Elsewhere | Mirah Review, Okkervil River's Free Culture

The two most intensive things I've written since I last crossposted my work to this blog:

1. A review of Mirah's great new album, Changing Light, for Buzzchips. I enjoyed writing about it, especially for a publication that doesn't force me to quantify my enjoyment into a number. Sometimes all I have are words.

2. A big editorial about Don Henley's comments on Okkervil River and Will Sheff's comments about free culture. This one had the added bonus of being linked to on Twitter by Will Sheff himself, so that made my day. I wish I had the will to write more pointed thinkpiece stuff -- it's in my head all the time, but it rarely makes it out onto the screen. Too often, the thoughts simmer and don't seem as interesting or urgent as they did in the heat of the moment. Sometimes my take doesn't seem fresh enough and I know someone on Grantland or The Atlantic or Stereogum will say all of it and then some. Every once in a while, I know I should just stop thinking about it or sleeping on it and just write it -- even if it's not the #HottestTake mankind has ever wrought. I'm glad I did, this time.

Otherwise, I'm preparing for my big summer trip -- Bonnaroo 2014 in Manchester, Tennesee. I'm excited. I've been excited for a month, but now it's palpable excitement. I leave Tuesday night/Wednesday morning -- 6 AM flight. I've already planned out the 4 days, with plenty of time for exploration and relaxation, but my must hit list is as follows:

  1. Kanye West
  2. Cloud Nothings
  3. Chance the Rapper
  4. Skrillex Superjam with Zedd, Janelle Monae, Thundercat, Chance, more.
  5. Elton John
  6. Deafheaven
  7. Vampire Weekend/Neutral Milk Hotel (Haven't decided yet)
  8. James Blake
  9. Disclosure
  10. Pusha T

I don't know what awaits me other than great music. I anticipate sweltering heat, sudden rain storms, and being caught by a lack of preparation no matter what. It's going to be a big deal, though, and that's all I really want out of this excursion.

On y va.

New | Lovestreams & Youth Lagoon

Two artists dropped a song today, right in the middle of the work week. Conveniently, they're both named with bodies of water! Thanks for making this tie-in easy, you guys.

Lovestreams is the name of Will Sheff's new electronic side/solo project. I know, I'm surprised too. "I decided to do a project there I’d wanted to do for years and years, which is to make an album by myself and for myself, an album that doesn’t owe anything to music I made before," he writes on his website. That's no understatement. Other than the familiar voice, this is not Okkervil River at all; not in structure, flavor, style or in any of the other intangibles that makes that band great.

Usually I'm a little skeptical of the electro side project. It seems that when an indie artist needs a creative jolt, they either take left turn toward the synthesizer or a right turn toward the country slide guitar. I had my doubts, but Will Sheff manages to pull out a convincing song that's better than anything on the last Okkervil River album.

A big part of it is that he knows he's working with a different medium and adapts appropriately. A lot of other bands making the shift will write the song they normally would, but run their voice through a vocoder or something. "Shock Corridor" has no literary references, no fables about forgotten pop figures, no tour through the thesaurus. Sheff writes a barrage of laser-focused confessions as the song's fists clench tighter and tighter. He feels more personal here than I've heard him in a long while, and that's just as refreshing as the drum machine beat.

Check out that drop 3:25 in. More importantly, check out how his singing and writing turns into a stream of consciousness dropping of everything, like he's clearing everything out, or maybe it's all just falling through his fingers. Fantastic stuff.

On top of that, we have Youth Lagoon with the first single from their upcoming album, WONDROUS BUGHOUSE. "Dropla" is also a departure, but not as dramatic. THE YEAR OF HIBERNATION songs often went like this: a delicate soundscape, a fuzzy incoherent voice, then a cool beat kicks in and suddenly we're all bobbing our heads. "Dropla" foregoes the build up and kicks in from the first note. Any tenderness runs alongside the song's natural bounce.  Drums here sound more organic, without hand claps or crisp cuts, and Trevor Powers isn't obscuring his voice under nearly as much distortion. He wants to be heard, and the song is alive for it.

If you're familiar with Youth Lagoon, it might read like he's getting rid of everything that made him distinct. But the key is that it's not just change, it's growth. He's learned to sustain the climax of his old songs for 6 minutes, which is already his longest song yet. I don't expect every song on the upcoming album to sound like this, but it's nice to see him try some things out. Lyrically it's not a barn burner, but youthful idealism about mortality is always a powerful hook, especially if you make it sound like a plea from the bottom of the heart. It ends just as it began.

I'm really liking 2013 so far.

Decade in Decibels

Here we are! Look upon this new decade! The Tens are upon us, and all else is old! With that, here are the 10 albums from 2000 to 2009 that rocked my rocker, which in truth isn't all that notable, since I only started seriously listening to music in 2000 anyway. I mean, I was 12 years old. It's hard to develop any specific affinity for types of music before then.

Included is a handy, inaccurate metaphor that I haphazardly wrote up without a second thought. So if you're looking for an experience to correlate with listening to this hour of emotionally engaging music, maybe this add to your experience! Or maybe it will make no sense, and you will be weirded out, but then you look it up anyway because you have to know, that's just the type of person you are, always seeking, always curious.

I count a decade as '00 to '09, and save '10 through '19 for the next decade. I know years didn't start with zero, thus the first decade was 1 through 10. But 1970 was part of the 70's, not the 60's.

Whatever. List:

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Review | The Words You Sigh

For me, it's always easy to find something I like but hard to find something that completely devours me. Those are the bands that become part of your identity, that never leave your playlist, that you will listen to when you're old in a rocking chair with your grand children. If you find someone that hates them, your brain can't wrap around that possibility. You don't need to be in the mood to listen to them, you just do and it works. I've been blessed to find many - Cursive, Sufjan Stevens, Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Broken Social Scene - and every new album is like going home.

I need this every few months. I need to find songs to absolutely love, to sing every morning when I get up, and to fall asleep to every night. Music just isn't as sweet when something new and beautiful hasn't smacked in the face. A few years ago, when I was going through new music in one of these valleys, a band called Okkervil River took me to a peak.

It was the album, "Black Sheep Boy." It didn't happen from track one or two. Instead it was a slow build, a gathering of strength. The trumpets bled these beautiful notes and the vocals were a bare, beaming wound, but it was the writing that grabbed me. Reading the lyrics to their song can improve it tenfold. At my personal high point of the album, the angry-catchy "Black," you were unsettled as you delved into the words and story. That's one of the hallmarks of Okkervil River - they are a band that will unsettle the shit out of you if you let them. Plenty of bands make you happy, plenty more make you sad, and some entire genres are dedicated to scaring you or channeling your anger. There are a few bands that hit that subtle, delicate spot of unsettling. It's rare and real, and one of the few things that carries over into the way you live your life.

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