Friday, December 6, 2013


First things first, Lola is not her real name. When she came down to Nashville with nothing in hand but a bus ticket and a guitar missing three strings, with no plan except couch-surfing and playing open mic nights, she would introduce herself simply as "Lola." You would find this out because after her set you would inevitably go up to meet her for yourself. You would do this because she had an act that was so good it scared people. You won't hear another voice like this one. You won't hear song structures or opaquely personal lyrics quite like these. And you definitely won't hear another recording like the one I've linked below. Called I'm a cat, it is, frankly, one of the best indie music offerings I can name. If I had a rating system on Ear to the Rail, which I don't, this EP would be one of those rare tens.

The thing that makes an "artist," more than anything else, is a completely unaffected way way of seeing things just a little differently than the rest of us. Almost anytime someone causes us to look awry at the world, to cock our ear toward the speaker and say "I've never heard that before," we tend to like it. Oftentimes art seems to be a congenital condition, after all, it's hard to fake being stuck with a way of seeing everything from a tilted perspective. It's nice, though, when people sound this good doing it. This music is the chipped teacup, the unexpected face in the dark, the mustache on the Mona Lisa.

Lola's music is not always immediately approachable. It can be difficult to orient yourself with what you are hearing. And even once you've found your place, she keeps you perpetually off-center, shifting when you least expect it from a murderous cacophony of voices (all hers) to the occasionally breathtaking merger of sweet, almost innocent, harmony. Although her music is tonally challenging and at times rhythmically complex, it is not intellectualized. From the first chords of the opening track, "I am positivity," you will recognize this as pure heart music.

I'm resistant to the idea of making comparisons, but you might hear some of Bjork's Medulla in this particular recording--though I'm a cat allows more room for grit, even humor. Like Medulla, it's all acapella. (It is also a collaboration which occasionally features a handful of Nashville musicians called in to lend their parts.) Still, for my money, I'd pick this album over Medulla. I'd pick it over half my record collection if you want the truth.

I am a Cat
by I am Pazuzu:

She is still making new stuff. She's performed under various monikers, from "I am Pazuzu," to "A Parade." For her latest, check out "Cher Von."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Adam Burrows

One word you don't hear quite as much outside of Nashville is "songcraft." And when you do it usually predicates those mainstays in the singer/songwriter genre like Prine, Simon, and, depending on the decade, Dylan. But thanks to a movement that any of today's twenty and thirty-something Nashvillians will tell you is alive and well just east of the Cumberland, we are becoming reacquainted with this type of writing--and we like it. Burrows is just one of those newer artists who is helping this musical approach to reemerge among Nashville's indie crowd, along with Americana, Southern Rock, and just plain ol' Country (the kind that drinks PBR, not the kind that wears straw hats).

While it is not uncommon for a Nashville artist to have attended many a seminar on the art of songwriting, a real sense of story is not common enough in local writer's nights. And often when one does find it, it can be just a little too cute--a little hackneyed. In Borrows' music, however, you will find the genre in good form, offering you a narrative, a purpose, and also a melancholy that, while palpable, seems to emanate from a place that you can't quite pinpoint. What you'll also find in his songs is a thoughtfulness and an attention to structure that separates his turn of phrase from the many singer/songwriters who, while they may have the vocal chops, lack the same sense of metaphor; by comparison, these lesser lyricists leave you with the impression that you've heard something of little more substance than a loosely worded journal entry. (Hence the craft.) Apart from the heavy-hitting writers of the nineteen-seventies, you will no doubt be reminded of a few of the prominent artists from the last few decades who have made the effort to return to "roots" music. Of these, the Counting Crows might come to mind. Still, this is a one-man show. The guitar work is thoroughly competent--fluid even. The vocal is plaintiff without being overly emotional, strained just enough to make its case, which is a good sign, since any message worth saying out loud is worth the concern of the one saying it.

You can find his album here:

In particular, check out "Just Another Adam," "Camden," and "Alone."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Brad Sweitzer

Whenever I try to get people to appreciate "classical" music, I always tell them to approach it the way I learned: follow the melody actively, consciously, trace the contour as it moves along, and if the lines don't seem to resolve when you think they should, hang on a little longer until you're able to make the connection; but above all, chew the phrases. Some music needs a chance to sink in before you decide what you think of it. So it is with Brad's words. In one song he might pull in a half dozen seemingly disparate themes, and despite the actual phonetics having a music of their own--despite making connections of my own--I can't help but often wonder, "What makes this song a cohesive whole?"  "What's tying this together?"

These are both questions I'm happy not to answer. The takeaway is this:  There is always something in Brad's words just beyond what you can readily grasp; there's something intangible about each song, but it's in these in-between spaces that the lyrics really come alive. The "reveal" is always subtle, often obscure, and this lack of concrete message brings with it a sense of longing--something you don't quite get to take with you.  For a minute, you might have it, but you can't quite keep it.  It's good stuff.

Take "Olive" for example.  (I've included it as one of the sample tracks.) You're going to hear romance, self-calumny, Christ, betrayal, and for those of you who doubt the sexual innuendo--even after "suck on me beneath a tree"--I'll ask you this: What is a "sting"? What is "honey"? And who is this Olive anyway?  I think even without nailing down every last question you'll still get something great out of giving this track a serious listen.

But before we get to "Olive," check out these two others (one of them is fairly short).  I'll let them speak for themselves.




Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Amicus certus in re incerta cernitur

If you want to know the truth, I listen mostly to my friends. Now right away we can ask, "Is this because somehow by knowing these people personally I'm able to connect with some 'extra' meaning in the music they produce?" You know what--I won't try to deny that this element may be present, but I have to maintain that a huge part, probably the main part, of the appeal is that I just happen to know a bunch of really talented folks. So I'm not about to pull my hair out wondering if some "added context" accounts for the allure of the music. I really don't think that's the case; besides, when do we ever completely remove the context from the music we listen to? I'd argue that we can't, and insofar as we really get into a particular artist we often "know" them to some degree. Right?

The upshot is this: After a hiatus, I'm back at it again. But expect a change in format. Expect also, that you will hearing some of the best stuff yet.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Of all the bands I listen to Ween is easily the hardest to talk about. They are one of those bands you just have to "get," and it's a task that many folks simply aren't up to. Made up of two guys who operate under the pseudonyms "Dean and Gene Ween," we are talking about a band that started out recording unbelievably raunchy albums on a four track and playing shows with just the two of them and a DAT machine to signing with Elektra and releasing a series of albums where they deliberately defied any specific genera by dint of their ability to completely master all of them. But they never reach the point where imitation is mere kitsch, however; somehow they always "mean it" in their own way, and, knowingly or not, seem to thread their chameleonlike oeuvre with an element that is distinctly, well, Ween. It's weird.

There simply is no pinning these guys down.  Those who don't take to Ween perhaps find their amorphism to be too much without center. But for the die hard fans, which seem to be the only kind, it is the spontaneity and the playfulness which makes up a huge part of the appeal. Gene's infinitely versatile vocals pair perfectly with the band's musical sensibility, which crosses back and forth over the line between being satirical and completely sincere. There is indeed a lot of irony in their music, and a lot of humor too. Just when you think they are hitting on something really profound, there is always the chance that they're making fun of you. But, the fact is, the raucous humor just makes the sweet songs sweeter, simply because you know that it all comes from the same source.

It is almost impossible to decide which songs to post here since more than any band, Ween seems to need a hermeneutic approach which almost requires listening to the whole catalogue. But what the hey. Here are four tunes and two jingles.

"Take Me Away"-

"Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain"-
Just when it looked like Ween might be about to carve out a comfortable place among the mainstream alternative bands they released a country album.  Here is one of the many gems from that record.

"Stroker Ace" (live)-

"The Argus"-

"Where'd the Cheese Go"-
Written after they were commissioned by Pizza Hut to write a jingle for their new "stuffed crust" pizza.

"Where'd the Mutha^%&^*! Cheese Go"-
Written after Pizza Hut rejected their first jingle.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom has a very specific element to her sound which I like; and while not everything she's produced quite resonates with me, the stuff of hers that's good is profoundly good.  So while there's just one album that in my humble opinion really hits the mark, I also think it should be required listening for anyone with a heart.  Ys (pronounced "eesh") is her second record, and actually features arrangements from Van Dyke Parks, a legend in his own right, who famously collaborated with Brian Wilson in writing the words to Smile.  His contribution to Ys is a huge part of the appeal, in fact, I can't imagine myself initially digging as deeply into this album without his presence.  He plays the orchestra with a felicity that you don't often hear in run-of-the-mill movie score type orchestration.  Not only are his arrangements tense and otherworldly, but he also meets the challenge of writing for songs which go on for thirteen minutes plus, somehow keeping things not only interesting, but "can't-look-away good."  While Parks is undoubtedly a necessary component, he isn't the reason for the occasion.

Joanna is a poet, plain and simple, worth reading along to as you listen to the music.  Although not all of it can be grasped, even after repeated listening, the words are uplifting, like you're being taken through her own self-made images and allegories to a place that is both universal and, you get the sense, intensely personal for Newsom.  She's one of those musicians who has the courage to follow her own voice; the end result in this case has been a spectacularly original work.  Below is the first track from Ys with an extra link to the lyrics.  If you're the type that likes to know something going in--I sometimes find that helpful myself--I'll go ahead and tell you that I've read that the song is about her sister who is an astrophysicist.  My only advice for a first time listener it this: give it time to grow on you, you'll be glad you did.

"Emily" words--

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Because he did this in 1998:
"Diamond Bullocks" the hidden track off of Mutations-

And because that was from an album which for the most part sounded like this:
"Dead Melodies"-

Add to that an extensive and widely varied catalogue which includes a funk record, Midnight Vultures, which satisfies event the most epicurean funk aficionado, and Sea Change, as earnest an offering as any songwriter could really wish to produce.  Originally a hipster, the hipsters for the most part have moved on from Beck.  His detractors accuse him of ceasing to be a trendsetter, becoming a trend follower instead, and of placing a higher price on production than on songrwriting. They deem his R&B antics superficial, and his excursions into folk at best overly abstract, and at worst maudlin. Whatever.

I think we ought to remember just how far ahead of the curve this guy was.  In a time when the airwaves were dominated by grunged-out arena rock, he came along with a beat up acoustic guitar and an 808 and sang "I'm a loser baby."  When anthems to angst were en vogue he penned words with actual metaphors in them.  Self produced from the beginning, he combined sounds we hadn't really heard put together before.  (Note: he has since collaborated with several distinguished producers, including the Dust Brothers, Nigel Godrich, and most recently Danger Mouse.)  Nowadays a lot of what I argue are Beck innovations in the breaking of genre have become standard fare--one of the most notable being the incorporation of electronica into otherwise disparate forms.  He's still good today, but I think it's worth mentioning just where a lot of these mainstream trends got started.  Go back and check the record; I think you'll find Beck there, half coy, half knowing he's got everybody beat.