Summer Wrap-Up Pt. 1 (of 1)
(1)I’ve fallen under the spell of a number of indie rock iconoclasts in recent months. A while back it was Mark Kozelek, and before that Daniel Johnston, Will Oldham, Alan Sparhawk and other dudes much beloved at WMCN. Now it’s F.M. Cornog, who recorded as East River Pipe during the glorious sad years of the mid 90s. He’s been semi-active since then, but it’s 1995’s Poor Fricky, an album that’s been floating around in the matrix of my musical awareness for a long while, that has finally captured my attention. Much of it owes a debt to the Go-Betweens, and Grant McClennan in particular, though Cornog does play the Robert Forster card quite a bit, since he has no songwriting partner to balance his more serene moments. He comes across as a loner, and while the songs are by and large serene, the words don’t match McClennan’s often lovely sentiments. “I’m walking the dog and I’m scared in the usual way,” goes one confession, and Cornog elsewhere titles a song with the exhortation, “Keep All Your Windows Tight Tonight.” That song is the crowning achievement on the album, climaxing in a series of long mournful sounds that seem to be made by a human being but sound so sad and other-worldly that you’d be right to mistake them for an exotic woodwind (it certainly beats John Lennon’s primal screams on “Mother,” much as I like that song). Click below for one of the album’s more conventional gems.
[mp3] East River Pipe - "Ah, Dictaphone"
(2)Earlier this summer, Stephin Merritt solidified as my all-time favorite songwriter, on the strength of one of his earliest songs, The Magnetic Fields' “100,000 Fireflies.” It’s often touted as his best, but I had somehow failed to ever hear it. It’s simply transcendent, as the whole world probably already knows, full of chiming pianos and synths that could send your reeling dreamy mind into enchanted phantasmagoric lands for centuries. Seriously! I’m not linking it below because, while it is a song that you’ll never get sick of, it’s also too damn valuable to be tarnished by the mundane business of blog posting. If you haven’t heard it, you need to wait.
In terms of new music, Billboard chart-topper Narrow Stairs by Death Cab for Cutie served me well this summer. It finds the band courting the big time with a number of simply constructed but memorable songs. Ben Gibbard’s lyrics are borderline awkward but always lovable, nowhere more so than the consumed-by-flames meditation “Grapevine Fires” and the very nice “Your New Twin-Sized Bed,” an honest tale of eternal aloneness. Up there elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Fleet Foxes put out a debut album that simply couldn’t be better, maybe even more grippingly languid than their stellar EP from earlier this year. And down in California, Port O’Brien, who did a jolly set opening for Rogue Wave back in October, released their official debut All We Could Do Was Sing, which is Will Oldham for the sing-along crowd and so much more.
[mp3] Port O'Brien - "Stuck on a Boat"
For those on a budget, you can’t do better than Paul Westerberg’s latest jumbled mess, 49:00, on sale for 49 cents at Amazon as a single mp3 (though it looks like it's been taken down), or for even cheaper, Nine Inch Nails’ latest giveaway, The Slip, which is pretty damn palatable, surprisingly.