Carrie & Lowell
[Asthmatic Kitty; 2015]
An air of mystery has surrounded much of Sufjan Steven’s prolific career. His success is due in large part to his ability to write memorable stories with universal themes that connect with a wide-range of listeners, yet there has always been an ambiguity in whether the stories he tells are based on real life experiences or just plots he’s pulled from old issues of the Chicago Tribune and The Detroit Free Press. I suppose it doesn’t really matter if a song is drawn straight from a songwriter’s life – Bruce Springsteen never worked in a factory, Bob Dylan never worked on Maggie’s Farm, and Johnny Cash never shot a man in Reno (that we know of).
Regardless, the listening experience is always going to be heightened when you know it’s drawn from the songwriter’s real life experiences, which has made Sufjan’s questionably personal songs all the more confounding. Did he really lose a childhood friend to a wasp bite? Did he ever live in a trailer park and own a snowmobile? Was he ever a best man, and did he in fact wear a tux that was a size too small?
You already know I’m a music junkie, but this obsession is almost matched with my fervor for San Antonio Spurs basketball. I spend many-a-night combing my two favorite things – there’s nothing better than a Spurs game set to some good ol’ doom metal. Despite the reality that BDWPS.com is a music blog, I’ve found ways over the years to sneak a little bit of this Spurs fandom into posts. In the past I’ve compared legendary music producer Steve Albini to Spurs coach Greg Popovich, I’ve used a prog-rock video from Hocus Pocus to express my joy after a big Spurs win, and I’ve even used the Spurs as an excuse for why I haven’t blogged lately.
Last year I even used an entire post to try and convince the BDWPS faithful that Spurs power forward Matt Bonner is the DIY hero of the NBA by pointing out his friendships with the likes of Arcade Fire and War On Drugs, his shoe deal with the unlikely New Balance, his sandwich blog, and his various comedic videos posted to YouTube over the years.
Since my earlier attempt to post the latest podcast had an error (I apologize!), I re-uploaded the file late last week, and it should be good to go. If you have any issues, let me know.
On this month’s episode I discuss my week at SXSW and some new music from Dan Deacon, Viet Cong, Courtney Barnett, and Doomtree. I also discuss classic tracks from Gang of Four, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan. Check out the podcast HERE or better yet, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher (search: BDWPS).
Dan Deacon “Meme Generator”
Viet Cong “Continental Shelf”
Gang of Four “Damaged Goods”
Courtney Barnett “Dead Fox”
Modest Mouse “Coyotes”
Jimi Hendrix “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Bob Dylan “You Ain’t Goin’ No Where”
Remember when hip-hop was fun? My adolescence was filled with the entertaining, harmless anthems of MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, and Tone Loc. “Hip Hop Hooray,” “Jump Around,” and the “Humpty Dance” were the soundtrack to my middle school dances. Kids wore their overalls backwards to emulate Kriss Kross and oversized Starter jackets like ABC (Another Bad Creation, yo!). Queen Latifah reigned supreme, Run DMC were the “Kings of Rock,” and Will Smith was The Prince of Bel Air. Sure, acts like NWA and Public Enemy were anything but fun, but at that time, their hard-cutting verbal assaults were the minority to the more common, party approach to rap music.
Things changed with the dawning of gangsta rap. I’m not suggesting that Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg didn’t know how to have a good time, smoking their indo while sippin’ on gin and juice, but their songs took the genre into more violent, brooding territory. No longer was it cool to rap about how you can “Bust a Move” or how you wish you were a little bit taller, wish you were a baller, wish you had a girl, if you did, you would call her. Many artists tried to toughen up their image (gangsta MC Hammer was my favorite), but their efforts were transparent to fans that wanted stories of the streets from those who lived it.
Since that mid-90s mood shift, hip-hop has remained grounded in the more menacing approach, rappers boasting their worth in diamonds, clothes, and cars, MCs regaling their days as drug dealers and gang members. That’s what makes Action Bronson’s major label debut Mr. Wonderful so refreshing – it’s a throwback to the days when rappers were more interested in promoting a good time than themselves.
This was a year of many firsts for me at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. For the first time in 12 years, I didn’t get a wristband, didn’t attend the entire week of events, and didn’t have any friends join me for the week of music madness. All of these firsts were a result of another first for me – my spring break from work didn’t line up with the music festival this year. After spending my actual spring break in San Diego with a friend (great beaches, great weather, and great beer), I didn’t think I’d attend the festival this year due to money, work, and the lack of comrades.
Then, of course, the day of the festival neared and I got the SXSW itch – I had to go. I ended up calling-in sick to work two days (don’t tell my boss) and made the best of my three days in Austin. Usually the SXSW experience contains its moments of frustration (the goose chase that is buying a wristband, the annoyance of not being able to get into shows, and the insanity of 6th Street) but this year didn’t feature any of these issue. I avoided 6th Street for the most part, didn’t worry about the wristband rat race, and was able to get into every venue I walked to. Not only that, but almost every performance I saw was top-notch. Although I don’t have nearly as much experience to draw from for this year’s best of SXSW list, here were some of the highlights (and a few low-lights).
Man It Feels Like Space Again
I’m not quite sure what’s going on in Australia these days, but based off the recent influx of innovative psychedelic pop bands from Down Under (Tame Impala, John Steel Singers, Blank Realm) someone might want to check the water for traces of DMT. Often lost in this Aussie Invasion is the outlandish, psych-outfit, Pond. Many may see them as a side-project to the more widely popular Tame Impala (only one member of the band hasn’t served time with Pond), but this is an unfortunate misconception.
Pond’s latest release, Man It Feels Like Space Again is evidence that these Vegemite stoners deserve more credit for the mind-expanding mischief they’ve concocted over the course of six albums. Not that you should take their bubbly, far-out mix of melodies seriously – these songs are meant to be silly and fun. It’s this complete lack of pretension that makes their rumpus ride more deserving of accolades from psych-pop aficionados. In fact, that refusal to take themselves too seriously helped to make the Pond listening experience stand in stark contrast to their more well-known brother-band, Tame Impala. While Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker ponders the emotional struggles that come with loneliness and isolation, Pond opts to sing songs with titles like “Elvis Flaming Star” and “Heroic Shart” (yes, “shart” – that magical contraction of the words “shit” and “fart”).
In the latest episode of BDWPS Podcast, we check out some of the best music to come out in 2015 so far, including new music from Panda Bear, Sleater Kinney, Bjork, Elephant Micah, and Joey Bada$$. I also discuss the documentary “The Artist Formerly Known as Captain Beefheart,” and continue our journey through Robert Shelton’s Bob Dylan biography “No Direction Home.” Check it out HERE or subscribe to the podcast on Stictcher or iTunes (Search: BDWPS).
Panda Bear “Boys Latin”
Sleater Kinney “Surface Envy”
Twerps “Back to You”
Joey Bada$$ “Paper Trail$”
Bjork “Lion Song”
The Sidekicks “Hell is Warm”
Elephant Micah “By the Canal”
Captain Beefheart “Low Yo Yo Stuff”
Bob Dylan “I Want You”