Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Josephine Foster - Blood Rushing

Two of the most riveting albums of the last couple years that I didn’t write about, in part because I didn’t feel historically/culturally equipped to, were Anda Jaleo and Perlas, two collections of Spanish folk music that Josephine Foster recorded with the Victor Herrero Band.

Foster’s latest album Blood Rushing definitely bears traces of that experience – Herrero plays guitar on it, for one, but the overall sound is less geographically specific, more engaged with folk music in general as an approach to music. Her voice is just as distinctive, unforgettable in how it soars and twists. It can be soft and delicate, but also jarring in its heights -- and even close to operatic. That’s on purpose, an act of drama and purposeful artificiality.

Blood Rushing walks a line between traditional folk music and eccentric pop. It sometimes seems to have its own fantasy/mythological world, yet also seems obsessed with the tangible, earth and skin. Musically it gets bare, too, sometimes with just her voice, some skin drums and a roving violin. It feels in touch with the elements. The lyrics, too, have dirt and the body at the forefront, along with related feelings of yearning, comfort and dreaming.

The first song finds her dreaming of a waterfall. Elsewhere she looks to other bodies of water (“Geyser”, “Underwater Daughter”), but also to the stars (“O Stars”, “Sacred Is the Star”) or to internal processes, be it feeling “a wave of love” or feeling more scientific bodily systems in action. For example, the flow of blood within our bodies is at the center of the title track, one of the best songs here. She goes from listening to the sound of blood to a feeling of rebirth: “We’ll begin to begin again.”

That song’s neighbor “Child of God” is more pessimistic, but doesn’t sound like it. It seems to be about human beings’ place in cities, and carries the realization that we’re all cogs in a machine.

There’s freedom here in thinking, about ourselves and the greater cycles and systems we dwell in. The final song title “Words Come Loose” represents for me the way she thinks broadly and journeys in many directions. Yet the song might be the most dour, reminding us there is sadness in these songs even when they feel light and airy.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Closing the book on 2012 (favorites)

2012 was a year. There was music in it. I listened to hundreds of albums and liked probably half of what I heard. I found a handful of albums that felt truly special to me, that either instantly or over time came to mean a lot to me – albums that I played and replayed in cars, houses, rooms, outdoors and inside my ears, that I sang along to, that I thought about, dissected and daydreamed about in quiet moments. And I enjoyed a lot of other albums that I’d be a fool to overanalyze or overpraise.

Near the end of the year, hastened by the music-critics’ end-of-year season (which, like the Christmas shopping season seems to move earlier every year), I spent way too much mental energy organizing and re-judging my favorites of 2012. I did it to such an extent that I bored myself on the effort before we had even reached the last day of the year.

Now it’s 2013 and I’m ready to move on to the new, but not before indulging my compulsion to put somewhere in electronic stone my list of favorite albums from the year. This is presented without comments; they all cry out for an indepth explanation, especially the ones that readers might say “huh?” about. But too many words have been spent on 2012 by now. So talk to me about the why if you will, and I’ll happily engage you about it. Or listen to the music and let yourself imagine what I might find of value in it. I’ve linked to videos or songs from these albums (a good album doesn't necessarily make for a good video, so for some of these you might prefer closing your eyes and just listening).

25 favorite albums of 2012
1. Allo Darlin' - Europe (Slumberland)
2. The Coup - Sorry to Bother You (Anti-)
3. Taylor Swift - Red (Big Machine)
4. Advance Base - A Shut-In's Prayer (Caldo Verde)
5. Cat Power - Sun (Matador)
6. The Black Swans - Occasion for Song (Misra)
7. Iris DeMent - Sing the Delta (Flariella)
8. The Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth (Merge)
9. Yuichiro Fujimoto - Speaks Melodies (Audio Dregs)
10. Guided by Voices - The Bears for Lunch (GBV Inc.)
11. Landing - Landing (Geographic North)
12. Hallelujah the Hills - No One Knows What Happens Next (Discrete Pageantry)
13. Roc Marciano - Reloaded (Decon Inc.)
14. Tennis - Young and Old  (Fat Possum)
15. Peter Broderick - (Hush)
16. Windy and Carl - We Will Always Be (Kranky)
17. Apollo Brown and Guilty Simpson - Dice Game (Mello Music Group)
18. Dan Deacon - America (Domino)
19. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA)
20. Bowerbirds - The Clearing (Dead Oceans)
21. Josephine Foster - Blood Rushing (Fire)
22. Grass Widow - Internal Logic (HLR)
23. Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill (Reprise)
24. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar (Wichita)
25. Strand of Oaks - Dark Shores (self-released)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Website Is Not a Blog (but why not?)

I’ve always been adamant that I am not a blogger.  “You have a blog, right?" “I have a website where I write about music but it’s not a blog really. It’s more of an online magazine. There’s no commenting, the articles are longer, I try to think them out more.” ”Hmm…Ok.”.  

For at least three years I’ve considered writing a piece for my website titled “Erasingclouds is NOT a Blog”, but every time I started thinking it out it seemed too bitter, too anachronistic, too narcissistic. Besides, since I’ve managed to update the site only a handful of times during the last two years, why would anyone want to hear my thought process on what I’m not doing? Just do the thing, for chrissakes.

My main issue with music blogs is that I’ve read too many (most of them, it sometimes seems) that just put up a links to a song and write a few not especially thoughtful sentences about it. I also collapse the rise of blogs together with some general negative trends I see in music writing: listening to an album just once or twice before writing about it, focusing exclusively on finding the newest thing (and then forgetting about it a year later, when it’s no longer the newest), not taking the time to understand the historical context for music before making declarative statements about it, not listening closely enough, and getting too swayed by hype/buzz/trends.

Yet I hate being the old curmudgeon. It doesn’t suit me. And here I am, setting aside my precious “magazine” for a while and starting a cursed blog. Instead of standing on some ethical high ground against the blog format, I’m embracing it. Why? It seems like a no-brainer right now.  I don’t have as much time as I want for writing, and it’s a format that allows for not having much time, since it privileges brevity and spontaneity.  The lack of free time I feel in life is partly related to being a parent of a two-year-old, partly to increased responsibilities at my job, partly to being a home owner and partly some mysterious disappearance of time that I can never rationalize or grab hold of.

As a Christmas gift I received a book by a French food scientist/writer named Edouard DePomiane. The book is titled Cooking in 10 Minutes or The Adaptation to the Rhythm of Our Time. It was first published in 1930. I love the second half of that title; it resonates with me. I feel like life is moving fast. I don’t think people have time to read long articles about music on the Internet. I still gladly write them for another website, but I don’t have the time to write them in more than one place. And I definitely don’t have time to write them about all or most (or even a respectable share) of the hundreds of new albums I hear each year.

I need to plan less, do more. The Internet seems all about that right now, so I’m adapting to keep pace with the rhythm of our time.

I’m still old-fashioned. I miss seeing films on film. I miss taking photos on film. I wish I wrote more letters and put them in the mail.  I subscribe to magazines. I walk out to my front yard every morning and pick up my newspaper.  I own, and buy, records, cassettes and CDs. I have a landline phone. I read books printed on paper, and I hope to one day write one. With that hope I place all of the big, unfulfilled ideas I have for articles and article series – everything I imagined I was doing with my website but never did, or only did halfway.

Meanwhile, on this blog I’ll be doing my best to track my year in music, 2013, in all the directions that goes.  I’ll be making up for all the times last year where I meant to write about a great album and never did. I’ll be indulging my interest of the moment, new or old. Above all else, I’ll be writing more often. I’ll be keeping things flowing. I won’t be disappearing for months. I won’t over-analyze my next move. I’ll be a blogger -- figuring out what that means to me and whether I can live with it.

I’m excited about this right now. I tell you, it's not going to be the hippest or snazziest blog, but it is going to have a lot of ideas, it is going to go all over the place (music-wise), and I am going to have fun writing it. At the start of DePomiane’s book, he writes this, and I feel similarly:

“First of all I must tell you that this is a lovely book, because I have only got as far as the first page. I have just sat down to write. I am happy, with the happiness of beginning a fresh task.”