• Review: David Bazan - Curse Your Branches

    Ago 5 2009, 3:40

    David Bazan - Curse Your Branches

    If you haven't read that article, do. It gives a really interesting and informative look at David Bazan's life over the last few years--his alcoholism, his doubts, and his gradual fall from faith...

    This album basically chronicles said fall, and as such it's a really compelling and personal collection of songs. They pretty overtly question all things religious, which is a deviation from Bazan's earlier and perhaps more nuanced lyrics, the main feature of which was always a strained sort of tension between his faith and his doubt. The tug-of-war between his hope and his cynicism was always what made him so attractive for me as a musician and lyricist.

    So, what happens when an artist's cynicism wins over? Well, it's important to note that for Bazan (and for most people honestly seeking the truth), the hope is always there... it just changes, becomes more subdued. The hope is still present on this album here and there... it's subdued and more sad than it is actually hopeful, but it's there.

    That being said, Curse Your Branches sees Bazan doing just that: cursing the branches from which he's fallen; severely questioning the God from which he has fallen. Lyrically, then, the album comes across as pretty rough around the edges at times, with big, brash, in-your-face statements railing against God and religion. But there's also a lot of the usual brooding self-reflection, and that tempers the overt criticisms pretty nicely. The one thing I miss on this album is what I think is Bazan's greatest forte: his ability to tell compelling stories through song, a la Priests and Paramedics, Discretion, and the entirety of Winners Never Quit. Of course, such ballads wouldn't have been appropriate on an album like this, which is more about Bazan himself than anything--but I certainly look forward to him returning to that great storytelling capability of his in the future.

    Musically, the album is leaps and bounds above Bazan's first EP. More piano-based and less solely acoustic, Curse Your Branches' instrumentation possesses a variety and flare that serve for a really great and cohesive listen.

    So, where to from here? Well, this album strikes me as a necessary stepping stone in both Bazan's life and his career. It's a transitional work, in a way: a sort of farewell to a previous life and a heralding-in of a new one. And there's plenty to look forward to, in my opinion. Bazan might have lost his faith, but he's gained a kind of freedom in my opinion, both as a man and an artist. And that age-old tension between hope and doubt won't ever go away, I think... it will just manifest itself in new and different ways, which I for one am really excited about.
  • Me. Music. 2008.

    Gen 6 2009, 15:33

    Haha hey guess what? I'm too busy worrying about MY FUCKING FUTURE to write an extensive top-list this year LOL THANKS AMERICAN ECONOMY FUCK. So here's 15 albums that I apparently liked enough to remember and include in my end-of-year music summary :D :D :D :D

    (oh and yeah, you'll notice that as I went on, I got increasingly apathetic about what I actually said about each album. luckily for you, since I wrote from my number one spot down, it will actually seem like I got progressively LESS apathetic. fantastic.)

    15. Thomas Newman - WALL-E (Soundtrack)

    Great soundtrack for a great movie.

    14. the Circus Contraption Band - The Half-Wit's Descent

    Fucking awesome circus music with great vocals and fun, dark lyrics. "If I Told You Once" is so great.

    13. Girl Talk - Feed The Animals

    Undeniably fun. I'm sure you've heard of it, so I won't even bother to describe it. If you haven't, check it the fuck out.

    12. Ivan Colón- Despite The Atlantic EP

    Beautiful harmonic folk music.

    11. Bound Stems - The Family Afloat

    Catchy fun indie rock.

    10. City and Colour- Bring Me Your Love

    Matt Shaffer

    9. Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line

    Vampire Weekend????lolz. No this is really fun music. I dig it.

    8. Balmorhea - Rivers Arms

    Not quite as good as their s/t from 2007, but still goddamn gorgeous. I love this classical shit.

    7. Jóhann Jóhannsson - Fordlandia

    ^ Like I said, I love this classical shit.

    6. Horse Feathers - House With No Home

    Beautiful folk music up in heeeeeee.

    5. Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs

    I have to admit that this is one of the few albums that actually sprang to mind immediately when I thought about this year in music. I'm not going to even bother trying to judge it in relation to Death Cab's previous work, as I'm really not up to such a boring and laborious task. I'd rather just say that, like most of what Gibbard puts out, this album is pretty darned good.

    4. The Dodos - Visiter

    Despite its unnecessarily awkward album cover, the inexplicably annoying spelling error in its title, and a running time about fifteen minutes longer than it has to be, Visiter is actually a really great listen. The lead singer's vocals are clear and strong and are supported by some of the catchiest string and percussive arrangements I've heard in recent memory.

    3. Dr. Dog- Fate

    I'd heard local Philadelphia band Dr. Dog on XPN a few times and really liked them each time. And when I got my hands on their album, I found myself liking them even more. Fate (which sports an awesome album cover, by the way) is a collection of extremely catchy indie pop songs that just don't ever get old in my opinion. Definitely check this one out. Favorite Track: The Beach.

    2. Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

    Count me in as one of those who believe that Sigur Ros's new direction (however you want to describe it) is fucking awesome. While their new album does dip in the middle a bit with the over-long “Festival,” overall this album is just great. It has some of the most glorious-sounding moments in music I've heard in recent memory, including the 3:33 mark in Track 2 (Inní mér syngur vitleysingur), and the 7:44 and 8:07 marks in Track 7 (Ára bátur). Just beautiful music that oscillates deftly between soft-and-airy and swelling-and-majestic. Favorite Tracks: The two aforementioned + Gobbledigook and Við spilum endalaust.

    1. Anathallo - Canopy Glow

    Canopy Glow is a triumph on so many levels. Musically, it sees Anathallo taking a more song-based approach and hitting it (way) out of the park with each distinct track (as opposed to Floating World, where everything seemed to flow together—although I never had a problem with that, personally). Lyrically, too, Canopy Glow is simply astounding. I know Anathallo's brand of hyper-poetic lyricizing can easily be misconstrued as pretentious by some, but I simply can't resist the spiritual and introspective layering and phrasing of their songs. There's always something interesting happening here, both instrumentally and lyrically—and it makes for a truly beautiful listening experience every time I click play. Favorite Track: The River (duh).
  • [Archive] Chris Schlarb - Twilight and Ghost Stories - A Review

    Giu 26 2008, 11:05

    For posterity's sake, I'll carry this over from my old account before I delete it.

    Twilight & Ghost Stories

    Anyone who knows me knows that I have a recurring tendency toward self-isolation. Chalk it up to the occasional onslaught of ill humor or self-important internal meandering, but the fact is that I have an unusual penchant for alienability that can be extremely off-putting to anyone who's not prepared to see that side of me. The fact is, no matter how theatrical or community-driven I can get, there is always a further-down side of me that essentially... wants to be alone.

    This is what's on my mind as I review Chris Schlarb's "Twilight and Ghost Stories", but not because it plays to that side of me. I mean, it does, certainly—there is a quiet, haunting quality about this 40-minute piece that almost demands that it be listened to alone after midnight. Indeed, those conditions seem ideal for appreciating the diversity of generally soft sound and artistic influence contained in T&GS. But the interesting thing about this album is that, although it seems to facilitate aloneness, it is saturated with a sort of anti-aloneness as well.

    Indeed, the first thing you'll learn when reading about this album is that it was written over a span of four to five years with contributions from dozens of musical collaborators. The story as I understand it is that, about four years ago, Chris Schlarb's life had turned to proverbial shit. His liner notes explain it this way: "Four years ago I was a sleeping ghost in an empty home. After quitting my job as an insurance adjuster I found myself working through a devastating separation which soon ended in divorce. Aimless and unemployed, I lost all structure and contact with the world outside."

    Yikes, right?

    And then, one night, he was inspired (if that's the right word for it--existentially coaxed might be a better way to describe it, but then what the fuck do I know, I'm not Chris Schlarb) to record the rain outside his apartment. From there he developed an idea that would involve asking about fifty artists (including both friends and strangers) to contribute to a piece of music that hadn't even been made yet; something Schlarb describes as "a composition that had no obvious center ... assembled out of order and without self-reference."

    No obvious center? No self-reference? Who does this guy think he is, Jacques Derrida? Eh? Eh?

    No but uh, bad literary criticism jokes aside...

    The remarkable thing about "Twilight and Ghost Stories" is that it functions as more than simply a piece of music. In addition to being a painstaking work of beauty and grace, it serves as a kind of grand gesture towards the importance--and, literally, the significance—of community: community as something perhaps disparate in a sense, considering the work's overall contributive nature, but as something ultimately unifying and cohesive as well; something that signifies.

    One can (or can't, depending on how you look at it) imagine the renewed sense of purpose and achievement that must have struck Schlarb with the birth and consummation of this project. And it is exactly that feeling of consummation that echoes throughout this unique and ambitious work--while also allowing a deep sense of loneliness to reside in its pores. Indeed, it is that strange coexistence of detachment and fellowship in Schlarb's work that is most compelling. As both a product of and a response to alienation, "Twilight and Ghost Stories" maintains a uniquely spiritual capacity for evoking feelings of both hope and despair in its listener. It is this ingrained mutuality between two seemingly opposed realities of the human condition that I believe gives T&GS its overwhelming warmth and dynamic flare.

    What we have here seems to be one man's reaffirmation of himself--not in the traditional artistic sense of working through some kind of selfish creative process on one's own as some sort of singular, detached, walking-around-type-thing... but rather in a way that acknowledges the inevitability of human interconnection and the power we all have to contribute to each others lives in positive ways, to help each other stand up and create and feel again, even in the midst of despair. The product of all this is an album that could adequately be described as a veritable concourse of epic proportions: an open space to be stood in by the listener, just as it was by the musicians who created it.

    In fact, the first time I ever heard any of "Twilight and Ghost Stories," it was in the form of an excerpt on the Mews Too Asthmatic Kitty compilation. Upon hearing it, I was inspired to write something deeply personal—a sort of monologue that I plan to give to a character in a play someday. What I wrote doesn't matter, of course. But I like to think that my own response to that two-and-a-half-minute track was in itself a part of the very same tapestry of emotional and artistic interrelation found at the core of "Twilight and Ghost Stories." Maybe that's hubris on my part. And maybe I'm getting a bit too personal. But I don't know. I think that that, at least, might be the point.