means to be a woman in a woman’s skin, and what it means to be an American in an American’s skin. Not bad for a pop star, if you think about it.
My obsession this week, Anais Mitchell, is redolent with reference so let’s get some things out of the way here. Mitchell’s father, Don Mitchell, authored the 1970s psych-paperback Thumb Tripping which was heralded as “the new novel that says all there is to say about the Marijuana Society.” Don named his daughter Anais, for Anais Nin–best remembered as an evocative diarist whose brief affair with Henry Miller is the stuff of literary dreams, and less well known as a major influence in my collegiate early-twenties existence. This already looks promising, doesn’t it?
Beginning in 2006, songs came forth from Anais Mitchell that fully formed as a folk opera titled Hadestown based on the mythical tale of Orpheus. Teaming up with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, indie icon Ani DiFranco, and A Prairie Home Companion alum Greg Brown, the tale of Orpheus becomes accessible through song much like Shakespeare was more easily understood from the lips of Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes under direction of Baz Luhrmann. As a whole, this 2010 album is mesmerizing: enthralling in its epic proportions (to use the term “epic” correctly, for a change). Yet, individual songs are able to stand alone on their own merit and are equally enjoyable in their solitude–songs such as the soothing introductory track, “Wedding Song” (which pairs Mitchell with Vernon), and the knee-slappin’ hullabaloo of “Way Down Hadestwon” (which features DiFranco). My favorite singular, however, is “Why We Build The Wall” with Brown as Hades. Brown’s voice is simply unforgettable in its theatricality and paired with Mitchell’s Depression-Era aura this song takes on greater import as a discussion of poverty and privilege that finds relevance in a discussion of any epoch but is certainly present-prescient.
Mitchell’s other music is equally well-written, and steeped in American hunger. Her albums The Brightness and Young Man In America are easy to drink in, down to every last drop–that voice driving you to drink in all the more. This is a woman to take note of, so raise your pen and find paper.
Having had the concurrent displeasure and honor of planning several funerals, I’ve come to understand the importance of music in the heady moments of a final goodbye. Accordingly, I’ve started a playlist for my own funeral to save my loved ones the agony of soundtracking a ceremony to honor a woman who thought always in terms of music. Also, I don’t trust them to get it right (which makes me a pretentious asshole).
Which is not to say I morbidly contemplate death at every turn. I do not seek the songs on my funeral playlist, they find me and this is how I discovered Bombadil. The track “I Will Wait” off Bombadil’s album All That The Rain Promises–a title which in and of itself can offer an optimistically funerealistic aura–is so incredibly moving in its gospel simplicity. Bombadil, however, is no one trick pony. The rest of the album pairs bouncy melodies with wry humor that showcases the band’s musical ability without taking itself too seriously–offering a wonderfully refreshing contrast to the more somber opening track. All in all, a deeeeelightful listening experience and another notch acquired on my quest to create the perfect funeral playlist.
Hold on, hold on, hold the phone: a song that references Theodor Adorno and Noam Chomsky?! I have been persuaded (couldn’t resist the pun) that this song by Faded Paper Figures delivers on every level: intelligent, thought provoking lyrics that forces we as listeners to examine our consumer culture and its effect on the human condition and our planet set to a repetitive tune which evokes the robotic. Genius. You need to buy and own this album. Wait…damn it.
“He won’t know Adorno
He’s an adult with an adcult
You can buy your way into his head
He was never better
Wearing sneakers and a sweater
Made by 12-year-olds sweating in Shenzhen
Let’s drive, drive, drive
Till we burn, burn, burn,
We can choke on it later on tonight
And we’ll fumble with the planet
Dry the river and then damn it
Just persuade me that everything’s all right.
This was his reality,
says the stupid love equality
And he’s never seen a car he didn’t like
On code like a reptilian
Pays Rapaille another billion
From your cortex to the page is just a hike.
So Let’s drive, drive, drive
Till we burn, burn, burn,
We can choke on it later tonight
And we’ll fumble with the planet
Dry the river, then we’ll damn it
Just persuade me that everything’s all right.
Because things…we’ve got to have our things.
We’re not persuaded by the Omnicom
We’re not persuaded we’re the only ones
We’re not persuaded by hegemony
We’re not persuaded we were ever free
Is that your conscience, or are you alone?
Is that Noam Chomsky on the telephone?”
Sometimes a current obsession comes from music released in times passed just southeast of the present yet that music is able to remain still north of your present person. For me, that obsession is David Gray’s 2000 album White Ladder. The true test of an album is its longevity, and longevity is beget from timelessness which comes from cyclical relevance. So the question becomes: Can I relate to the same song I first discovered as a teenager when I’m pushing the precipice of 30? In its moment, White Ladder was mainly defined by the radio hit “Babylon,” but it offers the listener so much more. “My Oh My”, “Nightblindness”, and the song featured here–“This Years Love”–are melancholy, contemplative and wax poetic with every turn. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy “Babylon”; it has its place in my listening routine. It is merely that I’m called more strongly by soft sadness wrought from things come hard, and that has been true since I was a raincloud loving teen taken with the Beat Generation but cursed to live in an inhospitable Southern California climate.
This connection to music, the way certain albums and songs are able to stay with me in a visceral way (a way that quickens a pulse, or soothes an ache), is what I’ve chosen to spend my adult years attempting to dissect and describe. Like here, now. But you know what? Sometimes you just like what you like, and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it. It speaks, therefore you listen.
Learning that Rogue Wave is to play The Independent with Hey Marseilles this weekend (Friday, 7/12/13, and Saturday, 7/13/13) triggered a wave of nostalgia. A current of flashbacks from my post-college years flickered by, all of them centered around the couch of my buddy’s tragic apartment where a group of us watched Arrested Development with Rogue Wave streaming on low in the background. At that time I was running the Music Department for an upstart online magazine that will remain nameless. In this capacity I was introduced to Patrick Abernathy, then bassist for Rogue Wave, and his solo project by the name of Pancho-san. I took to his album Oh, Mellow Melody immediately, and he was kind enough to spend some time with me after his show at Cafe Du Nord. Abernathy is a genuinely nice man who makes inexplicably underrated music. For this reason, I share it with you now: this current obsession that was once an old obsession.