Flight WS658 from Calgary to Toronto (Part 3)

We’re almost home.  In another 40 minutes or so, we’ll be on the ground and on our way back to Ridgeway.  I figure then that seeing as how I have time for one last album, I should probably make it Canadian, so I’m going with the ‘Hello Hum‘  album by Wintersleep.

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Wintersleep was formed in 2001 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The band received a Juno Award in 2008.  This is their fifth album released on June 12th, 2012.  The band started writing the album during the ‘New Inheritors’  tour in 2010 and 2011, via “late night voice memo’d bedroom demos, hallucinogenic dreams of Paul Schaeffer”.  The group recorded the new songs in the late summer of 2011 with Scottish producer Tony Doogan, who had already produced their last effort, and Dave Fridmann, who had previously worked with such bands as The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and MGMT.

This is my first taste of the band.  And I love it.  Why has no one pointed me in this direction before?

I BLAME YOU.

Characterized by resonant harmonies, rich layers of elaborate instrumentation & ear-catching melodies, the band produces music that has the ability to grab listeners with its pop charm and keep them captivated with its subtle complexities.  Tracks ‘In Came the Flood‘  is excellent, as is ‘Unzipper‘, and ‘Zones‘, and the three are connected by being the harder rocking ones, but even the slower ones are excellent, keeping my interest with the great lyrics.

This.  Is.  Some.  Good.  Shit.

Nothing Is Anything (Without You)’ rolls into focus, slathered with stomping kick drum thwomps and country acoustic guitars, which aside from the vocals, make the cut sound pretty darn cheery. Following on, ‘Resuscitate’ continues the theme, with Disneyfied chime glissandi and a kind of upbeat guitar riff which harks back to feel-good film soundtracks from the ’90s.  ‘Rapture’ is windswept and rock-heavy, with a palpable chorus and some of the LP’s poppier moment..it would have been excellent to run to.

And, literally as the last chords of the album closer ‘Smoke‘ sound off in my earbuds, I am informed by the captain that we are about to land signalling the end of our West Coast adventure.

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Flight WS658 from Calgary to Toronto (Part 2)

After that ‘Mistress America‘ bullshit, I’m ready for something – well, anything – different.  In my infinite bitchiness that resulted from that crap, I started to wonder if I am entitled to any perks to accompany the responsibility of being in charge of opening the Emergency Exit should this plane have to crash land.  Do I also get the supreme power to decide who is allowed to pass through it safely?  I am absolutely drunk with power imaging the possibilities.  Perhaps I make this decision with Roman Emperor-like impunity, by giving either the thumbs up or thumbs down sign depending on whether or not that passenger pleases or displeases me.  Maybe I make them first answer me three riddles, or first remove them of all their valuables in order to secure their exit from the plane like stagecoach robbers in the Old West.  Oh, the possibilities.

Anyway, my new album now is the ‘Warm Evenings, Pale Mornings, Bottled Blues‘  album by Gram Parsons.

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It’s amazing to think that it took until 1991 for a comprehensive anthology of Gram Parsons’ work to appear anywhere, and it came from Raven Records in Australia. ‘Warm Evenings, Pale Mornings, Bottled Blues‘  tackles the task of distilling Parsons’ decade-long career into 75 minutes and 21 songs and it succeeds admirably – Parsons’ most hauntingly beautiful original song with the Shilohs, ‘Zah’s Blues‘, opens the collection and from there you jump to the three strongest tracks off of the International Submarine Band‘s one and only album.  Of course, there’s a few tracks from the Flying Burrito Brothers as well.  Classic tracks like ‘Hot Burrito #1‘, ‘Sin City‘, and ‘Dark End of the Street‘  exemplify how Parsons’ vision and the skillful instrumentals of some of the most gifted musicians of his time invented a whole new form of music.  Call it Cosmic American Music, if you like, or Alt-Country, or just call it the Flying Burrito Brothers. As long as you don’t call it Country Rock.

The inclusion of ‘Wild Horses‘  is a statement on Parsons’ influence. This song was written by Parsons’ friends Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and cut for the Rolling Stones‘ ‘Sticky Fingers‘  album, but rush-released to album by the Flying Burrito Brothers. Though the Burritos never released it as a single (one of the conditions of permission to record), their distinctive and powerful sound wraps well around the lyrics. Parsons also influenced the Stones in other ways, incidentally – for a good example of how, listen to the ‘Country Honk‘ track on ‘Let It Bleed‘.

It was in his solo work that Parsons came into his own. Though he cut only two solo albums before his sudden death, his choice of classic country tunes to cover, his songwriting prowess, and his haunting vocal harmonies with Emmylou Harris are here represented by no less than eight tracks on this disc. ‘The New Soft Shoe‘  and ‘Return of the Grievous Angel‘  point out well that Parsons was an intelligent and thoughtful man, while ‘She‘  exemplifies Parsons’ Christian faith, and ‘Brass Buttons‘, written in memory of his late mother, demonstrates his commitment to his family.

This collection is primarily of interest to people who are new to the music of Gram Parsons…or trying to prevent themselves from going all air rage as I am.  It hits on the high points of his artistic career and sums up his creative vision. Longtime fans already have most, or all, of these songs in their collection. However, if you’re new to the GP fold, this is a better-than-fair introduction. Get to know the art and vision of Gram Parsons.

And don’t ever call it Country Rock.

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Flight WS658 from Calgary to Toronto (Part 1)

Our family vacation has finally come to an end and we’re flying home.  We have seen the Rockies, hiked some of the National Parks, eaten lots of waffles, drank lots of beer (well, me anyway) and we successfully escorted nearly 1000 kids around both the H2O Center and Glenmore Athletic Complex for the SunRype TRi-KiDS triathlon series.  Most importantly, we didn’t feed one another to mountain lions.  Yay us!  And in another 5 or 6 hours I will be at home in my comfy chair watching the Tour de France with Tina the Cat.

*sigh*

First, there’s this flight to deal with.  Fortunately, I am sitting at the Emergency Exit meaning I get the bonus luxury of having extra leg space in which to stretch out and I am taking full advantage.  First up on my in-flight playlist of album is the ‘Mistress America‘ soundtrack.

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‘Mistress America’  is a 2015 comedy film directed by Noah Baumbach. It was written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, and stars Gerwig and Lola Kirke. The film was released on August 14th, 2015, by Fox Searchlight Pictures.  Never saw it myself though, and I’m not sure that I want to.  Seems kind of like a ‘chick flick’ if you ask me.  The soundtrack however intrigued me though as the original score is done by husband-wife duo Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips.

There are few other tunes on the album like Paul McCartney‘s ‘No More Lonely Nights‘, ‘Souvenir‘  by Orchestral Maneuvers In the Dark, and ‘You Could’ve Been A Lady‘ by Hot Chocolate.  I was more interested in the original Dean & Britta scores though.  Unfortunately, they sucked.

Big time.

With this soundtrack they took a more languid, acoustic approach that spoke to the film’s dramatic, melancholy story of divorce. For this lighthearted flick, they’ve gone for an ’80s synth pop vibe. In fact, with the percolating drum machines, analog synthesizers, and laser-toned bass, their music here sounds a lot like that of synth pop pioneers New Order, minus leader Bernard Sumner’s flat, yearning vocals and, well, coolness. At this point, I’m more or less just getting through it so I can get onto something else.

Total Shit List.

Sorry Dean.  Sorry Britta.

P.S.> Sorry about the last minute “crop dusting” through Gate A19. Calgary…I hope we can still be friends.

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Lounging at the Hotel

It’s been a pretty amazing day.  We started bright and early in Kelowna, BC and after an incredible All-U-Can Eat waffle breakfast at local Jammery, we road-tripped 785 kilometers across the Rocky Mountains through Yoho and Banff National Parks, stopping for a scenic hike at Wapta Falls, all the way here to Calgary, Alberta.  The scenic is breathtaking.  However, the funny thing is, after seeing deer nearly every day in Kelowna (honestly, these things are everywhere – grazing on front lawns, standing on city corners, crossing at intersections – shit, I have expected to see them queuing in line at Starbucks for frappuccinos), the only wildlife I saw for the entire seven hour drive was a crow, a goat and the backside of an elf.  Whoopee shit.

I also endured a near Fletcher Christian style mutiny in the van as my passengers rebelled at having to listen to the Jam On station on Sirius XM satellite; culture-less rubes.  It seems like the only bit of technology that they didn’t have instantly at their fingertips (ie. my radio) was the thing that they needed to also have control over; not that any of them were really listening with their noses pressed into their cell phones anyway.  But I digress; classic case of wanting what you can’t have I guess.

Anyway, the girls are zonked out now in the hotel room but I’m still wired from the drive so I’ve retired down to the hotel lobby to read a few more pages of my book, sip at a salvaged can of Okanagan Lager and listen to this ‘If I Was‘ album by The Staves.

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Somebody has definitely lit a fire under The Staves’ porch. The sister trio from the UK normally construct daydreams that trail along somewhere between The Corrs’ syrupy harmonies and early ’70s American folk, but here, they bite. ‘If I Was’  pushes into the rotten heart of moving on from heartbreak, aided by a producer who is a master of heartache himself, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.  One look at the song titles here, and it’s like you’re passing someone the match they’ll use to burn old love letters: ‘No Me, No You, No More‘, ‘Damn It All‘, and ‘Sadness Don’t Own Me‘. Unlike ‘Dead & Born & Grown’, the Staves’ 2012 debut, this album is 43 minutes of emotional pulverization.  Maybe not what I was initially looking for this evening but, hey, it’s still enjoyable listening.

The album was released in March of last year (2015) on Nonesuch Records.  The album was recorded in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, at Vernon’s April Base Studios – a former veterinary clinic where he also recorded his 2012 self-titled Bon Iver album.  The trio has since spent much of the past three years touring the world, including opening spots with the Civil Wars, Mumford & Sons, and Bon Iver.  In these new songs, the girls examine their seemingly endless touring by imagining what they have left behind rather than writing about endless highways, hotel rooms, and what they see in front of them. “The amount of time we’ve spent away from home has affected all our relationships,” states Emily. “And I don’t just mean boyfriends, but relationships with family and close friends and wider groups of mates, who you just have to get used to never seeing.  It can be difficult.  Writing about it all is necessary therapy in making sense of quite an unconventional life.”  That definitely resonates in these songs.

Opener ‘Blood I Bled‘ builds nicely over some military styled drumming and immediately sets the tone for the next forty minutes.  ‘No Me, No You‘ is the album’s most ethereal moment – a master class in understatement which magically bleeds into following number ‘Let Me Down‘, another highlight.  ‘Black And White‘ is a superb single ironically much closer to the likes of The Black Keys or Jack White (a name homage, perhaps?) than the group’s usual sound.  All jagged garage-rock guitar and pounding drum work – indeed, more rock from these girls would be a welcome thing.  A passionate and slow building ‘Sadness Don’t Own Me‘ ends things, it’s piano ditty leading one last set of ear pleasing melodies and background sounds.

Overall this is an album to be enjoyed in its entirety and proves a much more rewarding experience when doing so. I suggest doing just as I am doing, grab a comfy chair, wait for dusk and lose yourself completely.  And, hey, if you play it through your earbuds nobody will be none the wiser and bitch at you to change it to something else.

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Boyce-Gyro Beach

As if two hours of water slides, diving off diving boards, and playing aquatic basketball weren’t enough, I’m currently sitting at the Boyce-Gyro Beach down the road from out condo while other members of our crew are off at a winery somewhere.  Me?  I’m sipping a huge ass margarita on a beach between bouts of frisbee, reading and listening to the ‘Universal Themes‘  album by Sun Kil Moon.

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‘Universal Themes’  is the seventh album by the indie folk act known as Sun Kil Moon, released in June of 2015 on Caldo Verde Records.  The album was preceded by the singles, ‘The Possum‘, ‘Garden of Lavender‘ and ‘Ali/Spinks 2‘, and features contributions from Sonic Youth drummer and Benji collaborator Steve Shelley.

On, ‘Benji’ (see link above), Kozelek took a confessional approach and just ran with it, splaying open his brain and heart to pour out all the nasty details about dead family members, being afraid of serial killers, and going down on two girls as a 12-year-old. While it was still able to find joy among the unfairness of life, Benji certainly wasn’t pretty – at least not all of the time.  ‘Universal Themes’  continues this trajectory, but with an increased rawness in the subject matter.

Maybe not ideal beach music, but I too am choosing to run with it.

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Thanks Nic!

It might be one of the most in-the-moment albums ever made, as if Kozelek vomited words about everything that’s gone on his life since ‘Benji’  right as it was all happening, kicked the ass of a few chords until they fit around the lyrics, called over buddy Shelley to lay down some drums, then cut it all to tape.

Brilliant.

The Possum‘, takes place before, during, and after a Godflesh gig on April 20th, 2014. ‘The Birds of Films‘ chronicles Kozelek’s discomfort with playing himself in an Italian film that would go on to later premier at Cannes, and the closer ‘This Is My First Day and I’m an Indian and I Work at a Gas Station‘  ends with his and Ben Gibbard’s acoustic set at Noise Pop earlier that year.  Elsewhere, he skewers his aging fanbase (again) in ‘Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues‘, gets depressed about dead plants on ‘Garden of Lavender‘, and takes a distracted trip to New Orleans with his girlfriend in ‘Ali/Spinks 2‘. Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every one of Kozelek’s bittersweet adventures goes off on countless detours where he ruminates on the character actor Steve Railsback, Gomez concerts, and a million other things amidst the central, bigger-picture topics.

Does ‘Universal Themes’  tend to ramble?  Fuck yes.  But I love it.  It’s like listening to someone’s musical diary that recounts every mundane detail of an otherwise boring and uneventful life…assuming of course that this kind of weird shit happens to everyone, which I believe it does.

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Relaxing in Kelowna

It’s been nearly one week here in Kelowna, BC and we’re definitely getting into the easy-going West Coast mentality.  Last night I was schooled in the popular frat game “Beer Pong” which, interestingly enough, has evolved significantly from my own alma mater days when we would just toss a ping pong ball into a plastic cup and force our opponents to drink.  Now, there’s an entire rule book that must be observed with so many conditions and guidelines that I got drunk just having them explained to me.  Oh well.

Later today we’re visiting the H2O Center for some fun recreational time with the crew and later, we’ll hit up the beach.  But right now, I’m enjoying a little downtime after breakfastwith my book, a coffee and the ‘Pieces of the Sky‘ by EmmyLou Harris.

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‘Pieces of the Sky’  is EmmyLou’s second studio album, released in February of 1975 through Reprise Records.  However, it became the album that launched her career and is still widely considered to be her début.

The album includes Harris’ first high-charting Billboard country hit, the #4 ‘If I Could Only Win Your Love‘, and the relatively low-charting #73 ‘Too Far Gone‘ (originally a 1967 hit for Tammy Wynette). The overall song selection was varied and showed early on how eclectic Harris’ musical tastes were.  In addition to her own ‘Boulder to Birmingham‘ (written for former singing partner Gram Parsons, who had died the previous year), she included the Merle Haggard classic ‘The Bottle Let Me Down‘, the Beatles’ ‘For No One‘, and Dolly Parton’s ‘Coat of Many Colors‘ (Parton, in turn, covered ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ on her 1976 album ‘All I Can Do’).  On Shel Silverstein’s ‘Queen Of The Silver Dollar‘, her friend and occasional collaborator Linda Ronstadt sings harmony.

Furthermore, the album boats quite the cavalcade of talent, including former Elvis sidemen James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, and Ron Tutt along with guests like Ricky Skaggs, fiddler Richard Greene, and pianist Bill Payne of Little Feat.

Cool, right?

So, despite my easy-going mood and ambiance at the moment, there’s lots of shit going on here to enjoy on my little couch here at our rented condo this morning.  I cold get used to this…

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Flight WS513 from Toronto to Kelowna (Part 2)

We’re two hours in, half way to our destination and HRH  is making faces into her iPad thingee; God knows why.  Oliver Stone she definitely is not.  Kelly is engrossed in a sad movie and is sobbing to herself and I can only wonder what the other passengers are making of this whole spectacle going on in our row.  I’m choosing to pretend that I notice none of it by keeping my nose in my book and continuing on with the mellow tunes, this time ‘The Phosphorescent Blues‘  by The Punch Brothers.

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Released last year (2015) and aided by producer T-Bone Burnett – that auteur of Americana acoustica, who previously worked with the band on his soundtrack for the Coen brothers’ folkie saga ‘Inside Llewyn Davis‘ – the Punch Brothers indulge themselves in impressionism on their fourth full-length, having the guts to open with a ten-minute suite that plays a bit like the fourth side of a double-vinyl from 1971 (‘Familiarity‘). It also performs a nifty trick of sorting out the true believers. If the coziness of the title feels like a knowing joke, as it certainly doesn’t follow conventional contours – grabs a listener’s attention with its elliptical ebb and flow, chances are the rest of the record will play smoothly as it dips into Debussy and scrapes by Scriabin, taking longer to linger on sunshine harmonies lifted from the Beach Boys than it does to revive an old string stomp like ‘Boll Weevil‘ that plays later on in the album.  Then there’s ‘I Blow It Off’ and I’m all like: what the fuck is this?  The Byrds reunited?  A new Brian Wilson song?  Just over three minutes, it’s effervescence and agility, harmonies and quirkiness reminded me of a Beatles’ single.

As you will quickly learn, backwoods and front-porch picking never were the Punch Brothers’ thing, making it’s inclusion into my Twing-Twang classification a rather, well, difficult and dodgy one at best.  You seem they’re happily urban sophisticates that makes leader Chris Thile‘s second group Nickel Creek appear to be purists, and the success of this album lies in how they cheerfully embrace the well-manicured sophistication that comes with the territory where the air is rarefied. The Punch Brothers sound as comfortable nimbly skipping through classical pieces as they do creating oddly shaped bluegrass-prog – and as they do creating sparkling pop miniatures like ‘Magnet‘  and ‘Between 1st and A‘.  By both capturing and fusing these two sides, ‘The Phosphorescent Blues‘  stands as a defining record for an admittedly restless band.

It’s certainly an interesting listen; of the most original albums I have heard in a long time actually.  As I’ve already eluded to, it seamlessly blends bluegrass, jazz, classical, pop and even hints at rock to produce a sound that is unlike anything I have heard before.

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