Monthly Archives: November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all

Daniel Johnston

In a few hours, I’ll be heading home to Norfolk for Thanksgiving for the first time in a handful of years. Normally I’d post a YouTube video of someone lighting a driveway on fire while trying to fry a turkey, but recent events have brought the holiday’s shady origins a little too close to the front of my mind, and it just doesn’t seem funny this time around.

Instead, I’ll leave you with a song about going home that contains the following verse, which seems fitting both for the holiday and for this particular moment in history:

Gee, it’s great to be alive
Takes the skin right off my hide
To think I’ll have to give it all up someday

That’s where being truly thankful starts. Hope everyone reading this has a great Thanksgiving.

Daniel Johnston — “To Go Home” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Olivier Messiaen

Messiaen2

I’ve been listening to Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (“Quartet for the End of Time”) quite a bit lately. I stumbled across a copy at Goodwill — the version with a shattered swastika on the cover. Remembering that Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood has cited Messiaen as a major influence, and that Greenwood’s brilliant application of the ever-spooky ondes Marteno owes a great deal to Messiaen, I decided having the record was worth the dollar I’d pay for it and the intense awkwardness I’d experience when handing the cashier something with a large swastika on it. (That same discomfort is why I didn’t include that version’s cover at the top of this post. I love vinyl album art, but it’s a little hard to stomach.)

A little background on the piece: Messiaen was a soldier during World War 2, and in 1940, he was captured by the German army and placed in a POW camp located in what is now Poland. Detained in the same camp were a violinist, a cellist and a clarinetist, and Messiaen set about to write (“finish writing” might be more accurate — I read that some sections were built on existing compositions) a piece suited to the players who were imprisoned with him. A sympathetic guard provided a pencil and paper for composing, and the authorities eventually furnished his quartet (Messiaen on piano) with the instruments they needed to premiere the piece in January of 1941. It’s weighty, as you might imagine, drawing on themes related to the book of Revelation — pillars of fire, heaven, eternity — but there are these wonderful contrasting moments of levity. Whole movements are inspired by bird songs (Messiaen was big into ornithology), making for wonderful light/dark clashes. Thunder and lightning, hand-in-hand. Powerful stuff, especially when you consider the conditions in which it was composed.

I listened to “Quartet for the End of Time” again this morning, looking for something that could measure up to the weight my heart was and still is feeling.

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The Budos Band

Budos Band

My metal-loving and -practitioning brother-in-law (who just became a father — congrats, Brian!) sometimes uses a word that I’ve always understood but hadn’t learned to fully appreciate until this weekend.

“Riffy.”

Technically speaking, I’ve known the definition of the word “riff” for years. As an awkward early teenager milling about the guitar store, unsuccessfully giving off the vibe that “No, of course my mom didn’t drive me here,” wanting to touch and play everything but not wanting the other millers-about to know how few chords I knew — riffiness was everywhere. In that situation, you are the riff and the riff is you. People are loudly showing off their “Crazy Train”s and their “Enter Sandman”s — the phrases everyone’s ears know. I can remember feeling jealous about not being able to play those riffs. It didn’t matter that the slightly older teenagers playing them didn’t write them. The power of the riff endures, no matter who is doing the conjuring.

At the time, it seemed like that power was magical. Like the person who wrote the phrase tapped some vital life force or attitude and injected it into the notes to make them bigger than the sum of their parts. And I think there will always be a part of me that believes that. But this weekend, as I was listening to the new Budos Band album Burnt Offering for the fifth or sixth time, two things struck me:

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Yellow Ostrich

David Bowie

The picture of David Bowie above does two things:

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Sleepwalkers

Sleepwalkers

There are bands you appreciate, and then there are bands you root for. Not because they need the extra backing, but because there’s something that joins your experience with theirs. It could be that their music is so good that you feel passionately that it needs to be heard as widely as possible, and that passion acts like glue — their success is your fulfillment. It could also be the case that you meet the members of a band, and their approach to music aligns with some ideal you hold onto — a picture you’ve painted in your mind after hearing and dissecting an album you love.

All of the above applies to Sleepwalkers, who I had the chance to interview for River City Magazine/West End’s Best in early October. The highlights from that conversation just hit the interweb, and you can read them here (a slightly shorter printed version will hit newsstands any day now). There are two quick things I’d like to add:

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Matuto

Matuto

Almost exactly a year ago, rvamag.com published an interview I did with Matuto, a thrilling and innovative NYC-based group that takes strands from different forms of traditional music — American bluegrass and Brazilian forró being two — and interweave them via fun songwriting and truly spectacular musicianship. At the time, the group was fresh off a sold-out Lincoln Center show where they debuted a new piece called “Africa Suite.” That suite just hit the interweb in the form of an EP, and it’s excellent.

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Why You Should Vote Today

Game of Thrones

The list of Record Store Black Friday releases is available, and guess which deliciously ominous TV theme music is being pressed to vinyl?

DAAAH DAAAH DAHDAHDAH DAAAH DAHDAHDUMMMMMM

That’s right – they’re releasing the music from Season 1 of Game of Thrones, which includes the terrifying theme that plays over the opening credits. I love it – it’s so scary and fun and sets such a fitting mood for what follows. Violence. Deception. Plot developments I don’t remotely understand. Hot damn, I love Game of Thrones.

I thought I’d post the theme music today in case some of you out there were considering not voting in this midterm election.

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