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December 8, 2010

Some thoughts and pleasures of months past.

favorite songs released this year:
Laura Marling – Rambling Man
Austere. Morbid. Acerbic. Laura Marling’s music is all of these things, yet she sings with the temerity and resolve of an artist far beyond her age (20). It took me a few listens to find the melody in this little gem, but it is there, and it’s a good one.

Gauntlet Hair – I Was Thinking
Unintelligible lyrics. Frenetic, reverb-ed out guitars. This isn’t my typical cup of tea, but this duo has constructed an alluring sound that warrants repeat listenings.

The XX – Islands
The best pseudo-love song of the year. Considering their young age, the creativeness of their melodies, instrumentation, and lyrics is impressive.

Arcade Fire – Sprawl II
Haute-angst at its finest. Arcade Fire have an incomparable knack for capturing the despair of middle-class youth with lyrics that are rarely overwrought and often more than a little poignant. The female vocalist is a revelation.

Junip – Always
Uncharacteristically up-tempo for a José González venture, “Always” is the lead single to the new album by his band Junip. Here, González revisits the broader social themes  of prior works like “Cycling Trivialities” over a bossa nova-tinged rhythm, singing with all the heart that can be expected from this musical sage.

Freelance Whales – Ghosting
I saw these guys play in late spring, which couldn’t have been a better time to enjoy this song. Airy and whimsical, yet grounded by strong writing and instrumentation; there is some fine artistry at work here.

Spoon – Out Go the Lights
Simply well constructed & full of verve.

Goldfrapp – Head First, Believer
Having first written off this most recent album as a hasty, poorly-conceptualized effort, I was quick to overlook the brilliance of their melodies. I now realize that regardless of whether it’s flourished by synthesizers or harpsichords, a good Goldfrapp song reaches emotional arcs rarely realized in pop songs.

S. Carey – In The Dirt
Boundless bliss packed into a bundle just over 5 minutes long.

Laura Veirs – I Can See Your Tracks
I’m often envious of musicians who are able to utilize (seemingly) simple, straightforward songwriting to construct captivating songs to great effect. Such is the case with this song, made riveting by the singer’s enchanting voice and references to heroin addiction.

Sun Airway – Oh, Naoko
Sun Airway is an old new band whose claim to greatness may very well be their ability to construct stirring atmospheres. Luscious soundscapes replete with celestial whirs and fiery percussion. Strong melodies dressed in lines like “I’ll be there just to lasso you the moonshine, in the back of your mind just like a wind chime.” There is much working in this duo’s favor.

Robyn – Dancing On My Own, In My Eyes, Indestructible
Arguably the preeminent pop phenom of our time, Robyn shows that after more than ten years of creating music, there is still room refine and expand her brand of pop. Throwing together clippy beats and sonic booms that are framed by pulsing melodies, she can sing passionately about a variety of topics (from unrequited love to social tolerance) and still bring a crowd to its feet.

The Tallest Man On Earth- The Wild Hunt/Thousand Ways
I’m ashamed to write that I was only recently introduced to Mr. Matsson’s work, but I’ve quickly been won over. Wordsmith. Spinner of fables. Phraseologist. Whatever one wants to call him, Kristian’s work is undeniably inspired and inspiring. He is a story teller in the truest sense, weaving narratives with beautifully descriptive words and phrases that place the listener in richly specific scenes; a living diorama. Here, Kristian brings us to the open countryside, on a late-afternoon reprieve, reflecting on a long day on the trail. The sun is setting just beyond the mountain, and all is well on the still green earth.

songs not released this year:
Yo La Tengo – Our Way to Fall
There is such a delicate space in this song. A gentle drum beat and guitar riff taps rhythmically, setting the atmosphere for singer Ira Kaplan’s voice, which is so soft, he could be whispering into his lover’s ear.

Jean Grae – Don’t Rush Me

Jana Hunter – Palms
Another recent introduction, this one-guitar song teems with tenderness.

Santa Cruz Island in California is easily one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited. The campsite was primitive and we were very much isolated amidst the mountains and the ocean (except for the furtive gentleman who didn’t leave his tent until dark and played swing music all night long). On our second day we hiked up to Potato Harbor to find breathtaking cliffs painted all shades of beautiful by the setting sun.

There was also Washington State Park, MO. It was late afternoon in mid spring, and after pitching our tent and downing some cider, we headed up the “5,000 Stone Trail.” While the number of stones was questionable, we were undoubtedly enthralled by the forest of wildflowers canvassing the ground.

Argus 35mm “brick” film camera. Just before leaving a thrift store on an end-of-summer visit, I glanced at the bric-a-bracs section and saw what could be a camera bag. I only wanted a camera bag, but inside sat this stunningly old and ornate camera, which to my bewilderment, takes great photos.

Building a bird cage. I’d been searching high and low to find a large bamboo/wood bird cage to no avail. Perhaps it was my childhood, spent watching my dad build bamboo lanterns for lunar holidays and being surrounded by all things hand made, that instilled me with a taste for craftwork. With some wood and tools, and after hours of work and miscalculations, the result was more or less what I envisioned.

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