Being that this is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus by giving one another all sorts of things that we don’t really need (check out the Advent Conspiracy for a counter-consumerist idea of Christmas), I thought it right to offer a small gift to you all…in the form of two versions of a song CALLED “The Gift (I Burn for You)” which has something of a fun history behind it.
In December 2007, Sufjan Stevens created what was called “The Great Sufjan Song Xmas Xchange,” which was basically a contest where anyone could submit a Christmas-themed song to Sufjan’s label, Asthmatic Kitty, and there would be a process of judging the songs with the winner being given the rights to a holiday song that Sufjan had composed.
I had written a number of songs in the past (30 or so) and felt like I could possibly come up with something creative enough to submit, and I had a few wonderfully talented friends whom I thought I could bring together to play/sing on the song in order to make it sound much better than I ever could myself. So, I began brainstorming ideas for this submission.
I am embarrassed to admit that I believe it was the movie, The Holiday, with Kate Winslet that actually planted the seed of a song idea in my mind. My wife was watching it and I caught just a glimpse of a scene where the character played by Ms. Winslet was giving a present to a man who was something of an unrequited love (if I’m remembering correctly). I started thinking of how painful it would be to have put a great deal of time and energy into finding a present, which represented the deep affections in one’s own heart, and giving it to a person who could/would not appreciate what it truly meant. So I started thinking of a story that would become the song I submitted.
The melody and structure of the song came to me quite easily, but it is a rather simple composition (verse/pre-chorus/chorus repeated three times with no bridge). I asked one of my RA’s at the time (and a dear friend ever after), Erin Hennessy, to sing the song, as it was written from a female perspective and she has an eminently lovely voice, and I tried to form a one-off band with the ever talented Josh McBride, Jon Crosswhite, Justin Botz, and the one-and-only genius wunderkind, Elijah Wade Smith.
Well, as the deadline approached, my superband did not pan out, but Elijah did record Erin and I playing the song the night before the contest deadline and so we submitted it to Sufjan as “Erin Hennessy & Sgt. Grumbles,” which was my pen name at the time (though due to a technical glitch, it was a mono recording and could only be heard from one side of a stereo system…Randall Wetzig later used some connections to fix this problem for your listening convenience).
Did we win the prize? Nope. Did we win an honorable mention? Nope (though my friend Wesley’s band Boris Smile did!). However, as Sufjan was writing about the over 600 submissions that he received, our song DID get a little shout out in this paragraph:
There were songs with banjos and ukuleles, songs with synthesizer strings, songs with Casio beats, techno beats, beat boxing, sugary shaker sounds and tambourines. There were songs in Latin, songs in Danish, songs in multiple key signatures, songs with vocoders, songs with Rhodes pianos, toy pianos, multiple xylophones, precious songs with Midwestern accents, sardonic songs with English accents, whistling songs, songs with wrapping paper as metaphor for an overbearing lover, songs as advice columns to Santa, as advice columns to ex-lovers, songs with reed organs and mouth organs and pipe organs. Songs with references to Henry James, in-laws, more ex-girlfriends, abstract ambient songs with twinkling bells and silver glitter, no-nonsense songs with the curmudgeon-y sneer of a Grinch, songs about innocence and forgiveness, songs about spite and regret, songs with great big bear hugs and songs with wintry gazes, songs with reminiscent, sentimental choruses, songs with the names of soccer players and American tycoons, songs with sleigh bells and happy rapping, songs with the thumping back beats of reindeer hooves, screaming children, bumbling boo hoos, bah-humbugs, songs with the beating hearts of all mankind. These were the generous songs of many creative voices participating in the convoluted mysteries of the Christmas tube sock! Yes!
So although we did not win the prize, just knowing that Sufjan had listened to a song I had written & upon which I was (weakly) playing guitar made all of the effort worthwhile! (Also, the reference to Henry James in the song is meant to allude to his novella, “The Beast in the Jungle,” which deals with a story of unrequited love.) But the story doesn’t end there…
Last Christmas, I received one of the best Christmas gifts ever, as Josh, Erin and Jon re-arranged and recorded “The Gift” and sent it to me, complete with banjo, sing-along “la-la” parts, and most cleverly, Josh’s voice singing the parts spoken by the man in the song under Erin’s lead vocal. While I’m sure you will enjoy their rendering of this tune, because of the sweet friendship and affection which I hear in every note, I think it is simply one of the most lovely things I’ve ever heard! I’ve included the original version here so you can hear Erin’s beautiful voice more clearly (the new version was recorded via the mic on a laptop) and to see the brilliance of the re-arrangement!
Hope you enjoy this “gift” dear friends and readers…
Download: “The Gift (I Burn for You)”
The Gift (I Burn for You)
It’s dark outside, my hands are cold from pressing against the window pane
And a fire burns as I wait for you as if all my waiting was through.
My gift to you sits next to the tree, boxes in golden paper:
A record player and 40 LP’s—I searched hard for your favorite bands.
I know that this will give me away, but I don’t care at all…
The time has come to open my heart and accept whatever may happen or not.
I burn for you
Like the star shining over the manger
To direct you to
My heart lying quiet
Like Jesus the savior of men.
When you show up and take off your jacket, you’re wearing the sweater I gave to you.
I make myself wait ‘til we’ve finished dinner to show you the present, but then you say
“Did I tell you that my ex-girlfriend’s back in town from Colorado?”
Then you look away, I go make some coffee.
You ask me to borrow some Henry James.
I tell you to take whatever you want and you say that you’ll take it all
And then you ask, “Who’s that present for?” and I say, “It’s for my brother.”
It’s dark inside, my face is warm from shame and from tears and a hope that’s lost.
The fire dies, I cover my eyes but see through my fingers your present there—
Should I give it away? I know it can’t stay, but I spent all my money on it.
I open it up and take out one record—of course, it had to be “Hey Jude.”
I hold it in my hands like it was my life they were singing about…
I kneel by the fire and then throw it in so that no one can ever hear it again.
Every once in a while it is suitable to give a brief update on the inner-workings of the blog and its contributors. November is upon us and autumn is in full swing. While I failed to publish a single post in the month of October, Greg more than made up for it with several excellent posts (including an amazing playlist of music from 2010 thus far and a very interesting and insightful look at Sufjan Stevens’ excellent new record, Age of Adz – thank you Greg for picking up my slack!). But if you’re really thirsty for more discussion on the ‘Hipster Christianity’ theme that Greg has featured in two posts in September (‘“Hipster” “Christianity”: a “review”‘ and ‘Mocking Hipster Faith‘), I have done a book review of Brett McCracken’s book Hipster Christianity for the blog Transpostions which can be viewed here.
Some exciting news from the blog can be found in the address bar of your internet browser: ‘lostinthecloudblog.com‘! Because we so love this conversation with our readers on LITC, we’ve decided to take this up a notch and acquire an official domain name. So update your bookmark menu and the links to our blog that you constantly pass around to your friends (who are we kidding – we know none of you do this…).
As Greg has hinted, we are rapidly approaching the end of 2010, which means one thing here on LITC: MORE LISTS. Concerning music specifically, this has been an excellent year to be an active collector and listener. I can promise that at the end of this year I will be making several significant modifications to my Top 20 Bands and Top 50 Albums lists. As we share our favourites with you, we’d love to hear your favourites (please enlighten us).
Thank you to all who regularly visit and contribute to our blog. It is likely that in our lameness Greg and I would keep doing this blog even if he and I were the only two people who ever looked at it, but all of you really help us to bring these issues—however serious or silly—into a broader conversation, giving us insights and perspectives that we might not have otherwise encountered. And we love it.
SO, we are almost to the point where there are only TWO MONTHS left in 2010! Which means, most importantly to those of us here at LITC, that Elijah and I have but two months to put the finishing touches on our annual “best of” lists (music, film, what-not).
In anticipation of that great day when we post aforementioned lists, I have put together a little “mix CD” with what I feel is some of the best music of the year–no guarantees that ALL of these bands will be on the list, but there are good “odds” (you might say) that some of them will certainly take their place on that hallowed post. (Note: there is one track not from a release this year, a rare Jeff Buckley/Elizabeth Fraizer collaboration that I only recently came across…so it’s NEW to me!)
I have entitled the mix, “Two Months,” which I only the moment I began writing consciously realised was the amount of time left in the year. I have included my stab at a cover for the mix (artwork from Craig Thompson), as well as the playlist so that you may recreate the song order on your own music management software.
I have posted the songs here in my “Dropbox”–I suppose you will have to download the program to access them (I’ve officially been told you do not), but I’ve found it quite a handy way to shar–um, access my own files from separate computers. I do present these songs with the intention of promoting the artists & always encourage true music fans to obtain the original release if they find themselves in love with the songs.
1. “I Think Ur A Contra”–Vampire Weekend/Contra
2. “Tyrant Destroyed”–Twin Shadow/Forget
3. “See How Man Was Made”–Josh Ritter/So Runs The World Away
4. “We Used to Wait”–Arcade Fire/The Suburbs
5. “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk”–The New Pornographers/Together
6. “Heart to Tell”–The Love Language/Libraries
7. “FootShooter”–Frightened Rabbit/The Winter Of Mixed Drinks
8. “I Walked”–Sufjan Stevens/The Age Of Adz
9. “Solitude Is Bliss”–Tame Impala/InnerSpeaker
10. “Never Before”–The Guggenheim Grotto/The Universe Is Laughing
11. “What Do You Think Will Happen Now?”–Owen Pallett/Heartland
12. “The Owl And The Tanager”–Sufjan Stevens/All Delighted People EP
13. “Acid Love”–Sleepy Sun/Fever
14. “All Flowers in Time Bend Towards the Sun”–Jeff Buckley & Elizabeth Fraizer/Rarities from NYC
15. “Sorrow”–The National/High Violet
16. “The Last One”–Au Revoir Simone/Still Night, Still Light
17. “Before You Go”–Sarah Jaffe/Suburban Nature
18. “Victory”–The Walkmen/Lisbon
I feel somewhat embarrassed adding my top 20 bands here after Elijah’s masterful unveiling of his list in a climactic series of posts. There are no reasons, no recommendations, no videos herein…just an unadorned sequence of names.
There were several criteria that I used in my selection process:
- I needed to currently own or be in the process of collecting everything these artists have done. So, for instance, bands like The Kinks or The Clash are not on this list because not only have I not heard all of their albums, but I also feel somewhat disinclined to purchase them due to what I have heard (though of course there are such brilliant albums in their discographies). You might call this a Rule of Canonical Consistency.
- While there are bands who fit the above criterion (Regina Spektor, Bloc Party, Snow Patrol), I also needed to sense a generally unwavering personal commitment to defending these bands’ reputation (which I would not do for the above artists). Perhaps this might be considered an Apologetic Fidelity.
- The final criterion was a kind of “desert island disc” principle: could I see myself listening to these bands’ music, and only these bands’ music, for the rest of my life? Accordingly, we might entitle this the Theory of Undiminishing Returns.
- I do hope this list will change over the years…Elijah has given me much to mull over in his list. I’d love to hear any of your suggestions as well!
(Numbers in parentheses indicate their location on Elijah’s Top 20 Bands list)
- Sufjan Stevens (3)
- Radiohead + Thom Yorke (5)
- The Beatles + John Lennon + George Harrison (12)
- Lou Barlow + Sebadoh + Sentridoh + Folk Implosion (18)
- Elliott Smith + (his songs in Heatmiser) (2)
- Frightened Rabbit (Honourable Mentions)
- Bright Eyes + Conor Oberst
- Jeff Buckley
- Sigur Ros + Riceboy Sleeps + Jónsi
- The Smiths + Morrrissey (6)
- Richard & Linda Thompson
- Pedro the Lion + David Bazan + Headphones (Honourable Mentions)
- Animal Collective + Panda Bear
- Neko Case + The New Pornographers
- U2 + Passengers
- Sunny Day Real Estate + Jeremy Enigk
- The Dears
- Andrew Bird
- Lift to Experience + Josh T. Pearson
- John Vanderslice + MK Ultra
- The National
1. Bob Dylan
Surprise, surprise – Bob Dylan is my favourite ‘band’. From a critical perspective, Dylan’s monumental place in the history of popular music is indisputable, yet despite his massive popularity and critical enshrinement, he is and has ever been elusive, in a constant state of artistic evolution. In Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary No Direction Home, Dylan states, ‘I had ambitions to set out to find…this home that I’d left a while back. … I was born very far from where I’m supposed to be so I’m on my way home.’
In Greenwich Village, the epicentre of the post-McCarthy folk revival in the early sixties, Dylan would pick out which performers were ‘doing it for real’ and then pick up how they were doing it. Dylan states regarding performers he admired, ‘[There] was something in their eyes that said “I know something you don’t know” and I wanted to be that kind of performer.’ He describes the folk scene in the early 60s as divided into two camps: pop music for college kids and intellectual folk music – Dylan considered himself neither. In his 2006 autobiography Chronicles, Volume One he writes,’ There were a lot better singers and musicians around [Greenwich Village] but there wasn’t anybody close in nature to what I was doing.’ (London: Pocket Books, 18)
Eventually Dylan’s uniqueness brought him to the attention of Columbia Records’ John Hammond and although Dylan’s voice was not the standard at Columbia—home to the beautiful voices of those like Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis—Hammond’s track record for sales convinced the executives at Columbia that Dylan would be worth their investment. It was with Columbia that Dylan’s massive repertoire (over 600 original compositions) would take off and progress over the course of the last half-century.
Throughout his career Dylan’s music has undergone several significant shifts. In 1965 he ‘went electric’ with Bringing It All Back Home. This transition brought about accusations of ‘going commercial’ for money and fame. Famously, one audience member criticised Dylan, exclaiming ‘Judas!’ during a now-infamous performance at Royal Albert Hall in 1966.
In a 1965 interview with the Chicago Daily News, Dylan stated, ‘I’ve never followed any trend, I just haven’t the time to follow a trend. It’s useless to even try.’ Instead, Dylan saw his ‘going electric’ as a natural progression from his earlier style. In No Direction Home, he states, ‘An artist has got to be careful never really to arrive at a place where he thinks he’s at somewhere. … You’re constantly in a state of becoming.’
In 1966, not long after the release of his third electric record, Blonde on Blonde, Dylan was injured badly in a motorcycle accident. ‘Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race,’ Dylan writes. ‘Having children changed my life and segregated me from just about everybody and everything that was going on.’ (Chronicles, 114) He refrained from touring for the next eight years, but still wrote and recorded prolifically. During this time he returned to more traditional roots and explored country music with several excellent pieces such as ‘I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine’, ‘Lay, Lady, Lay’, ‘If Not For You’ and ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’, but had not achieved a significant amount of critical or commercial success—at least anything that could be likened to the success of his earlier material—until the release of Blood on the Tracks in 1975.
Dylan describes Blood on the Tracks as a product of his ‘painting period’ in which the songs were more ‘like a painter would paint’ rather than those a musician would compose. In The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan, Carrie Brownstein writes, ‘By examining music from a visual perspective, with colours and lines instead of notes and chords, Dylan laid out on the canvas what would be Blood on the Tracks.’ (Kevin J. H. Dettmar, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan, Part I [Cambridge: Cambridge, 2009], 157).
As can be observed from many of his early influences such as Hank Williams’ ‘When God Comes and Gathers His Jewels’ and Woody Guthrie’s ‘Jesus Christ’, Dylan was not unfamiliar with the usage of religious motifs. He employed them in his own work on a regular basis, as is the case with ‘Masters of War’, ‘With God on Our Side’, ‘All Along the Watchtower’, etc. At the time, these expressions were not so much a matter of Dylan’s personal faith as they were the custom of the tradition he was drawing from and his employment of the language of a largely ‘Christian’-literate American society. But by the mid-seventies Dylan began to gain greater interest in religion and God. In a 1975 interview for People magazine Dylan expressed, ‘I’m doing God’s work. That’s all I know.’ Dylan’s interest in faith continued to grow in the late 70s and he converted to Christianity in 1978. Not long after this he began work on his first ‘born-again’ record, Slow Train Coming. Regardless of however outspoken and off-putting Dylan’s conversion might have been to many fans at the time, the single ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ earned him his first Grammy Award for ‘Best Vocal Performance’ in 1979.
As Dylan had unwittingly become the spokesperson for the folk elitists in the early sixties, he found himself in a similar predicament with regard to the religious community in the eighties. With his 1983 release, Infidels, Dylan began distancing himself from any explicit avowal of faith and the institutions to which he was inevitably linked. After Infidels, Dylan experienced what may be considered a creative, critical and commercial lull. In 1997 he released his ‘comeback’ album Time Out of Mind, which was followed by a string of successes: “Love and Theft” (2001), Modern Times (2006) and Together Through Life (2009). In No Direction Home, artist, musician and friend of Dylan, Bob Neuwirth comments, ‘I think [Dylan] always made exactly the work he wanted to make at the time he wanted to make it. The audience came to Bob.’
While I can’t deny that his work from the mid-eighties through the early-nineties is not my favourite, the magic of Dylan’s music and his ability to constantly reinvent himself en route to ‘becoming’ have significantly shaped the way I see music and how I both personally and creatively interact with the world. Because of this profound and unparalleled impact in my life he belongs nowhere but in this number one slot.
Three of his records can be found on my Top 50 Albums list (and actually reveal my partiality to his earlier material): The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963), The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964) and Blonde on Blonde (1966).
‘Chimes of Freedom’ from Another Side of Bob Dylan, live at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964:
‘Like A Rolling Stone’ from Highway 61 Revisited, live at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965:
In addition to his massive discography, here are some titles of suggested books and films related to Dylan:
- The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia by Michael Gray (London: Continuum, 2006)
- Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews edited by Jonathan Cott (New York: Wenner Books, 2006)
- The Bob Dylan Scrapbook: 1956-1966 by Bob Dylan (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005)
- The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan edited by Kevin J. H. Dettmar (Cambridge: Cambridge, 2009)
- Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan (London: Pocket Books, 2006)
- Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited by Clinton Heylin (New York: William Morrow, 2001)
- Lyrics, 1962-2001 by Bob Dylan (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006)
- Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, Vol. 1: 1957-73 by Clinton Heylin (London: Constable, 2010)
- Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan, Vol. 2: 1974-2008 by Clinton Heylin (London: Constable, 2010)
- Tarantula, an experimental novel written by Bob Dylan from 1965-6 (New York: Harper Perennial, 2005)
- Dont Look Back, documentary covering Dylan’s 1965 tour of the UK, directed by D.A. Pennebaker (1967)
- Festival!, documentary of the Newport Film Festival from 1963-5, directed by Murray Lenner (1967)
- I’m Not There, semi-biographical film, ‘Inspired by the music and the many lives of Bob Dylan’, directed by Todd Haynes (2007)
- No Direction Home, documentary on Dylan’s early life and his career prior to his touring hiatus in 1966 following his motorcycle accident, directed by Martin Scorsese (2005)
Top 20 Bands (as of May 2012)
6. Sufjan Stevens [UPDATE: moved to number 3.]
My deep admiration for Sufjan Stevens is paired with the sad realisation that his rapid rise to fame in 2005 inevitably wore him out. Many feared that Sufjan wouldn’t make another proper record after certain statements he made last year, but lo and behold, this year he unexpectedly released a new EP (All Delighted People) and his newest album, The Age of Adz was released on 12 October [and topped my and Greg’s Top 10 Albums of ’10]. Exciting times, and from the sound of his newest material he is pulling away from the mass appeal generated by Illinois. This recent venture back into semi-electronic, erratic, avant-garde territory is incredibly appealing to me. Three of his records are featured on my Top 50 Albums list: A Sun Came (2000), Greetings From Michigan (2003) and The Age of Adz (2010).
‘For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti’ from Greetings From Michigan, live on a farm:
‘Too Much’ from his forthcoming album Age of Adz, live at Castaways in Ithaca, New York in 2009:
Sorry Sufjan fans (and if he’s reading this, sorry Sufjan), but there’s only room for five in the ‘Top 5’ and he’s not there quite yet. In order to gain membership in my coveted Top 5 [please note the sarcasm] he’ll have to beat the five to follow, beginning with The Smiths.
5. The Smiths/Morrissey [UPDATE: moved to number 6.]
There are major differences between The Smiths and Morrissey, but it didn’t used to be such a stark contrast. For instance, everything The Smiths made was great (if not better!) while the Mozzer has been on a steady decline with few recent high points. Still, taken as a single unit they are phenomenal (and I still believe in you Morrissey!). Through their charisma and uniqueness (largely on account of the Mozzer’s voice and Johnny Marr’s guitar), The Smiths have secured their place as the kings of indie pop. Three of their records can be found on my Top 50 Albums list: The Queen is Dead (The Smiths – 1986), Louder Than Bombs (The Smiths – 1987) and Bona Drag (Morrissey – 1990).
‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ from Hatful of Hollow (The Smiths – 1984), live in Madrid (after two minutes of cheering fans):
‘Suedehead’ from Viva Hate (Morrissey – 1988), live on Later… with Jools Holland:
18. The Kinks [UPDATE: moved to number 13.]
The Kinks were an unstoppable force during the British Invasion of America in the mid-60s, popping out hits like ‘You Really Got Me‘, ‘All Day and All of the Night‘, ‘Tired of Waiting for You‘, etc. While these are surely classic tunes, their excessive familiarity to me (through being forced to listen to oldies radio stations as a child) gave me a great aversion to The Kinks. But like my aversion to The Beatles and The Beach Boys, I have grown out of this distaste for The Kinks (thanks to initial interest years ago via Rushmore and the watering of the seed by the Greg, the Band Evangelist) – and I even love their hits now too! It’s probably a shame to some people that The Kinks are down here at number 18 in my top 20, but I’m not especially familiar with their work after 1970’s Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One and I’ve only been really listening them for some four years now. Give me more time to wise up. Their album The Village Green Preservation Society (1968) can be found among my Top 50 Albums.
‘Sunny Afternoon’ single promo, later included 1966’s Face to Face:
‘Apeman’, featuring a creepy and massive-haired Ray Davies, from 1970’s Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround:
17. Danielson/Daniel Smith
Whether it is through a band consisting primarily of his siblings (Danielson Famile), through a solo project consisting of the man in a gigantic tree costume (Brother Danielson) or his most recent incarnation as just plain Danielson, Daniel Smith has been consistently producing honest, unusual and compelling art over the last two decades. Danielson appeared on my radar soon after my conversion to Christianity in the beginning of high school and I have grown more in love with them/him ever since. Interesting note: Through his association with Danielson I first gave Sufjan Stevens a shot. Read more about Daniel in this post. His/their second record, Tell Another Joke at the Ol’ Choppin’ Block (1997), is featured on my Top 50 Albums list.
‘Things Against Stuff’, live from 2004’s Brother Is to Son from Brother Danielson:
‘Did I Step on Your Trumpet?’ from 2006’s Ships by Danielson (one of the best music videos of all time):
In typical LITC obsessive list-making fashion I’ve decided to compile a list of my Top 20 Bands of all time. I must admit that this list is prone to change, whether it be in order or in composition (perhaps in the coming years more recent groups like Frightened Rabbit, Grizzly Bear and Deerhunter might make their way on or classics that have been in my rotation for most if not all of my life will sneak in like Starflyer 59, Nirvana, The Rolling Stones and The Smashing Pumpkins). I’ll probably modify this list with my ever-changing taste and an ever-growing musical collection, but I will say that the bulk of this list has remained rather consistent over the last few years. Perhaps you’ve not really given some of these groups a fair listen, or perhaps this will encourage you to give them another shot.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate their location on Greg’s Top 20 Bands list)
- Bob Dylan
- Elliott Smith
- Sufjan Stevens (1)
- Belle & Sebastian
- Radiohead (2)
- The Smiths/Morrissey (10)
- Pink Floyd
- The Clash
- The Beatles/George Harrison (3)
- The Beach Boys
- The Kinks
- Neil Young
- Tom Waits
- The Velvet Underground
- Danielson/Daniel Smith
- Sebadoh/Lou Barlow (4)
- Starflyer 59
- Cass McCombs
- Frightened Rabbit (6)
- Pedro the Lion/Headphones/David Bazan (12)
- Brian Eno
- Grizzly Bear
- Deerhunter/Atlas Sound
- Camera Obscura
I have been a faithful disciple of the Band Evangelist for over half a decade and have him to thank for my introduction to and increased appreciation of Andrew Bird, Band of Horses, Lou Barlow, The Birthday Party, Department of Eagles, Jeremy Enigk (sans SDRE), Frightened Rabbit, The Kinks, Lift to Experience, Neutral Milk Hotel and Teenage Fanclub.
As a disciple I’d like to spread the gospel of some upcoming releases myself (hopefully we can count on apostolic succession):
- Interpol Interpol (7 Sept) – Their first record since 2007’s Our Love to Admire. It has potential…
- Sleep Forever Crocodiles (14 Sept) – Last year’s Summer of Hate wasn’t my favourite record, but I always have high hopes for noisy/shoegazey music.
- Tidelands Moondoggies (14 Sept) – Seattle-based folk rock band Moondoggies’ new release should prove fun.
- The Trip Lætitia Sadier (21 Sept) – Sadier, lead singer of Stereolab, appeared on Atlas Sound’s excellent record Logos last year, singing the lead beautifully on ‘Quick Canal’.
- Halcyon Digest Deerhunter (28 Sept) – Deerhunter, who was evangelised to me by Annette, is an excellent and innovative group fronted by Bradford Cox (Atlas Sound). Their last record, 2008’s Microcastle, was one of my favourites from that year.
- Belle and Sebastian Write About Love Belle & Sebastian (11 Oct) – I had the opportunity to hear the band share two songs from this record a couple of weeks ago in Glasgow. Incredibly catchy and beautiful – they are still stuck in my head. This will likely be in my top ten of 2010.
- The Age of Adz Sufjan Stevens (12 Oct) – This will be Sufjan’s first LP in over five years! He wetted our appetites with last week’s release of the All Delighted People EP and The National have helped been a part of recording this new one. I except good great things. Could he take the number one slot of the Best of 2010?
Preview the new Sufjan Stevens track, ‘I Walked’, here:
As for music thus far this year (in addition to the Band Evangelist’s list), if you haven’t heard the following, I suggest you do:
- The Suburbs Arcade Fire
- King of the Beach Wavves
- This Is Happening LCD Soundsystem
- Crystal Castles (II) Crystal Castles
- Teen Dream Beach House
- Crazy For You Best Coast
- Looks Like a Flood, Feels Like a Drought Preacher’s Sons
- Hidden These New Puritans
- Boys Outside Steve Mason (singer of the now-defunct Beta Band)
- I Heart California Admiral Radley (featuring the singer and drummer of the now-defunct Grandaddy)
- Daughters Daughters
Musical blessings unto thee.
Today marks what would have been Elliott Smith’s 41st birthday and I’d like to share a brief thought.
Think about some of the most influential popular musicians from the last 50 years. Perhaps Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Creed [followed by an audible laugh] and so on. Perhaps we could come to a consensus and say that these names (with the exception of one) are legendary. Dylan, McCartney, Lennon, Gilmour, Waters, Jackson, Cobain. We could continue the list for ages, but what I want to point out is that I’ve listed surnames and readers who are familiar with popular music in America and Britain probably knew exactly whom I was referring to. When I write ‘Paul and John’ you probably realise that I am referring to the principle songwriters (though George is clearly the best) of one of the most influential bands in history and in the proper context we will often call Michael by his forename without too much confusion. This is probably due to the fact that Michael Jackson and The Beatles are very much household names. Still, taken on their own we’ll more typically employ the surname.
Now, I am not suggesting that somehow Elliott Smith might someday be recognised among these greats. He’s been grossly underrated and ignored in the public, but such is the lot of a shy and reclusive indie songwriter who killed himself at 34. Regardless, I find it quite interesting that when I write about Elliott Smith I cannot write, ‘Smith recorded his debut record while still fronting Heatmiser.’ It feels unnatural and impersonal. Elliott wouldn’t want to be talked about that way (although he probably wouldn’t want to be talked about at all). (This is all apart from the fact that ‘Smith’ is one of the most common surnames in the English language.) Perhaps the same can be said of Sufjan Stevens, but we all know that writing/saying ‘Sufjan’ is a billion times more pleasing than writing/saying ‘Stevens’. When we write or talk about Elliott it is as if we are talking about an old friend. I never knew Elliott. I never met him and I never saw him in concert, but his music reaches out to listeners like me and each listen becomes a very personal encounter. Elliott shares his soul with us and—as I’ve written about before—he shares our souls for us.
I’ve been compiling a list of my ‘Top 50 Elliott Smith Songs’ for several months now. As Greg so conscientiously shared his ‘Top 50 Sufjan Stevens Songs’ in order based upon his preference, I had hoped to do the same for Elliott. But Elliott’s work is quite different from Sufjan’s and I found that after arranging the first few songs on the list in preferential order it became very arbitrary – I am in love with different tracks for different reasons. So, like my ‘Top 50 Albums’, I am going to organise these songs by title. These tracks (as well as many many others) are all gems and if you don’t own any of the official releases I suggest you look into making some purchases immediately. Enjoy.
- ‘2:45 A.M.’/Either/Or, 1997
- ‘Angeles’/Either/Or, 1997
- ‘Baby Britain’/XO, 1998
- ‘Between the Bars’/Either/Or, 1997
- ‘The Biggest Lie’/Elliott Smith, 1995
- ‘Can’t Make a Sound’/Figure 8, 2000
- ‘Christian Brothers’/Elliott Smith, 1995
- ‘Coast to Coast’/From a Basement on the Hill, 2003
- ‘Dancing on the Highway’/Basement era sessions, circa 2003
- ‘A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free’/From a Basement on the Hill, 2003
- ‘The Enemy Is You’/Either/Or era, circa 1997
- ‘Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands’/XO, 1998
- ‘Everything Means Nothing to Me’/Figure 8, 2000
- ‘Going Nowhere’/Either/Or era, circa 1997, officially released on New Moon in 2007
- ‘Good to Go’/Elliott Smith, 1995
- ‘Happiness’/Figure 8, 2000
- ‘High Times’/Either/Or era, circa 1997, officially released on New Moon in 2007
- ‘How to Take a Fall’/Either/Or era, circa 1997
- ‘I Better Be Quiet Now’/Figure 8, 2000
- ‘I Can’t Answer You Anymore’/3 Titres Inedits (French promo), 2000
- ‘I Didn’t Understand’/XO, 1998
- ‘In the Lost and Found (Honky Bach)’/Figure 8, 2000
- ‘King’s Crossing’/From a Basement on the Hill, 2003
- ‘L.A.’/Figure 8, 2000
- ‘Last Call’/Roman Candle, 1995
- ‘Let’s Get Lost’/From a Basement on the Hill, 2003
- ‘Miss Misery’/Good Will Hunting (soundtrack), 1997
- ‘Needle In the Hay’/Elliott Smith, 1995
- ‘No Name #2’/Roman Candle, 1995
- ‘O So Slow’/Basement era sessions, circa 2003
- ‘Oh Well, Okay’/XO, 1998
- ‘A Passing Feeling’/From a Basement on the Hill, 2003
- ‘Pictures of Me’/Either/Or, 1997
- ‘Pitseleh’/XO, 1998
- ‘Pretty Mary K’/Figure 8, 2000
- ‘Roman Candle’/Roman Candle, 1995
- ‘Rose Parade’/Either/Or, 1997
- ‘Say Yes’/Either/Or, 1997
- ‘Shooting Star’/From a Basement on the Hill, 2003
- ‘Son of Sam’/Figure 8, 2000
- ‘Southern Belle’/Elliott Smith, 1995
- ‘Splitsville’/Southlander (soundtrack), 2001
- ‘Strung Out Again’/From a Basement on the Hill, 2003
- ‘Stupidity Tries’/Figure 8, 2000
- ‘Sweet Adeline’/XO, 1998
- ‘True Love’/Basement era sessions, circa 2003
- ‘Twilight’/From a Basement on the Hill, 2003
- ‘Waltz #2 (Xo)’/XO, 1998
- ‘The White Lady Loves You More’/Elliott Smith, 1995
- ‘You Make it Seem Like Nothing’/Either/Or era live recording, circa 1996
(For the sake of space I’ve omitted anything Elliott did with other musical acts, otherwise I’d certainly include ‘Plainclothes Man’ and ‘Half Right’ from Heatmiser’s 1996 album Mic City Sons and the rare recording from a French radio broadcast of ‘The Machine’ from Elliott’s high school band Stranger Than Fiction.)
Happy birthday, Elliott.
1969 – 2003