January 12, 2013

my heart is wild and my bones are steam

Writing to try to figure out what love is has been one of the main activities of songwriters since time began. As soon as we all realized that love did something to our insides that went deeper and stranger than other kinds of interactions, and as soon as we saw how devastatingly it could crush us, the chord progressions and lyrical twists started flowing. This is nothing new.

When I listen to the weighty “Song For Zula” by Phosphorescent, I feel like I am listening to the first and only song ever written. I don’t feel like I’ve ever heard a song about love before this one. I want very much to write something about how amazing this song is, since I have listened to it dozens and dozens of times on repeat in the last few weeks, and marveled over its story, its structure, its strings. But I don’t have anything else to say that the song doesn’t say already. Holy shit, this song.

Song For Zula – Phosphorescent

See, the cage, it called. I said, “Come on in”
I will not open myself up this way again
Nor lay my face to the soil, nor my teeth to the sand
I will not lay like this for days now upon end
You will not see me fall, nor see me struggle to stand
To be acknowledge by some touch from his gnarled hands
You see, the cage, it called. I said, “Come on in”
I will not open myself up this way again

Muchacho is out in March on Dead Oceans. That label lately. Man.


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January 7, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #20: Field Report

I’ve spent the last three days wrestling my blankets in a haze of fever dreams, hours passing in what feels like minutes and vice-versa. The soundtrack to much of my (stupid stupid mean) flu has fittingly been the impressionistic complexity of Field Report in these recordings from Shove Chapel earlier in the fall.

Even before I roadtested this music to my own actual fever dreams, that’s long been one of the best descriptors I could come up with for how Chris Porterfield’s rich songs wrestle over failings and threads of stories long forgotten. In the same way that time out of mind through fevers makes all sorts of strange threads of memory surface, these songs draw you into stories as if you’ve already heard them. Listening for the first time feels like remembering. Porterfield is a master at using odd metaphors that require you to just sort of accept them before they make sense.

I’ve been so deeply entranced by Field Report, and tangled up in their debut record ever since it first surfaced in my life in the icy springtime. The purity and urgency made it one of my favorites of 2012, and I think that all three album songs in this session outshine the renditions on the record. This band is a jaw-dropping talent, and it’s evident from these recordings that touring has only strengthened their songs. Go see them in 2013.



FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #20: FIELD REPORT
OCTOBER 8, 2012 – SHOVE CHAPEL AT COLORADO COLLEGE

Taking Alcatraz
This is ostensibly a story about the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, but it is also a song about staking your battles and pushing back against fears. “If I die here, well — at least I made a choice.”

Circle Drive
This song feels exactly like a string of long, late-night hospital visits, the sterile and dehumanizing blur between the living and the dying. I prefer the slow weariness in this version to the album version. Nick’s sweet piano cadence kills me here, as does the simple way that Chris states, “I am still your man. Some days we do the best we can.” He also leaves out the line, “we’re doing fine” in this rendition, which is good because I wouldn’t believe him anyways.

Borrowed Tune (Neil Young)

Whoa whoa. The caged energy of this video is mesmerizing, and Chris does absolute justice to the thin-voiced strained urgency of Neil Young’s ripoff of the Rolling Stones. One of my favorite covers we’ve recorded in the church.

Fergus Falls
You wake up suddenly in the middle of this quietly sad story, a song that doesn’t have the courtesy to fill us in on any of the important details that came before. Someone is reminding me about the time ten years ago when their wings iced up in the fall, and the whole thing feels like a dream. This version is slower and warmer, and feels like swimming towards the surface.

I feel like this whole record is about swimming towards the surface.

ZIP: FIELD REPORT CHAPEL SESSION


[audio production by the wonderful guys at Blank Tape Records, video by the always-terrific Kevin Ihle]


January 6, 2013

we are crazy, but no one’s perfect

I’ve been listening to a lot of (old) Damien Rice these days, something about the long nights of winter and the perfection in so many of those songs. It’s good to hear Damien’s unmistakable voice on something new, in this collaboration with Irish songwriter David Hopkins. The song was released a few years ago, but it is a welcome discovery for me tonight.

There Are Debts (feat. Damien Rice) – David Hopkins


December 31, 2012

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2012

Another year of music has come and gone, dense with wonder and goodness. I can’t possibly articulate the qualitatively-best albums of the year, but I can mentally categorize into my favorites (something that has been a hot discussion topic this week with my musical friends). These are my favorite albums that were released in 2012 — tallied in a scientific manner of how long it took me to take the record off repeat. When I love something, I tend to love music furiously and unrelentingly, listening to it on repeat for weeks and months until I get sick of it. I’m not sick of any of these wonderful records yet, and in fact they keep getting better the more I listen.

Here are my favorite ten albums of 2012, in alphabetical order by artist. Take a listen: there are some wonderful things here you might have missed.



FUEL/FRIENDS TOP TEN FAVORITES OF 2012

Like a fire that consumes all before it…
Adam Arcuragi (Thirty Tigers)

Ohhhh, this record. This is a strong, rootsy, growly record that is also stunningly beautiful. Philadelphia “death gospel” musician Adam Arcuragi sings from the very base of his guts, with his head back and his heart forward. Singing along with him and his Lupine Chorale Society (from lupo, the latin word for wolf) during their chapel session, with my head back and heart forward as well, was a highlight of the year for me in terms of the soul elevation, something that this music has in loads. This was definitely one for much-needed replenishment this year.

Oh, I See – Adam Arcuragi



Break It Yourself
Andrew Bird (Mom+Pop Records)

Andrew Bird has made a spry, elegant record, full of darting violin, freewheeling gypsy stomping, lugubrious plucking, and his famous whistling in true virtuoso style. It is also a complicated record: best listened to as a whole, complete with the interspersed short musical interlude songs that pepper through the larger orchestral numbers. It feels like a journey. Songs like “Lazy Projector” soundtracked long hot summer nights for me, and into the winter this record has continued to be one I reach for often.

Lusitania (feat. St Vincent) – Andrew Bird



Barchords
Bahamas (Brushfire Records)

Afie Jurvanen cut his musical touring teeth with Feist and the Broken Social Scene kids, and is now on his second record of his own songs. This record is brimming with charm and a sort of playfulness that draws on old Sun-Studios session sounds, lots of golden space and reverb in the room, and so hard not to move your hips back and forth. Afie’s voice is so warm and honeyed (he’s on the super-shortlist for Chapel Sessions in 2013) that this record is completely irresistible.

Lost In The Light – Bahamas



I Predict A Graceful Expulsion
Cold Specks (Arts & Crafts)

This feels like a hard-fought record, wrought by a voice who deserves to be around for a very long time. Al Spx’s voice is transfixing, and resonates with this timeless gospel weight that seems to know more than her 24 years should allow. Her video for “Holland” is one of the most perfect things to happen in a long time, visually weaving together the decay and the growth, the chaos and the intention. There is immense power in this record. When she sings: “I am, I am / I am, I am a goddamned believer,” it’s as if she is trying to convince herself, maybe. Sometimes it is hard to be a believer, goddamit. She gets it.

Blank Maps – Cold Specks



Maraqopa
Damien Jurado (Secretly Canadian)

There is a ghostly swing to this record, the twelfth (depending on how you count) from the insanely talented and insanely prolific Seattle songwriter Damien Jurado. It’s haunting and flawless all at once, with the echo of rain on the roof and children singing in chorus – it is as unsettling and it is perfectly incisive. Another Jurado collaboration with Richard Swift, this record is so full of goodness (“I want you and the skyline / these are my demands.” ??? COME ON) that it is almost too powerful some days.

Museum of Flight – Damien Jurado



Field Report
Field Report (Partisan Records)

One summer night at 3am, I found myself sitting up with Field Report around my kitchen table, talking about songwriting and art and intentionality (and reading this Annie Dillard essay aloud – thanks, Jonathan). The more I heard Chris Porterfield talk about his songs, giving even small insights into them, the more I decided that this record resonates with the way my brain sees stories unfold in the world. It’s breathtaking. This album feels, to me, like an insistent wrestling with fever dreams, the small failings that slice at us, and the things we wanted and meant to do, but somehow got lost along the way. The words unravel for me like rich poems, to roll over and over in my head, hearing new things each time. Field Report is an anagram of Chris Porterfield, a Wisconsin musician who was once in the band DeYarmond Edison with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and the Megafaun guys, and he has now crafted a record of his own. These songs took him years to wrestle out, and I am so glad he kept fighting.

(Watch for the chapel session in a week or so!)

Fergus Falls – Field Report



The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Fiona Apple (Clean Slate / Epic)

Man, this record. The piece of writing I worked out about it earlier this month says exactly what I want to say:

What I hear when I listen to this record is a ragged bravery, a loose-knuckled grip on any sort of stability, and a gorgeous musical honesty. It’s a complicated, outstanding record. Fiona wheels and rages and turns her scalpel alternately fiercely in on herself and outward on a lover (who she calls out by name, more than once). It feels much more raw and bloody than previous records, as she continues to push forward with letting classical prettiness go. I think that notion alone deserves a slow clap, in a society that tends to prefer our ladyfolk a bit more decorous and docile.
[more]

Werewolf – Fiona Apple



Isaac Pierce EP
Isaac Pierce / Ten Speed Music (self-released)

This humble, perfect record landed softly on my ears on Easter morning, as the world was waking up. Isaac Pierce crafts songs out of Seattle that meander and drift, thoughtfully probing before landing perfectly where they need to be. He is a songwriter who taps into the exact same navigation my brain steers by, and this EP is deeply satisfying. “We get to be alive / sleep on your porch tonight / with certain distant songs playing, remind me to thank you for bringing us out here just in time…” All bruises heal.

Isaac is playing a house show for me THIS Wednesday, on January 2, with The Changing Colors (chapel session alums from early on) and Mike Clark (whose “Smooth Sailin’” track started and titled my Summer 2012 mix). You really, really should come.

Warm Bruise – Isaac Pierce



Lonesome Dreams
Lord Huron (IAMSOUND)

This is a slowly-building, warmly calescent record that totally took me by surprise by how much and how quickly I adored it. I think this record is what a roadtrip might sound like across the West Texas desert if I brought Fleet Foxes along in the bed of my pickup truck, and added some warm Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms.

Time To Run – Lord Huron



Tramp
Sharon Van Etten (Jagjaguwar)

This is an album of heft and grief, but also of a hovering loveliness. You don’t often get those two together because the one usually crushes the other. Sharon balances both. This record strips and excoriates me, which sounds terrible but is the exact opposite: the type of brave catharsis that is so exquisitely and purely crafted that it makes all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Her songs wrestle with the desire to love as new as she can, despite her scars, and often start quiet and thoughtfully but crescendo into a hurricane. This is a tremendous, tremendous album.

All I Can – Sharon Van Etten



TWO OTHER THINGS:

Most Important Song of 2012:
“Same Love,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Because of this:



New Artist I Am Most Excited About in 2013: Night Beds

Because of a voice like this:

In the old tunnels off Gold Camp Road in Western Colorado Springs, Winston Yellen of Night Beds (debut record out February 5 on Dead Oceans) covered 1950s chanteuse Jo Stafford last night, illuminated by the car headlights.

The first Fuel/Friends Tunnel Session, and a pretty damn good way to end 2012.


December 12, 2012

All is calm / All is bright :: The Fuel/Friends 2012 Holiday Mix

It finally snowed full-force in Colorado this weekend, enough to divert me off the highway in a flurry of white, and to a roadside La Quinta on Saturday night coming home from the Patty Griffin concert. The temps hovered consistently at a lush 19º Sunday, and is currently at 7º. All is calm and bright because no one wants to move outside their electric blankets, so it’s been a good weekend for me to road-test these songs. I am very pleased to report that this is my favorite December mix I’ve yet made.

When it comes to music I can handle in December, I have a suuuper low threshold for annoying. We talk about this every year, you and me (and anyone who has the bad luck of walking into a retail establishment with me). No chipmunks, no Spanish cantantes with clacky castanets, no cloying duets, and we shall not speak of synthesizers.

I have subjected myself to some of these unpalatable things in my quest to screen out the perfect holiday mix to soundtrack your season, but the good news is that sites like Bandcamp are making is very easy for musicians to release quality originals to their fans for the holidays. This year I had the bonus-really-good idea to ask some musician friends of mine who have been loved by Fuel/Friends over the years if they had anything lying around that they’d like to contribute. A surprising number of them said yes (!!). Ben Kyle of Romantica sent me an original song of his, and Eef Barzelay (of Clem Snide) replied with his pensive version of a Christmas classic. Denison Witmer had lost his copy of “The Gift of Grace” (one of my favorite original Christmas songs in a long time) so I dug it up to put on this mix and sent him a copy.

I’ve been raving to friends all week about the high proportion of just really good SONGS in this year’s mix — holidays, or no. Some of these I might sneak a listen to all year ’round. At the very minimum, I have some new artists in my stable now. This mix also fits on a CD, with gorgeous album art by Ryan Hollingsworth (can we give him a round of applause for donating his design skills for all of my mixes for the last couple/many seasons?) and a photograph taken by my friend Jewel in Portland. Burn copies for all your friends, for the best kind of gift you can give them.

Christmas hugs to all of you, from me. That sweater looks really nice on you.


ALL IS CALM / ALL IS BRIGHT ::
THE FUEL/FRIENDS HOLIDAY 2012 MIX

Christmas Song – Yarn
This song is what would happen if “The Weight” was a holiday carol, and is just so perfectly bittersweet. You know, in a really sentimental good way though. Yarn from Brooklyn released this last year.

Carry Me Home – Hey Rosetta!
This was written in the summer in Australia, but it was after the band had been on tour for a while, and so the sentiments of wanting to be close to family ring true this time of year. This also reminds me of a terrific Graceland outtake or something. I love this band so much x1000. From their new Christmas EP.

Do You Hear What I Hear – Tyler Heath (of The Oh Hellos)
Finding this Christmas EP from Tyler Heath was kind of like hitting the jackpot, since I am extremely fond of the new Oh Hellos record (get it here; they were also on my Fall mix)

Let The Snow Fall – Andrew and the North American Grizzly
This song just walked into my holiday party and won me over with a wink. “These songs are red and green / so let’s sing ‘em.” I swear it wasn’t just the eggnog. From Bandcamp.

Snow – Sleeping at Last
Okay. SO. This Wheaton, Illinois band is just one guy, Ryan O’Neal, and he is two-for-two at totally knocking me for a loop with the unassuming splendor and insight of his songs. I first featured him on my springtime mix (and pulled the mix title itself from one of his lyrics). He spent last year releasing regular EPs all year on a subscription model through his “Yearbook” project, with a whole free album of Christmas music out now. I don’t usually post entire lyrics in the dead-center of a mix, but this is pretty much the best wish any of us can hope for this holiday season. When I burn this mix for friends, I am going to print these lyrics out as a benediction for each one of them.

The branches have traded their leaves for white sleeves
all warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe
scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees
christmas lights tangle in knots annually

Our families huddled closely, betting warmth against the cold
and our bruises seem to surface like mud beneath the snow
so we sing carols softly, as sweet as we know
and pray that our burdens will lift as we go
like young love still waiting under mistletoe
welcome December, with tireless hope

Let our bells keep on ringing, making angels in the snow
and may the melody disarm us when the cracks begin to show
like the petals in our pockets, may we remember who we are:
unconditionally cared for by those who share our broken hearts

The table is set and all glasses are full
no pieces go missing, may we still a feel a hole
we’ll build new traditions in place of the old
’cause life without revision will silence our souls

Let the bells keep on ringing, making angels in the snow
and may the melody surround us when the cracks begin to show
like the petals in our pockets, may we remember who we are:
unconditionally cared for by those who share our broken hearts

As gentle as feathers the snow piles high
our world gets rewritten, and retraced every time
like fresh paints and clean slates, our future is white
new year’s resolutions will reset tonight.



Come – Oh, Starling
A Christmas original that weaves together a lot of carols you know, and filters them through a warm haze like falling asleep on the backseat of your parents’ car on the way home from church services when you were seven. Oh, Starling is one of Denver’s finest pairings, of Jessica Sonner and Dan Craig, who both make wonderful music also on their own, and have two holiday EPs.

Rebel Jesus (Jackson Browne) – The Wood Brothers
Also from these Colorado mountains, the Wood Brothers (as in Medeski, Martin, and Wood) offer up their slightly broken, roadworn take on Jackson Browne’s classic hymn to the pagan heathens and the true rebellion inherent in the Jesus that some of us celebrate this season.

Joy To The World – Eef Barzelay
Since Eef (of Clem Snide) does such magical things with his music, both his originals and his reinvented covers, I asked him what he had for the season and he replied with this. There is no triumphant majesty here, but there is a quiet peace.

Brightly Above – The Prairie Empire
The seasonal EP from this Brooklyn band is so lovely that I broke form and put them on here twice. Their full-length debut record has also been on Fuel/Friends rotation.

O Holy Night – Branches
Everyone probably has their favorite Christmas song and this is mine. I especially favor ones I can sing along with at the top of my lungs, so the prominent alto harmonies here are my jam. Branches are doing this cool California mini-tour next week of singing along to Christmas songs. If I still lived there, I would go and belt it. From their Christmas EP on Bandcamp.

Christmas Night – Justin Jones
This is a love song camouflaged as a Christmas song, kind of like how my favorite Jason Anderson song is only peripherally-related to the 4th of July. Justin Jones is from Washington D.C. and he has an Americana record out called Fading Light.

In The Bleak Midwinter – The Weather Station
Good job on making this song actually feel a bit bleak and midwintery, in the quiet delivery that feels a little like a Nico song (they also make records that look like it). This song came from 2010′s Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada Deux free mix from some neighbs to the north.

Christmas Eve Can Kill You (The Everly Brothers) – Bonnie “Prince” Billy & Dawn McCarthy
I’m not sure anyone, ever, done better harmonies than the Everly Brothers, and Will Oldham nails it here with Dawn McCarthy, also his collaborator on The Letting Go. They make being stuck in the snow trying to hitchhike home almost sound good. And ooh, you can buy this song (and another) on 7″ vinyl now; I think it would sound real nice on the turntable this time of year.

Winter Eclipse – Beta Radio
These guys contributed “The Song The Season Brings” on last year’s December mix, and it was probably one of my most listened-to of the bunch. They’ve released another seasonal EP for free on Bandcamp this year.

The Gift of Grace – Denison Witmer
Denison remembers this song as one of his first experiments with home recording, and I remember it as one of my favorite original Christmas songs ever written; so pure, so clear. So humanizing. You might have recently seen this bit of majesty from Denison last week, alongside his longtime bud Sufjan Stevens (promoting Suf’s Friendship Slay Ride), and I think he should make me more holiday songs. Maybe in white spandex.

Winter’s Night – Joshua Hyslop
If it’s cold in Colorado, I hear it’s even colder in Canada, where Joshua Hyslop hails from, and his voice sounds like the way a warm sweater feels. I want to snuggle into it. Joshua’s debut record Where The Mountain Meets the Valley came out this year.

Bring A Little Light – Ben Kyle
I met Ben in 2007, along with his Minneapolis band Romantica, after a recording surfaced online of a duet he did with Ryan Adams, which wormed his music deeply into my ear. Ben is from Belfast with his lovely lilt, and has a solo record out now (featured on my MPLS mix). He sent me this haunting original for this mix.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel – The Gundersen Family
I want to be around Noah and Abby and the rest of the Gundersens all the damn time. This is from their holiday party last year at the Fremont Abbey in Seattle. [watch]

Silent Night – Prairie Empire
And this one — this song is the sound of the deepest peace to me, in all of its forms.



ZIP: ALL IS CALM / ALL IS BRIGHT 2012


December 11, 2012

if I’d never have met you, you couldn’t have gone

Proud new papa Josh Ritter released a new song this morning, along with word that he’s releasing a new record called The Beast In Its Tracks on March 5th. I hear such beautiful regeneration all through this song, and that feels vibrantly good to hear, and to understand.

“I wrote and recorded this record in the 18 months after my marriage had fallen apart,” Josh writes. “All heartbreak is awful – my broken heart wasn’t unique. But writing these songs was helping me get through the night and I didn’t have the strength to care or question.

It felt like a different record from the start. Far from the grand, sweeping feel of the songs on So Runs the World Away, these new ones felt like rocks in the shoe, hard little nuggets of whatever they were, be it spite, remorse, or happiness. I told all this to Sam Kassirer, my producer and friend. If we recorded these songs, which felt so personal, their starkness needed a corresponding simplicity of production. I hadn’t composed this stuff, I’d scrawled it down, just trying to keep ahead of the heartbreak, and they needed to be recorded like that.”



“there’s pain in whatever we stumble upon
if I’d never have met you, you couldn’t have gone
but then I wouldn’t have met you
and we couldn’t have been
I guess it all adds up
joy in the end…”

Yes.



I just ordered the 7″ clear vinyl, which will also be in independent record stores next week. The free mp3 I got when I ordered the single is going on my personal version of my holiday mix, because this is the best kind of joy to the world. The Fuel/Friends Christmas Mix should be arriving tomorrow morning; I am waiting for a special artist to finish writing a special song to complete the mix, and then you can start enjoying it as much as I have been.


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December 4, 2012

i pretend to be sleeping / when you come in in the morning

Certain songs just have the power with me, through a very simple and unadorned turn of words, to evoke a perfect whole sadness. I don’t recommend playing this contest at home, but in this ongoing tally-game I have running in my head, one of the very saddest songs I know is “Top of the World” by Patty Griffin. It’s the first song of hers that I ever heard (due to a long-running college flirtation with the Dixie Chicks), and it was a gut-punch from first listen.

I hear it as a story of an emotionally-distant man who is looking back at his life and grieving the ways he hurt those who loved him (“think I broke the wings off that little songbird…”). Something in the line, “I pretend to be sleeping / when you come in in the morning / to whisper goodbye, go to work in the rain, I don’t know why, don’t know why….” makes me live for a solid moment inside that grey early morning light and hear the rain fall on the eaves, and feel like not moving from under the covers, and not knowing why I am avoiding those who love me. Lines like that are part of what make Patty Griffin one of my very favorite songwriters.

Top Of The World – Patty Griffin

This Saturday (December 8), Patty Griffin is headlining Denver’s RootsFest (with support by Todd Snider) to benefit Swallow Hill Music, and Fuel/Friends is thrilled to be one of the presenters! Patty is an incredible, heritage-of-American-music artist, and I cannot wait to see her for a complete live set. Todd Snider opens; I once listened to some of his songs on the long road to Marfa, TX, on the way home from SXSW. Seemed perfect.

WIN TICKETS! I have two pairs of tickets to RootsFest this Saturday give away to readers – please leave me a comment to enter. I am still familiarizing myself with Patty’s vast and wonderful body of work over the years (there is a lot), so feel free to tell me what your favorite song from her is, and why.

I’ll pick winners on Thursday, and encourage everyone else to get their tickets in advance. As part of Swallow Hill’s rad commitment to music education (really, they are doing some of my favorite stuff in Colorado), they are also offering a class on Saturday led by local roots musicians Martin Gilmore and Patrick Dethlefs, focusing on the songwriting aspects of roots music. Each musician will include a performance aspect of their classes, playing songs and then answering questions, and giving explanations of writing techniques, tips and pointers. The workshop is FREE with your ticket to RootsFest.


December 2, 2012

nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key

Ever since the lush Pacific Northwest green of my July wanderings, I’ve been listening over and over to the new Fiona Apple record, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. I’ve been rolling it around in my head trying to get a handle on it, prodding at it, letting it prod back at me (sometimes fiercely).

What I hear when I listen to this record is a ragged bravery, a loose-knuckled grip on any sort of stability, and a gorgeous musical honesty. It’s a complicated, outstanding record.

Werewolf – Fiona Apple



Fiona wheels and rages and turns her scalpel alternately fiercely in on herself and outward on a lover (who she calls out by name, more than once). It feels much more raw and bloody than previous records, as she continues to push forward with letting classical prettiness go. I think that notion alone deserves a slow clap, in a society that tends to prefer our ladyfolk a bit more decorous and docile.

We have brave record here, in that it feels like an unpolished diary, both in the complicated, personal (sometimes ugly) words and in the intimacy of the sonic arrangements – lots of space in the room, ambient noises, sound effects like screams and hands that patter in a rapid heartbeat. These melodies are intricate and minor and each song seems to hold the seeds of a few dozen others. I think her mind is constantly spiraling, and I get that, and I love it. Fiona and her touring drummer recorded this record together, and presented it complete to Epic executives, who didn’t know she was working on anything. It feels completely un-fucked-with, which is a welcome trait, and the record breathes so hot and close and real to the listener that it almost makes me squirmy.

I find it tremendously freeing the way that Fiona is increasingly unafraid to make bold-faced, unflinching vocal statements on this record, letting her voice go ragged and voracious and not-at-all pretty, like on “Daredevil”: “Wake me up / gimme gimme gimme what you got in your mind / in the middle of the night…” YES. You can hear her ravenous hunger, like a blast of scorching dry wind from her mind and gut. She says exactly what she means with a poet’s acumen and the playfulness of an immense, alliterative vocabulary.

I find this record continually challenging, continually interesting to listen to, and a deeply enjoyable (if wild) sonic ride. I’m in, and I find myself strangely proud of her for making something so tremendous out of all the bloody detritus of struggle.


November 23, 2012

everyone’s singing / why do we feel so alone?

The middle of bitingly cold Beijing seems like a totally unlikely place to fall in love with the music of a kid who actually grew up about five blocks from where I am writing this (in Colorado Springs). But that’s where it happened to me, and happened hard. I have seven songs from Night Beds on my iPod, and I must’ve listened to each more than a dozen times. That’s a lot of “repeat all”s in two weeks.

Winston Yellen’s voice has a gorgeous measure of this transparent honesty in it, letting it show light through the cracks. It is a tremendous voice, with a swooping sadness that rivets me, like Jeff Buckley’s shivers with Ray LaMontagne’s warmth.

Borrowed Time (Daytrotter session) – Night Beds
Ramona (Daytrotter session) – Night Beds [hear the marvelous album version here]

(if you have a Daytrotter subscription, get thee to that session as soon as you can – every song is terrific. If you don’t have a Daytrotter subscription, this is a worthy tipping point to get you there)


Yellen now lives in Nashville, but I like to think that something of the golden Colorado freshness has permeated its way into his songcraft. Night Beds is now signed to one of my favorite label families, Dead Oceans (home of other good folks like Tallest Man on Earth, Bill Fay, and Bowerbirds) and the 7″ for “Even If We Try” is available now, to tide us over until his debut full-length Country Sleep comes out in 2013.

The streams I’ve heard for the first two tracks on this record are riveting – it starts out a cappella, and I love it in similarly fervent measure to that Cold Specks song that first struck me like lightning around this time last year.

Sort of like the way this one starts:

Whoa.


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November 21, 2012

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #19: Hey Marseilles

There is something colorful and dizzying in the orchestral swoops of Hey Marseilles‘ music. Bookended on either side of the stage with two of the Anderson brothers on cello and viola (two of nine kids, apparently all musical – good job, Mr. and Mrs. Anderson) this Seattle band is fortified with a sparkling range of instruments. Matt Bishop soars at the front of this carnival with words of love and loss and the wide world that’s out there waiting.

There’s a lot of sonic wealth in these songs – especially when those strings dance across your ears. The music of Hey Marseilles is richly thoughtful and expansive. On this collection of songs, they seem to be wrestling with a grownup love and all the commitments that entails; this is one to sit with for a while.

Watch out for their new album coming in March 2013.


HEY MARSEILLES – FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #19

Elegy
There’s a mischievous gleam in this new song, much more than you’d expect from something called “Elegy.” I do not waltz (or two-step, or anything so formal), but I believe this is the song I would like to waltz to if I did. My favorite part of this song comes at the end where everything cuts out but the two Anderson brothers weaving their cello and viola together – it made me draw in my breath and hold it until the measures died away. So good.

Hold Your Head
If the last song was a waltz, this one makes me practically see ballerinas bouncing spry and quick on their toes. It also reminds me of rain, the springtime kind.

True Love Will Find You In The End (Daniel Johnston)
There is something so open-hearted and earnest in this song, sung as matter-of-fact truth set to music by the reticent Daniel Johnston. I don’t have this kind of faith yet, but I am glad some folks out there do – and this version of the song is all dressed up stunningly.

Looking Back
This is a brand new song that doesn’t seem to exist out there in recorded or video form, so I was especially delighted. On this, I hear chronicles of weariness and peace with past mistakes. “If you’re looking back, that’s all you’ll ever see / when I find my way to you, I know I’ll stay.” This is a song about finding a nest, a haven, a home.

ZIP: HEY MARSEILLES CHAPEL SESSION



Also, hey: if you download this and like it, please enter your email address in the widget thing for the band, below where it says “Free Download.” That way they can let you know when they are coming through your town — they are lovely, lovely guys and you should be in direct contact with them.



[visuals by Kevin Ihle, and videos for all the songs are on his YouTube page]


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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. If you represent an artist or a label and would prefer that I remove a link to an mp3, please email me at browneheather@gmail.com

Got something I should hear? Email me at browneheather@gmail.com. Digital's usually best, but music submissions can also be sent to: Fuel/Friends, PO Box 64011, Colorado Springs, CO 80962-4011.

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