"Quitters" Never Quits (i couldn't resist)

Gorgeous simplicity can calm storms; like a good bourbon it can help you forget your worries for a bit, turn your stress inside out and let you walk while you were crawling.  Maybe you were aimless, and you still are, but you hear Lauren O'Connell and you find it comforting to know someone around you isn't.  Perhaps you lost sight of things.  Listening to her won't give you your sight back (she's not jesus) but you may forget for a time that you can't see.  

She has the kind of voice that makes you take your ipod off of shuffle.  The kind of inflection that makes chairs turn on The Voice.  A subtle rasp that reassures your concern of sonorous maturity.  At this point I've already grabbed my dancing shoes - who doesn't like a good cover song now and again?  Like a good red wine, a 30-year scotch, perhaps a fine aged cheddar cheese you can feel and experience the time spent lingering in Lauren's songs.  It's been said she's done her time sitting in chairs getting her start in coffee houses riding around Rochester, NY with a guitar and, well, that's just about it.  I would imagine the musical simplicity left too much room for ghosts and, bound for California (as we all are at heart), she burnt her old house down and now we've found ourselves here at Quitters with a full band, piano and a seriously professional sound.    

Not the typical scratchy pulled together sound of bandcamp recorded in someone's mom's bathroom, clearly there's some professional influence here.  I hear Ben Gibbard, Norah Jones, Tori Amos, Wilco and even a little Bob Dylan.  I guess it's no surprise she's done some notable covers of some of these artists.  

Sometimes music gets busy and it's great.  Like in the end of If Found/Gravity, a lot of things are happening, opportunities building, progress mounting, relationships developing, events bouncing and working off of one another.  But all of the sudden you notice the track has changed when you remember old times, old friends, old spots, old thoughts.  Your pants now have holes at the knees, the books you loved are dusty in the basement.  Things get quiet and you can hear your own heart again.  It weighs your decisions rightly with nothing to hide your blemishes.  In this way, to give the heart an open forum to speak can be brutal.  But without it you can't find that clean musical sense and you lose your way.

This is what music like Lauren's is for.  Like all good acoustic/folk/alt country/intelligent rock there is a touch of melancholy unresolved, a grief explored, love lost, slow groove, tasty but subtle choices and a leading intimate voice breaking open a theatre for musical feeling and inviting you in to the story.  The story is why I want to keep listening to this girl.

LOTS of time spent talking and groove-rocking with JG HYMNS

Who ever thought that "hymns" and "cool" could find themselves intentionally and undecidably electronically embossed over a tasty conversationally-thick-spread sentence?  A fellow by the name of Jon Green has endeavored to make it so.  Our generation generally would not choose to spend a hard-earned $10 or so on a cover charge to hear and see traditional hymns performed.  Call us superficial and uncultured (not to mention cheap) but we have a hard time not associating hymns with dry, boring, tight-fisted religion handed down to us by our seemingly guilt-ridden ancestors.  Doesn't sound very cool.  JG HYMNS clearly disagrees and when you take a look past all the dusty, dysfunction-caked annals of the catholic and christian institutional church you see these gorgeous poetical masterpieces which talk of heart-deep relational experience with a person and they call that person "god".  Spend even a few minutes with a few of the more famous ones and you see that they are unmistakably beautiful works.  

JG HYMNS helps dust off these fine pieces of art to see them for what they are; sans misguided church dogma and off-center historical bad choices and negative personal associations.  I had the opportunity to interview JG himself and ask him first hand about his music and his neighborhood in Scotland.  Unfortunately I wasn't too keen on the skype recording technology so the entire interview was fairly worthless but we should still add it to the annals of the king that it did in fact happen.  

Life happens; you may have been burnt by a church or, more accurately, a person in a church in one way or another.  Maybe in a small way, maybe in a large way considering the recent press the catholic church in particular has received.  But church, people and God are all different things.  The former two, broken.  The latter you may have your thoughts on and so do the folks who wrote hymns...and so does JG HYMNS.

However, even if you can put your church and hymn associations away for a moment and put on your listening caps for some simply gorgeous melodies, harmonies and creative instrumentation - you are in for a treat.  From a few listenings, my favs are not actually hymns but songs written by JG.  "Deborah" became my fast favorite, firing off synapses in my brain that drew me to dream of Radiohead and Muse infused with a bit of samba, Mexican hat dancing and oh yes, Alt J.  I smile while listening and that's always my first line of song/album evaluation: do I want to keep listening?   

I'd also recommend "Funeral Song" do give you an idea of the slow groovy-creative side of JG.

The answer is yes: Mr. Green plays the trumpet, guitar, takes care of some of the percussion, does the recording, beautifies the multi-track vocals and even answers emails (like mine).  I'm boasting about him, but you'd never find him boasting about himself - heck - you might not even know he's this talented or even that he plays music at all if you got into a conversation with him on the street or in one of Edinburgh's many fine pubs.  Perhaps he'd be talking politics or sports at The Dome, The Last Drop or The Tron.  Though he clearly wouldn't be afraid to delve into the reckless humanity of an unloved wife, a recent death, a secret spilled, humility challenged, grief in extended suffering (or griefs made to sing), the fleeting nature of possessions and the list goes on and on and could be longer than the table of contents in a typical hymnal.

Put this album on high volume with your best speakers and turn up the BASS.  A good pair of headphones will do you well.  Thanks for the history lesson, JG, and the electronic treat-filled tunes.  The next time JG is playing in a pub in Edinburgh, it's Edinburgh OR BUST for this reviewer.


The White Album: Drinks in Copenhagen

the white album (the band from Copenhagen, not The Beatles album)
If Mumford & Sons found themselves stranded on a desert island with Jack, Sawyer, Lock, Kate, Sayid and Bon Iver and together they pooled their creative emotional resources and fashioned a societal structure comprised of all that a human community would need to survive including but not limited to food, shelter and love then the band The White Album would have emerged from the next generation on that desert island provided, of course, that Claire's ability to birth a child pulled through for the original inhabitants of the desert isle.

If you haven't seen every single episode of LOST then you may not understand and may be tempted to under appreciate the previous ridiculous run-on sentence.  The summary:  The White Album sounds like Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons.  Of course, these guys are from Copenhagen and although they do their best to hide their accents when they're singing like many European artists, their Denmark-ness shines through fairly cleanly especially considering the above pic.

One of their videos on YouTube (not shown below) captures their vibe showing the band playing in a field (of corn?) with misty and tranquil sunlight ambiently imposing on the background, occasionally filling the camera lens with nothing but white; pure white light refracting and fluxing in and around subtly groovy depictions of slight human tragedy, relational warnings of failure and complication of simple love.  Their live video below gives you can idea of their approach...

That complication can be tough to pallet; difficult to digest.  "As She Drinks" follows a woman in the middle of a tipsy evening, alludes to a peaceful romance and offends no one.  A rougher side of "drinking" is revealed in verse two when a loss of human control is admitted in the wake of an alcoholic trance mimicked by trance-sounding distortions from who-knows-what kind of instrument or electronic addition.

Simple.  Clean.  Folk.  Beards.  Welcome to Copenhagen, featuring The White Album.  

TWO new sufjan stevens songs saunter even farther from the norm

Sufjan IS actually on bandcamp though these two songs I will now refer to are not...

If basing an entire album off of a little known and mostly scary "prophet" wasn't offbeat enough for you wild and smart Sufjan Stevens (or Rosie Thomas) fans, these two songs are sure to at least keep the offbeat moving further in the "off" direction:

Clearly Sufjan is pushing his own genre boundaries but who's complaining?  

Feeling Low With Brendan Losch

The ever popular line, "drove to Chicago" will be timeless soon enough.  A great city, a clean city, good pizza.  Whilst in Chicago, look up Brendan Losch.  As with all the bands I review, he's the kind of artist you simply want to keep listening to.  Or, the kind of artist to which you want to keep listening.  I guess.

Embracing the lonely nature of being human.  According to Losch, merely by being a "being" we are separated from other "beings" and therefore exposed to the ruthlessness of loneliness.  Somehow we have to come to grips with this looming philosophical idea of alone.  It seems some song lyrics contradict others:  you're never alone.  Three songs later, I'm on my own.  One song later, Everything you've ever known has left you alone.  I guess that dual nature is reflective of experience; a time for never being alone, a time for being alone.

I'm not going to bother listing comparable bands or artists.  It's the kind of music you've heard in your right brain your whole life.  Now you've actually found what you've been listening to all along.  The words don't matter.  In this situation it's better just to listen and go from there.  I'd recommend starting with Time Stood Still.

I'd also recommend listening while driving out into the country sitting in the back of an early 90's station wagon lying down facing out the back, looking up at the trees from underneath as they go passing by.  Scratched paint, rust over the wheels, one hubcap missing never to be replaced.  Preferably with some friends you like headed to a place you like where you have some memories from childhood where you can eat some good cheese and red wine and throw a frisbee.  Long pants, a t-shirt, sandals and cheap old sunglasses you can't even remember where you bought.  That's what I picture.

Ambient tones and slow, simple progressions haunt the ethereal and groovy flow of this album.  I truly mean this is as a compliment that I want to listen to this album while asleep.  I want my dreams to follow suit and I want to happily travel through this smooth, dreamy beautiful musical lo-fi world in a way that only a dream could process, flip and verbalize into something truly creative - wild yet somehow understandable and even likable.  How many times have I woken up from a gorgeous dream wishing I could go back to the world my subconscious mind created.  It didn't even make sense but existential hopes were nonetheless explored, portrayed, experienced and enjoyed.

Sip your wine, savor your cheese.  Pick up that frisbee...you're not alone.

Take Care: Daniel Dixon and the Ultimate Portland Experience

Portland continues to be a land of talented misfits shaping the course of modern music.  Daniel Dixon pokes his head out of the hoard of talented underestimated musicians crowding western Oregonian streets.

The ultimate Portland experience (I perhaps erroneously assume) is to sit in a coffee shop on a rainy day talking with the 20/30-somethings about some hipster ideal, some political idealogy, or a new cool indie band.  I'll forsake the former two and focus on the latter though I'd make a lousy hipster (couldn't bring myself to wear skinny jeans) and I only drink starbucks coffee.  That's not true (I mean about the coffee).

There's nothing attention seeking about Daniel's music but even in the simplest evaluation, I just want to keep listening.  The next story; the next line.  A new image.  To me, this is modern indie folk at its best.  No need to shy away from distorted vocals, wild pictures, grim realities, roughed-up experiences.  Daniel's progressions are patient and progress on a calm time table.  If he wants to take two minutes to groove with a simple guitar line and some reverb, then he does.  Casting Away could be the anthem of 98% of Portland's young hipster crowd:

    it's hard to get ahold of yourself
     this late in the game
     but someday i'll do good
     i'll put my hand to the plow
     and choose the thing i know i should

Agreed, Daniel, agreed.  Sans skinny jeans, throw me into that coffee shop on a rainy Saturday and right now I couldn't think of a better song to push through my headphones while catching up on the latest issue of Scientific American or whatever publication might be able to interest a wandering mind.  I'll wander on down the list of tracks to Rest On You:

    and there's so many whisperings
     about how i should be living
     and i'm so tired of the fight
     i can't keep my eyes open
     can't see where i'm going
     and i just want to rest on you

This would be anthem #2 for the post-college 20/30 something who graduated right into the recession, was forced to re-align hopes of a thriving career, and move into the city in search of...well...maybe a job and a cup of coffee and perhaps a new pair of skinny jeans.

Track 8 makes me picture a park on the other side of town and everyone has made arrangements to be there for a cook-out family reunion.  It's been years since the whole family has been together.  The kids have grown, the adults have weathered well, but weathered nonetheless.  Gray hairs are now tough to hide; earned through experience: the things you thought would be small instead kept rest from your eyes.  You want everyone to know you, to see how you've changed, to appreciate and respect how you've matured and to want your opinion - be interested in your new ideas.  You all secretly love each other but the word is never mentioned.  Dysfunction hangs in the air.  Words referenced about past misunderstood events and situations that are too late to explain and too serious to talk about without a licensed family psychologist to weigh in and without a handful of tissues to mop up unforgiven tears long left sleepless and alone.  Almost inappropriately the park is gorgeous, the food is delicious and you try not to think about how much you'll miss everyone.  Everyone.  After the day is over you drive home smiling with sandy bare feet.

Singing Trees and Broken Bodies: Indie Band Geology

After listening to his first EP, Geology, who would have guessed this guy (Greg Jehanian) was straight out of the poetry-screaming, hard-rocking eccentric now-quartet, mewithoutyou?  His earlier songs hint at influences as mainstream as Ben Gibbard (death cab for cutie) and The Decemberists however the offbeat is still present both lyrically and musically - reminiscent of our good indie friend Sufjan Stevens.  The newer songs add The Shins to the influential list and a more low-key indie rock feel.  Geology loves trees, love songs, creative rhythms, charming lo-fi harmonies and a wide array of melodic biblical references.

Like all good music, Geology's songs explore human experience: strumming strings, pushing diaphragmatic air past vocal cords, pounding keys and hitting just about anything that just so happens to be in the room at the time of recording to capture even just one tiny little seed of a new thought about the tension between God and man in Geology's case.  A broken body and a perfect invisible being - a beautiful yet busted view - a tall and strong yet dying tree - a variety of conflicted characters starving to verbalize some hard-earned learned truth.

Their most recent EP, The Neighboring Sea, makes me picture a fast-forwarded offbeat nature film showing the formation of a new planet (if such a thing were possible.  it's science).  90% of the film is rough-edged rocky crags, volcanic ash, fiery center-of-planet lava crashing into the bottom of new ocean ridges buried miles under salted, sulfuric (neighboring) seas.  Inhospitable to any kind of life.  Dissonant lo-fi eletro vibes, a distant vocal presence and sounds that comes from unidentified sources.  But the entire purpose of the film is to create a context for the 10%:  the beautiful, green, life and biodiversity-filled ending humanity is hoping for in our minutes, days, summers, childhoods, years and lifetimes.  Some kind of pretty redemption - not one that denies all the wild violence that came before, but one that fulfills it; redeems it.  Makes it all makes sense.

Just like the ending to the song Arboretum on The Neighboring Sea, I'll end this review suddenly on that open-ended note.