Saturday, July 03, 2010

Behind the Face of the Music

Does the story behind an album's creation add to the listener's enjoyment, or detract from it? I like to know how a record was made, and what the songs signify. But sometimes I think that the stories bandied about in the news media can overshadow the music itself, and mislead potential listeners.

We all know the story of the guy who got dumped by his band and his girlfriend, and how he retreated to a cabin in snowy Wisconsin to chop firewood and write morose melodies. And the one about the band whose family members all died in a fire at an arcade or something. Have you heard the one about John Petkovic? The guy who sang with Cobra Verde and Death of Samantha? His mom died, and he went on a road trip, and then he formed a new band with J.Mascis and the guys from the band Witch.

They call themselves Sweet Apple, and their album Love and Desperation is a collection of simple but supremely catchy hard rock songs -- reminiscent of an era when BTO, Bad Company, and Grand Funk rocked the FM airwaves. You might not have guessed that Sweet Apple's songs were so upbeat if you ready the story of the band's origin., and you really don't need to know the story to enjoy the record. Sure, it adds a poignant aspect to otherwise pedestrian lines like "I drove and drove and drove and drove," but the songs aren't all about death and grief. Most of them are about chicks and dudes. And sex. And vampires.

Even a band like Venice Is Sinking gets more lines of type for the circumstances surrounding their album -- recording live to tape like the Cowboy Junkies, and the subsequent Georgia Theater fire -- than they do for the gorgeous music that they worked hard to create in that space and time. I guess it gives writers an angle, and it's easier than trying to describe the music itself. We can all relate to tales of hard luck, sobering up, losing a loved one, etc. These trials sometimes lead to catharsis and creation. And many of us like to look for meanings in the lyric sheets and liner notes (or the digital versions thereof), to add to our enjoyment or understanding. But great music doesn't require great personal loss, and these stories of suffering can distract us from the music itself, like judging a book by its cover.

One story I do enjoy is about the genesis of the Kevin Dunn compilation CD. Brad (who runs the Casa Nueva label) was an obsessive reader of the Trouser Press Record Guide. He was intrigued by
Ira Robbins' descriptions of Dunn's music, and he sought out the records and fell in love. Having spent a lot of time with the TPRG, I can relate to that tale of discovery It's not a story of great loss, but it is the true tale behind No Great Lost.

Love and Desperation. The LP comes on red vinyl with a download code, and it looks great sitting next to my copy of Country Life. Listen to Sweet Apple's "I've Got a Feeling (That Won't Change)":

Friday, July 02, 2010

Landing Signs

The members of Venice Is Sinking must feel as though time moves in slow motion for their band. Their third album, Sand & Lines, was released last month, roughly a year after a fire destroyed the Georgia Theater. The group recorded Sand & Lines there back in May 2008.

To add to the sensation of slow motion,
Daytrotter recently made available the session that Venice Is Sinking recorded there last August. If the band starts recording something new RIGHT NOW, odds are that we'll hear the finished project shortly before the world ends in 2012.

Sand & Lines is a live recording (without an audience), intended to capture the ambience and acoustics of the theater. Compared to the studio albums, it sounds less lush and orchestral, more hushed and spectral. Seven sad and lovely original songs sit alongside covers of Dolly Parton ("Jolene"), Galaxie 500 ("Tugboat"), and Waylon Jennings ("Wurlitzer Prize", which was actually written by Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons). Daniel and Karolyn harmonize beautifully together, and the touches of violin, trumpet and keyboard are like fireflies in the twilight.

Sand & Lines on vinyl, and catch the band onstage this summer in Athens and Atlanta (7/09 at the 40 Watt; 7/10 at the Drunken Unicorn; and 8/28 at the EARL). Proceeds from the album go toward rebuilding the Georgia Theater.

Bardstown Road (live version from WOXY):

Thursday, July 01, 2010


My concert-going habits have also changed. I think I only went to three shows last year. So far this year, I've seen the Residents, Acrassicauda, and Wintersleep. Shows I'm looking forward to:

8/14/09: Mission of Burma, Raymilland, and Oh-OK (among others) at the
Athens Popfest! Raymilland's "Recordings 1979-81" is available from BDR Recordings. Linda Hopper (ex-Oh-OK) has released a new Magnapop album, Chase Park.

9/04/10: Autolux at the Masquerade! The new album
Transit Transit comes out August 3rd.

9/13/10: Pixies perform Doolittle at the Fox Theater! Hate on, haters. Maybe I can get my wife to go with me.

9/28/10: Mastodon, Deftones, and Alice in Chains at Lakewood! I'll be there with my teenage son. \m/

10/18/10: School of Seven Bells at the EARL! July 13 is the release date for their new album,
Disconnect from Desire.

SVIIB: Babelonia

Magnapop: Q-Tip