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Posts Tagged ‘country’
13 May

Week 157: “To Hear Still More” by Brian Harnetty and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

silentcity

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The next time you’re feeling stressed out, go to the library. Hang out there for a while, and I guarantee that you will start to feel better.

Libraries are the perfect place to de-stress. Especially big libraries. They’ve got all the grandeur, reverence, and peacefulness of a church. They’ve got the comfort and warmth of a living room. Everybody’s welcome, especially these days, when the internet has eliminated many people’s need to visit.

A few weeks ago I spent a couple of blissful hours in my city’s biggest library. I found a quiet corner by a window, way up on the fifth floor, and just sat doing nothing for a couple of hours. That’s the other great thing about libraries; they’re all about books, but you don’t have to go there to read. You don’t really have to do anything. It’s not like a store where the staff will start to look at you funny if you don’t buy anything.

For a while I just sat there, enjoying the almost overwhelming silence. It’s a bizarre feeling to be surrounded by stacks upon stacks of words, but not hear anyone speaking. After a while I put in my headphones and listened to some music. This song came on, and it immediately struck me as the perfect library anthem.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Parts of it sound like a music box in slow-motion.

2. Parts of it sound like a sleeping accordion.

3. There’s no real melody, tempo, or structure. Just a couple minutes of peace.

Recommended listening activity:

Picking books at random, and reading their first and last sentences.

13 Feb

Week 92: “Every Little Thing” by Good Lovelies

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In an effort to be inclusive, one of my goals with this blog has been to include as many musical genres as possible. But it’s tough to fight your own biases, and I had long ago resigned myself to the fact that I would probably never be able to tag a post as “country”.

Imagine my delight, then, when Wikipedia informed me that Canada’s Good Lovelies, who I’d always thought of as pretty folky, were officially classified as country! (Well, actually it was folk slash country, but I’ll take it.)

With a devoted following, a Juno award, and harmonies tighter than jeans at a cowboy convention, the Good Lovelies are just the perfect thing to break the genre barrier here at BSOTW.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The humming at the beginning. Right away, the song sounds as cozy as a crackling fireplace.

2. I love that in the chorus, on beat two of every bar, they throw a subtle little handclap into the mix. Never before have handclaps been so relaxing.  It kind of reminds me of the big second beat in the chorus of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”.

3. The big “oh oh ohs” that take the song home, starting at 2:30. If this is what country is becoming, I’m going to need some new boots.

Recommended listening activity:

Leaving the porch light on for someone who isn’t home yet.

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19 Sep

Week 71: “Passing Afternoon” by Iron & Wine

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Don’t be fooled by the ampersand: Iron & Wine is one guy.

The stage name that Sam Beam adopted when he started crafting feathery folk tunes ten years ago came from an item he happened to see on the shelf at a gas station. Sitting among various home remedies like castor oil, Beam spotted a protein supplement for sale called “Beef, Iron & Wine”. He dropped the “beef” part, feeling that the two-sided name fit nicely with the raw-but-delicate sound of his music.

So, the moral of the story is two-pronged: first, if you’re stuck for a band name, never underestimate a trip to the gas station, and second, the name “Beef, Iron & Wine” is still available. Which is good news if you’re looking to start a band made up of exotic-male-dancer-bartenders.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The quiet vocals. As well as making beards cool again, Iron & Wine might be considered the pioneer of whisper-singing.

2. It’s the only song you’re likely to come across where the singer mentions the bougainvillea plant. He could have chosen to sing about any plant in the world; roses, tulips, daisies, lilacs. But he bypassed the plants that hog all the attention and gave the humble bougainvillea its time to shine. And that’s awesome.

3. The three-against-four piano line that begins at 3:09. Not really what you’d call a piano solo…maybe just a piano nightcap.

Recommended listening activity:

Wine on a weeknight.

28 Feb

Week 42: “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” by Wilco

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In early 2000, photographer Sam Jones contacted the band Wilco to ask if he could document the conception, recording, and release of their next album. He had no idea what he was getting into.

What was supposed to be a neat little film about a band he liked ended up being the story of the band’s split from its record label, the firing of a key member, and the creation of a masterpiece that almost never saw the light of day.

When Wilco finished the album, curiously titled “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, they gave it to their record label, Reprise, which was a division of the Warner Music Group. They hated it. They refused to release it, and told the band they could either overhaul it, or leave. They left. They released it themselves by streaming it for free on their website (a new and novel  idea at the time), and it immediately gained praise from fans and critics. In response, another record label, Nonesuch Records, offered them a new contract to release the album the traditional way. Wilco accepted. The punchline is that Nonesuch is another subsidiary of Warner Music Group, so essentially, Warner ended up paying Wilco twice for the same album.

There’s something heroic about bands whose masterpiece album is rejected by record labels, only to become a huge success anyway. It’s like seeing a little patch of grass bravely growing through a crack in the pavement. You can’t help but cheer it on.

Anyway, Sam Jones’ film is fascinating, and shares its name with this song, which is the album’s opening track.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Layers and layers of instruments. This is a huge song to open an album with. Mixing it was apparently quite a challenge, and the variety of sounds on this track is astounding. Synths, pianos, guitars, bells…and is that a washboard at 3:00? By the end, it sounds like they hired a kindergarten class to come into the studio and hit stuff.

2. Jeff Tweedy’s apathy. His lazy, mumbly way of singing recalls Neil Young on sleeping pills, and I mean that in the best possible way.

3. The lyrics. Matching Tweedy’s delivery, the lyrics are cryptic yet almost painful snippets of pain and loss. “This is not a joke, so please stop smiling. / What was I thinking when I said it didn’t hurt?” He could be talking about an ill-advised breakup, a split from a record label, firing a band member…the great thing about being cryptic as a songwriter is that you can talk about everything and nothing at the same time.

Recommended listening activity:

Finally throwing out old stuff that’s been taking up too much space.