Sound Check

I haven't written much here recently about music, mostly because I find writing about music to be the most difficult sort of writing to do, but I've been having fun with some new discoveries recently, and thought it might be fun to share.

For instance, there's a new Okkervil River album, The Stand Ins (a sequel, of sorts, to last year's The Stage Names). I have shed great amounts of praise on Okkervil here in the past, and really, how could I dislike a band that named themselves after one of my favorite Tatyana Tolstaya stories? I can't say I've entirely warmed to these two albums the way I did to Okkervil's earlier work, but they're still plenty interesting. On The Stand Ins, the lyrics to "Singer Songwriter" particularly amuse me:
Your great-grandfather was a great lawyer
And his kid made a mint off the war
Your father shot stills and then directed films
That your mom did publicity for

I saw your older sis on the year's best book list
And your brother, he manages bands
And you're keen to down play, but you're quick to betray
With one welt and that wave of your hand

You come from wealth
Yeah, you got wealth
What a bitch, they didn't give you much else
(Actually, my favorite lyrics are from later on in the song: "It's all in your hand, it's all in your hand/ like a gun, like a globe, like a grand.")

Speaking of lyrics, I've been loving those on Conor Oberst's new self-titled album (previously, he was part of Bright Eyes). The first and last songs are the killers for me. "Cape Canaveral":
Like the citrus glow off the old orange grove
Or the red rocket blaze over Cape Canaveral
It’s been a nightmare to me
Some 1980’s grief
Gives me parachute dreams
Like old war movies
While the universe was drawn
Perfect circles form infinity

Saw the stars get smaller
Tiny diamonds in my memory
I know that victory is sweet
Even deep in the cheap seats
"Milk Thistle":
Lazarus, Lazarus
Why all the tears?
Did your faithful chauffeur just disappear?
What a lonesome feeling
To be waiting around
Like some washed up actress
In a Tinseltown
But for the record
I'd come pick you up
We'll head for the ocean
Just say when you've had enough
For something a bit crazier, I've occasionally been listening to Los Campesinos!, who do such things as title songs "This Is How You Spell 'HAHAHA I've Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics'".

And then there's Gogol Bordello, who really just have to be heard to be believed:
Give me everything theory
Without Nazi uniformity
My brothers are protons
My sisters are neurons
I stir it twice, it's instant family
For a very different sort of thing, I've been dipping into This Land is Mine: South African Freedom Songs, originally released in 1965 by Folkways. It complements the soundtrack to Amandla! well and doesn't have much overlap with 2002's South African Freedom Songs (which is now apparently out of print).

More than anything else, though, I've been listening to the legendary Anthology of American Folk Music, which has now displaced People Take Warning!: Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-1933 as my favorite collection of old weirdness (though really, the two collections complement each other beautifully). It's also led me to conclude that Blind Willie Johnson must be some sort of relative of Tom Waits. And I don't know of another song as simultaneously strange and charming as Henry Thomas singing "Fishin' Blues" -- it goes skipping along for 40 seconds or so, and then suddenly PAN PIPES! And they're perfect! It's one of those songs I suspect I could listen to every day and not grow tired of (this song and some others are available on the Henry Thomas MySpace page, which I assume he created sometime before his presumed death sometime in the 1950s).

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