Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

What to Do if You Are Here Searching for Ben Gibbard

Probably you should just leave. Because you’re not going to find much of interest here.

On this blog, I regularly get hits in the teens, maybe fifty or sixty—maybe a hundred if I generate some current-events controversy in my small circle of friends, family, and acquaintances. But now I am officially part of the Blogosphere. Fame! Fortune! Gossip!

I have noticed in the last several months that the number of hits has regularly crept close to 100 per day, and then 150. Where was all this traffic coming from? Well, it seems that there are a lot of tweens out there searching for pictures of Ben Gibbard, and a while back I published a post called “Monday Morning Diversions,” which was not very exciting but happened to include a few pictures of Gibbard, and not even for reasons related to Death Cab for Cutie or even Ben Gibbard himself. Nevertheless, that post has generated, by far, the most traffic to my blog that I have ever had. Just tonight I was looking at my stats for the first time in a long time, and I noticed that on September 21, the number of hits to my blog spiked dramatically. 408 searches for Ben Gibbard! 499 total hits! A quick Google search tells me that Ben Gibbard was wedded to Zooey Deschanel on September 21. A match made in indie-band heaven.

So, tweens, sorry to disappoint. Off you go now.


Stream Wilco’s New Album


That’s the cover of the new Wilco album, Wilco (The Album). I’m not kidding. That’s the name of the album. It’s coming out on June 30. But you my friends can stream the entire album right here. I am listening to it right now. The title of the opening track is “Wilco (The Song).” Again, not kidding.

(UPDATE: I think that’s Feist on the fourth or fifth track.)

(UPDATE: Confirmation: it is Feist. I seem to be a little behind on this one.)

(UPDATE: Done listening. That was awesome.)

The Theology of Death to Unsuspecting Toddlers, or What Sufjan Stevens Has Been Up To Lately

It’s been a long time since Come Feel the Illinoise!, or even The Avalanche for that matter, so I imagine Sufjan fans are slavering for something new. I’m not personally slavering, but I’ve pretty much sucked any freshness out of his existing oeuvre. I don’t know of any new albums in the works, but I did come across this little tidbit the other day, which reveals that what Sufjan has been up to lately, among other things, is rooting around through boxes of old recordings.

But he’s also been producing albums for his label, notably “Welcome to the Welcome Wagon,” in which, according to the album cover, “pastor and wife join voices in sacred folks songs for all ages.” Welcome Wagon is composed of Vito Aiuto and his wife, Monique (the same Vito of “Vito’s Ordination Song” at the end of Sufjan’s Michigan album, if you’re wondering). If you’re slavering for new a new Sufjan Stevens album, this is the closest thing you’ll get right now. His influence is everywhere on the record; aside from the vocals, he might as well have written and performed all the music. And what’s more, he’s done a little explicative write-up for each song on the label’s blog, The Sidebar.

What I’m most interested in here though is sharing the beautiful first song of the album with you, “Up on a Mountain.” You can listen to it and read Sufjan’s write-up here.

Here are a few passages from Sufjan’s description:

First things first: this is not complicated music. But church music—the kind that invites public participation—shouldn’t be. The opening track—one of the few “originals” on the album—appears as a Christian primer best suited for Vacation Bible School. “Up On A Mountain” works as a prelude in which cascading melodies and naturalist theology simulate the salvation of the soul and the soothing of human loneliness, all evoked in the metaphor of “heights.”

And more, describing the role of the mountain in Christian spirituality and its context in this song:

There is Mt. Sinai, Golgotha, and, in the New Testament, the Sermon on the Mount, the holiest of homilies. The “mountain” of this song is less substantial in size, but no less vast in meaning: the mount of Olives, which happens to be the unfortunate setting where Jesus was abandoned by his closest allies, the 12 disciples. Monique’s un-ambitious Sunday school recital here best suits the magnitude of the situation, as if she were instructing, in rueful, plaintive melodies, the theology of death to unsuspecting toddlers.

Heavy Metal Band Name Flow Chart, or, The Coolest Thing I Have Seen This Year So Far


From here via here. (Click image for full size.)

Here Follows the Riveting Drama of How Today Jeff Snagged the Album Graceland by Paul Simon for Just Six Bucks

About ten or eleven years ago I stood in a Borders bookstore in Wichita, Kansas, and held two compact discs in my hand. One was the album Wax Ecstatic by Sponge, and the other was Graceland by Paul Simon. I bought the Sponge album (I’m such an idiot). I have only listened to the album all the way through once (if even that), but I keep it in my collection as a testament to my stupidity. I never bought Graceland. I hear it here and there and always wince when it comes up in conversation or I see it in a cd collection at a friend’s house. I tell this story, explaining that I should own but don’t blah blah blah. It’s kind of haunted me, like that day was fateful and has forever prevented me from buying it. I feel like I should be a Paul Simon fan but am not, like I should own all of his albums but don’t, and it’s all because I bought stupid Wax Ecstatic instead of Graceland ten years ago. (clarification: I’m talking about post-Simon and Garfunkle Paul Simon. I have heard enough of both to know that I like the solo version of Paul Simon better.) I am also vain enough to wish I had had the good taste in high school to make the better purchase, so I could say now, “Look! Even then I had such good taste!” (Of course for this to have any purchase you have to both like Paul Simon and think I have decent taste now.) I even once carried it around a Best Buy for nearly an hour while I wandered around, only to decide just before leaving that I didn’t have the necessary funds to justify a “spontaneous” purchase. A few years ago I bought a Paul Simon compilation cd that is really good, but it only made me think that I should own the whole album of Graceland for real, along with all his other ones (well, I’m not so crazy about most of the post-Graceland stuff). All that changed when I found Graceland at The Frugal Muse this afternoon for six bucks. So now I am the proud owner of this grand cd, only a decade late.

It’s Indie Rock and Roll for Me (but only because of identity politics)

I had a long and interesting conversation over lunch with some friends from work today about ways to categorize the various levels of sophistication and excellence (or non-excellence) in pop music. Summarizing the content of that conversation and then reflecting on it would take way more time than I have, so while staying within the world of pop music in general, I will comment on this instead.

Sasha Frere-Jones, a pop music critic at the New Yorker, wrote this piece on “how indie rock lost its soul.” Among the groups to be flushed down the toilet are Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, and Arcade Fire – likely targets for anybody who would want to criticize “popular” indie rock today. I like these bands, if only because they appeal to my particular brand of mid-level musical sanctimony, so maybe my disgust with Sasha Frere-Jones’s (the author of the piece) conclusions is just a knee-jerk reaction. The basic gist is that indie rock hasn’t been as interesting since it stopped borrowing heavily from the blues and other (African-American) swinging-rhythm influences:

How did rhythm come to be discounted in an art form that was born as a celebration of rhythm’s possibilities? Where is the impulse to reach out to an audience—to entertain? I can imagine James Brown writing dull material. I can even imagine the Meters wearing out their fans by playing a little too long. But I can’t imagine any of these musicians retreating inward and settling for the lassitude and monotony that so many indie acts seem to confuse with authenticity and significance.

Okay, point taken. And the article is packed with interesting information about the history of rock and roll. But imagine my frisson when I stumbled across this piece by Carl Wilson in Slate a couple days later. His argument is that not race but class has caused the shift Frere-Jones describes:

This is the music of young “knowledge workers” in training, and that has sonic consequences: Rather than body-centered, it is bookish and nerdy.

Hmmm. That seems to describe me pretty well. No wonder I like Sufjan so much. On second thought, Wilson’s argument seems similarly reductionistic. Whatever the case, Wilson provides some good critiques to Frere-Jones’s argument. Check it out.

Radiohead: In Rainbows


Radiohead recently announced that their new album is available for download at this site. The kicker: you choose the price you want to pay for the music.

Update: The album is no longer available for download (12/14/07).