What if both your parents died the same year? And what if that same year your home, which has been in the family for over 100 years, burns down? And what if while you’re dealing with all this loss, your former band mate (Bob Mould) releases a tell all autobiography where he not only persecutes you and embellishes your use of heroin, but he also takes time to mock your now dead mother?
And what if you were once friends with William S. Burroughs? And what if while you are dealing with all this turmoil, you are bestowed with an unfinished Burroughs space odyssey adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost called Lost Paradise? And what if this manuscript inspires you to create a 20-song album about the battle between Heaven and Hell?
That would be pretty awesome, right?
[Drag City; 2013]
If Bill Callahan were a painter, he would be Pablo Picasso. Besides the obvious presumption that Callahan has never been called an asshole, the connection can be found in the span of their respective work. While many musicians find a definitive sound and make a career out of it, Callahan is a constantly changing songwriting machine. Like Picasso, Callahan has gone through various stages, refusing to languish in mediocrity.
Callahan’s early 4-track forays were much like Picasso’s early days as a painter – flawed yet promising. As his Smog sound developed on albums like Wild Love and Knock Knock, he reached his “blue” period (stark subject matter presented in through distorted, bluesy melodies). Solo album Woke On a Whaleheart would be Callahan’s “rose” period (warm and adventurous soul music), Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle would be his Neo-classical album (drawing inspiration from ancient cultures and their totems, not to mention the heavy use of classical strings), and Apocalypse would be his surrealistic album (an unpredictable and jarring presentation of The End).
[Rusted Blue; 2013]
The more autobiographical an artist, the more we, the audience, get to see them grow up right before our eyes. Such is the case with Alela Diane who first gained attention with her debut Pirate’s Gospel back in 2004, the 21-year old Portland native singing innocent songs of companionless pigeons and Pirate’s prayers of “Yo Ho Ho!”
In 2009 she came into her own with To Be Still, an album that combined her tranquil vocals with lyrics that focused on the splendors of nature. The combination of the vivid imagery and the pure wonderment in her voice results in an album that would make John Muir blush. For me, the music stirs the humbling and exhilarating experience that is venturing into the wild. On the album, Alela seems to be at peace with the world, an inner hope flowing out with each note, pure and calming like the mighty Columbia. The production on both early albums was warm and quaint, as if you are sitting in the corner of a log cabin while Alela and her dad, who sang and played on both albums, serenade you by the fireplace.
When Deerhunter first burst onto the music scene in 2007 with their über-hyped Cryptogram, I was a bit skeptical. Every review/interview focused on the back story of Bradford Cox, a young man suffering from Marfan syndrome writing songs about isolation and loss over the echoing madness within the cacophonous guitar cavern that is Cryptogram. Add to the storyline the death of former bassist, Justin Bosworth, and you have all the trappings of a music journalist’s wet dream. I had seen artists like this come and go in the blogger rat race to discover the next big thing, and I figured Deerhunter and its quirky back story would be forgotten within months.
As a true testament of Bradford Cox and company’s talent, the band returned with more focus and a more refined sound on the following two albums, Microcastle and Weird Era Cont (released together as a double album). Deerhunter were officially more than a cute little anecdote; they were the real deal. In 2010, Halcyon Digest solidified their place atop the indie rock hierarchy, proving that they could take their wandering, spacious spirit and rein it in for their most accessible album to date.