He sulks the hardest sulks, the leader does. He lets his chin rest on his chest and his shoulders slump. He emits sighs of high volume and intensity for seventy minutes. The leader will rise to continue his sulk, but only if someone asks him what the matter is. Then he goes to the window and looks into the middle distance, saying nothing. He frowns. He screws his lips up into a poutier pout than you or I have ever before witnessed. He invokes oaths upon the heavens, upon hell, upon a single god and other, lesser gods, but does so without providing explanation. The leader’s sulks can be provoked by the slightest disappointment or infelicity—say, butter not covering the entire surface area of a piece of his toast in the morning, or an insufficiently sincere compliment given to him regarding the gold leaf wallpaper that adorns the interior of his private jet. His sulks can be terminated by diversions: television, a steak, professional jesters, or the promise of an audience with important men.
All I need to say with this song is the following: Did you ever love Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World?” If so, you will fucking love this song by Porcelain Raft. It has the same hazy dream-life feeling. This song suggests to me the scenario of surfing a wave of liquid yearning only to fall gently upon a beach of tenderness and acceptance. Let us all take shelter in songs of this ilk. Gentle. Accommodating. Fantastic. A glimpse of another world.
There is always going to be room for bands who write brief, quiet, and catchy guitar songs. I posit that, after most of civilization has collapsed, people cowering in rafts on the surface of underground lakes will still hold close to their hearts the memories of sweet and simple songs like the ones made by the Proper Ornaments. I’ve written about the band a few times before, and their new album is just as good and listenable as their previous ones—though I think there’s also a pretty remarkable bleakness in the lyrics on Foxhole that wasn’t as present on the old albums (bleakness seems, to my mind, an entirely appropriate tone right now). Proper Ornaments are, like the Clientele, talented makers of consistently good music that is delicate and pretty but also possesses depth and feeling. Consider letting them into your life.
Who can resist the charm of Kingsbury Manx? Many people, as it turns out. They are not a famous band (this seems like a fair assessment). I know of only one other person in real life who likes the band’s music as much as I do. But they were (are?) a talented band, and they released some stone-cold classic records. I don’t know if they would have had more or less success if they’d existed in an earlier or later time, though their music, to my ears, has an undeniable appeal. All their songs have an essential quality of calm companionship, I think, in the full sense of the “sharing bread together” origin of the word ‘companion.’ Their music has always given off the vibe of a visit to a friend’s or relative’s comfortable house—a place where you know you’ll be received with hospitality and good cheer. Silver Trees is a little bit different, in some ways, since it’s more of a self-examination song, a retrospective look—though the music here, still, is so warm and inviting. A music-box tumble of guitars, a whispering organ/synth, a hint of percussion, and forthright declarations. It’s all so good. Their first three albums are pretty much unassailably great (start with one of those three if you're interested), and everything else has been pretty fantastic too.
This album came out so long ago! And now it's back out, remastered, etc. If you have never listened to Islands' first album, you owe it to yourself, really, to correct that mistake. It is fun and easy to listen to. Catchy, weird-ish songs. I remember at the time the album was originally released that there was some, or much, consternation about how indebted to P. Simon's Graceland this album was. Officious folks who disliked fun thought and wrote long and exasperatedly about the depth of Paul Simon's influence on Nick Thorburn; this was the way of the world in 2006, music reviewing was a grim game of brinkmanship and pedantry. Now, not so much, people don't care in the same ways, which is probably a good thing.
I will soon compile a list of favorite albums (and books, probably), though I don't know what I'm going to do with respect to songs. Most of my favorite songs are probably on other people's lists. If I can find a clutch of songs that I listened to in 2016 that I think are actually deserving of more attention and that haven't already been mentioned 1000 times by others, I'll put them up here. In the meantime, I will recommend the always-awesome end-of-year lists put together by the sweet and smart and wonderful folks over at Said the Gramophone, Fluxblog, and Recommended Listen--they all listen and write harder and better than I do, and their mixes and lists are incredibly comprehensive and worthwhile.
If I were you, I would prepare for the holiday season by laying in some provisions in the form of good, hard synth songs. There is no better way to get yourself and your family through cold weather than electronic music, which provides more BTUs per minute than any other type of music. The Pressure is a perfect example: listen to the bounce and pucker (technical terms) of that synth at the start of the song. That's heat. That's energy. Roxanne Clifford's voice, too, is a source of comfort and warmth. (NB, this song reminds me so much of early Belle & Sebastian electronic experiments, like Electronic Renaissance, though I can't tell if that comparison only occurred to me because Clifford recorded this song in Glasgow).
"I loved you/badly/I loved you." Good song, good chorus. Lulu feels like a song that emerged from a tiny kernel, and I bet it was that phrase in the chorus. Hang a drumbeat on that, see what happens. All you need are some notes for decoration, like tinsel, and you're there. Simple, heartfelt, almost accidental. A coming together.
Jay Som is Melina Duterte of San Francisco. I don’t know anything about Jay Som except for the way this music makes me feel: energized and psyched in sort of wistful way; the song makes me feel like it’s possible for a long-unseen acquaintance from the past to suddenly step between the posts of my office doorway and say hi. I’m thankful for music like this, a sweet fall adornment, a momentary respite.
NB: Today's post is a book review. The song above is included merely because it's an awesome song.
Fish In Exile, by Vi Khi Nao, is a novel that's such a great blend of experimental and traditional. I mean, the shape of the story itself is sort of classic--fighting through grief and mourning to re-embrace the world--but the way it's told is all Nao's style, which means having a dozen or so sentences every page that deserve to be underlined and highlighted. Fish in Exile reminds me, at least in terms of execution, of Ben Marcus's more recent stories (and of Flame Alphabet), because he has lately seemed to embrace the momentum of story, but while still preserving his own style, his sentence-level experimentation, etc. The book is so moving. The ending blew me away. I said out loud, "whew, jeeze, so good," when I put the book down after finishing it. Catholic and Ethos are such great characters, I liked spending time with them. And Callisto and Lidia too. The ending is like the ending of Ulysses for speed and power and beauty. Pick it up, it's so worthwhile.
The return of Dante DeCaro! Last seen solo in Johnny and the Moon, which released their debut (and solitary) album a decade ago. That album was incredibly good and came out of nowhere; full of vicious full-band folk songs like “Scarlet Town pt. II” and “Oleanna.” But now, 10 years later, DeCaro is back with a new EP, Kill Your Boyfriend. “Love Like Thieves” reminds me of what he did with Johnny and the Moon, though it’s a little less wild-eyed, a little more controlled than his earlier work. And the whole EP moves in that same way: contemplative, relaxed, but still full of passion.