Category: music

Music about architecture

Elvis Costello once said that writing about music was like dancing about architecture. If that is the case, then what is music about architecture? Asthmatic Kitty Records’ compilation Habitat, a collection of experimental electronic music written around the theme of architectural space, answers that question with two discs of original music by a variety of artists, and an equally varied different takes on electronic music in general.

I first read about Habitat on It’s Hard To Find A Friend. I was immediately sucked in by the idea of music written around and within architecture, and KO’d by the fact that proceeds went to Habitat For Humanity. And if that wasn’t enough, the power of the titles compelled me. Titles like “Your God Is A Lion Recently Fed, Drowsy” and “Utiliterranean“. Even “Staircase And Water Pipes, 42 Broadway“, which sounds more suited to a high-contrast black and white photograph than to a song, seduced me with its evocative loveliness.

The CD shipped promptly, so much so that it surprised me in my mailbox (you know the feeling). The CD was a present from myself, arriving early and unexpected. Rushing upstairs, I popped the CD into my laptop and  began to listen.

The first track, entitled “A Cross Section Of Clown Mountain“, is partially the work of Asthmatic Kitty’s most famous son, Sufjan Stevens, whose work introduced me to the label. This, his collaboration with cofounder Lowell Brams and Bryce Dessner, The National’s guitarist (the three together under the moniker Tidal River) is a captivating opener, expansive, stately, and rather epic.

On that night, not too long ago, the first CD had progressed to its third track, “Little Furnace” by Jim Guthrie, a mellow industrial track evoking the titular machine, which I imagine as a stationary Little Engine That Could. As I listen, I read the artist statements for each piece, each one only slightly less nebulous and impressionistic than the piece it’s meant to represent. “Little Furnace,” for example, is “combustion at the bottom of the sea onboard a tiny metal submarine. Each note competing with the one before it; reverberating heat in an otherwise cold abyss.” Sigh. Bliss.

Meanwhile, my roommate, watching television in the living room, asks me, “What’s that noise?” I looked at her strangely. Oh, you mean that semirhythmic clanking in the other room? Just some ambient music I’m listening to, in case you didn’t find my musical taste strange enough.

The tracks are almost wordless to a man, with a couple of exceptions. One of my favorite tracks, “A Long Way From Home” by Moth!Fight!, is one such, but the words are Dadaist, chaos-filled. “I flew … to the castle … which was the only way to get there … the only way was to fly,” a male voice declares before it devolves wonderfully into something that sounds like a schizophrenic blend of the Polyphonic Spree, Animal Collective and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah after three straight espresso shots.

According to Moth!Fight!’s statement, the song revolves around creating the atmosphere of a new home. This isn’t a conclusion that can simply be pulled out of the music, which for the most part lacks revelatory lyrics. Like most of the tracks on the album, “A Long Way From Home” relies on the narrative power of sound to create a sense of the exploration of space and architecture. The tracks use the statement, only posted online (not part of the album booklet at all) in the absence of lyrics, to sharpen and pinpoint the reader/listener’s understanding.

This leaves the tracks sounding something like architecture – without a specific narrative, but storytelling nonetheless. Definitely not for everybody, but I love.

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Echoey space

I’ve got a couple of CDs in my “to write about” line, a result of a regrettable lapse in fiscal judgement which resulted in a CD-purchasing binge. But while procrastinating in the apt this afternoon, I ran across a couple of things that cannot wait.

Firstly, you already know about my unabashed love for the Fleet Foxes. So you understand how excited I was when La Blogotheque posted a session of the Fleet Foxes performing a medley of “Sun Giant” and “Blue Ridge Mountain,” filmed in an abandoned wing of the Grand Palais in Paris (pictured above). So this appeals to both the architecture and music geek inside me.

Then, I ran across (via Fuel/Friends) these Myspace Transmission sessions with Bon Iver. Including four songs (“For Emma”, “Flume”, “Lump Sum”, and “Blindsided”) and interview clips about his process, leaving the cabin, and (perhaps best) his tattoos.

And in related news, on Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands are a great collection of “Flume” covers on Youtube. It doesn’t get any better for fans of etheral harmonization than this.

LATER: Cute kid. A baby Amelie?

My brother, where do you intend to go tonight?

“Penniless and tired,
With your hair grown long
I was looking at you there,
And your face looked wrong
Memory is a fickle siren song
I didn’t understand”

I bought my tickets to see the Fleet Foxes at the Pabst Theater on the strength of these lines (music video here, lyrics here). At the time (on my birthday, at the Bon Iver show at the same venue) the only song I had heard by the Fleet Foxes was “He Doesn’t Know Why,” but I took the gamble and bought the $10 tickets to go see them in October, which seemed ever-so far away at the time.

From the Sub Pop website:

Drawing influence from the traditions of folk music, pop, choral music and gospel, sacred harp singing, West Coast music, traditional music from Ireland to Japan, film scores, and their NW peers, Fleet Foxes ranges in subject matter from the natural world and familial bonds to bygone loves and stone cold graves.

Exactly two months later, the show has been over for four days and I’m still excited about it. I joked to my roommate that for me, the latest show I’ve been to is always the greatest show I’ve ever attended. However, in this case it’s absolutely true: Fleet Foxes in concert were up there, if not at the top.

Let’s start at the beginning. I took my little brother to the concert (appropriate, in hindsight, given the amount of references to brothers in the lyrics of Fleet Foxes songs), and we ended up arriving at 7:00pm, an hour before the show was scheduled to start. We got seats in the second row, left section: not too shabby, considering that the place was absolutely sold out when we got there. Yay for presale tickets!

The opener, Frank Fairfield, seemed to only play songs that ended in “Blues”. As others have noted before me, he sounds like he came straight from the thirties via time machine, instrumentally and (more uniquely) vocally as well. He had the whiny, accented, and hard-to-understand singing style that you usually hear overlaid by crackly vinyl hiss – definitely not what I expected, given the soft choral arrangements that Fleet Foxes use. However, he was absolutely fantastic, and was sad when I read Frank’s last.fm page to discover that he hasn’t been signed or even really recorded anything substantial (further support for our time-machine hypothesis?). He seemed to be making up the set on the spot. I’d be interested in seeing Frank again sometime.

Before the show started, I bought Fleet Foxes’ self-titled album on vinyl, which turned out to be a great idea on several levels. Firstly, it came with both their self-titled album but also the Sun Giant EP. Secondly, it came with download codes for all the tracks included on the two albums, so I was able to download all the tracks as mp3s and put them on my lovely and well-fed new iPod. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the album art. I bought the record pre-show, and my brother and I spent at least half an hour identifying exactly what each person on the cover was doing. Turns out it’s a painting called “Netherlandish Proverbs” done in the 1500s by a guy called Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Pretty interesting stuff, and a great painting to boot. And its combination of obvious antiquity with controversial and downright weird subject matter parallels the way that Fleet Foxes fuse together folk and postrock influences to make their unique style of music.

The main event was mindblowing. I had loved the choral arrangements on the songs I had from the album, and was bracing myself for the tiny imperfections that you inevitably get in a live set. They never came. If anything, the choral arrangments were even more flawless in concert than they were on the record. (They’ve claimed in an interview with the BBC that they get the arrangements from “witchcraft”, but then admitted that in reality it’s just practice and hard work, which is much less exciting. Download the interviews at Aquarium Drunkard! Do it!)

I realized this within the span of the first (a capella) number. After they threw themselves into their set, it was impossible not to throw yourself after them. Between the songs that I knew I would love already (“He Doesn’t Know Why”, “White Winter Hymnal”, “Blue Ridge Mountains”) and ones I had less exposure to (“Ragged Wood”, “Oliver James”, “Drops In The River”, and the heartbreaking “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”), I basically fell in love. The music itself, vocals reverberating through amps like monks’ chants through a cathedral, has this beautiful sense of spiritual grandeur. Watching lead singer Robin Pecknold’s facial expressions throughout the set made me feel almost like a voyeur, as if by watching him sing I was somehow spying on some kind of religious experience, with Pecknold baring himself to the audience and, perhaps, to God.

Or maybe I’m over-analyzing it. OK, before I further reveal what a huge fangirl I have become: the long and short of it: great band, great set, greatly recommended. See you at their next show!

PS. Bonuses!

Backstage Sessions : Fleet Foxes – Oliver James from Hard to Find a Friend on Vimeo.

And you can stream Radio 88.9’s live recording of the show here. Enjoy!

I have conquered Muxtape!

I know I’m jumpin’ on the bandwagon just a bit later than all the cool kids, but I finally up and made a muxtape. I think it’s a cool idea, although its limitations (12 mp3s, that’s it!) made me think harder than I’m used to to decide which songs to include on it. And God knows I’ll want to change everything in about a week.

But it was fun to make. I hope you enjoy!

Real CDs = real awesome

Just had to note an article I saw on pastemagazine.com: the seventeen most awesomely cool record stores in these United States. As someone who still enjoys getting her fix of real CD (hate hate hate exclusive iTunes releases!) I love this tribute to the lovely institution of the record store. I’ve even been to one – Electric Fetus, in my beloved Minneapolis. One down, sixteen to go!

Adam, shopping at Electric Fetus, originally uploaded by massdistraction. (Note: I think this is the Duluth Electric Fetus, not the Minneapolis one. But still.)

Lyrically Yours

I realized today that my Facebook status is at once incredibly pretentious and obscure. I rarely enter in what I’m actually doing. Instead, I insert a lyric from a song that I find appropriate for how I am feeling at the time. I tend to change it quite a lot, and for some reason expect people to understand that it’s a quote and not actually what’s happening to me in real life (I wasn’t drunk yesterday, and the only flipflops I own are reserved for use in the shower, see ex. 2 below.)

A photo from the Fiery Furnaces concert I attended

With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to see exactly how inaccessible I have made my Facebook status throughout the last couple of months. Keep in mind that my taste in music is eclectic to the point of being slutty, and that if you get even five of these, you’re golden in my book.

So without further ado: a quiz! Identify the song from which I stole the last 33 of my lyric statuses.

1) Emily sure plays a mean pinball. (7:03pm today)

2) Emily is drunk and wearing flipflops on Fifth Avenue. (2:06am yesterday)

3) Emily might go out and watch the moon explode. (11:59pm, May 9)

4) Emily wished she could save him in some sort of time machine. (3:59pm, May 8 )

5) Emily is the second son of Mary mild, and she’s twice removed from Oscar Wilde. (11:04am, May 8 )

6) Emily spits, she smokes, she widens her stride. (12:15pm, May 6)

7) Emily is like a child when she’s been wronged; her heart is aching but she’s still strong. (10:32pm, May 5)

8 ) Emily may talk in her sleep tonight, because she doesn’t know what she is; she’s a little like you, but more like the son of Sam. (12:29am, May 2)

9) Emily will feed you tomatoes and radio wires, and retire to sheets safe and clean. But don’t hate her when she gets up to leave. (2:25am, May 1)

10) Emily got a big big big heart beat, yeah, she thinks you are the sweetest thing, she wears a coat of feelings and they are loud. (10:21pm, April 29)

11) Emily is letting the cool goddess rust away. (9:08pm, April 28 )

12) Emily is nothing of a builder, but here she dreamt she was an architect. (10:37pm, April 27)

13) Emily and the Major don’t see eye to eye on a number of things. (10:02pm, April 26)

14) Emily got to be good-looking cuz she’s so hard to see. (3:27pm, April 24)

15) Emily is thinking maybe all she needs is a shot in the arm. (12:46am, April 24)

16) Emily will find a way, regardless, to make some sense out of this mess. (4:51pm, April 22)

17) Emily is never gonna fall for modern love. (9:22am, April 21)

18 ) Emily is behind the counter with the day memorized, and those cold, vacant eyes. (9:51am, April 15)

19) Emily is a child of fire, she is a lion, she has desires and she was born inside the sun this morning. (7:18am, April 9)

20) Emily got a pair of wings for her birthday, baby. (10:44pm, April 4)

21) Emily will not pretend, she will not put on a smile, she will not say she’s all right for you. (5:15pm, April 1)

22) Emily must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. (10:31pm, March 26)

23) Emily doesn’t know what it is, but there’s definitely something going on upstairs. (6:17pm, March 24)

24) Emily is walking a tightrope into the moon. (1:50pm, March 15)

25) Emily is going to Chicago, via home. (8:26pm, March 12)

26) Emily is afraid of what everyone is made of. (7:14pm, March 7)

27) Emily is trying to downplay being uptight. (5:27pm, March 7)

28 ) Emily is not the pawn to your king, is not your world on a string, is not anything you’ll beat, she’s not anything. (5:02pm, March 3)

29) Emily could spit it in the eyes of fools as they ask her to focus on sailors fighting in the dance hall. Oh man, look at those cavemen go! It’s the freakiest show… (12:32am, March 1)

30) Emily can’t pay attention to the sound of anyone, a little more stupid, a little more scared, every moment more unprepared. (10:06pm, February 25)

31) Emily knows there is a brighter side to life, because she’s seen it, but not very often. (8:00pm, February 23)

32) Emily can always just stay no to the anti-aircraft crew, the boys from the Hitler Youth. (10:06am, February 23)

33) Emily don’t feel like dancin’. (11:59pm, Feb. 20)

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Jimmy’s Revenge

Granted, I’m a little late on this one, but better late than never. It wouldn’t be fair to Jimmy to take sides by not posting his video as well as Sarah’s. Watch it. Enjoy.