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GREAT NEWS: Steven Page’s new record, “Heal Thyself Pt. 1,” comes out March 11th

Long time blog readers know that I’ve been largely absent because I got my dream job in August– I get to teach creative writing at the University of Evansville. It winds up, though, dream jobs take a lot of effort and preparation– because when you care so much about something, it’s impossible to just do it halfway. Because of that, my blog has fallen to the wayside a bit. I think part of the reason is my own expectations for myself: I started this blog as a place for longform criticism and discussion of up-and-coming artists. But as time has crept on (and I’ve gotten older), I’ve found that I spent a lot of time thinking about music that I’ve already processed– not just new stuff. And on top of that– who has time to write 2,000 words several times a week when you have to do that for your job even more frequently?


But this morning, something happened that shook me back into the groove. Steven Page, one of my favorite songwriters of all time, announced his first record since the phenomenal Page One (which I still listen to frequently: in fact, I wrote a short essay on “Over Joy” recently. Again. Short and older. Maybe I need to revise my idea of what a blog post should look like…).

Heal Thyself Pt. 1 comes out March 11, and you can bet there’ll be a review up here March 12th. I’m more excited than I can say, especially since the first single, “Surprise Surprise,” is so damned good. Lyrically, it’s on part with the same brilliant writing we’ve come to expect from Page, who always finds a way to write a clever and thought-provoking song masked in Beatles-esque harmonies and phrases. It’s packed full of lines I wish I’d written– the refrain itself, along with being metrically pleasing and sounding good, is one of the most bluntly honest sentiments I’ve heard in a song in a long time:


I was feeling shame, you were feeling stupid

Because I knew what was wrong with me long before you did


Co-written with Craig Northey, a phenomenal musician in his own right (and co-founder of Odds), the song is lush and layered, with beautiful harmonic backing vocals and an inventive, almost psychedelic guitar part that shines in the bridge and outro. As I always do, though, I keep going back to the lyrics: there are so many stand-out moments here. I love “My mind begins to wish that I was flying/ But it’s not my mind/ It’s my soul”– the idea of immediately negating an idea in a song is really exceptional. You’re trusting your audience to bounce with you, but more than that, you’re showing some narrative disconnect. Does the character always know it’s his soul that wants to fly? Is he lying to us or himself? Is he just honing his ideas as he goes? The layers apply to more than just the beautiful music.


For what it’s worth, I’ve been playing and replaying this stanza:


I’ve spent my whole adult life trying

That the world would find me out before too long

I faint to fail my vision starts a-blurrying

So just stay strong

Or get strong


It sounds like every “maybe a little too harsh” pep talk I’ve ever given myself before plunging into a challenge, or even into something I really enjoy but that makes me nervous for whatever reason. And I guess that’s the strange, magical thing about Page’s music: it always greets me where I am. I’ve always needed his music when it found me: “The Old Apartment” after the housefire, “Call and Answer” as recently as a few weeks ago. This song feels like a perfect continuation of that for me. This is the next step in my life– my adult life, the one where I always feel like I might be a little out of sync.


You should definitely listen to the song, and then you should pre-order the record if you live in Canada. I’ll wait until the US preorder starts like a sucker, I guess. Praying there’s a tour on this one: I last saw Page in 2004 when BNL was doing their Everywhere for Everyone tour. To this day, one of the most powerful concert experiences I’ve ever had was Page explaining the story behind “War on Drugs”, and then, when it seemed the crowd wouldn’t stop their buzzing, his insistence that it was important, that there were lives in the balance, that we needed to listen. It changed the way I viewed artistry and writing to this day– and in fact, remembering that moment sometimes keeps me writing, even when it’s easier to wonder what the point is. (Hey, it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t get weirdly, intensely personal at the end.)


“Surprise, Surprise” from Heal Thyself Pt. 1 by Steven Page, out March 11




AS A SIDE NOTE: I’m going to try to write more often, and maybe lift my ridiculous expectations that every post be a full, long review. We’ll see. I’m excited to share some of the other writing I’ve been doing and some of the other things I’ve been up to, as well. I’ve been on Brick Briscoe’s The Song Show on local NPR affiliate WNIN in Evansville three times in the last few months, once talking about music that mattered to me, once talkingabout Joni Mitchell, and once talking about the incredible, unfulfillable loss of David Bowie. I’ll be on again in February talking about the vital importance of Billy Joel. I finished a novel, I’ve got a short story collection together, and I’m shopping three different poetry chapbooks. Hopefully I’ll have more news on those fronts later.


FORTHCOMING: Josh Ritter, “Sermon on the Rocks” (Oct. 16)

Hello all! In the time since I’ve written, I’ve had the spiritual experience of seeing the Rolling Stones and then the family reunion of the Outlaw Roadshow in Nashville. I’ve got a bunch of great stories, articles, and essays in the works about those experiences, but today, I just wanted to pop in and let you know that you can finally exhale, Josh Ritter’s new record Sermon on the Rocks has been announced, and the first single has been released, and best of all, it is absolutely as glorious as one would hope.



“Getting Ready to Get Down” has such a great funky rollicking quality– like if Graceland-era Paul Simon had collaborated on Hot Chocolate’s “I Believe In Miracles.” The story of a girl who is raised in a fairly isolated Bible-belt community, she blossoms and explodes when she heads off to a small Christian college. The rest of the record promises to unfold the rest of this narrative and to follow familiar Ritter storylines of faith, love, and what it means to be a human being.


I’ve already pre-ordered the record (*which you can do here) and am anxiously awaiting ticket sales. Hopefully this will be my chance to see Ritter again– it’s been a good eight or nine years! If you want to get a jump on the record, here are the dates that have been announced:



September 2—Portsmouth, NH—Prescott Park
September 18—Nashville, TN—Americana Music Festival
September 19—Bristol, TN—Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion
October 10—Boulder, CO—Macky Auditorium*
October 19—Boston, MA—The Sinclair
October 20—Portland, ME—Port City Music Hall
October 21—Northampton, MA—The Academy
October 22—Brooklyn, NY—Rough Trade
October 24—Easton, MD—Avaoln Theatre
October 25—Pittsburgh, PA—Mr. Smalls
October 26—Washington, DC—Lincoln Theatre
*with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra
(additional dates to be announced)

An Old Mix CD: Songs that Make Me Happy

This is my favorite picture of me from my time in Cincinnati. It was some kind of immersive virtual reality game. I look completely committed. So, me being a dork, circa June 2007

When I started digging through the CDs in my car last week and popped in a blank one, I was surprised to find a mix CD that I’d made when I lived in Cincinnati. I was really good at making mix CDs back then– better than I am now, honestly– and I took it very seriously. It didn’t take me terribly long to remember that I’d made the CD specifically because every single song on the track list made me smile. As I was listening back, some made me cringe with a little embarrassment, some made me laugh out loud, and some made me sing along– but they all still made me light up with joy inside when I recognized them. I think having fun with music is underrated– and that, a lot of times, music becomes a way to prove how cool you are– so I wanted to share the songs that made me smile this week, and then talk about a few of them. (Also, if I’m being completely honest, I read the brilliant 33 1/3 on Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet and I feel like I don’t celebrate fun as much as I wish I did. So here’s my public declaration of fun.) I’m going to link to the videos so you can easily access all of my ridiculous favorites.


1. Dandy Warhols, “The Last High”

I’m not sure there’s a better song to kick off a mix-tape, especially one that is about having fun. First of all, this is off Welcome to the Monkey House, which is a perfect record. This is an incredibly catchy song and it’s fun to sing along with– one of my favorite moments is when Taylor-Taylor sings, “So maybe you loved me/ But now, maybe you don’t/ Maybe you’ll call me–” and then the music fades and swirls in this great whooshing space effect– and he deadpans “maybe you wo-on’t.” I have spent the better part of the last ten years trying to nail the exact expression and tone in his voice, and while I’ll never give up (never!), it’s fair to say he’s got the market cornered on brilliant snarky kiss-offs.


2. Duran Duran, “Ordinary World”

The absolute infinity and expanse in this song is magical to me still. It makes me feel like a rock star– almost like I have already gotten through the fun, exciting parts of the gig and I’m now in the middle of the depressing, “Oh God, what am I doing here? And do I actually have any real relationships anymore?” phase. I think it’s uplifting, but in a very realistic way: there’s an edge to the hope in this song, one that seems to understand that even if the sadness in his life fades, new  pain will eventually fill in the cracks. I don’t know why this song makes me feel philosophical. It’s Duran Duran, for crying out loud.

So why is this melancholy song on my “makes me happy” CD? I think it’s something to do with the way the music crests in the chorus, because it makes me feel the same way I do when I’m on the back of a motorcycle: endless and part of everything, with air shoved so far and so fast down into my lungs that I’m practically flying.


3. The Foundations, “Build Me Up Buttercup”

I remember when I was a kid singing this song with my mom. She said she’d learned how to type to this song– her teacher thought it would be a good way to remember how to reach and hit the “b” key– and for whatever reason, that’s stuck with me. Anyone else spend forever trying to mimic the pout in, “To you I’m a toy/ But I could be the boy you adore/ If you’ll just let me now”? Also, can anyone sing this song anymore without thinking of There’s Something About Mary? Why you gotta take my fun oldies, Ben Stiller?


4. Genesis, “Misunderstanding”

This song is the definition of a pleasing melody. I’m not sure there is any other attachment. I don’t think of beloved friends and family, and it’s not something that scores a certain moment in my life. I think this one just feels good. It’s definitely the kind of radio pop that makes people roll their eyes, but you know, when a formula works, it works.


5. Gordon Lightfoot, “Sundown”

This song might be the most sexy song that was ever written. Every time I hear it, all the sudden, I’m out of my own body, and I’m some kind of a supermodel. I’m drinking expensive drinks, but I don’t know how expensive, because God knows I didn’t buy them. My shorts are WAY too short, and my feet are in the sand. Anyone who has ever met me knows how ridiculous this is– this isn’t even a situation I would fantasize about in real life. But the strange power the woman holds in the song is intoxicating, even for me as I sing along in my car. And no matter when I hear this song– even if it’s in the dead of winter– I feel a strange, enveloping warmth on my face, and like the long summer evenings are coming again. It’s a song that, just for a moment, alters my perception of reality. That’s pretty cool.


6. George Michael, “Father Figure”

This song actually takes all the sensuality of a song like “Sundown” and pushes it into almost campy territory– which, if I’m honest, I like even better than I like the original feeling of sensuality, haha. There’s something faraway and exotic in the melody, and George Michael delivers breathy, insinuating vocals that feel almost as if he’s right behind you. And then all of that momentum is dashed with a chorus like, “I will be your father figure/ Put your tiny hand in mine.” It’s hard for me not to crack up. I can’t help it! It’s a pretty good lead in to the next song, too… Anyway, I like this song in a very genuine, very honest way. I don’t want my discussion of its campiness to detract from the truth, which is I am an unashamed George Michael fan.


7. J.C. Chasez, “Some Girls”* (I don’t actually recommend you listen to this)

I put an asterisk here because– let’s be blunt– this might be the worst song that’s ever been written. (Other suggestions welcome in the comments, but please, you can admit I’m correct in my shame. This song is abysmal.) It is SO BAD, that my sister and I have sung it at/to each other since it came out. (In fact, I pretty recently sent her a Youtube link, didn’t tell her what it was, and just captioned it “You’re welcome.”) First, is there a worse chorus than, “Some girls dance with women/ Knowing that it gets them attention/ I want to get in with them/ So pass me a drink and let’s roll?” I submit there is NOT. It is somehow sexist, demeaning, objectifying… and pathetic? I don’t know. So, why do I have this song where someone can hear it? Because it cracks me up. I literally laugh every time it comes on. There are times I laugh so hard I have to start it over just to break the cycle.

LET’S ROLL. Let’s roll, guys. Seriously. Also I love the falsetto part where he inexplicably says, “Step right up and spin the wheel! All charged up on what you feel!” It is so bad.

Also, I think this version has a rap part (?? I didn’t get all the way through, guys), but my version doesn’t. Or hell, maybe it does. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten to the end, but I always, always have fun.


8. Our Lady Peace, “Innocent”

You know when a song is so sincere it almost makes you cringe? It actually makes you physically uncomfortable? This song absolutely makes me feel that way, but in a very real, true way. I feel like I’m fourteen again when I listen to this song. I’ve actually cried before when it’s hit me at the right time, but usually, it just makes me remember what it felt like to be completely invincible and completely breakable all at once. Also, I think the rhyme on “cancer/answer” is inexplicably great, and it leads to this weird revelatory feeling.


9.  Moby, “Raining Again”

I’m a huge Moby fan, and I think this track was probably interchangable with anything off 18, Hotel, or Play. I think his brand of electronic music is usually really soothing, which might be my favorite thing about this song: it is absolutely frantic. It feels like some kind of a future world that’s falling apart– until it breaks into the soaring melody and triumph of the chorus. Oh how it’s raining again– and then the outro– it’s just stunning. I think if you’re someone who has written Moby off as “music you don’t like,” this is as good a song as any to give him a second (or third, or… what, how could you not have fallen in love after three tries?) chance.


10. Josh Joplin Group, “I Am Not the Only Cowboy”

I think this song is the one that made me think to write a blog post today. I love the sing-song chant of the vocals, I love the way the chorus breaks, and I love the lyrics themselves: not all of them feel connected and they certainly aren’t narrative, but they all seem to be almost parable-like chunks of wisdom and experience that weave together in a very uplifting way. My favorite line has always been, “I am not/ The only Proverb/ That never seems to fit.” That’s a damn good line to be buried in a little pop song. This is a really great track, and if you don’t know it, I encourage you to check it out.


11. Powerline, “Stand Out”

“Powerline?” I hear you saying, scratching your head. “Well, I’ve never heard of that band. It’s not even vaguely familiar.”

To that I say: clearly you did not watch A Goofy Movie as many times as I did when I was a kid. I like this song solely because I always loved that movie, and this was the “hit single” that the band in the movie played over and over. It is catchy, manufactured pop– that is supposed to mimic catchy, manufactured pop– but it has some really charming harmonies and some great moments where tension pays off. The whisper-talk-rap thing is a little played out, but the song is from A Goofy Movie. I feel like if you judge that, there’s something wrong with you, not me.


12. DJ Earworm’s BRILLIANT mashup “No One Takes Your Freedom” (a striking combination of The Beatle’s “For No One,” the Scissor Sisters’ “Take Your Mama Out,” “Freedom 90,” and a little of Aretha Franklin’s “Think.”)

I’m not a huge fan of mash-ups. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a huge fan of mash-ups, honestly. The whole thing seemed kind of pointless to me. Why take two (or more) songs that are good on their own and then slam them into each other? It’s counterintuitive. But then, there’s this. This amazing piece of music. Part of the beauty of it is that “For No One” is already one of the most beautiful melodies that was ever written. “Take Your Mama Out” is as infectious a dance song as has ever been released. But somehow, if you sing one to the tune of the other, it fits perfectly with no real moments that stick out. It’s one of the best six minutes in music, and the idea that you can take pretty much perfect creations (and I’m including George Michael’s “Freedom 90,” which I think is a perfect song on its own) and quilt them together into a new, stunning work of art– well, it doesn’t always work, but this time it did.


13. R.B. Greaves, “Take a Letter Maria”

I remember the moment I realized that this narrator was not who he pretended to be– I couldn’t have been older than ten or eleven, and my mom and I were singing along in the car (…I still remember the radio station: 98.7 KLUV– I bet it doesn’t exist in the way it used to. It was a fantastic oldies station in Dallas for a while), and as I said the words, I realized that he’d been grooming the secretary all along. (Not in nearly as sophisticated language, but still.) I don’t remember feeling any disdain or disgust for him– rather, I had the joy and delight of epiphany, of being in on the joke, of catching on to something adult, of reading between the lines. It’s an incredible high, as a child, to recognize something that was secret only moments earlier. This song for me always symbolizes the absolute delight of being in on the joke.


14. Pete Yorn, “For Us”

This is one that, now in my infinite wisdom, I might replace with “For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is),” because that one seems to instantly bring delight to me. However– this beguilingly simple song is actually a percussive masterpiece, the guitar part a simple arpeggio over Dave Grohl’s masterful drumming. I don’t know that you can go wrong with this. By the time the song is nearing completion, it has built to a place of almost unbearable tension and anxiety– and then it breaks, again and again, with Yorn’s exceptional “Ask yourself” over beautiful music. One of my favorite things about Pete Yorn’s music is how the songs build and build until they are almost a whole symphony of sound. This song is no exception.


15. The Shins, “Kissing the Lipless”

The Shins was a band that was almost too cool for me, but I’m so glad I didn’t let the whole “this band will change your life” thing get in the way of enjoying their first record, especially this song and “Pink Bullets.” There is some incredible lyric writing on this track, but what really makes me smile is when Mercer goes up an octave to re-sing the first stanza. I love how it opens: “Called/ To see/ If your back/ Was still aligned/ And your sheets/ Were growing grass/ Along the corner of your room.” There are so many beautiful or interesting phrases in this song, it’s one that I’m shocked not everyone seems to know. It always makes me happy.


16. Third Eye Blind, “Blinded”

Finally, I love this song: “Blinded” might be the best love song ever written about breaking and entering. It’s got an incredibly creepy opening stanza that, for whatever reason, comes across as desperate and longing, which is of course part of Jenkins’ appeal as a vocalist. He’s really exceptional at making an unlikable character seem genuine and interesting. This song has one of the best choruses they ever did– “Blinded/ Like I’m staring down the sun” doesn’t sound like much until you hear it in context. It is absolutely jubilant, and this song never fails to make me happy.


I’d probably have a whole different list if I made a CD like this today– I’m not even sure if there’d be crossover. But I can say that, almost ten years later, this held up well enough that I was smiling ear to ear the whole time I listened, for so many different reasons. What songs make you guys happy? Any of these?


HIGHLY RECOMMEND: Brick Briscoe, “Lovers and Other Amateurs”

I live in a weird place. I often joke that Evansville is, in every direction, three hours away from a great city. We’re within driving distance to Nashville, Louisville, Indianapolis, Bloomington, Carbondale, and St. Louis. I’ve seen concerts in all of those cities, and it’s not even a stretch. That’s why often, when I’m writing about “local” music, it’s from all over the Midwest. It’s hard to cultivate a huge scene two hours from those markets.

That’s not because we don’t have some pretty remarkable talent here in town. I’ve covered a few bands, and I’m always impressed when they’re able to grow and thrive as artists in this scene. I know I’ve written about Brick Briscoe before, and I’ve loved his music for years– live and studio– but this new record, Lovers and Other Amateurs, is so exceptional that I keep imagining what would happen if he went on some kind of a national tour. This is the kind of record that stops you in your conversation so you can finish listening to the songs. More than just that, it’s surprising and delightful in ways I don’t expect music to be these days.

Here is where I would usually talk about how solid the band is. I’ve seen him live, and between his excellent set of drummers and Eric Lee’s massive bass sound, Briscoe’s band is fun and talented. But when I started checking liner notes on this record, I realized that outside of the drums on “Home is Right Here, For Now” and “Empty Closets,” Brick played everything. So that’s something of note in of itself: I was going to rave about the band and the sound, but it’s somehow both less dense than I initially thought AND the sounds that are being created are coming from the same place. A lot of times when I hear a record made by a band, I wonder if the song sounds at all alike to any of the members– if they all had different visions and moments that mattered to them. In this case, though, my guess is we’re hearing the songs pretty much like they sound in Brick’s head. That’s pretty cool.



Anyway. Back to the review. I’d been having a hard time listening to a lot of music lately (sometimes that happens when I’m stressed: all the sudden, everything sounds like chaos), and when I “came back,” this was the first record I popped in, and “Empty Closets” came thundering on. It’s hard for me not to immediately compare everything Brick does to the Mountain Goats: he sounds a lot like John Darnielle, and this song in particular has the same feel, driving rhythm, and dark tone as “Psalms 40:2” off The Life of the World to Come. It also reminds me a little of Automatic for the People-era REM (specifically the “hip hip hooray” section)– which are really cool, competing influences. The blistering guitar solo feels almost glam or psychedelic. There’s a lot going on musically. And as layered and interesting as that is, my favorite part of a Briscoe record is always how inventive and strange the lyrics are. Sometimes when you’re listening to the song, it feels more like a conversation than a lyric:


we want to be home before you ask us

to buy you a beer and hitch you to Houston

we don’t carry cash so don’t hold your breath

some Samaritan ass is not that easy

Almost like Richard Buckner’s lyrics, you get the feeling that something is left out: some part of the conversation is missing, and you’re left only with the phrases that resonate: “it’s easy preaching to the choir/ a full metal band pounds in your head.” “Empty Closets” has a seething exuberance that is really captivating. I’ve always liked being able to cut songs apart into phrases that make an impressionist image of a feeling– Beck, Pete Yorn, lots of my favorites do this– and Briscoe’s lyrics are similar in evocation.



My favorite song on the record is “Shamrock, TX.” (I had to really ask myself: is this because it’s about Texas? But I don’t think it is, haha. It just happens to be amazing:


I wanted to write to tell you that our trip was held up

At the Texas border

We were crossing over quietly, hoping to make

Amarillo; everything stopped

I was thinking right then, I needed to tell you,

So I hope you know that I was thinking ’bout you…

We could have been worse

Every line in the song is infused with the longing of something that could have (maybe should have?) happened. The setting and situation is as clear, but it’s the details– “I’m hungry, and I’m lonely, and I’m looking for you all around me,” that seem to build in importance to the narrator. Briscoe’s use of levels across the record is spectacular: it’s amazing to me that it starts with a rocking song like “Empty Closets” and slides comfortably into a song like, “Shamrock TX.” (For what it’s worth, I’ve been singing this song all week, and it’s weirdly soothing. My favorite line is, “The good news is/ we’re moving on/ And we’re going to make Amarillo by dark;/ a curious turn of events”– what a brilliant lyrical turn. It’s so striking and jarring to still be in his relationship and his thoughts– and then to hear, “the good news is we’re moving on.” When you realize he’s moved from the emotional into the physical world again, it’s really stunning. It’s rare that those kind of lyrics work this well, and I have enjoyed that. (I also like when he admits, “I know it sounds like a joke/ But it was really nothing.” “It was really nothing” is another lyric that’s doing more than one job.)



The record is amazingly balanced: Briscoe’s rocking songs are always engaging, and “Home is Right Here, For Now” (which is a great phrase in of itself) has all of the elements of a great song: plus the lyrics are just as captivating as the rest of the record.


Now I’m making room for the voices I’ve left in my head

Just like the first time I listened to the wind

It’s just the wind

It’s just  the wind

But without the balance of songs like “Silhouette Reprise,” it would become overwhelming. The interesting thing about Briscoe’s records, to me, is that he seems to know when to pull back and allow breathing room. I keep putting this record on and finding myself pulled out of whatever else I’m doing– but not just on the rock songs. I’ve been pulled in most by the quieter moments. Briscoe knows how to rock a house, but he also knows when to let the audience come to him. (Also what kind of brilliant line is, “wispy with wet lips…while holy, holy, holy teases me into bed,” especially preceeding a refrain like, “you’ll remember where we started– on a bluff looking up”? I really enjoy the writing on this disk.)



Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how much I love “Marta, Your Picture.” It’s the most beautiful, soft, thoughtful song. The vocals are insane. “Your picture, the dark eyes glowing, the LED and the magic/ I see my dreams projected on my forehead when I’m sleeping/ You still talk to me,” might be my favorite way of describing a partner. It’s just a sweet, moving moment, and it’s rare to have such a great track on the back of a record. My favorite lyrics:


Marta, your picture in the mirror across the room

While I’m dressing

It’s a flash of light where I stole a glimpse



I’m really stunned sometimes that we have such talent around here. Briscoe’s record isn’t “good for a local band,” which is a phrase I’ve heard about a lot of acts in town– it’s just a damn good record. It’s inviting, but at the same time, dynamic. All week, I’ve been dying to get through my “real” work so I could come back and write about this– and that’s a really good feeling. Anyway, you should all buy it. And follow him on social networks. I’m not sure there’s another artist who is working on as many different projects as he is on a given day– Brick does TV work, he’s an amazing photographer, and he has a radio show in town (The Song Show on 88.3 WNIN).






ON REPEAT: The Cold War Kids, “First”


It’s been a while since I’ve said, “I heard this great song on the radio and couldn’t stop listening to it.” We have a pretty great radio station that fades in and out here: a college station, 89.1 The Bash out of Mount Carmel, Illinois. This morning, I was rushing to get into work (winds up having a photographer in the class makes me really anxious, haha), and the closer I get to school, the worst the reception is on this station. It wasn’t a big deal, except this song– “First,” by the Cold War Kids”– had come on, and it was stunning. By the last, “first you get close/ then  you get worried,” the static was overtaking Willet’s usually powerful voice and I was left with fuzz.


So naturally I came up to  my office after my 8AM class and played it a million times. The Cold War Kids are one of those bands that I’ve always known was good, but for whatever reason, hadn’t hit me at the right time yet. This morning, though, I was floored by how creative the lyrics were in what is a pretty straightforward song. There’s something inventive about using the “first/then” structure Willett has built: it starts bluntly,  ”First you lose trust, then you get worried,” which is not bad, but not particularly surprising as a listener either. The connections become even more interesting, though:


Night after night, bar after club
Dropping like flies, who woke you up?
On the front lawn, sprinklers turned on
It’s not your house, where’d you go wrong?
First you get hurt, then you feel sorry


And perhaps even more engaging–


There comes a time, in a short life
Turn it around, get a rewrite
Call it a dark, night of the soul
Ticking of clocks, gravity’s pull
First you get close, then you get worried


The connections between the ideas are really engaging, and the music is beautiful. Willett’s voice is strong and high, and the surrounding music is gorgeous. It has echoes of Band of Horses to it, certainly, and the meter feels vaguely Modest-Mouse-esque, though I think this song stands on its own without having to contextualize it too much. It’s lovely and ethereal but also catchy and easy to listen to. I moved from the original version to this one about an hour ago, and I love the raw vulnerability in the live version:



Anyone else obsessed with something this morning? This has been a week of only listening to one song for long periods of time– Wednesday was “Eugene” by Sufjan Stevens (for hours and hours and hours) and yesterday was the Dandy Warhol’s “You Were the Last High,” which always makes me happy.

IN CONCERT: Sufjan Stevens, Murat Theatre (Indianapolis, 4/18)

Sufjan Stevens rarely makes a record that doesn’t command its audience to pay attention on a different level. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who also dabbles in electronic music as well as the almost-painfully sincere folk music he’s known for. I think sometimes people shy away from the kind of sincerity he writes with because, honestly, it’s hard to be vulnerable the way Stevens is. That vulnerability has been magnified since the release of his latest record, Carrie and Lowell, a record about his complicated relationship with his mostly-absent mother, Carrie, and his stepfather, Lowell, who helped him co-found the record label Asthmatic Kitty and has been a very involved participant in Stevens’s career. I’ve been a huge fan since the state records– Michigan and Illinois– but upon hearing “The Only Thing” a few months ago, I immediately knew that there was a different gravity to Carrie and Lowell, even from my personal favorite song “Casimir Pulaski Day.”


Still, I was completely unprepared for the show on Saturday night. I knew that this was going to be something totally different than anything else I’d experienced– but I wasn’t sure how. Stevens  has a reputation for having a sonically impressive show, and he certainly didn’t disappoint there. It was more than that, though: I think everyone in the Murat that night would agree, something sacred and honest happened onstage that night. It’s rare to have a sacred and honest moment with someone you’ve known for years and built towards it with: it’s something totally different when a stranger opens up like that, lets you see the wounds and the scars, and it is almost daunting. How do you accept that kind of gift? It really made me re-evaluate the notion of performance. There’s an old Josh Ritter song where he says, “I’m singing for the love of it/ Have mercy on the man who sings to be adored,” and though I can’t imagine anyone would love re-living their darkest past night after night, I got the impression that even if the audience hadn’t shown up, Stevens still would have, and he would have still put on the best show in the country. It had very little to do with the audience.



The opening act, the Cold Specks, were much more impressive than I expected (and we wound up buying their latest record); their singer has an incredible tone, but more than that, she has a way of emoting through her voice that is very effective. I will probably never forget her singing into the effect microphone at the end of her set, “Hands up/ Don’t shoot/ I can’t breathe.” It was absolutely haunting, made moreso by the muted, far-away terror of the vocal effects. The whole band was incredibly talented though (and somehow the bassist kept looping effects and sounds throughout, which took me a while to catch), and I’d happily see them again. One of the last things the vocalist said, though, was about Sufjan Stevens himself: “You’re lucky to be in the audience tonight. This is something special.”


“Intro” + “Death with Dignity” from Indianapolis, IN 4/18/2015 (Some annoying audience noise at the beginning, but overall, pretty representative of how attentive the audience was; you can also see the old home movies playing, which is a really bold choice here)


He came out to a lovely vocal swell and sat at the piano for a few minutes, building up to the first track on Carrie and Lowell, “Death with Dignity.” Immediately, I was struck by a few things: first, if he wanted things to sound exactly like the record, he would be able to pull that off, vocally and musically. I have never heard such a tightly wound live performance. He’s masterful in a way that is almost impossible to achieve live. Second– I could tell that this was going to be an inventive set in some ways. He has added subtle details to a few songs, and his backup singer (who was, gratefully, Dawn Landes, who is fully capable of singing these songs) also elevated a few of the tracks. But what was stunning was how clear and lovely his vocals were. You could hear and understand every word he said, which, in some ways, made the experience harder. (I cried several times, and even though I already knew all of the songs, I was taken by surprise by how powerful some of the moments were when they were in order and live.)


It’s hard to write this concert review without actually reviewing Carrie and Lowell itself, because Stevens played the entire song, no break, no banter, in order. It was the only possible way to get through such difficult material. “Death With Dignity” actually starts with these lines (which, again, is what started the concert):


Spirit of  my silence, I can hear you

But I’m afraid to be near you

And I don’t know where to begin…

Somewhere in the desert there’s a forest

And an acre before us

But I don’t know where to begin


The atmosphere was immediately confessional: what a stunning thing to open a show with. But what really struck me was how clear his writing was– how, when his lyrics are achieving three or four different levels, it is so obvious when he is standing in front of you saying it to your face. We were in the second row of the balcony with no one between us and the stage, and it was very much like someone standing in front of us discussing why the love he experienced was broken, or not enough– or whether it was love at all. It doesn’t make for a lighthearted evening, but seeing Sufjan Stevens in concert is more than a diversion: it’s something useful and meaningful. I was floored when he sang my favorite line in the song, “Amethyst and flower on the table/ Is it real or fable? / Well, I suppose a friend is a friend / And we all know how this will end,” because it seemed to come from so many different emotional directions: resignation, seething anger, sadness, loss. It was so powerful and so chilling, I had goosebumps nearly the whole time.


Every single song was that powerful. The audience was rapt, silent between applause. You couldn’t hear talking or glasses moving. It seemed like everyone was just as captivated as I was. And Stevens himself was so in the moment that I can only imagine he was completely emotionally wasted and exhausted by the end. There were moments where it looked like he may have tears in his eyes. The music was perfect and gorgeous, but it seemed effortless. (There was only one misfire: a little too much reverb at the beginning of “Should Have Known Better,” but it was quickly fixed, and actually added to the haunted atmosphere of the track.)



There were a few moments, especially in “Should Have Known Better,” where it felt like watching the ghost of Elliott Smith. Subtle vocal doubling and echoes, ripped open lyrics, and honesty that most people can’t even stomach with themselves. (Lines like, “When I was three/ Three, maybe four/ She left us at that video store” became so painful it seemed to immediately zap everyone back to their first moment of betrayal. Again, lots of tears in the audience.) “Should Have Known Better” was immediately one of my favorite songs partially because of his lyrical patterns (when he comes to that same syllabic place next, he says, instead: “When I was three and free to explore/ I saw her face in the back of the door”), and partially because no matter what else I am doing while it’s on, after the electronic pieces come in at the end and he sings, “My brother had a daughter/ The beauty that she brings, illumination,” I get choked up. There’s something to be said for the excavation of Stevens’s past, but Carrie and Lowell and the concert in general brought to light something much more real than just that he has a sad backstory: the story of Carrie and Lowell and, yes, Sufjan Stevens, is that every child grows up to be an adult who is dealing with hurt, and every story eventually ends with people trying to reconcile the love they didn’t get or couldn’t receive in childhood. We play out our pasts against a background of the empty spots inside of us. When he flashes forward to, “My brother had a daughter,” everything goes full circle. It’s a reminder that real life is so much more than just the moment at the video store– but also that the moment at the video store echoes, ripples, scars; it comes back over and over again in different places and in different words.


I feel like I have to take a deep breath here. We’re only two songs into the concert. I promise I won’t talk about each song like this, though it’s nearly impossible not to. It was one of the most deeply felt experiences of my life, and I was listening to someone else’s story. Sufjan Stevens is a genius.



A song that hadn’t jumped out at me through listening to the record, “Eugene,” killed me in concert, both with its tenderness and its humor.


Emerald Park, wonders never cease
The man who taught me to swim, he couldn’t quite say my first name
Like a Father he led community water on my head
And he called me “Subaru”
And now I want to be near you

Since I was old enough to speak I’ve said it with alarm
Some part of me was lost in your sleeve
Where you hid your cigarettes
No I’ll never forget
I just want to be near you


The pain and longing in the, “I just want to be near you,” was actually hard to watch him say. Stevens’s voice is so clear and lovely, and to hear it strain against the loss was difficult. The music is so lovely and so light that the last two stanzas almost seem understated on the record, whereas in concert, they were elevated and exalted: this was the first moment of the show where I realized I was crying. I am not even going to talk around what they mean:  I’m just re-printing them.


Still I pray to what I cannot see
In the sprinkler I mark the evidence known from the start
From the bed near your death, and all the machines that made a mess
Far away the falcon flew
Now I want to be near you

What’s left is only bittersweet
For the rest of my life, admitting the best is behind me
Now I’m drunk and afraid, wishing the world would go away
What’s the point of singing songs
If they’ll never even hear you?

Again, Stevens deals with the complicated notion that even imperfect love is better than no love at all, and in fact, sometimes that makes us even hungrier for whatever amount of it we can grasp. It was perfectly contrasted with the last lines of the next song, “Fourth of July” which begins by discussing the temporary nature of a firefly and then builds to a fever-pitch as Stevens wails, “We’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die.”


“The Only Thing,” from Indianapolis, IN 4/18/2015


My favorite song on the record (and the one I was most anxious to hear live) is the crushing “The Only Thing.” It’s a stunning reflection at what makes a person bother to wake up in the morning at all, and the concrete details mixed with the sacred always make me feel a little breathless. I think this song stands on its own, and I wish I could somehow talk about it in a way that honors how gorgeous it was. He’s such a gifted singer, and this was my favorite moment of the Carrie & Lowell part of the show. It was honestly one of the most moving, most changing concert experiences I’ve ever had. It made me remember why live music is so vital to being in touch with what a song really means, but more than that, I felt so connected. He is very much a true artist, and by the time he sang “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” and “Blue Bucket of Gold,” I was hanging on the edge of my seat.



Eventually, he ended that portion of the show, talked for a little bit about how kids approach death (and I’m including the video of that, because it was deeply funny), and then he began singing songs from all over his career. It’s hard for me not to become a dorky fan at this point, because I love so many of his other works, but he hit some incredible highlights, including “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” “The Dress Looks Nice On You,” and “To the Widows in Paradise, to the Fatherless in Ypsilanti,” which was chill-inducing. The best part, though, was when the first notes of “Chicago” hit at the encore. The audience was electrified. I grabbed Andy’s hand and we watched as the entire group of people was transformed into one in joy. It was an incredible moment of lightness after a very heavy concert. There was one man in the audience who was actually jumping and twirling when the trumpet hit, and I feel that’s a pretty true representation of how it felt. “Chicago” was the absolution after a very emotional journey, and it was incredible.


“Chicago,” from Indianapolis, IN 4/18/2015


Overall, I’m stunned by the performance. Stevens was even better than I anticipated, and I expected a lot out of him. The record holds up well live, and the several times I’ve listened to it since have been more powerful because I got to be there and commune with him while he lived through it. I can’t remember the last time I walked out of a theatre feeling so changed, and like I had learned so much about the way life and love works. If you ever have a chance to see him, I recommend taking it, but I really recommend catching whatever stop you can on this tour. It was a transformative performance and I feel like the Cold Specks said it best: I was lucky to be in the audience that night. It really was something special.



April 23 — Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theatre w/ Little Scream

April 24 — Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre w/ Little Scream
BUY TICKETS: General (Sold out)

April 25 — Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre w/ Little Scream
BUY TICKETS: General (Sold out)

April 27 — Detroit, MI – Masonic Temple w/ Little Scream

April 28 — Grand Rapids, MI – Covenant Fine Arts Center w/ Little Scream
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

April 29 — Toronto, ON – Massey Hall w/ Little Scream
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

April 30 — Montreal, QC – Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier / Place Des Arts w/ Little Scream

May 01 — Brooklyn, NY – Kings Theatre w/ Moses Sumney
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

May 02 — Brooklyn, NY – Kings Theatre w/ Moses Sumney
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

May 04 — Boston, MA – Citi Performing Arts Center – Wang Theatre w/ Moses Sumney

May 05  — Washington DC – DAR Constitution Hall w/ Moses Sumney
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

May 06 — Richmond, VA – Altria Theater w/ Moses Sumney

May 07 — Durham, NC – Durham Performing Arts Center w/ Moses Sumney

May 09 — New Orleans, LA – Saenger Theatre w/ Moses Sumney

May 10 — Dallas, TX – Majestic Theatre w/ Moses Sumney
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

May 11 — Houston, TX – Jones Hall For the Performing Arts w/ Moses Sumney

May 12 — Austin, TX – Bass Concert Hall w/ Moses Sumney
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

May 13 — Austin, TX – Bass Concert Hall w/ Moses Sumney
BUY TICKETS:  GeneralApplauze Preorder

May 22 — Sydney, Australia – Sydney Opera House

May 23 — Sydney, Australia – Sydney Opera House

May 24 — Sydney, Australia – Sydney Opera House

May 25 — Sydney, Australia – Sydney Opera House

June 02 — San Diego, CA – Copley Symphony Hall w/ Helado Negro

June 03 — Los Angeles, CA – Dorothy Chandler Pavilion w/ Helado Negro

June 04 — Los Angeles, CA – Dorothy Chandler Pavilion w/ Helado Negro

June 05 — Oakland, CA – Fox Theater w/ Helado Negro
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

June 06 — Oakland, CA – Fox Theater w/ Helado Negro
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

June 08 — Portland, OR – Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall w/ Helado Negro
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

June 09 — Vancouver, BC – Orpheum Theatre w/ Helado Negro
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

June 10 — Seattle, WA – The Paramount Theatre w/ Helado Negro
BUY TICKETS:  General (Sold out)

June 11 — Seattle, WA – The Paramount Theatre w/ Helado Negro
BUY TICKETS:  GeneralApplauze Preorder

July 17 — Eau Claire, WI – Eaux Claires Festival

August 14-16 – Lyons, CO - Rocky Mountain Folk Festival





HIGHLY RECOMMEND: The Luxury, “Bones and Beaten Heart”


Some records enter the world fairly painlessly, the music and lyrics falling together while the band jams and enjoys the activity of creation. Bones and Beaten Heart is not that record: this record is the triumph of a man struggling through dark days, tirelessly composing and organizing the songs in a way that makes them each work both as individuals and as part of a whole. The Luxury has created with this record not only a collection of catchy pop songs, but a piece that is the snapshot of a very specific moment in time: the phoenix rising from the ashes of the struggle to create and connect.


The record is split into two parts: first, the bones, then, the beaten heart. Side A begins with an instrumental intro, and though I often skip those, it’s important here: it sets the tone and theme for the rest of the record. It introduces both the slow build and the soaring electronic moments. It also seems, to me, to color the first song, “In Lieu of Goodbye,” which kicks the record off with these lyrics: “So when you’re lonely/ will you come ’round?/ I’m gathering dead moths and memories in our house/ Somebody has to/ tidy this place/ Imagine our precious little things just taking up space.” Dunn’s vocals are understated and filtered, but with the next lines, the song picks up and the vocals become unaltered and strong. From the specificity of the writing– the things he chooses to leave in– to the stellar sweetness of the backup vocals, this song commands an immediate audience. I can’t imagine listening to this song all the way through once without wanting to see what followed: it’s engaging on every level. One of my favorite things in pop music is a well placed piano, and this song hinges on sparse keys before it builds to a conclusion. The song leaves off, though, on a dissonant note, and one that is unsettling. It fades then into the next track, “Static and Vertigo,” seamlessly. Though the narrative element here isn’t plot-oriented enough to be a rock opera (it relies more on building specific moments and allowing the listener to fill in the gaps), the songs are so dependent on each other that it is most pleasing to listen to this record straight through.



I could go through and pull parts of each song that I love: I love the driving “Bring on the happy end,” in “Static and Vertigo,” and I love the guitar lines. I love the way “Ring Around the Ghost” slinks into being and then finds itself in the beautiful vocals in the chorus on, “Oh lovely,/You seem lonely.” But for the purposes of this review, I’m going to discuss my favorite songs and their strengths instead of hitting a few key things about each song. I’m particularly taken with “Losing My Time On You,” “Sleep Through Summer,” and the ineffably catchy “All I Do Is Win.”



“Losing My Time On You” has absolutely one of the best vocal moments on the record and it’s underscored with an almost ’80s sounding synth. The chorus goes from repeating the title to an amazing vocalization– it is one of the first times I’ve ever listened to a song and the nonsense words, the Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh’s, have given me chills. It just creates such a beautiful melody, and it feels full of longing and loss. I don’t know how you can create something so potent with so little. This is also my favorite guitar solo on the record– there’s some real breathing room before the last movement of the song, and Dunn seems to know that’s a great place for intricate guitar. The whole thing feels like going through an old journal– painful but illuminating, exhausting but valuable. I’ve found myself singing this song constantly over the last few months– it’s constantly on the edge of my mind and has been a great comfort during the cold months. It feels like a reclamation, a moment of strength and a turning point. In fact, it’s the second to last song on Side A, and I think it is a significant part of why the back half of the record has so much momentum. The fade-out that leads into the hollow, far-away introduction of “For You Only” is heartbreaking and gorgeous. That song slowly leads into the Beaten Heart of Side B.



Rarely when a record is stacked this well up front does the back half fare well, but Dunn seems to have balanced the melancholy-yet-strong first half of the disk with upbeat, energetic pop numbers.  Songs like “Why Don’t You Cry Anymore (Like You Used To)” invite listeners to sing along without even knowing the words yet. But I think one of the more dynamic numbers on this part of the record is the song that kicks it off, “Sleep Through Summer.” It comes in roaring, literally: there is a wall of sound, a shouting, but an invitation. The lyrics are strong, too:


Come inside, slip into the worst

The very worst of you, the very worst of you

Sprawl in the fire where we spin, baby’s gonna scream, what is one to do

But drop one for the skin, for the damage and the drain

Drop one for the shallow and the shouting and the shame

Drop one for every hour that I’m living with your name…


The contrast and dynamics are obvious almost immediately: the second stanza begins, instead of “come inside, slip into the worst,” with “come inside, slip into my dreams, the coma that I love where the world cannot be heard.” That kind of reversal is both surprising and exciting: the narrator is changing and growing throughout the song. The lyrics are clever but also metrical and interesting.



Perhaps the most surprising song for me on the record is the bouncy “All I Do Is Win.” I could easily dissect why it sounds and feels so good, but there’s really no point– this is one that’s better heard. I recommend playing it now. My favorite line is, “The river of the righteous don’t run deep/ not deep enough to drown me in,” but there are several stand outs: “You need an enemy to feel this good,” “I’m the left hand reaching for your gun/ I’m the right hand coming for your sons/ And all I ever do is win.” This is among the best written songs on the record and is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in a long time.



I contributed to the PledgeMusic for this record a while back and got a bonus disk (which is awesome and full of fun covers) and the T-shirt. I’m especially glad, in retrospect, that I did. This is a record I’m happy to talk about and I hope the shirt starts conversations. This is one of the better pop records I’ve heard in a long time– and really, if there were justice, we’d all be listening to this on the radio.








NEW: Oldboy’s Shawn Brewster releases new EP as Shawn and Shelby


Shawn has an incredible sense for folk melody, but a few months ago when he started writing music that didn’t quite fit his “day job” at Oldboy, he began working with another member of the group, Shelby Sangdahl, to create a totally different atmosphere. The song below, “Hold on to Me,” is a perfect example of what you can find on the EP, Sleeping in a Spell: evocative cello, genuine vocal delivery that allows Brewster to connect with the audience, great lyrics, and more than anything, a strange space that seems to create room for the listener to dream and build on the music. Shawn & Shelby are doing my favorite thing folk music does: they are somehow evoking a nostalgia for a time that probably never really existed. Through this, though, the audience gets to time travel.



My favorite moment in the EP is the last section of “The Sound of You Breathing”– the song builds on itself until it finally feels like it will explode, but it’s a controlled explosion, one that reflects both joy and pure energy. When I talked to Shawn and mentioned it, he told me, unbelievably, that they’d done the whole thing in one take because they couldn’t imagine doing it any better. I can’t either– and while initially I was surprised, upon reflection, I wasn’t. This is the kind of magic that happens at a live show when a song unfolds right in front of you, and they’ve managed to capture that lightning and put it on the record.



While this is folk music, which means it is occasionally somber, the addition of the cello makes it feel distant and strangely lovely, almost like a ghost. Between that and Brewster’s straightforward lyrics and delivery, this EP is perfect for winter mornings where you are almost ready to open your eyes and be a part of the waking world, but your brain hasn’t quite warmed up to the idea. I absolutely recommend these songs for both office listening and driving while looking through a still-icy windshield.







SUFJAN STEVENS TOUR, NEW RECORD “Carrie & Lowell” (3/31, Asthmatic Kitty)

This fall was the rebirth of my excitement and love for Sufjan Stevens’s Illinois, most especially the songs “Chicago” and “Casimir Pulaski Day.” I became obsessed with them, playing almost nothing else on my office turntable. So much so, in fact, that my husband got us tickets to MusicNOW in Cincinnati, and I’ll finally be able to see Stevens live! (My obsession stretched into the Christmas season when “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever” was my favorite, despite it being a pretty literal title. I also love the fire and anxiety in “Seven Swans,” and his records carried me through the anticipation of seasonal affective disorder quite nicely.)


Here’s a little bit of the sound of the record and an album trailer

In serendipitous timing for me, Stevens has announced a new record, Carrie & Lowell, on his record label Asthmatic Kitty. A return to the folk sound, the record is already being heralded as a stunning contribution to his diverse body of work. Of course the good news for you guys is he’s going on tour, so I won’t be the only lucky person seeing him this year! I’ll post the new single when it’s out, and I anticipate reviewing it as soon as it’s out in March.





April 10                            Philadelphia, PA                                                           Academy of Music

April 11                              New York, NY                                                                  Beacon Theater

April 12                               Hartford, CT                     The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts

April 14                               Portland, ME                                                             Merrill Auditorium

April 15                                Albany, NY                                                               The Palace Theater

April 16                              Cleveland, OH                                         Cleveland Masonic Auditorium

April 17                             Columbus, OH                                                                   Palace Theater

April 18                            Indianapolis, IN                                                            The Murat Theatre

April 20                              St. Louis, MO                                                       Peabody Opera House

April 21                           Kansas City, MO                                                              Midland Theater

April 22                           Minneapolis, MN                                                      Northrop Auditorium

April 23                             Milwaukee, WI                                                              Riverside Theater

April 24                                Chicago, IL                                                                   Chicago Theatre

April 27                                Detroit, MI                                                                   Masonic Temple

April 28                           Grand Rapids, MI                                              Covenant Fine Arts Center

April 29                               Toronto, ON                                                                        Massey Hall

April 30                              Montreal, QC                             Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier / Place Des Artes

May 1                                 Brooklyn, NY                                                                     Kings Theatre

May 4                                  Boston, MA                      Citi Performing Arts Center – Wang Theatre

May 5                             Washington, D.C.                                                   DAR Constitution Hall

May 6                                Richmond, VA                                                                     Altria Theater

May 7                                  Durham, NC                                         Durham Performing Arts Center

May 9                              New Orleans, LA                                                               Saenger Theatre

May 10                                 Dallas, TX                                                                    Majestic Theatre

May 11                                Houston, TX                                     Jones Hall for the Performing Arts

May 12                                 Austin, TX                                                                 Bass Concert Hall

June 2                                San Diego, CA                                                     Copley Symphony Hall

June 3                              Los Angeles, CA                                              Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

June 5                                  Oakland, CA                                                                         Fox Theater

June 8                                 Portland, OR                                             Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

June 9                                Vancouver, BC                                                              Orpheum Theatre

June 10                                Seattle, WA                                                        The Paramount Theatre

RECOMMENDATION: Corin Ashley, “New Lion Terraces”

One of my favorite things about putting Corin Ashley’s psychedelic record on in the office is, inevitably, someone will walk in and say, “I used to love this song!” It’s fun for me to say, “You love it now, but I bet you don’t know it.” I’ve actually had people argue with me before realizing that I was right– that his music was new to them.


I think people feel such an immediate kinship with his music because it is both reminiscent of the best of the pop music of the ’60s, and because it has updated that sound in a way that is naturally easy to click into as a listener. His harmonies and lush orchestrations are moving but lovely; they are both easy to listen to and compelling. From the first swelling intro of “Geez Louise” on side A, it’s clear that Ashley is a master of his own sound: when the chorus kicks in with percussive lyrics and sounds, it is triumphant. Before the end of the song, every listener I’ve watched is tapping along. Some sing. It’s striking how immediately New Lion Terraces becomes a part of a listener’s vocabulary.


Corin Ashley was part of The Pills in the late ’90s and early 2000s, which was surprising information for me when I had the good fortune of seeing him live at CMJ this fall. I was a huge fan of Wide Awake with The Pills and was a little starstruck, actually, which is a weird feeling for me. I was more starstruck after seeing him perform: Ashley is an electric performer, commanding all the gravity in the room while the music is on, but making friendly conversation through the breaks. The whole set was phenomenal, but the material of New Lion Terraces shone bright even live. When I grabbed the record later, I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of my favorite songs from the set were on there.


Adam Duritz (wearing an old Pills shirt) watching Corin Ashley upstairs at the Bowery Electric


New Lion Terraces, recorded at Abbey Road Studios, is packed full of upbeat, up-tempo pop songs. At its most exciting moments, this record has undertones of Badfinger, The Turtles, the Kinks, and Big Star. There’s a freshness to the way the instruments come together that seems to enrich every sound and make them all stand out from each other. It seems like each song has something that makes it special: “Meet Me on the Ledge” (not the Fairport Convention song) has an awesome female vocal line that gives the song a buoyancy. The slinky “God Shaped Hole” has brass parts that make the song feel like a sad duet. “Marianne” has a wobbly, psychedelic breakdown in the middle that is really stunning: it is almost like the room is spinning.



One of my favorite tracks on the record, “Badfinger Bridge,” shows what Ashley is best at: creating an entire world within the space of a song. With a chorus as simple as, “You are returned to me/ address unknown,” Ashley goes through objects and items that remind him of a past love:


A faded old receipt form a favorite restaurant
for an audit not likely coming
and in my winter coat a ticket stub reveals
there’s a sequel to the last film we saw

as passers by chatter I chance to hear your name

and you are returned to me, you are returned to me
address unknown


As good as the writing is, though, what makes it exceptional is that, to me, the line, “As passers by chatter, I chance to hear your name” feels like a flash-forward, like it’s catching the audience back up to the present time. Everything else feels like it’s in the past, trapped in some kind of a mottled photo frame. There’s a clarity in the chorus of the song that is messier in the verses; it’s a song that somehow evokes a feel of nostalgia both in lyrics and in tone.


And perhaps it’s that brilliantly-evoked nostalgia that makes the record so popular among my office mates. New Lion Terraces is that record you used to love, somehow, even before you knew it.