Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lightness AND Words are Dead

Yes, I realize he kind of looks like Conor Oberst but the fact that I know this should prove even more to you how strongly I think you should check out this record. It was made by Red Hunter (best name ever?) with a little help from his friends, most notably vocal backup by Dana Falconberry. It's a set of sixteen short, laid back folk songs, really old-timey but not kitschy. I promise that they won't bring you down. They've got a sweet quality, like even if its about painful stuff, it happened so long ago that these songs are just a way of finally exhaling them and moving on {it's time for rebuilding}. They're not all fantastic, but it amazes me how he keeps the ethic of the album so whole while each song morphs into something much different than the one before it. Its pretty great for reading or sipping tea under a quilt or knitting in front of a fire or sitting on the porch with your bloodhound or tending your dusty general store. All of which I did last Saturday, just so you know its been field tested.

My favorite is "Safe Travels", with its great pop energy that rejoices in its minimalism {all the reaching trees go the same way}. Second best is "The Highway", which has already made its way onto one mixtape. The song might be ghost-like, but its very tender and true and as it ends you can almost see yourself with the band in the VW van, eventually getting dropped off near the end and watching it turn translucent as it disappears into the dusk. The understated fingerpicking beauty of "My Grey Overcoat" is something Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) would be proud of, and could be his until the last third transitions to children in a playgroud or something, which kind of disappoints me because I would be game for a couple more go arounds with the melody. But Hunter doesn't fit any mold and his work is better for it; I hope these songs stay with you like they have me.

I'm hoping to see them when they come to Richmond, IN (Earlmore College, pretty random). On April 20th, uhhh.

{do you ever think of me when he's boring you? i bet you do.}

RIYL: Iron & Wine, Six Organs of Admittance, Devendra Banhart, M. Ward, Gordon Lightfoot, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's The Letting Go, or Phil Elverum if he went back in time to the '30s

Rating: mMmGravy

note: Amazon has this bundled with Benoit Pioulard's debut album for cheap. You would get through winter pretty good with just those two.
Horse Feathers is a Portland-based two-piece folk setup. (One of whom is nineteen! What the hell are you doing? ) Most of the press has been making Iron & Wine comparisons, but I think it sounds more like what Damien Rice could be if he'd write, I don't know, less blunt songs. Words are Dead is a very even listen: genuine down-home Americana, so timeless it could work as the soundtrack to a Faulkner movie. Though the fiddle's more Celtic than bluegrass. And, well, I guess you'd be hardpressed to find too much piano in most Americana. But the point (and the bango) remains!

I guess the uniformity of delicate vocal delivery could be a detraction but its only a 35-minute long album and a lot of there's lots of subtle instrumentation differentiation(!). This is a cohesive album, greater than the sum of its parts, though I can't shake the feeling that as soon as they get a little bigger, Grey's Anatomy will cherry-pick one of these songs. That said, I think they might go too far in trading memorability for ambience. I really dig this record and I usually listen to records as a whole, but to be honest I still want something I'll be humming later or at least a poetic turn of phrase I can snag as an away message, but even that is hard because the confessional whispering isn't really hiding much at all. "Words are Dead" might be the point, but it feels like a cop-out to me. I need something compelling, at least one song I can cheer for and make all my friends listen to, probably to be unimpressed. But I'm getting critical, its an album of beautiful music so I combined some of their songs in with some Peter and the Wolf to make you a pretty good, quiet little folk mix. Which you of course want. Because then you can study.

RIYL: The above stated, Grizzly Bear, Jim Guthrie, Nick Drake, José González, Lewis & Clarke, My Morning Jacket's The Tennessee Fire, Elliott Smith's XO, and yeah I guess Sufjan too you got me

Rating: mMGravy

They can't be up in that link forever, so you should grab it. First ever Ben's Instant Gravy Mix™. Its pretty tasty, if I do say so myself (the numbers indicate order of songs in the playlist, which is like essential you know). My lawyer suggests that if you like these songs you should purchase the album (both are on eMusic) and support the artists. Which you'll agree these people are. Probably starving artists to boot. Even better would be to go to their shows so they actually get some money out of the deal. (My lawyer is named Larry and he lives in my head. He went to Harvard Law School. Top of his class, doncha know.) And if you like Words are Dead, you can vote for it as Americana Album of the year at plugawards.com The Plug Awards are kind of a big deal. Someday I'll be up for DJ of the year.

Note 2: Ian, they're playing in Spokane on February 15th, at Whitworth College. And for anybody with the same spring break as me (March 10th-19th), they'll be at the Aladdin the 17th. With Norfolk & Western, who are pretty good themselves and are probably the main act. We should, like, go. Together.

post script
If anybody (Devon) knows where I can download free m4a to mp3 converter, preferably one that would work on a Mac OS, please let me know. I'm kind of not very smart. Much obliged. Zipping files would be pretty cool too, come to think of it.

Moving On Up!

As much fun as a Ben and Ian blog would be ( it would be a lot of fun, wiseguy) everybody still has permission to post on here. The contributors' list mistake has something to do with format shift blogger is undergoing. So no worries, er... Scott.

post script
Keeping loosely with the title, we have amassed approx. 14 inches and counting of beautfiul packing snow in the last four days here at ND. Like something out of a movie. I would love to have you all here so I could pelt your faces with snowballs. Alas my magical gloves are left at home so Domers are safe, for now.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Margot & the Nuclear So and So's [live]

Yeah, so they came back (for free again yay! because I'm out of money). No Clap Your Hands Say Yeah this time (link), though they did talk about it and suggest we purchase Clap's new album. Man I love Clap.

I was pretty excited when I heard they were coming back on a small tour of local colleges (they're from Indy) even if the concert was put on by our rival radio station. Those WVFI bastards played my favorite record of all time In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in between the opener and Margot. That album is something sacred and they played it as filler music to a bunch of buzzed wannabe hipsters who were ignoring it. They're not even a real radio station.

I was pumped going in because I was sure that they would be working on some of the songs from their new record. I was a little let down by the number of new songs, which went unnamed. If they were worried about us putting bootlegs up on the internet, this was the wrong crowd. Oh well, their energy was almost as good as last year when they had something to prove and the crowd got into it. For better or worse, a lot of dorky grad students know all their lyrics. I've only met one person who didn't get into this band (my old DJ partner) so we'll hope they swing by Portland this summer (and play a longer set) or show up at Sasquatch. All eight members were there, which kind of surprised me, though the cellist played a violin which I can't really blame him for. Their trumpeter looks really out of place. I should have a picture but I didn't bring my camera. Sorry. The lead guy Richard made fun of the ND Nazi admins who threatened to throw them out if they smelled alcohol on their breaths last time. He said the new record would be out this year.

1. New song, something about an ocean breathing salt (Modest Mouse?)
2. New song, ...upstairs snorting coke (Wilco-sounding)
3. Talking in Code
4. On a Freezing Chicago Street
5. New song, ...something about a payphone (Walkmen)
6. Paper Kitten Nightmare
7. Skeleton key, with a little stronger into
8. Vampires in Blue Dresses (during which I briefly fell in love with the keyboard player)
9. Quiet as a Mouse
{random freakout}
10. Barfight Revolution, Power Violence, with extra distortion
11. Jen Is Bringing the Drugs, with keyboardist on melodica

Score: mMmGravy

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Top 10 Films of 2006

It’s hard for me to really imagine someone saying it was a bad year for movies. I guess you would’ve had to either a) never gone to the movies, b) had a very bad internal screening system in which you only saw bad movies, c) didn’t have an open mind, or d) just not been on the lookout for the really good stuff. Of my top 10, I think only two weren’t (or will never be) major releases at one point or another. I saw 78 theatrical releases this year, and these were the ones that stood out. And beyond these, there are many, many other movies I really, really liked that I hate not being able to put on here…The Proposition, Dreamgirls, Children of Men, The Good Shepherd, Conversations With Other Women, Crank, Beerfest, The Break-Up, Inside Man, Thank You For Smoking, Letters From Iwo Jima. In all fairness, there was a lot of mediocrity, but the stuff that was great was incredible. And really, if the only good films this year were the ones on this list, you’d have enough of a case for 2006.

But I do have to give special shout-out to ROCKY BALBOA for being the movie with the biggest heart in the world this year (seriously, it’s a really, really great movie and everyone everywhere should see it), and to SNAKES ON A PLANE for being the dumbest, funnest thing ever.

10. BRICK – Reinventing the teen movie is fun. So is reinventing film noir. Doing them both at the same time when you’ve never made a movie before in your life? That’s outstanding. Writer/director Rian Johnson has his work cut out for him next time out.

9. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE – I went in fully expecting to hate this movie, and then look what happened. Everyone in the cast is fantastic, and it takes what I think most people would’ve never expected to be interesting ever again (the dysfunctional family on a road trip) and makes it great.

8. THE DEPARTED – Everybody expected this to be a footnote in Martin Scorsese’s career, and it may just finally win him the Oscar (I can only hope). What a cool, cool movie. You can point out specifics all you want, but everyone in the cast is absolutely fantastic, and any awards this gets are entirely deserved.

7. CLERKS II – Totally. I love this movie up and down. Kevin Smith, thankfully, gave us at least one more go-around with what he does best – the most vulgar stuff in the world with a heart to match it.

6. A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION – Proving nothing is too cheesy for me, I guess, at least when it comes from a really genuine spot. This ended up being Robert Altman’s last film, and man it couldn’t have been more fitting (if a film could ever be). The whole ensemble is fantastic, especially (of all people) Kevin Kline.

5. PAN’S LABYRINTH – Hardest film in the world to describe, but especially after seeing it again, I’m convinced it’s an instant classic. Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is in the big leagues now.

4. THE PRESTIGE – Christopher Nolan is so good. So good. He should put Christian Bale in every movie he makes from now on. This movie just attached itself to me and will not let go. Are You Watching Closely?

3. MARIE ANTOINETTE – This movie is pure joy. I love every ounce of it. Kirsten Dunst really came into her own for this, and it’s exhilarating to watch her glide through Sofia Coppola’s vision of this awesome story. And the music…the soundtrack’s been pumping pretty constantly for the past three months now. I’m gonna be writing a lot more about this one after the DVD comes out.

2. UNITED 93 – It’s hard to really say I love this movie, even though I do. It’s really hard to explain what’s so effective about it, but I think it mainly has to do with bringing back all those emotions we felt on that day. All the fear, anxiety, hope, everything. I really felt like all that was behind me until I saw this. No politics, no propaganda, no Taliban, no Iraq, no Bush. Just people from all walks of life, on every side, trying to grapple with this unbelievable event. Certainly the most important film of the year.

1. THE FOUNTAIN – Shocking. I know. I probably don’t have anything left to say about the movie, but I’ll be talking about it for years. To me, the best films are the ones that reach the furthest and get there. Darren Aronofsky reached further than probably anyone’s dared since Kubrick made 2001. And he got there.

Onto 2007! Before too long, I’ll have a “What To Look For In The First Half of 2007” article up. I’m gonna start writing more straight-up articles on The Rail about movies and TV to get in the practice of it. They’ll be separately labeled so if you’re just interested in my shorter musings on pop culture, college life, and the weather, you’ll know when to skip posts.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

One Year Ago Yesterday I Wrote...


When each of us are born, a fairy is also born. They are born simultaneously with human so that they are able to counter-balance the human population affectively. Each Fairy is unique and like it’s human counterpart “special.” What I am trying to say is that each fairy has unique powers. Now these powers are not to be confused with magic. For Magic—as we all know—does not exist. No, Fairies are given something different, something much like the human spirit but rather then being contained on the inside, locked up and becoming the drive for the physical body to express a fairy’s spirit is much more complex. A fairy’s spirit is outwardly expressed, opposed to a human’s inwardly expressed soul. This is what gives the fairies their light luminescent glow. Now their powers range from inherently evil to inherently good. This range is determined by their human counterpart (although they would argue that the human soul is determined by the fairy’s spirit). For each positive force there is a negative force, this is a universal truth and there for it must also be true in life. If the human being is an evil person such as Adolph Hitler or Barbra Streisand their fairy counterpart is extremely good natured and caring. However if the human is Good-beyond-all-belief then the fairy is an ill-tempered fiery disaster.

During Prehistoric times, long before Jesus, Moses, or Abraham there was an evil human civilization near Mesopotamia, These people were so inherently evil that their good fairy counterparts were unable to live alongside them. They decided to destroy them all. This (in Fairy lore) was called “The Great Enlightenment.” It was considered an enlightenment because in the attempt to purge the earth of evil, they themselves became evil (for killing is evil). In turn, by Natural Law the evil humans were now forced to change for the better and become good, for their fairy counterparts had become evil. But by then it was too late and the evil fairies had drowned the good humans in an attempt to cleanse the earth. The death of the humans, however, led to their deaths as well, for there was no longer an opposite force to keep them balanced and they all perished. Luckily some guy in a boat had saved a few bugs and turtles and was able to repopulate earth through inbreeding. And thus the fairies lived.

In the year 74002476434209809434 S.F.D. (Standard Fairy Dating) or 1964 A.D. A Fairy by the name of Pix Pic-Pickity had a revolutionary idea. The Fairy population would cut themselves off from human society. This was not widely accepted throught the fairy world. Many feared they would cause the deaths of countless humans not to mention fairies. Others were afraid that this move would destroy the fairy economy and inflate the currency. However the fairy governments rallied around Pix Pic-Pickity and they devised a plan. They would kidnap the President of St. Kitts & Nevis ( a small Caribbean nation) and hold him hostage until the humans around the world would release all Fairy hostages and destroy all information pertaining to fairies. This plan failed miserably. So the had to do it themselves.

Using their small size, they infiltrated government buildings and libraries, where they systematically began destroying all fairy information. Pix Pic-Pickity founded an elite fairy force that became known as “The Pixies” (creating the derogatory name for fairies) They were the ones that led the French Pixy Revolution of 1971 and freed over seven thousand fairy prisoners. The Fairies then relocated to Greenland where they stay in hiding to this day. Because they still exist they are able to keep the fragile balance between Human and Fairy intact, but most refuse interaction. This has resulted in the evil fairies leaving Greenland and tormenting unwilling humans, such as myself. Over the decades the fairies have been slowly forgotten and they leave a peaceful existence. This is why they have recently began attacking humans in the last few weeks, because the Government of St. Kitts & Nevis have finally retaliated against the fairies sending nuclear missiles into Greenland. The UN has refused to take action because, and I quote, “The Fairy Government of Greenland has refused to offer aid in the past…and after all they are not human.” In retaliation the Pixy Army has invaded St. Kitts & Nevis and killed nearly 75% of its population. We are facing a time of crisis, and we must act, if not for ourselves then for the turtles!