Kelley Stoltz: “I Remember, You Were Wild”

December 11, 2010

If you care enough to this read blog on a semi-regular basis, you will have noticed that I am, at this very moment, returning from a month-and-a-half-long hiatus. This is not because I’m dead and speaking to you from the grave—or, worse, the gates of Hades right now—nor have I decided that I loathe writing and wish to never put my pen to the page again (so to speak). No, friends. I did it for your benefit and your benefit alone. When I realized how much I was using my blog as a personal platform upon which I could unleash my innermost anguish in a fiery ball of heartbroken fury unto unsuspecting readers everywhere, I decided it was time to rein it in and wait until I was in a healthier mental state to continue. Because music, for me, is inherently tied to how I feel, and I was feeling very, very, very low. Unfortunately, it took me some time to reach this epiphany because, when you’re in trenches of emotional catastrophe, you can’t see for the tears. But still, I didn’t need to drag you all with me into the depths of despair. It’s dark in there, and I think there might be spiders. The good news is, I feel better. The bad news, of course, is that I also feel badly for staying away for so long, hibernating in my cave of self-pity. And bars. With bourbon.

Unfortunately, during my breakup sabbatical and subsequent process of re-socialization, I skipped over about a million bands I found worthy of—and fully intended on—writing about. Although it would be pure punishment to list them all here, I’ve been known to linger in my state of leftover masochism, so I may as well: The Fresh & Onlys, Diamond Rings, The Black Angels, Tamaryn, Leonard Cohen. (I mean, please—like I need to tell you who Leonard fucking Cohen is.) Fortunately, another thing that’s happened since I last wrote is that I officially formed my very own band here in San Francisco, which got me thinking about Bay Area musicians I admire like Kelley Stoltz. I recently discovered his new album, To Dreamers, which was released earlier this fall and is full of major chord throwback rock done right. When I can finally stop cathartically composing songs about lost love, I plan on taking a tip or two from him.

Kelley Stoltz – I Remember, You Were Wild

Who: Kelley Stoltz

What: To Dreamers

When: October 12, 2010

Where: San Francisco, CA

Why: “I remember, you were wild. Always acting like a child.”

How: Sub Pop

The Vaselines: “Sex with an Ex”

October 21, 2010

Since my ex and I constantly listened to music together, blacklisted artists abound, including Beach House, Arcade Fire, Real Estate, LCD Soundsystem, The Tallest Man on Earth, Yeasayer, Caribou, The xx, and many, many more. (Even the National, but I feel as though I can reclaim them since he wasn’t nearly as obsessed with them as I am.) The Vaselines fall into this forbidden category of music I can’t listen to without immediately thinking about him. It’s not like we used to listen to them every day, or even when we made love—but he used to play “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” on guitar, and I would sing along, and that’s not something I can soon forget. And the subject of the title track of Sex with an Ex hits close to home—not because it happened, but because I think about it all the time. Pathetic, I know.

But the Vaselines, founded by Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, although old, are not. For a band that formed in 1986, broke up in 1989, and released only two short EPs and one album, Dum Dum, before disintegrating, you wouldn’t think that a record released 21 years later would garner much attention. But this is also a band that had three separate songs covered by Nirvana—since Kurt Cobain quoted them as his favorite—in the nineties, and therefore had a much harder time fading into oblivion. Plus, they’re actually good. And playing with the Dum Dum Girls, which is fitting since their moniker plays homage to the Vaselines, tonight at the Great American. I’ll be there, trying not to cry per usual.

The Vaselines – Sex with an Ex

Who: The Vaselines

What: Sex with an Ex

When: 9.14.2010

Where: Glasgow, Scotland

Why: “It feels so good, it must be bad for me.”

How: Sub Pop

Perfume Genius: “Learning”

September 29, 2010

It’s no secret that I’m heartbroken, and the road to recovery feels less like a road than a quagmire. And I don’t care who knows it, because I lost all sense of shame when I lost the man I loved. And, since I’m an unconvincing liar and extremely sensitive, I often end up talking about my troubles to anyone who will listen (sorry, people—you know who you are). But every once and a while something coaxes you to emerge from your cocoon of narcissism and think that, maybe, just maybe, life could, actually, be worse, and the ground might not actually be crumbling like crackers beneath your feet. In this case, the one who has inadvertently lifted the shroud of perpetual pessimism, self-pity, and hopeless pining that has been covering my head like crown of despair for the past three week is one of my very best friends from home, Ariel, who is doing relief work for UNICEF in Haiti right now. Her emails detailing what the people down there are going through make my troubles pale in comparison to their plight. So, although my pain still hasn’t gone away, it certainly makes it seem less apocalyptic.

And a similar phenomenon transpired last night. I went to see Perfume Genius, a new KEXP discovery of mine, perform at Bottom of the Hill, even though it was a Monday, and I was already at home, and I hadn’t been able to convince anyone to accompany me to the show, and I knew it would go late, and I haven’t been feeling that well. But then I said fuck it and hopped on my bike. It’s a downright travesty that the show was so sparsely attended, because Mike Hadreas, a frail wisp of a boy with an equally fragile voice and a devastatingly mournful mien, delivered such a haunting, soul-baring string of piano ballads that afterward I wanted to walk behind his keyboard, take him in my arms, and tell him everything is going to be ok, even though people have been telling me that on a daily basis and I never believe them. Singing with an ethereal timidity, he managed to muster so much sadness with his music that the air felt thick with tears, and it was obvious that he often dwells in a very dark place. I think he really is sadder than me. By a lot. So there’s that. For perspective.

Perfume Genius – Learning

Who: Perfume Genius

What: Learning

When: 6.21.2010

Where: Seattle, Washington

Why: “No one will answer your prayers until you take off that dress / No one will hear all your crying until you take your last breath”

How: Matador

The Tallest Man on Earth: “Love Is All”

September 14, 2010

Heartache is the loneliest place. If you could translate it into a geographic location, I think it would be a lonesome, desolate, monochrome dot devoid of friends and laughter and laden with despair. Like a desert, or an arctic tundra, or a buoy in the middle of the ocean. So I imagine Sweden, with its long winters and northern latitudes, might not be far from a physical manifestation of the feeling, in which I’ve been immersed nonstop for the past five days. Parts of Scandinavia, the region to which Sweden belongs, lie to the north of the Arctic Circle and boast several natural phenomena. For example, during summer, the sun never sets some days, but the opposite occurs during winter, resulting in unending darkness for the corresponding period, which is known as Polar Night. And since my lover left me, it seems as though the curtains of night have fallen on the stage of my heart and might never lift.

The Tallest Man on Earth, however, is not the man that just stopped loving me, although that man was very tall. He is Kristian Matsson, he’s only 5’9,” and he hails from a town I’ve never heard of in the middle of Sweden. Like his previous LP, Shallow Grave, and his five-song EP, Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird, that followed his latest album, The Wild Hunt, just five months after its release, the recordings are sparse but do not suffer for their simplicity. Just Matsson’s voice and his guitar, which features masterful and delicate finger-picking and eloquent lyrics, his folksy style understandably draws constant comparisons to Bob Dylan. I’ll try to think of my blues as just a passing bird, or as a sparrow, perhaps while I watch The Tallest Man on Earth play at The Fillmore tonight.

The Tallest Man on Earth – Love Is All

Who: The Tallest Man on Earth

What: The Wild Hunt

When: 4.12.2010

Where: Dalarna, Sweden

Why: “And now spikes will keep on falling from the heavens to the floor / The future was our skin and now we don’t dream anymore”

How: Dead Oceans

The National and St. Vincent: “Sleep All Summer”

September 11, 2010

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I fell in love with the original recording of this song by Crooked Fingers when I lived in Boston many years ago, much like a fell in love with a man a few months ago, and now he has fallen out of love with me. Thus, this cover as recorded by The National’s Matt Berninger and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark resonates with me far more than I ever wanted it to, and all I can hope is that it provides me with the necessary catharsis to get through this tragic mess that I’ve become, but it seems that the only thing it’s helping me to do now is cry. I wish I could sleep all fall and wake up in the winter, finding out it was all a bad dream, but I’m not that naïve. So this song is neither that new nor all that newsworthy, but neither is the concept of a broken heart.

The National and St. Vincent – Sleep All Summer

Who: The National and St. Vincent

What: Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers!

When: 4.7.2009

Where: Brooklyn and Manhattan (today); Cincinatti and Oklahoma (previously)

Why: “Cold ways kill cool lovers / Strange ways we used each other / Why won’t you fall back in love with me?

How: Merge

Blue Giant: “Gone for Good”

September 2, 2010

Last weekend I went camping up in Bodega Bay. Now, usually a sojourn in the hinterlands provides the rare—and necessary—opportunity for a pavement-treading city dweller like myself to see the stars since the lights that populate the metropolis and pollute the night sky don’t exist in those areas, like when I went backpacking with some friends in the Sierras and we forgot our tent and had to sleep under the stars. (Believe me when I tell you: there are worse things—but then again, it didn’t rain.) Unfortunately for my star-gazing craving, for this most recent trip we pitched our tents in a forest of redwood trees, which was majestic, delightful, and awe-inspiring, but the canopy obscured our visual passageway to the heavens. No matter. We passed enough bottles around the fire that some of us were seeing stars (of sorts) soon enough.

I’ll bet there are more stars up in Oregon. Maybe that’s why my friend Mikey is moving to Portland next week, which once again confirms my theory that all cool people migrate there. Or live there already, like this group called Blue Giant, which consists of Kevin and Anita Robinson, who formerly recorded and toured under their previous incarnation—as a duo called Viva Voce—until they decided to see what they could do with a bigger band. Their nom de plume is astronomical in origin. According to Wikipedia, “A blue giant is a massive star that has exhausted the hydrogen fuel in its core and left the main sequence.” Speaking of namesakes, this track off Blue Giant’s eponymous new record shares the same name as another one of my favorite songs of all time by The Shins. I guess “Gone for Good” is never going to express an uplifting message. But I have one: Good luck, Mikey! In the meantime, go catch Blue Giant play at Café du Nord tonight.

Blue Giant – Gone for Good (feat. Corin Tucker)

Who: Blue Giant

What: Blue Giant

When: 7.13.2010

Where:  Portland, Oregon

Why: “When our love is gone it’s gone for good / Look for it while you can if you think you should”

How: Vanguard Records

Land of Talk: “Quarry Hymns”

August 26, 2010

Readers (if you do exist, that is), meet my new anthem: “Quarry Lakes,” a gem off of Land of Talk’s second full-length album, Cloak and Cipher, whose name to me has a very strange, mystery-laden, Agatha-Christie-meets-Harry-Potter kind of vibe to it, and which just came out on Tuesday. Oh, how this song burns like cold, cruel fire in the deepest recesses of my troubled heart. You may have already read my post on LOT’s previous record, 2008’s Justin Vernon-produced Some Are Lakes, which featured the title track and pokes fun at our neighbors to the north. What I didn’t mention was that front woman and erstwhile member of Toronto-based supergroup Broken Social Scene Liz Powell had to take some time off when she developed hemorrhaging vocal chord polyps, and it was during that recovery period that she wrote most of what would later become Cloak and Cipher. In an article in Canada’s National Post, which had been streaming  the brand new work before its release, Powell says of “Quarry Lakes”: “How things hit us is often incongruous with our surroundings—this song is a sad summer day and the happiest snowfall you’ve ever run through. This is a song for friends and lovers, a call to arms for falling and turning leaves.”

As summer winds down everywhere else across the country, here in San Francisco it’s just beginning. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t entitled to enjoy the autumnal themes that everyone else will be draping themselves in like scarves come Labor Day as the warmth  suddenly drains from the air, daylight starts slouching, and the nights expand into oblivion with loneliness in hand. This is, at least, what all my friends will be feeling, the ones that left me here all by myself in San Francisco to move back east for various academic pursuits as I flounder and attempt to reestablish my identity as, well, a solitary individual. In Canada, of course, this descent into autumn began about a month ago. In fact, it might be snowing already. Fortunately, there is something to look forward to this fall: Land of Talk will play The Independent on Thursday, October 7, with fellow tourmates the Besnard Lakes.

Land of Talk – Quarry Hymns

Who: Land of Talk

What: Cloak and Cipher

When: 8.24.10

Where: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Why: “How deep is this hole I feel I’m in?”

How: Saddle Creek

Arcade Fire: “Half Light II (No Celebration)”

August 10, 2010

Picture me sitting on my childhood bed in the house I grew up in, which is located in an unassuming little town in North Central Massachusetts and is not, as most might think, “just outside of Boston.” It’s just outside of nowhere, and it’s just begun to thunderstorm outside, which signals a welcome but probably too-brief relief, since it’s been so unbearably hot and humid that I realize, quite lucidly, that I’ve been romanticizing East Coast summers to the nth degree. (I can’t sleep at night, and it’s not so much my primordial twin bed as it is the insidious heat that sidles in between me and my intended dreams.) And as I work away the time I should be spending vacationing (ah, the unintended curse of freelancing!) until my flight leaves on Wednesday night to carry me across the continent like a stowaway in the belly of a wide-winged, extra speedy bird, the life to which I’ll be returning has been crumbling like pie crust dough with too much flour—but with more aplomb.

Naturally, I’ve been seeking an equally morose soundtrack to my life. Because I am not close enough to a bona fide city, it doesn’t follow that I would know what it’s like to live in the suburbs, and, as a San Francisco resident, I’m not living there now, but I’m pretty sure I suffered as much as (if not more than) the kids that technically inhabited them—and I’m suffering now. For those of you who haven’t heard the new album, don’t let me misguide you: it is, actually, full of jaunty, infectious, thigh-slapping tunes, but this one matches my melancholy mood right now, and I’ve been listening to it a lot. In the car. That I’ve been driving. To get places. Welcome back to the very outer echelons of suburbia, Sarah. (As a side note, it’s somewhat ironic since I first learned about Arcade Fire when I was living in Boston, from a cool coworker named Erik, and by the time I got around to listening to the copies of Funeral and Neon Bible that he had burned for me, their show at the Paradise—my preferred small venue in the city—had come and gone. I have yet to see them live, but in the meantime, I have this.)

Arcade Fire – Half Light II (No Celebration)

Who: Arcade Fire

What: The Suburbs

When: 8.3.2010

Where: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Why: “Now that San Francisco’s gone / I guess I’ll just pack it in / Wanna wash away my sins / In the presence of my friends.”

How: Merge

Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers: “You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying”

July 9, 2010

Making a mixed CD is, in my opinion, a thrilling yet sometimes thorny undertaking fraught with various obstacles like perfectionism. The last mix I made was for a romantic interest, and it was at the very start of the relationship, so although I had confidently assured the recipient (all starry-eyed) that I would try to make it “less depressing” than I normally would, I soon encountered another problem. I wanted to succeed in the aforementioned task, yes, but that goal was complicated by my fear of including inappropriate or unduly passionate lyrical content, because doing so could fray the tender yet tenuous thread that was tying us together and send us spinning in opposite directions. I couldn’t be dropping L bombs before we had decided we were even going to see each other again. And, of course, I had to convince him, in 20 songs or less, that I had impeccable taste in music. I don’t know if I succeeded on any level because I still haven’t given it to him yet.

So imagine the veritable smorgasbord of feelings—including honor, excitement, and  inadequacy—that flooded my senses as I was put in charge of the music for me and my friend Amy’s western road trip, which begins tomorrow in Montana. I refuse to hightail through Yellowstone and Jackson listening to chillwave, and there’s no fucking way Thelma & Louise were into lo-fi. I want country, dammit. And I don’t have any. Fortunately, I listen to enough country-influenced musicians that I was able to make do. Even better, I discovered KEXP’s Swingin’ Doors program (which happens every Thursday evening), and I heard this song by Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers. It’s on the mix. As is Gary Stewart’s classic, “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles).” Time to get my whiskey on in the Wild West, folks.

Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers – You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying

Who: Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers

What:  Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers

When: 12.8.2009

Where: Seattle, Washington

Why: “I play it cool and I act as cold as ice / It’s the only way I know to make you look twice / Because you only believe me when I’m lying.”

How: Zoe Muth

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside: “Not an Animal”

June 18, 2010

It seems everyone wants to move to Portland these days, myself included. Though I’ve never been, I’ve heard great things, like the fact that it boasts ubiquitous high-quality coffee (and innovations like this that go along with it), tasty microbreweries, a burgeoning food scene, and is also green, bike-friendly, and conveniently poised for outdoor adventure. (Not to mention it is home to House Spirits Distillery, which produces one of the best whiskies I’ve ever tasted.) In short, it’s like a smaller, rainier, cheaper version of San Francisco. In addition to all this, the music scene up there is solid, as evidenced, yet again, by a band I just discovered: Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside. Originally from Asheville, North Carolina, it sounds like Sallie and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to moving to that Oregon city, according to this Future Sounds interview: “I moved to Portland on a whim. I heard a lot of great things and thought it would be a great place to live, and it is.” (I did the same thing when moving from Boston to SF two and a half years ago, and it’s worked out splendidly.)

She met her current bandmates there—Ford Tennis (drums), Tyler Tornfelt (upright bass), Jeff Munger (lead guitar), who comprise the “Sound Outside” portion of the band; Sallie sings, plays rhythm guitar, and writes the songs. After playing smaller venues in the Portland area for the past couple of years, Sallie and co. recently went on tour opening for fellow North Carolinans The Avett Brothers. The band released their first EP, Not an Animal, last May, and a full-length album is in the works. Though I am partial to lower female voices (being in possession of one myself, in addition to spending my formative years suffering adolescent and teenage angst on a steady diet of Fiona Apple), I do occasionally make an exception, and this time it’s for Sallie. Among her influences, Ford lists Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, both of whom are evident enough in her vocal delivery. However, Ford goes beyond simple copycat techniques; she really takes ownership of her voice, and her music effectively blends vintage and modern persuasions. To see for yourself, Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside play with Eilen Jewell tonight at Hotel Utah.

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside – Not An Animal

Who: Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside

What: Not an Animal EP

When: 5.2009

Where: Portland, Oregon

Why: “I’m definitely not on the prowl / I’ve just got big eyes like a baby owl.”

How: Self-released


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