I love me some good marketing. I loved the promotion for Delicate Steve’s last album (which involved a hilariously fictional press release from the desk of Chuck Klosterman), and I love the way Steve Marion introduced the world to the songs that make up his upcoming release, Positive Force. On June 26, he had a committee of 11 musician friends (musiciends?) tweet links to individual tracks from the new album that had been uploaded to YouTube. Through this “Positive Force Friendship Stream,” each song got its own “premiere,” with YHT-beloved groups like Yeasayer, Ra Ra Riot, Yellow Ostrich, tUnE-yArDs, and Akron/Family joining in on the fun.
Record Store Day is quickly fading in the rear view mirror, and now that we’ve had a couple days to strip off the shrink wrap, listen to the loot and digest the day’s events, I wanted to share a few reactions and a few songs. In lieu of a list of acquisitions (I’m a little scared to a provide the complete inventory, as my better half reads this blog, and I may or may not have some financial splainin’ to do), I thought I’d keep the superlatives theme from earlier this month rollin’ by handing out a few RSD Superlatives. Off we go…
Tryptophantastic Week: Day 1 — Yellow Ostrich
I’ve had an incredible time sorting through the music I heard about from friends and family over the Thanksgiving break, and since I haven’t done a themed week in a while, I’d like to spend the next few days exploring some of the winners. Call it “Tryptophantastic Week.” The first of these winners, Yellow Ostrich, originally came to my attention courtesy of the fact that they’d been touring as one of the openers for Ra Ra Riot. Some of my Pennsylvania-based in-laws are planning on catching the tour’s rescheduled stop in Harrisburg tomorrow, so over the weekend I introduced them to the music of the other opener, the amazing Delicate Steve (“In-laws, meet Wondervisions; Wondervisions, in-laws”) and then spent some time introducing myself to Yellow Ostrich. As it turns out, it looks like YO won’t be playing in H-burg — the venue’s website says they are, the band’s site says they’re no longer with the tour. But for my folks’ sake, I sincerely hope I’m wrong, because Yellow Ostrich has something special going on that strikes me as a hallmark of seriously good musicianship. On occasion, you’ll come across a singer whose voice has an instrumental quality, where words seem to melt away and vocals fuse with the accompanying music in the same way that any single piece of a well-oiled orchestra blends in with its compatriots to create a cohesive musical expression. It’s extremely rare (Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós are two canonized practitioners), but Yellow Ostrich exhibits that same quality, and their song “Mary” takes this idea to another level. “Mary” is a gorgeous song that starts out with carefully layered vocals that build until they they sound almost exactly like an accordion that’s expanding and contracting. I can’t tell you how much I love that real voices, which are created by breath escaping human lungs and traveling over vocal chords, are being used to mimic an instrument that, itself, mimics the production of the human voice. The resulting effect forms a conceptual loop that’s cooler than I can possibly describe, so listen for yourself below and click here to buy Yellow Ostrich’s album, The Mistress.
Yellow Ostrich — “Mary“
Last Tuesday, I wrote about Rostam Batmanglij’s musical midas touch, which turns every composition he touches to gold. Well in the eight days between then and now (Can we call eight days a Beatles week? Kinda like a baker’s dozen? Anyone?), I found out that he’s connected to an album that I was already enjoying immensely, The Orchard by Ra Ra Riot. Though Batmanglij’s participation in the record is limited to “Do You Remember,” a song that he mixed and maybe even co-wrote (I found conflicting information about whether he helped write the song or not), the whole album shares the ornate production and willingness to experiment with instrumentation and mood that have drawn me to Batmanglij’s collaborations in the past. In truth, my first listen of the album was somewhat flukey, as I started playing it while haphazardly testing out MOG’s streaming music service for an article I wrote for the Phonograph, a great UK-based music blog. Even though I moved on to try out other streaming services and websites, I kept the MOG window open so I could keep listening to The Orchard. I just couldn’t turn it off. Maybe it was frontman Wes Miles’ voice, which climbs so gracefully and feels like an estranged best friend, thanks to the fact that I went through a truly obsessive period of listening to the record he did with Batmanglij under the name Discovery. Or maybe it was the string arrangements, which add depth and shape on more than one level, thickening the mix sonically while counterbalancing the gravity of the lyrics, some of which deal with topics as weighty as a former bandmate’s death. For me, that’s Ra Ra Riot’s strength – being light and heavy at the same time, so you’re left with a feeling of pleasant (or as good friend of the blog Trang put it, “pla pla pleasant”) depth. It’s a quality that inspires repeated listening, making them the musical opposite of a movie like There Will Be Blood — an amazing film that I liked very much but never want to sit down and watch again. Ever. Please don’t make me. I will keep listening to The Orchard, and I hope you’ll check out “Do You Remember” below. If you dig it, click here to snag the album from iTunes.
Ra Ra Riot — “Do You Remember“