[Abby’s Road] Songs in the key of ache

abbybeingcool

”People don’t want to hear it, do they?” she said.

No one said anything, because we weren’t sure where she was at.

“This is how I feel, every day, and people don’t want to know that. They want to know that I’m feeling what Tom Jones makes you feel. Or that Australian girl who used to be in ‘Neighbours’. But I feel like this, and they won’t play what I feel on the radio, because people that are sad don’t fit in.”

-Maureen, 51 and semi-suicidal, upon hearing Five Leaves Left for the first time in Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down.

She’s right, that Maureen.

As I put down my wine bottle and question myself daily about who I’ve become, I recently joined a gym (I swear I am going somewhere with this). I asked my better half, a master of seamless mixing, to put together some hour-long, no-break mixes so I don’t have to be subjected to the pap being piped in while sweating my ass off (as I’m in enough physical pain as it is when I’m there, you see). Though our musical tastes overlap right between Britpop and Post Rock, his electro leanings are way stronger than mine. Perfect for the fitness studio.

As I was exercising away one afternoon this, well, how do I put it lightly? This mindfuck (that’ll do) flowed through my ears. I was like..wait..is that…..?!? Yes..yes it is. It is exactly that.

For those of you wondering exactly what: Elliott Smith…all happy and dancy. That’s what.

This little yammer is not about cover songs or whether someone should mess around with Smith’s highly evocative catalog, as my jury’s still out on that one. It’s about what most music aficionados have, self-proclaimed or otherwise: a not so tidy package of records and artists we gravitate to when we are ascending or descending Sad Sack Mountain. That Smith cover, which I must admit is catchy as hell, was just a catalyst to listen to what I ordinarily reserve for the days I am feeling blue and hopeless while I was feeling particularly jolly. Doing so gives one (read: me) some clarity of instrumentation and song. Or whatever.

The top three artists for punishing myself while I am already down, in no particular order: Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and Elliott Smith, the runners up being Damon and Naomi, whose cover of Buckley’s “Song to the Siren” (DOUBLE WHAMMY) brings me to my knees in a river of my own tears every damn time. Everyevery. Interestingly enough I’ve never really been a singer songwriter girl. There is something about these men however, their words and the sound of them being ejected from their mouths, that draws me in when I am low. Sounds silly, but it’s like they get it. They’re my blanket. On those days they get me.

I listened. It doesn’t matter to which records. I listened. And while I was of sound mind I still sensed an overwhelming melancholic pall. Not because I was feeling sorry for myself. I got caught up in feeling sad for them as people. So tell me, am/was I wrong to feel such emotions? Like who am I to pity them, you know? Well…

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Palehound: “Pet Carrot”

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The ’90s were the last, and in fact, the most definitive epoch in the music discovery evolution that grew from early DJs introducing new singles on the radio, to the music streaming ‘arms race’ that has managed to reduce the experience of finding a new band to a Google search, a click of the mouse, or spending five minutes on iTunes listening to bands that have nice headshots.

Once upon a time, I would venture into a Backside Records (because that’s what you did), or aimlessly roam the aisles of a Virgin Megastore; reveling in the ‘shot in the dark’  experience (think Kurt Cobain shopping in a Salvation Army in Aberdeen), of buying a record that had twelve tracks, all of which I had never heard before the five-minutes I spent on a dirty headphone sampling booth, which required the dedication of a music fan willing to purchase new ‘merch’ at a gig, even push through a pit (risking bodily harm) to get close enough to feel the spray of sweat from the bass players fingertips. It was a time where unless you were vacuous enough to subscribe to “free” CD mailers from Columbia House, you would have to engage in a music hunting bloodsport to discover new bands that weren’t being reviewed by Rolling Stone or part of an MTV music video show hosted by Kennedy or Kurt Loder. All of which, if you’ve been living in a cave since 1998, no longer exist.

Ellen Kempner, now nineteen-years-old, was born right around the time Kurt Cobain was found dead in his Lake Washington greenhouse. She’s a product of the ’90s, and while she may not have had the opportunity to see Shannon Hoon’s acid-induced Woodstock performance, or purchase Vans and flannel-shirts without being ‘vintage,’ she somehow seems to perfectly tap into the insular, somewhat quirky, and angst-filled emotions that so many artists embodied during the ’90s — when being sarcastically unhappy was the topic of reality TV shows and song lyrics that embodied the now extinct remnants of ‘Seattle Sound.’

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[Hype Hype Hooray] Wednesday in the Aisles of Everyday Music

HypeHypeHoorayNEW

Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

Wednesday morning on a whim. Let’s buy a record today. Don’t have a whole lot of scratch, but I don’t think it matters. After some careful budgeting I end up with $35 for the day – $5 for a train pass, $10 for a record and $20 for a case of beer. Grand. Records and beer. Grand. Simply grand.

I arrive downtown early, just before the shops all open so I sit down for coffee and think about what to buy. Thinking about some new indie record. A new classic as it were. With a $10 to $15 budget it’ll have to be a small label for sure. Lot of rot how much they charge you for records these days. Paying extra for the hype. A whole load of rot is what it is. That or a nice Brazilian record – used preferably – like a Gal Costa or Gilberto Gil. That would be nice. Expand the ol’ collection in that fashion. Something interesting. Conversation piece. Like “Yeah have you heard ‘Baby’? No? Well you MUST.” I chuckle at myself into the cup. No, it’s hard to think too much about it, you know. Best to walk in with no expectations and surprise yourself. Remember that, kid, make it your mantra. Surprise yourself. Surprise yourself. Life’s better with surprises.

It’s just nine so Everyday Music should be open now. Looks like one of those mainstream stores from the outside – Sam Goody wannabe – strange anachronism – but it’s really very nice inside. Great selection. CDs on one side and vinyl on the other. Segregate the cultures. Dads browsing Kansas discs and through the wall young single guys looking for Cramps LPs. Like a curtain on an airplane. Hard to say who’s first class. Whoever has more money, I guess.

Inside some kind of baroque music is happening in the stereo. It’s all instrumental mandolin. I dig into the Rock section at L. Lovin’ Spoonful’s “What’s Up Tigerlilly.” Decent find. From that Woody Allen film. I remember watching it with my dad and the band comes on in a party scene and he gets all excited and laughs “The Lovin’ Spoonful, all right!” Wasn’t sure if that was an endorsement. Hard to tell with him. Filed them away under L in my mind and found them again here. I slid the record back. Le Roux is here but they’re not La Roux. Some band from the ’70s. Long hair and mustaches. “Keep the Fire Burnin.'” I’m not so ironic.

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Body Language: “Well Absolutely”

You’d think a mad scientist — some moonlighting hacker who mastered the codes to a complex DJ software — would be responsible for the laser-beam funk that resonates out of every Body Language track. Wrong, it’s just four kids from Brooklyn influenced by Brian Wilson and from the sounds of it; Studio 54 […]

Luray

Considering my affinity for Sean Carey (S. Carey, of Bon Iver fame), I’m disappointed I hadn’t come across his sister, Shannon Carey, aka DC’s Luray, sooner. Sean Carey produced Luray’s new album, The Wilder, out August 27, and you can hear his nuanced touch in the three preview songs below. Not to take anything […]

[Abby’s Road] Strange and familiar fruit

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I am a sucker when it comes to nostalgia. For the 4 regular readers I (might) have, you already know this. Just want to put it out there before I start my ramble. Right.

Firstly, holiday. We took off a few weeks ago, destination Poland, where my better half once studied and learned the language (thank Christ, because I’d have been screwed). He was really anxious to meet up with old friends; we were excited to catch the 4-day OFF Festival in Katowice, my first festival in over 10 years. How’d it go, you ask? Well, since you inquired…

This was the smoothest, most well-managed festival I have ever been to. After going to Reading, ATP and the like over the years, it is also the smallest, which explains a lot, plus they’ve had 7 years to perfect it. Topping at a mere 15K patrons, only 2K of which were campers, it was cozy. The ping-pong usage of the 4 stages, 2 on either side of the event property, combined with limiting alcoholic beverages to the festival gastronomy and lounge zones (dry stage and camping areas, huzzah!) left me feeling relaxed and able to concentrate wholly on the music, not Drunkie Marie attempting new dance moves while slurping vodka tonics in my personal space. At 50€ for all 4 days TOTAL (with camping, though we punked out and checked into a hotel after our first and only mosquito-laden tent night) and a line up like this it was, for us, a no-brainer. And, AND! The portable potties looked as good on the first day as the last. Chalk that miracle up to tidy festival-goers or a magical night cleaning staff, who knows. So, the music:

The front runner as far as performances by those I knew of already were The Soft Moon. Luckily they performed their dark and dancy introspective material at one of the two, smaller tented stages during the day so I had no idea the sun was shining outside of the open end. Brilliant. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1000 times: Captured Tracks knows what the hell they’re doing (note: anyone going to CT5 want to grab me some swag? I’m good for it). Electronic Polish duo UL/KR was/is my favorite discovery of the festival. Clear vocals in front of dreamy guitar and just enough digitally generated bloops to satisfy elektro-hounds and singer songwriter types alike. And before you say “but he’s singing in Polish….?!” remember, you listen(ed) to Sigur Rós and nobody knows what the fuck Jónsi is talking about.

The days were long, headliners, as with typical festival schedules, not starting until after midnight. GY!BE, My Bloody Valentine and Deerhunter, of course, were fantastic (THIS happened) so nothing much to say there. One headliner, however, lifted and crushed my heart, brain and stomach simultaneously.  Enter: The Smashing Pumpkins and my good friend, Nostalgia.

Or should I say Billy Corgan and his band of Doppelganger Desperadoes.

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The Day The Music Died: Joe Cocker and ‘The Wonder Years’

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“What would you do, if I sang out of tune,” echoes in the hearts of millions as the famous lyrics first penned by Lennon and McCartney (more of a ‘Paul song,’ no question), and later endured by Joe Cocker’s 1969 cover and subsequent opening theme for the classic TV show, The Wonder Years. Clearly, the Cocker version reigns supreme with its bluesy progression provided by Jimmy Page’s stinging guitar, topped with a ferocious vocal performance by Cocker that seems to release enough tension to wipe out a city. The soulful backup singers and brilliant eight-minute Woodstock performance highlighted in the ’69 documentary (where Cocker’s band admitted to being high on acid), reduces the Ringo Starr-sung version down to more of a spoof than a real Beatles tune.

Rolling Stone recently listed the Cocker version as one of the “Best Vocal Performances in Rock History,” which is no surprise to anyone willing to spend a few minutes and watch Cocker’s visceral attack on YouTube. “With a Little Help” assisted in propelling Cocker into the stratosphere along with his ’69 debut LP — which included a sultry version of the Animals’ classic, “Don’t Let Me Be Understood,” and an unmistakable homage to Ray Charles on everything Cocker touched.

Growing up in the late-’80s, Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help from My Friends” became synonymous with Americana and popular culture when the song first appeared as the song that defined Kevin Arnold’s coming-of-age story in The Wonder Years. Overnight, every kid in my generation associated the tune with the bygone spirit of the ’60s, as opposed to the limited range offered by Ringo on countless forgotten performances with his All-Starr Band.

In the mid-’70s, when John Belushi covered the song on SNL during the inaugural “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” season, his spastic Joe Cocker on drugs performance was not only in tune, but also managed to earn a standing ovation from an audience that didn’t know whether to laugh, or to cheer in admiration of a magical performance that was genius, jaw-dropping, and reminded everyone how Cocker poured every ounce of his sweat and tears into each performance.

45-years later, Cocker’s version was reintroduced to a whole new audience during the closing set of Glastonbury 2013, when Mumford and Sons (Vampire Weekend providing support of keys and horns, with First-Aid Kit doing their best church choir backing), created a folk-rock version that exploded through the rolling green hills of the English countryside. The performance summoned the spirit of Cocker’s original festival performance in ’69. It was a grand finale to a brilliant festival, and my nostalgia senses were tingling.

A few days ago, I decided to get my nostalgia fix by watching The Wonder Years on Netflix – hoping to hear Cocker’s theme and feel the spirit of suburbia during the Age of Aquarius. But then it happened. And by it, I mean a reoccurring nightmare I’m probably going to have for the rest of my adult life.

Fred-Savage-The-Wonder-Years

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[Hype Hype Hooray] When I Finally Sat Down and Listened to American Idiot

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Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

Last May I finally sat down and listened to Thriller. It was an eye-opening experience that gave me a newfound respect for Michael Jackson and ’80s pop as a whole. In the comments, Cars Simplified asked whether somebody would ever do a similar treatment of Green Day’s American Idiot, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s a fantastic idea.

I have a complicated relationship with American Idiot. I hate it more than most records of the ’00s, but I never actually sat down and listened to the thing. As a longtime Green Day fan, I worshipped everything from “At the Library” to “Ha Ha You’re Dead.” The first singles from American Idiot were like a dagger through my heart.

Since their inception, Green Day had always been more pop rock than punk rock, but their manic energy, subversive attitude and excellent songwriting had raised them above the sad fates of their pop-punk peers. Their potential, it seems, grew to such extraordinary heights that the band was lured to retool their sound motivated not by artistry, but by money. American Idiot was the sound of the band’s dignity collapsing, some grinning charlatan rising in its place, selling Green Day thongs and Billie Joe bobble heads.

But is it really fair to judge an entire band’s career by an album I never heard? To either change my stubborn mind or strengthen my opinions, I sat down on a cloudy weekday morning with two cups of coffee and American Idiot. The following are my notes on the six-time platinum, Grammy-award winning album of my nightmares.

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Novelty Daughter

Novelty Daughter = Faith Harding = Wow. The twists and turns of the experimental production on Novelty Daughter’s debut album are a refreshing and welcome addition to a soulful voice. I am clueless as to what will happen from one second to the next, and that, my friends, is thrilling. Some real fun […]

Mellen

Mellen is Mary Ellen Funke (perhaps an all grown up Maeby?!) out of DC. She just released her debut EP, Last The Year, for free on Bandcamp. It sticks with this week’s downtempo, let-it-all-unwind theme. We need some of these weeks when life picks up and we try to steady our feet.

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