Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.
What It Is We're Doing Here
This is a place where I post anything my friends and I feel is relevant to the music we like. The kind of music in question can be seen pretty easily by checking out the playlists posted. I post a playlist every month and regular record reviews. By regular I mean 'when I get the chance'.
It is my sincere hope that any reviews or commentary you read here will not remind you at all of reviews you can read in Rolling Stone or Pitchfork or NME or any number of other professional music reviewers.
Why? Because for the most part, those reviews are just really, really boring and they kill the fun of music. No one (aside from guys who write those reviews) sits around with their friends and mentions how 'the deeply melodic tempo shifts emanating from the counter-intuitive and soulfully rhythmic jazz fusion guitar lifts us to incomparable ...'
Incomparable heights of bullshit, maybe. Not gonna happen here. (I didn't tell you this, but I still visit Pitchfork every day, but only for the articles, yeah.)
It would be a lie if I said there will be respect for a variety of musical tastes here, there will be no such thing. Some music, no matter how popular it is, just sucks. That doesn't mean this is a haven of indie rock snobbery by any means. There's plenty of well-regarded indie shit out there that is just fucking awful. Grizzly Bear, I'm pointing at you and nodding my head.
Really there are no limits to the kind of music we'll listen to, so anything goes. Forward on anything worthy that has not been discussed in enough detail.
If we miss something newsworthy or get something wrong, let us know. If you agree or disagree with an opinion here, let us know. It will not change said opinion, but you will probably feel better than if you kept it in. So go ahead.
How I Rate Music
When I post my thoughts on a record, I use the standard 1-5 stars format for a couple of reasons: 1) It works just as well as anything else and 2) Most people use an iPod, I rate my songs on my iPod, the iPod has a 1-5 star ratings system and therefore it's a common language to both of us.
Here is how I define my ratings:
5 Stars: Totally awesome. A great song. Permanent favorite. Think 'Fans' by Kings of Leon (before the hairstylists), 'Mahgeeta' by MMJ, 'Fight Test' by the Flaming Lips, that sort of thing. A rare rating, though.
4 Stars: Very good. I'll listen to this song again and again, I'm happy I bought it, I will refer to it in conversation as 'one of the songs I like on that album'.
3 Stars: Just OK. Nothing wrong here, it's just not that memorable and maybe if I listened to it three or four times I'd like it, but if it was really that good, I shouldn't have to, so that brings us full circle and therefore it is 'Just OK'.
2 Stars: Irritating. A bad song. This rating means something is really wrong here, and perhaps we should sit down.
1 Star: A sin against music. Why did you record this? Do you not have any friends who listened to this with you and said 'Wow, this is incredibly, incredibly bad'? This is the kind of song that totally pisses me off when I hear it.
A few songs almost automatically fall into 1 or 2 star category, in particular the trend gaining popularity with bands to once again put one minute snippets of music or horrible noise on an album. Spiritualized, I am talking to YOU. 'Harmony 6 (Glockenspiel)'? I mean, fuck you.
How I Make Playlists
Any 4 or 5 star song usually ends up on a monthly playlist. If an album is so good that it has more than three or four songs that warrant being added to a playlist (ie Windmill, Deer Tick), I'll space the songs out and put them on a subsequent month's playlist.
Playlists are generally 35 songs or so. Any more than that and you'll just never listen to some of them, any less and you'll just get bored because there's not enough music. I realize this makes no sense, I really just needed an arbitrary cutoff, so 35 it is.
Newport Folk Festival, 8/2/09, Newport, Rhode Island
Newport’s big draw for me is the venue – a state park with an old fort overlooking the harbor with water and bridges and boats everywhere you look.It has a very laid back boat-and-beach-chair scene, but not much of a drinking scene, due to park restrictions.
The lineup at many festivals always makes you think that you are going to see ten incredible sets over a full day, but it never really works out that way.Bands are always overlapping with set times, playing opposite each other on different stages, and it gets to be a lot to run around trying to catch everything.It’s best to just pick a few must-see performances and then leave it at that.For me, those were Elvis Perkins, Neko Case and Deer Tick and Del McCourey, in that order.The old timer’s sets that basically closed the last 3-4 hours of the day on the main stage were cool to catch here and there, but none, other than Pete Seeger’s, were ones that I really needed to see.
I took the ferry from downtown Newport to the park, and it docked 20 feet from Joe Pug, who was in the middle of a sound check on the Waterside Stage.I was looking for the ticket office and in my short search to find it, ran into a radio station guy that had an extra ticket that he handed me for free.Nice.It was as if someone had handed me $75, so I walked past Joe Pug and, unintentionally Guy Clark on the Harbor Stage -- the only set I missed all day that I truly wanted to see -- and headed out in search of brew.The bar is out on a pier (heretofore referred to as the beer pier), so any brews needed to be had on the pier, which had great views of the main stage and the harbor, but kept you far away from the other stages where some of my aforementioned favorite acts were playing.
That said, the pier itself was pretty nice place to spend some time and eat a giant stuffed clam (aka “stuffie”) and while we were getting situated, we grabbed a table out there and watched The Campbell Brothers play a pretty rocking set of blues based guitar rock.They kinda sounded like The North Mississippi All Stars (without the ragged charisma) and it was a pretty decent set to watch as we sat on the pier with Narragansett Lager tall boys.
I was really looking forward to the Neko Case set that followed The Campbell Brothers on that same main stage and while her voice sounded fantastic from the beer pier in the harbor with thousands of people seated on the huge lawn in front of her, there was nothing especially dynamic about her set.Her voice is a force unto itself and that did not disappoint and the set list was quite good, as she touched on many of her best songs, but the actual performance did not inspire much beyond your standard lawn-lounging head bobbing.This is not really a knock, and the set was far from disappointing, as lawn-lounging head-bobbing is pretty damn fun in a setting as beautiful as Newport, but I have always marveled at how perfectly Neko’s band and backing singers compliment her songs and voice and while they did that nicely on Sunday, the performance did not really transcended beyond that.That said, it was great to finally see her live and definitely enjoyable, considering the setting.
After “Train to Kansas City” ended Neko’s set, we left the confines of the beer pier for a few Del McCourey songs, which made me wish we’d seen more.They rocked the whole bluegrass style, full suits and all and it really impressed.They were the only act of the day that was truly acoustic in that there were had no pickups on their instruments – just three standard microphones that they played into, old time style.They were all huddled around the middle of the stage together, looking all dapper and timeless and when one of them played a solo, he stepped up to the mic for maximum volume.They sounded excellent and the crowd loved it made them come out for more.
As we wandered around after that, we got to see a decent amount of Arlo Guthrie, whose storyteller schtick is the thing Newport Folk Festivalites seem to love, but did not do a whole bunch for me.
From there, we sawlocal favorites, Deer Tick on the small Waterside Stage, which, being right next to the ferry dock, made for some awesome dock rocking, nice breeze and all.These guys were very good, with some sick lead guitar licks and they seemed to be boosted by a large local crowd.It was especially nice that they made everyone get up out of their folding chairs and the sing-a-long to “Ashamed” get the whole crowd going.They also closed with “La Bamba”, which they said was, “the best folk song [they had] ever heard”.
I felt like I got my fill of Joan Baez on the ferry ride over to the festival, as the Captain was blaring one of her records the entire ride.It was a strange flashback to my childhood, when I used to wake up at 7am to my mom blaring the her records throughout my house, her beautiful voice turning shrill after five songs in a row, like she’s testing your nerves.Either way, she looks damn good for her age and her voice still sounds great and on the way back to the beer pier after Deer Tick, I got to hear“The Scarlett Tide” and Steve Earle’s “Christmastime in Washington”, which were both fantastic.
After that, we went to the Harbor Stage, where Elvis Perkins put on the best set of the day, one that seemed to be made for an American folk festival in 2009.His band jumped from drum kit to standing bass drum to trombone to trumpet to stand up bass, all while Perkins himself delivered great song after great song, building up steam to the best block of songs of the day:“Shampoo”--> “Old Ship of Zion” (with Tim Ericksen and a huge choir) --> “While You Were Sleeping” into the closer, “Doomsday”, which, unfortunately, I had to run out on.Perkins is a pretty captivating performer and his songs, which can be heavy at times, still managed to move and pull people in.Most impressively, he commanded the scene, keeping everyone engaged and rocking.You didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to check out any other set and you didn’t want the thing to end.When I think back on this festival next year, I will likely remember this set most vividly, the one that was the most fun and the most emblematic of the whole day to me.Well, that, and the Narragansett tall boys.
I ran out on Elvis and jumped on the ferry right before the Pete Seeger set, so I missed the sing-a-longs and such, but as we exited out, I was able to crack a Heineken on the boat and hear the ska sound of Elvis Perkins’ “Doomsday” horns.A few minutes later, as Elvis’ set was ending to a rousing standing ovation, I was still sipping my mini keg can, watching the fog settle in over Newport Town, and talking to my fellow ferry-boaters about the awesomeness of Ben Kweller, Elvis Perkins and Gillian Welch and how we all are so much happier to be on a boat in Newport than in Liberty State Park, seven beer limit exceeded, watching Coldplay.
You can download and listen to all of the sets by checking out the index here.