Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tom Waits Week!

In honor of Tom Waits crawling out of his cave to do some publicity this week, it's Tom Waits week on Tall Buildings Shake.

Tom Waits- "The Piano Has Been Drinking"

David Letterman this week- "Lie To Me"

And a beautiful performance of a masterfully written song ("Day After Tomorrow" from Real Gone) on The Daily Show last night:
Tom Waits on The Daily Show

Monday, November 27, 2006

Just a reminder...

Tom Waits is one of the finest American songwriters ever. Orphans is out now. Awesome interview in P4K today:
Pitchfork: You have a fine reputation for haunting California's salvage yards and pawn shops. What attracts you to certain objects?

Tom Waits: I'm interested in things when I don't know what they are. Like "Hey, Ray, what the hell is this?" Oh, that's lipstick from the 1700s, that's dog food from the turn of the century, that's a hat from World War II. I'm interested in the minutiae of things. Oddities.

Pitchfork: Do you collect anything?

Tom Waits: Like little ceramic dogs? I collect instruments. It's ongoing.

Pitchfork: There's a blues singer in Clarksdale, Mississippi named Super Chikan who makes the most beautiful-looking guitars out of oil cans and other bits of hardware that he paints and strings. He has a guitar made out of a toilet seat that he calls the Shit-tar. Do you ever make your own instruments?

Tom Waits: I have friends who are builders who make instruments. "Alternative sound sources" is the technical way of saying it, which could really be anything-- maybe something you found along the side of the road. I think hardware stores can be fascinating if you go in there with a mallet! I look for things that are left of center, something you've only seen your whole life, but never heard. Hit it! With a stick! I have a guitar made out of a 2x4 that I bought in Cleveland. You know, in Iraq, you can't have a guitar in the window of a music store because it's too sexy. You know, the curves. So I could go over there with these 2x4 guitars and really take the country by storm.

Pitchfork: Do you keep a notebook?

Tom Waits: Oh yeah, everybody does! Life is too confusing. Monkey wrenches, pocket knives, dog food, instant coffee, lipstick. You gotta get it organized somehow.

Pitchfork: Thanks so much for talking with me.

Tom Waits: Oh! OK. Alright. I'll leave you with a few little things out of my book here. In Los Angeles, it's illegal for a man to beat his wife unless he's on the courthouse steps. In Tulsa, it's against the law to open a soda bottle without the supervision of a licensed engineer. In Texas, the Encyclopedia Britannica is banned because it contains the formula for making home brew. In Claradon, Texas, it's illegal to dust any public building with a feather duster. In Washington, it's illegal to paint polka dots on the American flag. There are only two things you can throw out the window of a moving car, legally. Do you know what they are?

Pitchfork: Um…

Tom Waits: Water. And feathers. Everything else you can get in trouble for.

Tom Waits- Bottom Of The World from Orphans.

If I could sit down and have beers with anyone on this planet - or others - it would be Tom Waits.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cowgirl In The Sand

How come bands don't play like this anymore? Live at the Fillmore East is a perfect example of how good Neil Young and Crazy Horse were in 1970 - pre-Danny Whitten's unfortunate passing. There's a sense of raw passion here - like everything is teetering on the edge of chaos without ever quite getting there - that is far too rare these days.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse- Cowgirl In The Sand
from Live at the Fillmore East

No postings for a bit. Enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend.

Monday, November 20, 2006

2K6 in song

The Hold Steady- Stuck Between Stations from Boys And Girls In America

I'm sure I've said enough by now. One of the best pieces of rock n' roll you're likely to hear all year. The band always rocked, but never have they sounded so anthemic. Sure, the Van Halen guitar riffs, electric keyboard arpeggios and Craig Finn's Elvis Costello vocals sound a bit silly to the jaded and disillusioned part of you at first - but if you're not a believer by the time the guitars kick back in after Finn sings "We drink and we dry up and now we crumble into dust" during the bridge, rock and roll music is not (and never was) your thing.

Jason Molina- It Costs You Nothing from Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go

On the other end of the spectrum: Before forming a Crazy Horse-esque roots-rock band, Molina specialized in stark, introspective, impressionist folk. This year's Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go recalls that early Songs:Ohia material, featuring nothing but some guitar or piano, a programed drum beat, Molina's distinctive voice and an assload of room noise and ambiance. Never is this formula as effective as on "It Costs You Nothing." A foreboding pipe organ is the canvas, Molina's haunting, dejected vocals are the paint - what comes out is an eerie anthem to the lowest parts of depression and sorrow.

Camera Obscura- Hey Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken from Let's Get Out of This Country
I swear I'll make it through this blurb without mentioning how much better this album is than Belle & Sebastian's recent output.

Oh who am I kidding? It's all the best parts of that classic indie pop sound you grew up on without all the fey, overly precious bullshit. Throw in a 1960's Motown aesthetic, and you have one of the year's more perfect pop anthems.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

In Case You Forgot: David Thomas Broughton- The Complete Guide To Insufficiency

You ever have one of those albums that you love to death and try to tell all your friends about, but people just look at you like you're weird? David Thomas Broughton's debut, The Complete Guide To Insufficiency became one of my favorite albums ever the first time I put it on. My interest was piqued by Coke Machine Glow's Best of 2005 list (which placed him ahead of Bonnie Prince Billy, The White Stripes, Okkervil River, Broken Social Scene, Ryan Adams, Silver Jews, The Constantines and yes, even Kanye, mind you). Upon first listen of opening track "Ambiguity," a couple of things stand out to you. First is the atmosphere created by recording in Wrangthorn Church and adding some backwards looping to a simple guitar line - at once organic and alien, mysterious yet beautiful. (Descriptors that make sense throughout the 5 tracks and 40 minutes of music.) There's a comforting sense of antiquity that is inviting - it sounds like a relic of forgotten times and people. The repetitious guitar line is hypnotizing, and begins to border on monotony around the 2:00 mark.

But then he sings. And his voice teems with years, decades or centuries of heartbreak, anguish and pain. It's like Antony without the primadonnaness, or a more emotive David Byrne. It doesn't sound quite human - far more resonant and majestic. You can't help but be taken back by the beauty, as if it were the voice of some supernatural being. And then his voice loops over itself, and there's David Thomas Broughtons everywhere. Just check out the end of "Ever Rotating Sky." Plus he does it all while looking like this.

Then you'll google the guy's name, and read that the entire album was reportedly recorded in one sitting, with a guitar, a few looping tools, a drum machine and Broughton's otherworldly voice.

Couple that with lyrics that walk a fine line between macabre and lovely you didn't know existed (I wouldn't take her to an execution/I wouldn't take her to a live sex show/I wouldn't piss or shit on her, would I/Because I love her so), and you have one of the more disarming, unique and strangely beautiful albums of the last decade. While it gets unfairly grouped with more shticky "freak-folk" albums, The Complete Guide To Insufficiency is most definitely unlike anything I've heard in that genre or any others. Give it a chance.

David Thomas Broughton- Ambiguity
from The Complete Guide To Insufficiency

David Thomas Broughton- Ever Rotating Sky from The Complete Guide To Insufficiency

Monday, November 13, 2006

2K6 in song

Sorry about the lack of activity. A guy's gotta have some downtime, and with a full schedule shaping up for next quarter, several-day intervals in between blog posts could happen again. But you'll come crawling back. You always do.

A selection of some of my favorite songs released this year:

Sunset Rubdown- Stadiums And Shrines from Shut Up I Am Dreaming

Spencer Krug has proven himself as one of the more interesting young voices around with his work in Wolf Parade, but it's tracks like this, off of Sunset Rubdown's Shut Up I Am Dreaming, that show him becoming the next Isaac Brock. "Stadiums And Shrines" perfectly blends that Canadian "indie" sound that his band has basically trademarked with a more anthemic, U2-size songwriting style. Fist-pumpingly good.

TV On The Radio- A Method from Return To Cookie Mountain

TV On The Radio blew every one's collective minds this year with Return To Cookie Mountain, a beautiful, unclassifiable amalgamation of about 15 genres of music. Other tracks may be more flashy, but I keep coming back to "A Method" as the album's highlight. It's a fully realized version of the psych-barber shop quartet sound they used on earlier tracks like their cover of The Pixies' "Mr. Grieves" from the Young Liars EP and "Ambulance" from their first full length, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes . Four separate melodies weave in and out of each other amongst tribal percussion and atmospheric synths that blend with the Brian Wilson-esque harmonies. Technically impressive, yet more emotive than anything else the band has done, "A Method," and the rest of the album, is about as close as we've gotten to truly "important" music this year.

Neko Case- Star Witness from Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
Honestly, when people ask me to list my favorite songs, I may have to start including this. We've known for a while that Neko Case is in possession of one of the most startlingly beautiful voices in modern music, Americana or otherwise. What we didn't know up until now is just how great of a songwriter she is. Fox Confessor Brings The Flood is full of incredibly written, placed and delivered lyrics, but none pack as much of an emotional wallop as those in "Star Witness," a heart wrenching tale of the human side of gang violence she witnessed in Chicago. Case transforms the dark, mundane details of a crime scene (bloody jeans, a broken thermos) with absolutely perfect production and soaring vocals. If the "my nightgown sweeps the pavement clean/please, don't let him die" line doesn't make you feel something, you're a cold, cold person.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bonnie Prince Billy- The Department of Safety- 11/9/06

It's a rare opportunity to see one of the more important voices in modern folk music in a venue as intimate as Anacortes, Washington's Department of Safety. So it didn't matter that I wasn't feeling well and had to work early the next morning, I went, job performance be damned. Anacortes being the home to several artists from the Olympia-based experimental pop collective K Records, D+ (Mount Eerie/The Microphones' Phil Elvrum, Karl Blau and Bret Lunsford) opened, which made the evening even more special. And let me tell you, the day after the Democrats took control of Congress in Anacortes is like Mardi Gras - the place makes Bellingham look like Bellevue. When BPB (Will Oldham, to the layman) finally took stage, every set of eyes in the room was transfixed. Oldham's voice is an instrument that bears many adjectives, none of which come close to truly encapsulating it. At once weary and strong; warm, yet eerie; inviting and timeless. With it he charged through more upbeat, epic versions of material that comes across more gently in the studio. (Get ahold of a copy of live album Summer In The Southeast for an idea.) "Strange Form of Life," from this year's The Letting Go, a powerfully bitter "Master And Everyone" from 2003's album of the same name and a stunning cover of The Grateful Dead's "Brokedown Palace" were highlights. Oldham truly has is the next logical step in American folk music, singing about the morbid, beautiful and sorrowful under the guise of American folk troubadours like Guthrie and Dylan, but with a honkeytonk bar band behind him.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy- Master And Everyone from 2003's Master And Everyone

Bonnie "Prince" Billy- Brokedown Palace (Grateful Dead cover)
from 2004's tour only EP with Brightblack, Pebbles and Ripples

Note: he doesn't have devil eyes in real life. Just a little eyeliner.

Monday, November 06, 2006


No time! The waters are rising! Midterm on Wednesday! Have to be at work two hours before the sun comes up tommorrow! If I don't make it out alive, at least this will be a great track to end my blogging career on!

The Band- The Night The Drove Old Dixie Down from 1978's The Last Waltz

Saturday, November 04, 2006

And I, I am a broken glass

I missed the blogging boat on these guys. Bishop Allen are an awesome Brooklyn-based indie pop group that is nearing the end of this year's "one EP a month" project. Amazingly, most of the songs sound just as well-developed as most bands' year-long projects. With a diverse sound and weary vocals like Wilco and a well-tempered earnestness like good Death Cab For Cutie, this is the sound of a band that knows how to construct a good pop song. Plus they wrote a song about Bellingham, WA. (Unless they mean the Bellingham in the UK.) "People That You Meet" sounds like a good Fiery Furnaces track without the random, wanky noise interludes.

Bishop Allen- Chinatown Bus from the May EP

Bishop Allen- People You Meet from the July EP

Speaking of Bellingham, I am going to try to do more blogging about bands from my quaint little town in the future.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Oh, Joanna

Tell me I shouldn't go see Joanna Newsom in this venue in December, because it is during dead week and would make me bomb my finals and make my term papers suck. Someone needs to.

Also, awesome interview with The Hold Steady on Tiny Mix Tapes. Though I don't know if it makes Boston fans feel any better. Sounds like the whole boozing thing went a bit too far.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Peter Bjorn & John are a Swedish trio that have gathered a lot of praise for their recent full length Writer's Block. I've been reaching for what to compare their sound to, but haven't been able to come up with anything useful. What makes my apparent lack of comparative analysis talent notable is the fact that nothing this band does really breaks any rules or does anything that hasn't been done before. Everything sounds familiar, yet never derivative - the mark of a good band. Since this blog would be worthless if I didn't give you some frame of reference in which to approach this album, I'll go ahead and say Broken Social Scene. It has the same sense that every track is an amalgamation of a multitude of musical backgrounds and personalities, just like BSS's modern pop classic You Forgot It In People. But unlike BSS, this album never sounds cluttered or over-produced, and the songs are more classic pop than post-punk. (Listen to "Amsterdam" without tapping your foot. I dare you.) In the end, though, comparisons are useless. This album has a unique endearing charm that I could see growing on me.

Peter Bjorn And John- Amsterdam from Writer's Block

Peter Bjorn and John- Young Folks from Writer's Block

Holy balls, how did it get to be November? Look for a couple of posts about my favorite tracks of the year this month and a top-ten albums of the year post in mid-December.