Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Otra Cosa

Otra Cosa
Julieta Venegas

I figured out recently why it is I enjoy Julieta Venegas' current set of records so much. She makes willing pop music, with a bit of a wistful air. I'd compare it to Ingrid Michaelson, if I liked any of her records. I'd compare it to Sarah Bareilles, again, if I liked her record. You remember her. She's the one who's not going to write you a love song cos you need it, etc. To be fair, I do like that song. But the rest of the album, much like everything Michaelson has done, is too empty. If there were a strong breeze, these albums would be blown away.

And that's just fine. A lot of people like that. And I'm sure more than a few people would chastise me for saying their songs are without heft. The appeal of Ingrid Michaelson seems to be that her words are "confessional," which has lately seemed to be code for "tactless." I like "Love Song" because Bareilles wrote it to her record company when they asked her to write a hit single for the album. So she gave them a single, a big one, telling them to fuck off. Which is a nice way to go about it, really. Usually, these women, and 99% of men are guilty of it as well, forget to have a sense of humour.

The point of this is that Venegas is a Spanish version of these young ladies. She's a bit older than either of them, but she's in that same vein, of crafting pop music for the masses. I should find her ingratiating, shallow, witless, and impossible. Fortunately for both Venegas and myself, she doesn't sing in English, so, unless I pay attention, I barely know what she's saying, and we both like it that way. So there you have it. I am capable of just enjoying a nice tune, despite what most of my friends will tell you.

The trick, as it turns out, is to make it so I can't understand a word you're saying.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Anatomy of a Song: Fool's Day

Yesterday, Blur released "Fool's Day," the first song they've recorded as a four-piece since 2003's "Battery in Your Leg." I was, of course, excited. Regrettably, the song was released as a Record Store Day single in the UK only, and it was limited to 1,000 copies. This is to say, it's already selling on e-bay for $230. No worries, I'm not considering it.

Let me explain why.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I've managed to listen to the song. They're even giving it away through their website, albeit as a shortened mp3 edit of the physical single. And in many ways, I wish I hadn't. The romance of not knowing what Blur's last song sounds like, the idea of always having that window open, is a powerful thing, and it would have kept me from feeling how I feel now. "Fool's Day" has usurped "Battery In Your Leg"'s position as the final song of the Blur catalogue (not counting b-sides).

Here's the thing; "Battery In Your Leg" was the last song on Think Tank, Blur's last album. It was also the last song they recorded as a group. The rest of the album didn't feature Graham Coxon anywhere. "Battery in Your Leg" has a strange melancholy to it, one that would become a bit of a hallmark for Albarn's later work, but which was new at the time. The lyrics speak in abstractions, but they allude to loss, and moving on, and the end of something important. There was, is, and will be no song better-suited to be Blur's epitaph than "Battery In Your Leg." It is one of their masterpieces.

"Fool's Day" is not a bad song. I cannot tell you "Fool's Day" is bad. But it's not good, either. It is admirable in that it manages to include some aspect of every phase Blur have gone through. That notion does leave me drooling at the possibilities of what Think Tank would have sounded like with Coxon around, but I wouldn't change anything. So few bands manage to go out on top form, and Blur certainly managed to do just that. I wasn't aware of them when they did so. But now I'm around to watch them fuck it up.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The best things in life, no matter what, are the little moments. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez makes reference to one of a pair of twins taking a sip of lemonade, and the other then commenting that it needs more sugar. The amount of energy in the chorus of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," despite such a simple melody. That great moment in Tokyo Story when the son, arriving after his ill mother has died, immediately kneels beside her and simply asks her to forgive his lateness. These are all things that overwhelm me, and they are all simple. What I have just listed are three of the reasons I think life is worth living, really. And they are the things that I aspire to in my own personal work.

There is a remarkable performance by k.d. Lang of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" on Youtube. I beg you to watch the whole thing. 4.44 in, there is one of those moments that makes life just exquisite.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Newsom at the Vic

On Saturday night, I saw Joanna Newsom perform the final date of her recent tour at the Vic Theatre. I've always admired her music more than I've enjoyed it, but the ticket was free, and I couldn't say no. I was curious to see how she would sound live, and, well, a show's a show. So why not.

She sounded superb. The whole band, throughout the show, displayed the kind of virtuosic musicianship which makes individuals like myself feel violently ill. For one, Newsom really is a superb harpist, and watching her fingers move along the strings was mesmerizing. I can't imagine playing such an instrument with that amount of skill. It's overwhelming.

I was caught off guard with how personable the whole band were. Newsom herself proved witty and genuinely funny; I found myself bored during the songs, waiting for the bits in between. There were many, many laughs to be had with the on-stage banter, all of it spinning out of the actions of the audience. That is to say, I wasn't listening to a script, and their joy in playing was infections.

One point I'd like to suggest; on her next tour, Newsom should look at playing proper theatres, with seats. The majority of the audience was facing the stage and standing stone still. Throughout the show, mind you. Do to the social moors of pressure, I too spent the concert standing stone still, mostly out of fear for upsetting whatever balance was being striven for. I found it disconcerting, and exhausting. My legs were tired beyond all reckoning, despite the manageable length of the concert. And just a few days prior, I'd seen Spoon perform a two-hour concert, during which I was standing, but at least I was moving to the groove. Standing in one spot like that proved to be wearing. Plus, the audience was silent, which feels weird in a venue without seats. In a theatre, I'd presume silence to be the order of the day.