Monthly Archives: October 2015

Joanna Newsom’s “Divers” a breathtaking journey through time

Harpist, singer and composer Joanna Newsom is not everyone’s cup of tea. On much of her catalog, you may have to pause and look up a word just to glimpse her plane of thought.

But that’s just part of what Newsom is so good at: She transports you to another time, puts you in a breathless reverie and sweeps you up into her stories of lost love and vast, desolate landscapes.

There are layers of meaning packed tightly within each song on her new album, “Divers,” and when you think you’ve figured it out, further research will only unravel more secrets.

But deciphering the whole of “Divers” is an endeavor far greater than can be squeezed into a review; suffice to say, “Divers” is an emotional celebration of the sanctity of life and death and all of its regrets, described through shockingly vibrant imagery Newsom’s created amid often-delicate pastoral scenes. It’s an incredible album.

newsom landscape

Those who are already fans of Newsom’s complex work are familiar with her use of polyrhythms and classical instruments – she knew she wanted to learn the harp when she was 4 and hasn’t looked back.

Newsom often changes tempo and time signatures within lengthy songs, and her use of traditional instruments — pedal harp, harpsichord and flute — all lend to her classical style. She never sticks with that genre though, and is most well known as an indie/folk artist.

“Divers,” her fourth album, sees Newsom adding physical drums to her repertoire, along with violins, fiddles, electric guitar and flute. She also blends soulful blues notes, psychedelic pop, Appalachian and country, classical, ephemeral, and period-piece music into “Divers,” sometimes all in one song, but she’s just as comfortable letting her solitary voice and a bare piano or pedal harp do the work.

Although her songs are deeply woven, it’s still easy to fall into the album’s natural pace and its trance.

Songs like “Goose Eggs” and “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne” have a country bent to them, whether it’s slide guitar, or a slow rolling melody, or hints of fiddle.

joanna newsom_leaving_city pic

On “Goose Eggs” in particular, Newsom delves into more conventional pop/country/ chamber-pop music, even mixing in ‘60s psychedelic organ, displaying her broad musical agility.

Throughout “Divers,” Newsom weeps for the loss of time, and of mortality, then in the next measure will sing joyfully of transient life and its delicate beauty.

On “The Things I Say,” she laments how people keep their life “like a deck of cards,” keeping it safely packed away to use for a day that never actually comes.

On “Time, As a Symptom,” Newsom continues to speak of those “bleeding out their days in the river of time,” but through the chorus, reinforces the “nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating joy of life.”

Joanna Newsom harp

“Why is the pain of birth lighter borne than the pain of death?” Newsom asks on the title track, a heartbreaking ancient sea tale of a woman waiting for true love and knowing she might die without fulfilling that need. “I’ll hunt the pearl of death to the bottom of my life,” she sings resignedly.

On “A Pin-Light Bent,” Newsom romanticizes the story of a flight attendant’s fall from the sky, and the beauty she would have seen as she fell to earth. With the song composing only her voice and the tense, repeating notes of her harp, deeply personal lyrics of the briefness and fragility of life are revealed.

“My life came and went/My life came and went /Short flight, free descent,” she sings sadly. Comparing tiny, lit homes seen from high above to a mass of honeycomb is somehow gorgeous to imagine.

There are so many things about “Divers” that’s open to personal interpretation. Much of the time, it’s well enough to just let Newsom’s elegant language, the slow pace of each song, and her wondering voice wash over you.

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Filed under Classical, Indie folk, Indie pop, Psychedelic folk, Psychedelic rock, Review

Animal Farm: Let’s revisit Girl Band’s creepy “Paul” video

Animal Farm: In honor of Halloween, let’s revisit a pleasant video from noise punk group Girl Band.

Girl Band’s videos are almost always incendiary, so disturbing images from a fake kids’ TV show is business as usual for them.

Director Bob Gallagher talked about his inspiration for Girl Band’s video for “Paul,” and it involves Big Bird:

While I was researching I watched a documentary about Big Bird and there’s a line in where Carol Spinney says that a woman was complimenting his performance but that she couldn’t see that inside the costume he was crying. It’s quite tragic. I think everyone has experiences of having to put on an outward expression, and feeling trapped, so Paul’s costume is a visual extension of that. He’s inside the suit, at a distance from everybody around him, but wearing this absurd smile that’s totally false to what’s going on inside.

If the video is meant to illustrate how people’s hidden thoughts are closer than we think, then Gallagher was successful. “Paul,” in the girl-pig suit in the video, manages a smile at co-workers, but in the dressing room he looks morbid. Seeing his eyes through the pig’s nostril is just creepy on so many levels. Just be glad “Sunrise Farm” is not a real kids’ show.

As the song progresses, it gets darker and more sinister, with a creeping bass line that keeps regurgitating and a building drum beat that signals something wicked’s coming.

As the video continues, Paul seems to be losing his mind, dancing with chickens and foxes, and doing the same activities day after day. The only difference is, he’s getting more drunk and high. It does not end well for him.

“Holding Hands With Jamie” was out Sept. 25 on Rough Trade.

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Filed under From the 2015 vault, Noise Punk, Noise rock, VIdeos

Joanna Newsom’s “Divers” streaming now for two days

Joanna Newsom‘s long-awaited album “Divers” is streaming for 48 hours at NPR Music‘s First Listen and CBC Music‘s First Play. “Divers” drops Friday, and she heads out on tour at the end of October.

And watch the video for the playful first single off “Divers”: “Sapokanikan”:

Newsom recently made waves when she spoke out about streaming services such as Spotify, which she calls the “banana of the music industry,” saying it’s just another way to avoid paying music artists. Read the story, including Spotify’s response to Newsom, at Pitchfork.

“Divers” is on Drag City.

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Filed under Classical, New Music, VIdeos

Cross Record breathes fire into acoustic song “Steady Waves”

With the gentle bubbling of guitar fingerpicking that’s behind Emily Cross’ breathy and gentle voice, Cross Record’s single “Steady Waves” begins. It builds up through electric guitar beats, then falls back down as cerebral lyrics like “shivering, it makes me dizzy” add even more depth.

Cross Record is husband and wife team Cross and Dan Duszynski are Chicago transplants living in Texas. From the sounds of “Steady Waves,” the two know how to balance dramatic elements with beauty and tense guitar playing.

Read more at Stereogum.

Cross Record is on Ba Da Bing Records.

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Filed under Acoustic, Indie, Indie Rock

A former K-Mart employee saved every last bit of music crap the store played from 1989-1999

Whenever vintage shopping-mall music is vomited onto the web, I’m drawn to it like half-off Christmas supplies in April.

Someone who’s either malicious or crazy — I can’t tell which — has digitized his collection of K-Mart music tapes and uploaded online for anyone brave enough to listen. Muzak, easy listening and in-store product ads that ran end to end were put on cassette and then eventually thrown out, but this guy saved them. Thank god, because where would we be without a constant reminder that “Major Dad” used to be on CBS on Sunday nights?

It does bring me back to the late ’80s — when you found that argyle sweater and slacks you required for the first day of school. As soon as you shut the door to the plastic prison known as the dressing room, the Muzak was finally muffled, so you could more easily ponder how you could slowly kill yourself.

I’ve chosen “K-Mart 1989” for my listening pleasure/torture.

I have some questions.

Are Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Johnny Mathis, et al, going to sue for their staticky likeness being plopped on the internet?

The Mad Men-era announcer guy who gladly interrupts between every song — is he dead now? It’s a valid question.

Related question: If he’s not dead, can we search him out and berate him for implying that only Martha Stewart knows how to bake? (I don’t know how to bake but that’s beside the point.)

When K-Mart employees were told to throw out these tapes to make room for hot new music, how did the employee restrain him or herself from smashing the cassette with his price gun?

This guy — named Tape-A-Thon — worked at the retail giant from 1989-1999, so until you or I walk in his loafers, we’ll never be able to taste the mind-numbing horror that he endured over a decade.

We salute you. Also, I kind of want a Presto FryDaddy now.

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Filed under '80s, cassettes, Instrumental, Muzak, Retro, Tapes, Vaporwave

Joanna Newsom announces North American tour dates


Harpist and singer Joanna Newsom has announced a series of theatrical-only screenings of her music video for the title track of “Divers” between Oct. 16 and 22 at specific theaters. The video was shot at Kim Keever’s studio — Keever’s artwork is used throughout the artwork of Divers.

Joanna Newsom “Divers” Theatrical Screenings Oct. 16-22 (check theaters’ sites for details):
New York, NY @ IFC Center [ INFO ]
Yonkers, NY@ Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers [ INFO ]
Huntington, NY@ Cinema Arts Centre [ INFO ]
Los Angeles, CA @ The Cinefamily [ INFO ]
Los Angeles, CA @ Ahrya Fine Arts [ INFO ]
Pasadena, CA @ Laemmie Playouse 7 [ INFO ]
San Jose, CA @ Camera Cinemas [ INFO ]
San Francisco, CA @ Castro Theatre [ INFO ]
San Luis Obispo, CA @ Palm Theatre [ INFO ]
Grass Valley, CA @ Sutton Cinema [ INFO ]
Grass Valley, CA @ Sierra Cinemas [ INFO ]
Grass Valley, CA @ Del Oro Theatre [ INFO ]
Nevada City, CA @ Magic Theatrea [ INFO ]
Tucson, AZ @ Loft Cinema [ INFO ]
Denver, CO @ Alamo Drafthouse Littleton [ INFO ]
Boulder, CO @ International Film Series, UC Boulder [ INFO ]
Miami, FL @ O-Cinema  [ INFO ]
Boston, MA @ Coolidge Corner [ INFO ]
Seattle, WA @ SIFF – Egyptian Theater [ INFO ]
Bellingham, WA @ Pickford Film Center[ INFO ]
Portland, OR @ Cinema 21 [ INFO ]
Eugene, OR @ Bijou Cinemas [ INFO ]
Pittsburgh, PA @ Regency Square Theater [ INFO ]
Ashburn, VA @ Alamo Drafthouse One Loudon [ INFO ]
Winchester, VA @ Alamo Drafthouse Winchester [ INFO ]
Austin, TX@ Alamo Drafthouse Ritz [ INFO ]
Austin, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline [ INFO ]
Austin, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Village [ INFO ]
Austin, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane [ INFO ]
Austin, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar [ INFO ]
Dallas, TX @ Texas Theatre [ INFO ]
Dallas, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Richardson [ INFO ]
Houston, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park [ INFO ]
Houston, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park [ INFO ]
Laredo, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Laredo [ INFO ]
Lubbock, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Lubbock [ INFO ]
New Braunfels, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Marketplace [ INFO ]
San Antonio, TX@ Alamo Drafthouse Westlakes [ INFO ]
San Antonio, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Park North [ INFO ]
San Antonio, TX @ Alamo Drafthouse Stone Oak [ INFO ]
Kansas City, MO @ Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet [ INFO ]
Ann Arbor, MI @ Michigan Theater [ INFO ]
Kalamazoo, MI @Alamo Drafthouse Kalamazoo [ INFO ]
Columbia, SC @Nickelodeon Theatre [ INFO ]
Nashville, TN @ Belcourt Theatre [ INFO ]
Salt Lake City, UT @Salt Lake Film Society[ INFO ]
Tulsa, OK @ Circle Cinema [ INFO ]
Scottsbluff, NE @ Midwest Theater [ INFO ]
Raleigh, NC @ Colony Theater [ INFO ]
Winston-Salem, NC @ a/perture Cinema [ INFO ]
Columbus, OH @ Gateway Film Center [ INFO ]
Chicago, IL @ Music Box Theatre [INFO]
Champaign, IL @ Art Theatre Co-Op [ INFO ]
Paducah, KY @ Maiden Alley Cinema [ INFO ]
Arhus, Denmark @ Øst For Paradis [ INFO ]
London, UK @ Rio Cinema [ INFO ]
Munich, Germany @ Monopol [ INFO ]

Joanna Newsom “Divers” Theatrical Screenings Oct. 27:
London, UK @ Clapham Picturehouse [ INFO ]
London, UK @ East Dulwich Picturehouse and Cafe [ INFO ]
London, UK @Greenwich Picturehouse [ INFO ]
London, UK @ Hackney Picturehouse [ INFO ]
London, UK @ Picturehouse Central [ INFO ]
London, UK @ Ritzy Brixton [ INFO ]
London, UK @ Stratford East Picturehouse [ INFO ]
Bath, UK @ The Little Theatre Cinema [ INFO ]
Bradford, UK @ Picturehouse at National Media Museum [INFO ]
Brighton, UK @ Duke’s at Komedia [ INFO ]
Edinburgh, UK @ Cameo [ INFO ]
Exeter, UK @ Exeter Picturehouse [ INFO ]
Henley, UK @ Regal Picturehouse [ INFO ]
Norwich, UK @ Cinema City [ INFO ]
Liverpool, UK @ Picturehouse at FACT [ INFO ]
Oxford, UK @ Phoenix Picturehouse [ INFO ]
Southampton, UK @ Harbour Lights Picturehouse [ INFO ]
Stratford-upon-Avon, UK @ Stratford-Upon-Avon Picturehouse [ INFO ]
York, UK @ City Screen [ INFO ]

joanna newsom_leaving_city pic

Ahead of Newsom’s much-anticipated album, she’s also announced some North American tour dates, her first in five years. They’re in bold below.

Divers is out Oct. 23 on Drag City.

Sat. Oct. 31 – Manchester, UK @ Albert Hall
Sun. Nov. 1 – Brighton, UK @ Dome
Wed. Nov. 4 – Barcelona, ES @ Barts
Thu. Nov. 5 – Berlin, DE @ Admiralspalast
Fri. Nov. 6 – Cologne, DE @ Kulturkirche
Sat. Nov. 7 – Utrecht, NL @ Tivoli
Sun. Nov. 8 – Paris, FR @ Salle Gaveau
Mon. Nov. 9 – London, UK @ Eventim Apollo
Sun. Dec. 6 – Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre*
Mon. Dec. 7 – Brooklyn, NY @ Kings Theatre*
Wed. Dec. 9 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer*
Thu. Dec. 10 – Washington, DC @ Lincoln Theatre*
Sat. Dec. 12 – Munhall, PA @ Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall*
Sun. Dec. 13 – Buffalo, NY @ Asbury Hall @ Babeville*
Mon. Dec. 14 – Toronto, ON @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre*
Tue. Dec. 15 – Royal Oak, MI @ Royal Oak Music Theatre*
Wed. Dec. 16 – Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theatre*
Thu. Dec. 17 – St. Paul, MN @ The Fitzgerald Theater*
Fri. Dec. 18 – Madison, WI @ Orpheum Theatre*
* = with Alela Diane & Ryan Francesconi

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Filed under Classical, Tour Dates

Stranger Cat becomes the hunted in video for “Red”

Stranger Cat Red

Brooklyn artist Stranger Cat (Cat Martino) has released a Twin Peaks-themed video for her new song “Red.”

The storybook video, which is nothing short of creepy, tells the story of a woman who’s just out for a bike ride when she gets a flat tire. She decides to get help at a random house. Bad choice. At the house, a magician (Schneider) regales her with colorful ribbons and fancy tricks. After she puts on a bejeweled red ring, she wakes up in a grassy field, basically imprisoned and brainwashed by the magician. She’s about to be burned while tied to a tree, but breaks free, tosses the ring in the lake and dives below the water.

Martino’s voice, which ranges from seemingly calm to angry and disturbed, lends an unearthly quality to the electro-pop song.

The video features actor Charles Schneider (who appeared in the movies Ghost World, Tombstone and Beetlejuice) and was directed and edited by Martino.

On her Facebook page today, Martino wrote: “XXXTRA points 4 whoever can figure out which scene caused me to be hospitalized 4 poison ivy.”

Stranger Cat’s debut album In the Wilderness is out now on Joyful Noise. She’s out on tour now with Chad Valley.

10/5: Des Moines, Iowa @ Vaudeville Mews 

10/6: St Paul, Minnesota @ Turf Club 

10/7: Kansas City, Missouri @ The Riot Room 

10/8: Denver, CO @ Lost Lake Lounge 

10/9: Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court 

10/10: Boise, Idaho @ The Reef 

10/12: Seattle, WA @ Barboza 

10/3: Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios 

10/15: San Francisco, CA @ Bottom Of The Hill 

10/17: San Diego, CA @ The Hideout 

10/19: Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar 

10/20: El Paso, TX @ The Lowbrow Palace 

10/21: Dallas, TX @ Three Links 

10/22: Austin, TX @ Red 7 

10/23: San Antonio, TX @ Limelight 

10/24: Baton Rouge, LA @ Spanish Moon 

10/25:  Atlanta, GA @ Purgatory 

10/28: New Haven, CT @ BAR 

10/29: Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right 

10/30: Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle 

10/31: Washington, DC @ U Street Music Hall 

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Filed under Electro-pop, Tour Dates, VIdeos

Bill Withers grants rare interview ahead of Carnegie honors

Bill Withers posing for a portrait around 1973.

Bill Withers posing for a portrait around 1973.

OkayPlayer has put out an interview with musician Bill Withers ahead of a tribute honoring the legendary musician.

The interview is part of several retrospectives about Withers, who penned the romantic acoustic classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” when he barely had experience as a musician.

Earlier this year Withers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tomorrow (Oct. 1), Withers will be honored at Carnegie Hall by artists like Michael McDonald, Anthony Hamilton, Sheryl Crow, Ed Sheeran and others. D’Angelo bowed out today due to unspecified illness.

In the interview, Withers speaks about his songwriting skills, his concerts, such as his Zaire event in 1974, and sampling. He also acknowledges he’s 77 and admits he fits squarely in that age group:

I would like to run and jump and roll over and stuff like that, but I don’t want to hurt myself.

Check out Withers’ scathing, honest funk-driven “Use Me”:

And watch him as he sings “Ain’t No Sunshine,” one of the most iconic songs of the 1970s. What has always been striking to me is the song’s simplicity, and beginning with just a minimal acoustic guitar melody sets the tone as the song builds, and then quickly fades. “Ain’t No Sunshine” seems built to go on and on, and the melody is so beautiful that you wish it would last longer than a couple minutes.

Maybe that’s part of the song’s appeal, but Withers packs in so much soul, from the lyrics to his pained voice to the tune’s rolling beat, it’s almost too much to bear. Like all good things, it’s over much too soon.

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Filed under Acoustic, Blues, Funk, R & B, Rock, Soul, VIdeos