Posts Tagged 'Laura Gibson'

This is what I done: Top Ten Albums of 2009

Let’s get right to it. In settling on my top ten albums of dearly/gladly departed 2009, almost all the tracks that I lingered on turned out to be the slower numbers. Could it be a commentary on the year, one that saw my own household and the nation at large work with considerably meager resources and disproportionately grand expectations, resulting in the need to draw something more than simple pleasant distraction from music? Or could it be that the weather outside is soggy and cold and I’ve been operating in my pajamas with a bit of a hangover, thus making peppy dance songs sound less enticing? It’s hard to tell. But like I said earlier, no further delay!

10. Why? ~ Eskimo Snow ~ Anticon

Like the clownish guy at a party, Yoni Wolf knows how to get your attention right off the bat, as evidenced by the first words on Eskimo Snow when Wolf explains, “I wear the customary clothes of my time like Jesus did, with no reason not to die.” But Why?’s work goes beyond non sequiturs and bon mots, not to mention bizarre punctuation tendencies. The lyrics come from an absurdist’s vigilant eye, and the bell-heavy music makes the horny preoccupations in songs like “In the Shadows of My Embrace” appear almost whimsical. The production gets a little silly on more than a few of the tracks, but you can think of that approach as the funny man from the party pulling out all the tricks he knows to get you to smile.

In the Shadows of My Embrace

9. mewithoutyou ~ It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright ~ Tooth & Nail

This past year, the Decemberists put out a record that barely sounded like the Decemberists of albums past. So while that band explored their hard and prog rock proclivities with mixed results, a band called mewithoutyou from Philadelphia assumed the helm of braying vocals and evocative, well-read lyrics. The rousing music giddily pulls the listener through mewithoutyou’s tableaus of modern-day mythology, drawn from pastoral imagery, religious folklore, and hyper imaginations.

Goodbye, I!

8. Fanfarlo ~ Reservoir ~ Atlantic

It’s a double-edged sword when a band boasts rich layers of orchestral instrumentation as well as lush production values, in that the final product can sound nearly clinical, too pristine to have been made by human beings. All the same, there’s no denying that Farfarlo’s Reservoir is a booming, gorgeous album that sounds just as eloquent in a miles-wide amphitheater as it does in the few square feet of one’s bedroom.


7. Neko Case ~ Middle Cyclone ~ Anti-

You could spill ounces of toner in rapturous descriptions of Neko Case’s cool and confident voice, her pretty red hair, and her impressive résumé of projects. The component of Case’s work that often gets overlooked is the honest, thoughtful quality of her song-writing. On Middle Cyclone, she assumes the forms of a lovesick tornado, a prematurely married girl, and occasionally, a smart and bruised woman who has allowed herself to indulge in romantic fantasy for just a little bit too long. There’s a lot of anger in Middle Cyclone on behalf of the wronged earth as well as its unjustly treated inhabitants. Since Case herself has tried to avoid the use of metaphor in her songs, I’ll back off the hackneyed “force of nature” reference and say flat-out that this album is lovely and, just below the surface, even more brutal than the sword on the cover.

Middle Cyclone

6. Laura Gibson ~ Beasts of Seasons ~ Hush

It’s extremely appropriate that I saw Laura Gibson perform at a big, old church in downtown Portland this last year. The obvious reason is her album’s, Beasts of Seasons, dual themes of communions and funerals and the related explorations of loss, grace, and self-improvement. All Christian associations aside, the main reason I’m grateful to have heard Gibson in that venue is because the broad acoustics serve her soft, husky voice and careful fingerpicking style perfectly. Part of the notion of church, part of the reason some of us failed Catholics squirm at the very mention of mass, is the requirement that an attendee sits quietly and attentively. But it doesn’t feel burdensome when you get to listen to Laura Gibson sing. It’s the best way to hear her.


5. Avett Brothers ~ I and Love and You ~ American

The brethren Avett became grownups in 2009. That’s not to say that the two thirty-something brothers and their bassist, Bob Crawford, haven’t done a ton of growth, from their country roots to their stellar 2007 album, Emotionalism. But despite the fact that I and Love and You is the band’s major label debut and supported by the magical ear of Rick Rubin, there is a profound level of humbleness in the thirteen tracks. There is confidence without cockiness, though the effortless harmonies and bobbing pianos certainly afford the band some bragging rights. There is also a dominant insistence on love and acceptance minus the need to shroud such a desire in irony or gimmicks. You might call such a perspective naïve or ambitious, but just a minute into the title track, you already understand that the Avett Brothers have earned the right to ask for something epic.

I and Love and You

4. David Bazan ~ Curse Your Branches ~ Barsuk

During his live performances, in the breaks between numbers, David Bazan famously has his audiences ask him questions, and when I saw him at Mississippi Studios a couple months ago, a person asked him why he fell out with his faith. Bazan’s response? “Because I determined that it was bullshit.” But somehow, in spite of his recent uprooted stance, Bazan’s work is free of self-pity. He holds nothing back as his narrator watches his grasp slip away in the slide toward alcoholism and helplessness. In a year that struck a healthy fear of the unknown in a lot of people, a voice as shrewd and generally hilarious as David Bazan’s is a welcome form of assurance.

Lost My Shape

3. Dirty Projectors ~ Bitte Orca ~ Domino

It might be easy to dismiss the Dirty Projectors as a hipster fad. They were covered by a ton of artists from college a cappella groups to famous sisters. They earned the devotion of Questlove. The band is from Brooklyn, for goodness sakes. All the signs of twee are present, but nevertheless, the eccentric mind of Dave Longstreth and the fresh-faced folks who make up the Dirty Projectors produced an inventive, thrilling record. While most music critics as well as fellow musicians remain stumped about how to describe what the Dirty Projectors sound like, the factor you can count on throughout Bitte Orca is that you have no idea what each song will do. With every dizzying run of Longstreth’s guitar, blast of sound after a quiet interlude, and choral spasm from Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle, the album may be too haphazard for some listeners, but the rest of us are too busy having our socks knocked off to care.

Temecula Sunrise

2. Rodrigo y Gabriela ~ 11:11 ~ ATO

If you’ve followed this blog, you already know that for me, 2009 was a year for a multitude of live music and a score of bizarre maladies. So when I contracted H1N1, it was less of a surprise and more like a running gag in a sitcom. I tried not to bitch too often about the various illnesses that plagued me, but I am still so pissed that the swine flu kept me from watching Rodrigo y Gabriela at the Schnitzer in October. “But you saw a bunch of shows, what does it matter?” some of the less perceptive of you might ask.  To that body of imaginary readers, I would direct you to obtain a copy of 11:11, press play, and proceed to have your aural cavities rocked in a way they have not previously been rocked. Because if you already knew what the duo is capable of, you’d be pissed at my side. Each track on the album is a tribute to artists who have influenced Gabriela Quintero and Rodrigo Sanchez, and based on the frenetic rhythms and enthralling guitar work, every listener should be just as thankful. If you happen to be in Australia, Japan, or Western Europe this year, see one of the band’s concerts for me.

Santo Domingo

1. Elvis Perkins in Dearland ~ Elvis Perkins in Dearland ~ XL

There is no algorithm to picking one’s favorite album of the year. You could arrange your iTunes library by the highest play count numbers then do a bit of fuzzy math under the influence of a few glasses of Malbec, maybe with some improvised program of Obscure Band Affirmative Action tossed in, so you appear open-minded but not indiscriminately so. But that just isn’t the case. Sometimes, you only need a snip of a given album, and you already hear that album playing on a days-long loop from your stereo. You memorize the words from a couple songs within a day. And even if you listen to technically more deserving albums afterward, if someone were to grab you at gunpoint and demand that you name a favorite album – because that’s totally what armed assailants want to know – you would give that album’s name.

As soon as I heard Elvis Perkins sing, “What am I if bound to walk in chains ’till I die?,” I knew what I’d be writing about in this entry.

While the song that the line comes from isn’t even the best one on the album, the emotional hooks that the song plants serve as a handy representation of what the rest of the self-titled effort does. Some of that response has to do with the music, which swings from deliberate and morose to airy and lively, all carried by Perkins’ passionate tenor and the band’s generous supply of instruments. Part of the album’s resonance is in its subject matter, which bids goodbye to loved ones from the past, present, and even future in the indomitable single, “Doomsday.” On a very personal level, however, I think the reason Elvis Perkins in Dearland tops my list is because it’s exactly what I needed to hear this year, as age and the nebulous notion of an impact started to weigh on my mind more than effective hangover cures and dinners that can be cooked within half an hour. This album has a few great tracks by which to brood, much like Perkins’ debut, Ash Wednesday. But at the same time, when I begin to take it all too seriously, the album hones in on the fluidity of joy in day-to-day existence. In 2010, I hope that the balance between documenting and living life becomes easier to negotiate, and I hope to do that with the kind of skill this album possesses.

Hours Last Stand


It’s Sweat or It’s Songs: Happy hundred to me

Spoiler alert: My true writerly identity

Spoiler alert: My true writerly identity

Much hoopla has been made about the anti-writerly, anti-grammar practices reinforced by social networking. I don’t need to add much more to the peanut gallery, but I will instead quote Heather Havrilesky, authoress of the rabbit blog, who eloquently spells out the dilemma: “Why would we want the writer, dull know-it-all that he or she so often is, to go and pollute our lives with his or her steady stream of opinionated tripe?”

It’s been a thought that often crosses my mind when I sit down to produce and vomit my personal stream of tripe for all the Internets to peruse. Since the beginning of 2009, I have put myself and my handful of readers through this routine a total of 100 times. Some of these excursions into my musical and otherwise-minded psyche have been as painful and laborious for both parties as regular trips to bikram yoga. Believe me, I used to attend bikram yoga at least three times a week maybe five years ago. But ultimately, I hope that my best efforts, the entries I would actually be pleased to attach my real name on, leave you with a similar feeling of triumph and enlightenment that a good yoga workout imparts (albeit, a smug and entirely cerebral one).

Half the days I do this, I feel like a little girl playing dress-up with her mother’s castoffs in the closet. I’m not a real writer, but I might look like one. In the same vein, some of the criticism for networking sites like Facebook and Twitter involves the traditional and sometimes stodgy notion that writing honestly and thoughtfully about one’s life should not be an activity confined to 140 words, should not be something the writer does in easy bids for attention (unless your inner workings really bleed themselves out when you list all your potential lunch options), and should not be so readily, you know, shared. Because writing, at its black and coal-laden heart, is a solitary pursuit. You as the writer can forward drafts to friends and ask for feedback, but when the product meets paper, when you present your stack of papers to a publisher or a jaded editor, the effort becomes your property. You own it, no matter how much help you had along the way, because at its nebulous beginning, it was your own silly idea to make it a thing to be completed at all. And it’s yours to bask upon when it’s sunny and clear outside, as well as yours when the neighbors decry your use of prosaic analogies and obviously cheap paint.

Some make the argument that the act of listening to music went in the opposite direction. Historically, music was a social activity consisting of dances and big bands that infused a pulse into parties and events. But as musicians’ attention became primarily focused  on the wealth of tricks to be figured out in a recording studio, maybe around the time the Beatles became more Sgt. Pepper and less Meet the Beatles, music became a pastime any individual could easily enjoy alone. Indeed, some of the best moments of life have involved lone walks with my ear buds tucked into the appropriate canals and the songs that ushered me along that moment.

But somehow, this current writing exercise  has helped me feel more connected to a community than I ever have before. As a result of this blog, I’ve learned just how rich my cute , bridged city is in terms of musical entertainment and resources for emerging mods and rockers. I’ve communicated with a couple real-life musicians and found introductions to artists and songs I wasn’t aware of through other bloggers. As I continue to post here, I don’t always expect to write something of head-spinning import or humor, though I will continue to give it a shot here and there. But this intersection, this compromise between the writer and the music lover, has never failed to surprise me. There is so much music out there, and so many fans, and so many different interpretations of a time signature here and a lyric about eggs there. Even though the underslept loon hunched over a keyboard never really vacates the premises, she’s found a lot of like-minded voices to keep her company as she crazies her way through the bandwidth.

Or I guess I could have just said: Here’s a playlist – some new favorites, a few you’ve heard about here before, and a couple re-discovered joys. I’ve had fun, hope you have too. Thanks for reading.

June 2009 mix ~ It’s Sweat or It’s Songs

Harlem Shakes ~ Strictly Game

The Kills ~ U.R.A. Fever

Fol Chen ~ Cable TV

Lisa Hannigan ~ Lille

Andrew Bird ~ Fitz and Dizzyspells

Okkervil River ~ Unless It’s Kicks

Chicharones ~ Taco Wagon

The City and Horses ~ Little Finland

The Dodos ~ It’s That Time Again

John Vanderslice ~ Exodus Damage

Plushgun ~ Just Impolite

Department of Eagles ~ Teenagers

Dirty Projectors ~ Cannibal Resource

Neko Case ~ Don’t Forget Me [Harry Nilsson cover]

Otis Redding ~ These Arms of Mine [The link to this song has been removed by request.]

The Builders and the Butchers ~ Down in This Hole [Daytrotter session version]

Laura Gibson ~ Postures Bent

Apples in Stereo ~ King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 3 [Neutral Milk Hotel cover]

How do I love thee, NPR, let me count the ways

Either the most advanced Venn diagram ever or mind-melding

Either the most advanced Venn diagram ever or mind-melding

In case you haven’t devoted some time to the Exclusive First Listen feature of NPR Music, you will shortly upon finishing this blog entry. The website streams entire new albums from the up and comers of modern music as well as the veterans. NPR has streamed the newest offerings of quite a few TS&tN favorites (yes, I’m abbreviating my own blog name to a pithy acronym — if I don’t do it, nobody else will), such as Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone and Laura Gibson’s Beasts of Seasons. The choices are so exciting that they make me wonder about the origins of my own tastes. Do I like music because NPR politely suggests I should, or do I like NPR because it shares my musical interests? It’s a conundrum as knotty as the act of listening to pop music itself.

I’m particularly appreciative of Exclusive First Listen’s attention paid to the upcoming album from the Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca. I had heard a couple of the leaks already, and they intrigued me as most blends of girl/boy harmonies and unconventional structure usually do. But Bitte Orca should be heard as a whole to completely appreciate all the weird and classic elements that the band juggles. The band sets forth rhythms you expect to go in one direction, but instead sprawl out into five distinct trajectories in the space of a single song, partly thanks to drummer, Brian McComber. Female vocals from Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian sound like choir girls cutting loose after the choral director has left for the afternoon. You could rightfully call founder Dave Longstreth a kid with a short attention span and too many toys at his disposal. But then you would discount the way the songs alternate between ethereal and intense. It’s a fun kind of bipolarism, and you get to hear it for free. Public radio rules.

Dirty Projectors will release their album, Bitte Orca, on June 6. They will play at Holocene on Saturday, July 4. What’s Up will also play.

  • Dirty Projectors ~ Bitte Orca ~ Domino

Stillness Is the Move

Cover Friday Saturday: Urge to merge … worlds, that is

Cover of Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers! Exclamation points included!

Cover of Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers! Exclamation points included!

Like a lot of good love stories, The Couch and I were friends of friends but did not meet directly until much later. My friend Micah (the Micah who currently plays in Musée Mécanique and is touring with Laura Gibson) found The Couch, desolate and abandoned on a random curb. He moved it to the basement of the house where he was living with several other stray-loving college students. Later, Micah again moved The Couch to a new house that he shared with two roommates, including a biochem student whom I still think of as Punchy. Not because Punchy was violent or combative in any way, but because so many facets and joys of my life took shape and grew stronger during my relationship, first romantic then friend-tic, with Punchy. These things fought and held on with no intention to let go, if you will. Thanks to Punchy, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea became one of my favorite albums. This would be reason enough to look back on those times fondly. But that’s just the crowning achievement. For a while, we all had so much fun. Punchy and I had lots of good nights alone, but we also spent a lot of time with our friends. We invited people over, blasted albums on the stereo in the living room, drank beer, played Exquisite Corpse, walked out the screen door to the backyard to smoke and chat, and thought and cheered and fretted about getting away from the town where we went to school. The Couch always quietly submitted to the weight of three or four buzzed party attendees and provided a surprisingly comfortable place for anyone to crash.

Eventually, Micah, Punchy, and their other roommate graduated and decided to move away from the house where they lived with The Couch. Everyone else was moving out of town, but since Punchy and I planned to stay for a few months more, we merrily carried The Couch to our new studio apartment. Not only did we consider The Couch a fixture of any cozy living room, but we didn’t have money to buy any new furniture.

Our time in the studio apartment together was a textbook example of being thrown from the garden into the cold and unpredictable world beyond the gates. The nights no longer involved endless bottles of beer and hour-long conversations. We had jobs to be at early in the morning. We had just enough money to feed ourselves hot dogs and Top Ramen. We realized that in the oblivious haze of our early relationship, we had lost contact with a lot of the people we knew. We spent more than a few odd nights sitting on The Couch, feeling strangely frustrated with each other. We were learning what it meant to be an adult couple, and we weren’t sure if we liked how it fit on us.

Eventually, Punchy and I moved to San Francisco, towing The Couch along with all our other wordly possessions. We chose to find separate housing situations. When I lucked out and got a spot in a Lower Haight flat, the larger size of my bedroom awarded me sole possession of The Couch. I moved The Couch off to the side of the bay windows, where I hoped the fleeting rays of sunlight would somehow find their way. When that proved to be futile, I barely sat on it anymore. A housemate’s cat used one of The Couch’s arms as a napping nook, and I often used the seat to store dirty clothes. One night, after an unexpected and nasty spat, Punchy used The Couch to sleep. It was the first night we spent together where we didn’t share a bed. Not long after, or maybe just a bit too long after, Punchy stopped spending the night. And much, much later, I decided to move to Portland with my current bed-sharing friend.

The Couch came with us to Portland, not because we needed another couch but because I found the idea of moving to another city without The Couch to be as absurd as leaving town without my shoes. And now, in the present day as we settle into our third year in our apartment, my boyfriend wants to get rid of The Couch. He found a loveseat on Craigslist that matches his couch, and his couch is in considerably better shape than The Couch. A loveseat would fit our living room better, as the heft of two couches tends to overwhelm the space. And The Couch just looks its mysterious age. The upholstery is stretched thinly over certain parts, and completely torn off in others. Full feet of The Couch’s foamy belly sit exposed unless you throw a blanket or pillow over them. And all the cheap slipcovers we’ve seen at stores are ugly.

I accept all these things as fact. However, detached observation goes out the window when I think about having to post my own Craigslist ad, not selling but rather cajoling some stranger into taking The Couch away. I almost can’t bear it. In fact, I can’t bear it. I always envisioned the golden years of The Couch as being lived out in some magical room that appears upon command. The Couch might go unused, but it would be cared for and kept out of harm’s way. But we don’t have that kind of a residence, and the mature thing to do would be to agree that my college-age furniture needs to go the way of college-age habits, like drinking a pot of coffee at 11 at night.

So why do I feel like leaving The Couch to its own devices on another random curb is like leaving the family pet in a field and driving away? Is it because I look at The Couch and think of my life at that strange transitory period when we first came into contact? Is it because I associate The Couch with that precious feeling of being newly educated and young and tied to nothing but the desire to turn the world inside out? Or is it because most of the other relics from my life at that time have gone to the land of left socks? My college photos were stolen years ago. Punchy and a lot of my other friends from that time have dispersed to different corners of the earth. There are books and various articles of clothing from those years, but none of them cushion my butt as I zone out to the tunes coming from my stereo.

So this morning, I slept in while my boyfriend drove to a town about 16 miles away to pick up the loveseat. I dozed on The Couch and decided to end this entry not as a mourning for times past but a celebration. I can’t recreate how it felt to be me at age 21, at least not in any responsible manner. But I was pretty damn lucky to have experienced that feeling at all, and to have such a comfy place to sit with some of the most interesting people while listening to a soundtrack of songs that still impress me. You’ve probably heard, but in case you haven’t, Merge Records has released a cover album of the label’s most stalwart acts performed by current musicians to honor their 20 years of business in the alterna-what’s-it music community. It blows my mind how the label that introduced me to the Magnetic Fields and Spoon once upon a time has managed to thrive and remain an influential name for music lovers. The album is full of notable head-turners. The Mountain Goats cover of an East River Pipe song sounds so much like something Jonathan Darnielle would have written himself. And Conor Oberst’s soft tenor was made to cover the Magnetic Fields’ “Papa Was a Rodeo.” But I’ll end this entry with the Apples in Stereo’s take on “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 3,” beat the crumbs out of The Couch’s cushions, and look forward. It was the thing to do back then and still is.

  • Apples in Stereo ~ Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers! ~ Merge

King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 3

Eyes were glowing from carrying such grace

Not the show I saw, but probably just as loverly

Not the show I saw, but probably just as loverly

It seems appropriate that one of Laura Gibson’s most memorable songs from her concert at the Old Church tonight was “Glory,” the final track from Beasts of Seasons. The song is a vividly detailed commemoration of significant people in Gibson’s life, and the powerful impressions that those individuals have left. That idea of those fleeting moments of grace that those close to us exhibit permeated the performance. I heard Gibson sing the song with her trademark gentle touch, on an altar with a choir of subtle singers, members of the Portland Cello Project, and her current touring band (including Sean Ogilvie and Micah Rabwin). It felt like being part of a bigger, less tangible community than the ones that our workplaces or Facebook networks allow us. And it sounded amazing.

I wanted to keep track of a set list, or at least take out my camera. I really hoped I would. But it felt discourteous to do anything besides shift on the cushioned pew and listen to Laura Gibson do her thing. So the following video will have to suffice.

Laura Gibson will play at the Doug Fir on Thursday, May 7. Leonard Mynx and Damian Jurado will also play.


Cover Friday Thursday: Sad story lullabies sound better in Portland

Listening to her does make you feel like you're living in black and white, a little

Listening to her does make you feel like you're living in black and white, a little

Maybe you met Laura Gibson, or knew of her through a friend of a friend, when she was growing up in the coastal town of Coquille, Oregon. Maybe you crossed paths with her when you were out buying coffee and walking the dog near the house where she lived with a view to one of the oldest cemeteries in Portland during the writing of her upcoming album, Beasts of Seasons. Maybe you’ve followed her since the independent release of her 2004 debut, Amends, and have enjoyed her live shows where she works with artists in the Portland Cello Project and Musée Mécanique. Maybe none of this rings a bell, but once you hear her voice, you’ll feel like she knows you. Maybe it’s the compelling warmth in her deceptively tentative vocals. Maybe it’s the quiet and thoughtful cadence of her guitar. Maybe it’s because she sounds a little like Cat Power, and you always hoped for a Northwest-based Cat Power, even though that sounds highly reductive of both Cat Power and Laura Gibson. Maybe that’s just me.

And maybe I’m stretching it a bit to consider her take on an American standard a cover. But it will give the unfamiliar a glimpse into the potential of Laura Gibson’s distinct voice, as well as whet the appetites of those who are counting the days until her next album appears. Sean Ogilvie of Musée Mécanique produced the EP sampled below. No slaves were used in the making of this EP, I trust.

Laura Gibson’s upcoming album, Beasts of Seasons, will be released on February 24. She will also play a free set in honor of the album at Music Millennium.

  • Laura Gibson ~ Six White Horses: Blues and Traditionals Vol I Presented by Laura Gibson and Friends ~ Hush

All the Pretty Horses