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Some Things That Have Delayed My Consideration of Bill Callahan’s Dream River
(also: moving; a job)
Deerhunter with Marnie Stern – Fine Line Music Cafe (Minneapolis) – Monday, September 9, 2013
Earthquake / [very long intro to] Cryptograms / Cover Me / Agoraphobia / Desire Lines [standard length] / Don’t Cry / Revival / [tour anecdote] / The Missing / Hazel St / THM / “We’re from down South. We’re gonna play some of our down South boogie music.” / [huh?] Nothing Ever Happened [very long] / Sleepwalking / Back to the Middle / Monomania [black wig removal, feedback exit] / Neon Junkyard (Encore) / Fluorescent Grey (Encore) [very long: obscene gestures with mic and stand, lizard movements, hovering behind Lockett, wig incident]
And Bradford Cox’s small shoulder in a black Cramps t-shirt. Pivot for so much of the great energy in contemporary music.
And Marnie Stern, who said nothing is easy and proves it all the time.
Julia Holter with Nedelle Torrisi – Cedar Cultural Center (Minneapolis) – Friday, September 20, 2013
Awe is a funny and unpredictable thing. I might expect a full dose of it when I catch sight of, say, Bradford Cox, but no, I can almost process my feelings about his existence, so awe waited and hit me double when Julia Holter made her appearance on the Cedar’s stage. That would be the moment she joined opener Nedelle Torrisi for “Don’t Play Dumb” and confirmed, in a big sweater that perfectly caught long hair and framed a face turned heavenward singing strange, inevitable notes, that she’s exactly the center of artistic sensation we hear her as. She reemerged later in a dress and stood high enough above her keyboard that, from my chair, I saw her distinct against the blackness behind her. I prefer to remember this night from a low angle, and with a larger crowd than the 50 assembled. It was a big night, like if you’d been there on 6/1/74 and believed you saw, whether it’s true or not, Ayers, Cale, Nico & Eno redefine the parameters of a rock concert. Such a night can’t be minor, can’t succumb to time, can it?
Along with a violinist, a cellist, a saxophonist, and a drummer, all excellent, Holter played the entirety of Loud City Song (including both versions of “Maxim’s”; what more proof of her brilliance and confidence could you need than this instance of honoring her own arrangements) and three from Ekstasis (“Four Gardens,” “Marienbad,” “In The Same Room”). They could have been a jazz group, for how well they understood and transmitted the definite structure of songs that, on record, sometimes require all the attention and organizing talents of the listener’s mind. Or for the uncommon clarity and intensity and heavy drumming of song peaks. “Marienbad” is a stranger journey every time I listen to it, but now I understand that it contains three passages, and the middle one is a monster. Really, parts of this night were so huge and vivid that the windmills of my mind spun like never before.
Earlier, Torrisi played “quiet storm, Broadway-esque, torch song versions” (her words) of the songs from her new self-titled album. Those are three different things, and that simultaneity of influence might help explain the small feeling of strain in her recordings. But, contrary to all that, she was speaking apropos of the stripped down nature of her opening set, which featured only her vocals and Kenny Gilmore’s keyboard accompaniment and gave a different and effective view of her talents. Maybe a bit nervous, energized by an essentially non-existent audience she couldn’t see for the lights, she gave a performance halfway between audition and after hours. She could have sang “The Man That Got Away,” for how well it would have fit the mood and her own description of it.
Screaming Females with Waxahatchee – Triple Rock Social Club (Minneapolis) – Tuesday, September 24, 2013
I won’t deny the awesome force of Screaming Females, and the consensus was definitely against me (Katie Crutchfield even watched them from the side of the stage for their whole set and led the crowd in demanding an encore), but this night was all about Crutchfield’s band Waxahatchee. It was no surprise that songs from solo acoustic American Weekend sat so well alongside the full band arrangements from the new Cerulean Salt – her amazing talent for chord progressions defines her songwriting and makes up a big part of her music’s immediate appeal, so any song will do well in a chord-favoring punk style. Thus, a too brief set was almost enough, given how fast the music goes to work. Most courageous then, the true punk moment, if you will, was “Brother Bryan,” whose audacity I hadn’t quite recognized on record. Crutchfield sings sickening and funny things over a thudding bass line that barely nudges itself out of a single note. The drums follow along, hit for note. It’s still immediate, in form and melody, but also so skeletal, so brilliantly dead-end, that it opens itself up to losing the audience’s attention (which I sensed happening). Screaming Females, God love ‘em, never do that.
Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
I was conflicted, asking, “Where are the songs?” I’d hoped to not be the one asking irrelevant and/or ignorant questions about Julianna Barwick’s music, but I couldn’t shake that one, listening to what I heard as Nepenthe’s uniform, string-abetted beauty-making, two years after songs of such amazing melodic and dramatic development on The Magic Place. On the one hand, strings are a logical addition for a vocal artist who wants to add other performers to the mix, but on the other, strings can only straitjacket (though not as tightly as last year’s OMBRE project) and emotionally overpower Barwick’s art, define and amplify one aspect of its beauty. But I’ll admit this might be exactly the vision of Iceland, the spirit of collaboration, she meant to pursue. Meanwhile, I was composing backhanded compliments about the project: The best thing the strings lend here is a crackling energy, maybe a cello playing notes so low that they shake the studio walls; for rhythmic emphasis, the heavy chords and upper octave notes of a piano do better.
Now I can see that complicating my relationship with the music, and trying to manage other people’s perception of it out of some fear of false appreciation, accomplishes nothing. I’d understood her as a songwriter, so anything that might retroactively portray mood, atmosphere and beauty (yes, anything that might cause deployment of that bland term) as her chief concerns, as ends in themselves, was necessarily anathema to me. Then, taking a cue from the still (mostly) wordless music, I decided to shut up.
Disclosure – Settle
I’d already been thinking of Settle in terms of Leftfield’s Leftism, and then someone referenced the latter as a counterpoint to Settle’s rare non-concession to rockism and I was like, yeah, the only thing this lacks is a John Lydon vocal. This is an insanely assured debut, and the vocals, delivered by a roster of British pop singers, blend into the surroundings as an array of anonymous romantic types, which in general (and especially on “Latch” and “Help Me Lose My Mind”) decreases the distance to the listener and makes the emotional effect all the more surprising and astonishing.
The Blow – The Blow
Mazzy Star have gotten a lot of attention this week for returning in a wholly undiminished form (meanwhile, my review of their 2011 single “Common Burn” should suffice as a review of the new album that contains it; such is the constant appeal of this band). The Blow, despite a much shorter hibernation, pull off a similar trick with a new, appropriately self-titled record. Seven years after Paper Television, times appear conducive for the project’s return, but nothing here, not the modest arrangements or the precise, sometimes harsh electronic sounds, smacks of opportunism. I’ve been invested in Khaela Maricich’s love songs ever since the brilliant “Parentheses” challenged the bullshit of male/female parts-fitting-together-as-proof-of-destiny pop sentiment by having its romantic duo create an awkward, lumpy, necessary shape in each other’s arms. A historically parenthetical audience rejoiced, and now we’re glad to have Maricich back.
Yuck – Glow & Behold
Starting with a slow fade-in to a pleasant, pretty instrumental track, Yuck demonstrate a healthy attitude about their new situation and no immediate need to prove themselves after the departure of a core member. It helps that Glow & Behold is a strong record, even if the debut’s urgency is occasionally absent. Where’d it go? Not with Daniel Blumberg to his new project Hebronix, whose Unreal is also wonderfully patient. Consider then that Yuck + Blumberg was a kind of chemical reaction not present in either isolated element, and that separation, settling and stability constitute a process of growing up more considerable than any ostentatious sonic development. There’s a horn section on Glow & Behold, such an effective addition and eventually so omnipresent that it’s clearly no half-measure.
Le1f – Tree House
His most straightforward (read: least disorienting) mixtape, and yet this new R&B thing plays so well to his already established strengths that it’s hard to remember what weird parts are missing.
Arca – &&&&&
Expression is expression and, in a manner of speaking, there’s as much talking on this instrumental mix as there is on Yeezus, simply because something exists where it didn’t before. I don’t get to decide whose contributions to the noise of this world are most or least allowable, but for now, I prefer hearing Arca in this form.
Bill Callahan – Dream River
The act of listening to it.
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