Author Archives: Phil

Cat Power: Moon Pix

Cat Power: Moon Pix (1998)

Phil: A handful of winters ago I met up with an old roommate of mine at a Belgian beer bar for happy hour that happened to have half-off Belgian draughts from 4:30 to 6:30. So there we were, in the glow of yellow lights and green carpet, talking about those kids we hadn’t seen in forever, about ex-girlfriends and abandoned buildings and photographs, just getting pretty damn drunk. So I walk out of the bar, and stumble the few blocks to the bus station, trying to make sure I don’t miss the 500 because it’s pretty damn cold and I get to the bus stop and of course I miss the bus because I’ve been drinking and have completely lost track of time so I put on my headphones not remembering which damn album I left in my walkman and

there it was. I wrote about it then:

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Filed under 1990s, Blues, Folk

The Microphones: The Glow pt. 2

The Microphones: The Glow, Pt. 2 (2001)

Phil: I don’t remember the first time I heard Phil Elvrum’s (now Elverum, see his interview with The Believer) masterpiece of separation and personal discovery, but I can say I have listened to this album several times in several different contexts and it stands apart as one of the finer releases of the Pacific Northwest’s Indie scene.

A friend of mine once told me she thought that every Microphones album sounded like the band practiced for four days straight without sleeping and then recorded. Production on Microphones records is almost always arrestingly simple and childlike, like no one cares if vocal tracks clip and distort or if the hard-panned guitars aren’t really in time. And Phil Elverum’s a smart guy. He could make everything line up just so if he really wanted to, but this approach to the recording process is either calculated naivete or an attention to something else altogether.

What’s important to Phil Elverum? Like any good artist, he seems to be concerned with expression; if this album was tight, in tune and clean, it would be a completely different statement. It would be an album about intentionally working through intense personal muck instead of an album about wandering around in a fog (or glow, if you will) of uncertainty, occasionally tripping over something transcendent but mostly thinking about uncertainty and its aftereffects.

“I Felt My Size” (far from my favorite track on the album) stands, in my mind, as the prime example of most of the elements that make this album exactly what it is. It starts with Elverum’s voice and guitar right up front in the mix with some noise in the very back, sounding very…Northwesty…until the drums come in and they’re just so gd compressed that you can hardly tell what they’re supposed to sound like. And then we get some weird auxiliary noises until the group choir comes in and tells us that Phil is not a planet at all, that he has found his place in the universe and it is certainly not much of one. So you have the sound of someone understanding that the universe does not really much care for them (a theme explored in the following LP Mount Eerie) and it sounds unsettling.

I think this album is unsettling because it is an unsettled album. It’s for grey days and feeling like you don’t have a clue and need to feel like somebody has gone through this all before. And so many have, but few have communicated it as well as Phil Elverum on this here album.

Glenn: I completely agree with you, Phil. This album always sounds just out of earshot — and that is unsettling. There are those albums I know by heart, from first note to last fade. London Calling, Astral Weeks, Kind of Blue, Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, Abbey Road. But, for me, this album is more like The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Exile on Main Street, Amnesiac, and Camofleur: each listen is like the first listen, and something new comes to the front. The Glow Pt. 2 is perhaps the album I love best that I know least. There is something distant, almost unknowable about the album — fog, as Phil puts it.

Yet the mystical quality of the album seems steeped in the real world. For example, see “The Moon,” my favorite Microphones song. A glance at the lyrics shows it to be a straightforward narrative. But the childlike production is what makes the song poignant. Only so often do lyrics lines emerge clearly through the haze of guitars: “We walked around and stayed up late….And the wind and the mountaintop….My chest was full….And in its light I saw my two feet on the ground.” The fragments of story are more meaningful than the story itself, because you, the listener, must do the work to make sense of the song.

Phil: I’d be willing to cut “The Mansion”; I think it’s a really good lyrical centerpiece to the fog/glow of the album, but the title track is pretty stinking awesome.

Glenn: I’ve always thought that the song “The Glow, Pt. 2” would sound good arranged for brass quintet. Dig a French horn on that gorgeous vocal melody.

In fact, that’s maybe what we’re getting at in this conversation. This record glows with fog, but underneath it all lie solid melodies and good lyrics. Which is more than you can say about any other Microphones or Mount Eerie release (sorry, Phil; sorry, Phil).

Key tracks:

“I Want Wind To Blow”
“The Glow, Pt. ii”
“The Moon”
I Felt My Size

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Filed under 2000s, Experimental, Psychedelic, Rock

Who is this man

Its how you float that matters

It's how you float that matters

Simon Joyner – “The Drunken Boat” from Out Into the Snow (2009)

Pardon my absence once again, but you don’t want excuses, you want results.

What we have here is an anomaly, an anachronism, a man out of time. A Billy Pilgrim, if you will. The warm sound of tape, the warm lap steel,the electric guitar tone, the mumbling juxtaposition of Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen and Dylan, the strings seemingly lifted right from the end of Astral Weeks. It’s all here. Everything about this song (especially the production!) screams “I was written and recorded in 1976!”

But no! This album came out last month! And it makes me wonder how albums (or songs) use production values to present themselves as something else entirely.  How much of the irresistible charm of this nine-and-a-half minute epic is due to its built-in nostalgia? Would Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire be as irresistible as this song if it sounded like it was recorded in the 1970s?

These are the questions I have for you, gentle reader. Please listen and consider and respond.

Also please buy this record because you want to

Posted by Phil

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Filed under 2000s, Folk, Singer-Songwriter

Drumkit favorites, part ii

I know, right?

I know, right?

Elbow – “Grace Under Pressure” from Cast of Thousands [2003]

Hey kids, don’t you love britpop?  I do.  At least sometimes.  You know, when it’s great and reminds you of summer and driving cars and having the windows open and being young and powerful. Elbow has always surprised me with all the sensitivity britpop should have combined with really thoughtful production and great performances. And with that:

THIS DRUMKIT SOUND RULES. It’s full and kinetic, frenetic and jerky and propels this simple little song about believing in love and giving the finger to the world a drastically different energy than the sleepy little intro.

My favorite britpop moments include the band Elbow, the first two Doves records, and A Rush of Blood to the Head.  Yours?

Buy it here

Posted by Phil

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Filed under 2000s, Pop, Rock

“I’m sure that it’s hard being you”

Sketch by Rodolphe Guenoden

Sketch by Rodolphe Guenoden

Clem Snide – “The Curse of Great Beauty” from The Ghost of Fashion [2001]

Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay is almost too literate to be taken seriously.  But he’s just so damned clever. I think this song is not necessarily a great introduction to the band’s sound, but I can’t get this song out of my head, so I unleash it to the blog-public. It’s a masterpiece of understatement; almost strictly vocals on top of a little organ warble.  Check out all of Your Favorite Music for a better sense of why Clem Snide is so good.

Clem Snide’s got a new album out. They’re on tour.

Buy it here

Posted by Phil

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Filed under 2000s, Rock, Singer-Songwriter

Harmonica Favorites, Pt. 3

Yes.  Yes, please.

Yes. Yes, please.

Talk Talk – “The Rainbow” from Spirit of Eden [1988]

Talk Talk used to be another Duran Duran until they holed up in a church and refused to let EMI hear anything from their fourth LP (Spirit of Eden).  Imagine, if you will, a horrified record executive listening to this commercially unpalatable nonsense, flabbergasted at a lack of anything resembling a single and no way to put on a successful world tour.

In any case, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock (their final LP) are important records, the products of fertile and talented musical imaginations (most notably that of Mark Hollis), records that transcend genre and time.  If someone put out this record last year, it would be hailed as a triumph.  If they had put this album out in the seventies, it would be a hidden gem.

But this is a post about harmonicas, and I have never heard a harmonica sound like this.  All distorted and anguished and writhing, a beast of a thing, a perfect introduction to this brilliant “fuck you” of an album.  I mean seriously, harmonicas from a band that used to be just another new wave band?  Brilliant.

Buy it here

Posted by Phil

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Filed under 1980s, Experimental, Jazz, Post-rock, Prog Rock

Humble Acceptance

Moaned and groaned and rolled my bones

Moaned and groaned and rolled my bones

Marquis de Tren and Bonny Billy – “81” from Get on Jolly [2000]

Many apologies for my lack of input on the old blogosphere. I’ve been in the middle of an intra-city move and a job switch, so the last month or two have been pretty stupid busy. But I have been listening to some good musics and found a bunch of represses in Chicago (Sam Cooke at the Harlem! Can you believe it?).

In any case, it’s February and I’m sort of sad and I can’t stop listening to this song. I picked up this cd in Indianapolis at Luna Music maybe a year ago and just started listening to it in November. It’s everything a great collaboration should be in that it highlights the strengths of each participant and allows both players to push the other creatively. Since I’m a stupid fan of Mick Turner (the Marquis de Tren, for this album) and I quite enjoy Will Oldham‘s stuff, it makes perfect sense for me to get into this collaboration.

Regardless, Oldham does some amazing things with these words and melodies, dovetailing them into Turner’s heartbreaking acceptance of Oldham’s offering. This song wrecks me. And I’m completely okay with it.

Hope you enjoy this one.

Posted by Phil

Buy it here

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Filed under 2000s, Experimental, Folk