Here's my picks for the best songs of 2013 -- tunes that thrilled at first listen and continued to be faves to revist throughout the year. It's not a ranked listing but curated as a playlist, as always kicking off fast and fun then meandering through other musical approaches from there. I chose official videos for this post, all except Okkervil River's "Down Down the Deep River," which is also the name of an upcoming film Will Sheff is creating about his childhood hometown through a kickstarter campaign. So I inserted the trailer for that since there's no official video for the song itself. This movie is definitely on my list for in 2014...
Find a straight up listening session here or click on the videos and let 'er rip! 1. "If You Didn't See Me (Then You Weren't On the Dance Floor)"– Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. 2. "Dumb Disco Ideas"– Holy Ghost! 3. "Song for Zula" – Phosphorescent 4. "It All Feels Right" – Washed Out 5. "Right Action" – Franz Ferdinand 6. "Sharpteeth" – The Octopus Project 7. "Come Save Me" – Jagwar Ma 8. "High School Lover" – Cayucas 9. "Ohm" – Yo La Tengo 10. "The Perfect Life (featuring Wayne Coyne)" – Moby 11. "Don't Swallow the Cap" – The National 12. "Shuggie" – Foxygen 13. "In the City" – Caveman 14. "Your Life Is a Lie" – MGMT 15. "Varsity" – Smith Westerns 16. "Reflektor" – Arcade Fire 17. "Down Down the Deep River" – Okkervil River 18. "The Truth" – Dr. Dog 19. "Rose Quartz" – Toro Y Moi 20. "Sun Blows Up Today" – The Flaming Lips
I have no business curating another holiday playlist with everything going on these days, but the idea came to me after reading in the December issue of Real Simple. Under party tips,it was suggested that hosts take advantage of streaming services for music and have a soundtrack randomly selected. Of course, I'm all about the pick and choosing of tunes, then lovingly sequencing a playlist. When I got out my Favorite Holiday Tunes Playlist from 2011 for background as the decorating began last weekend, it was like having a beloved old friend visit. So I took another look into my vast holiday music archives and put together another one.
Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips begins Favorite Holiday Tunes II, intoning that "Everything is going to work out just fine." This is exactly what I need to hear and this time of year, entrusted as I am with the role of family traditions coordinator. This is followed by two covers of songs from cherished holiday specials. 80s rockabilly master from the Stray Cats Brian Setzer intones "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and Au Revoir Simone muster a laissez faire attitude for "Christmas" (as in the Peanuts gang type). I also couldn't help including Fall Out Boy's raucous version from my Halloween obsession the Nightmare Before Christmas, "What's This?"
The rest is a mix and match of old and new, with two songs from the recent Starbucks compilation, Holidays Rule (2012) -- a powerhouse collabo with Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten in "Baby, It's Cold Outside," and The Shins taking on Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." There's a song by Fitz & The Tantrums that was offered as a free download last year, when they were still cranking out that awesome retro vibe that got them noticed in the music scene on the first place. And I'll be forever thankful that someone came up with the idea of having Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders rock a holiday classic, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." (She's my answer to the question, who would you sing like if you could sing like anyone?) Plus I'm not usually a fan of remixes, but YACHT took on the goofy tune with The B-52's Fred Schneider as The Superions, "Fruitcake," to cook up a match made in holiday heaven. I've concluded with two songs pointing us to the New Year, Death Cab for Cutie's contemplative "The New Year" and Dan Wilson's "What A Year For New Year" (a nod to witnessing this velvety smooth voice in concert back in November!)
1. "A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn't So)" -- The Flaming Lips 2. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" -- The Brian Setzer Orchestra 3. "Christmas" -- Au Revoir Simone 4. "Santa Stole My Lady" -- Fitz and & The Tantrums 5. "Let It Snow" -- Luscious Jackson 6. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" -- Rufus Wainwright featuring Sharon Van Etten 7. "Sleigh Ride" -- The Ventures 8. "The Christmas Song" -- The Raveonettes 9. "Christmas Time" -- Smashing Pumpkins 10. "What's This?" -- Fall Out Boy 11. "Little Saint Nick" -- Sugar Ray 12. "Wonderful Christmastime" -- The Shins 13. "Please Come Home For Christmas" -- Pat Benatar 14. "Fruitcake (YACHT remix)" -- The Superions 15. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" -- The Pretenders 16. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" -- The Smithereens 17. "The New Year" -- Death Cab for Cutie 18. "What A Year For A New Year" -- Dan Wilson
Here is a slightly ranked profile of my personal faves for Top Ten Releases of 2013. As I compiled the list, I realized that I'm lucky to have seen all but TWO bands in concert (can you guess which ones?) To accompany each pick, I found a live video to show the band in action -- most in mid-size venues that I prefer, so not to get overwhelmed or lost in the crowd. However, the best one for Yo La Tengo is from the Pitchfork Music Festival, perhaps a nod to my own experience this year at the massive ACL Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Late night television is also an impressive source for catching performances of kinds of new music, all online afterwards so there's no need to stay up late! And of course, some are directly from the NMMatterscorp YouTube channel archives as bands toured in support of these albums. With that I give thanks as always to my video guy Paul and his calm, steady hand with the flip camera. Plus, be sure to check out the honorable mentions at the end of the post. Onward!
1. Arcade Fire, Reflektor Reflektor, the highly anticipated fourth album by Arcade Fire, finally arrived at the end of October but most of the fans attending the not-so secret show in Brooklyn on October 18th were already well acquainted with it. (Maybe if I had my hands on a preview, we wouldn't have been punked by the stage switch captured in this video, knowing there would be plenty of congas needed -- all is forgiven, really I need to move on!) The band had wanted to collaborate with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and DFA Records for 2010's The Suburbs, but he was unavailable at the time. Yet the delay actually seems beneficial in retrospect, now that the influx of EDM has everyone used to getting their groove on.
2. Moby, Innocents
Moby utilized a spirit of collaboration for his eleventh studio album, Innocents, enlisting the likes of Damien Jurado, Cold Specks and (my favorite) Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips. In this video after the shoot for fave track, "The Perfect Life," a sing along breaks out as Coyne applied his frontman skills to get everyone to join in, including this fan -- no matter how many times I hear this song! Moby is still working the full band sound that he returned to for the last album, 2011's Destroyed. (I caught him live that year at Moogfest 2011 after I interviewed him in his new home of L.A. a few months earlier.) However, he can still work that trademark magic with heart-swelling instrumentals, as in the opening track "Everything That Rises" and "Going Wrong."
3. The National, Trouble Will Find Me
For their fourth album, Trouble Will Find Me, The National continues to explore its treatise of deeply sincere indie rock. While I was in the throngs for their show at ACL, a guy commented how he just loved the voice of singer Matt Berninger and I had to agree, being smitten since first listen. The band has plenty of admirers and there's no pressure for detractors, so polarizers can just join in or go home.
4. Phosphorescent, Muchacho
Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent has another voice in indie rock that caught my ear right away. There's a slight twang from Alabama roots and deeply personal lyrics provide an instant connection with fans during his sixth studio album, Muchacho. "Song for Zula" was heard everywhere yet I never tired of it, a sure sign of the everlasting power of great music. This year, I saw a some of Phosphorescent's set at ACL after being up close and personal at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, both memorable moments with a veteran road warrior just strutting his stuff.
5. Franz Ferdinand, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
Scottish indie rock quartet Franz Ferdinand returned with its fourth album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, conjuring up the amped up energy of their self-titled debut in 2004. I finally witnessed the lads live in Austin, a set full of cheeky fun with impressive new songs, formidable old hits and unexpected covers (Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" of all things!)
6. Okkervil River, The Silver Gymnasium
Okkervil River's seventh album, The Silver Gymnasium, finally brought me into the fan fold of this Austin band. The thematic pull of a New England childhood certainly helped, but it was the rollicking, tuneful songs as conveyed by singer/songwriter Will Sheff that had this new material on repeat. Seeing their solid set at ACL just sealed the deal for a Top Ten spot.
7. Yo La Tengo, Fade
Hoboken's own indie rock trio Yo La Tengo released its thirteenth full length album this year, Fade. While the lilting closing track, "Before We Run," was plucked for my Early Summer 2013 Playlist, "Ohm" and "It's Not Enough" are also beloved tracks from this collection.
8. Portugal. The Man, Evil Friends
Portland-based Portugal. The Man knows how to compose soulful alt rock that easily translates epic swells of emotion. I saw the band headlining CMJ 2011 at Terminal 5 and caught a glimpse of them recently at ACL, with an expanded lineup confidently presenting the new songs of this seventh album, Evil Friends. The music is timeless with the best intentions, a straight forward approach to the simple joy of rocking out.
9. Ra Ra Riot, Beta Love
Indie pop outfit Ra Ra Riot released its third album, Beta Love, back in January before heading out on tour (I caught them live at a hometown show in NYC after interviewing frontman Wes Miles). They forayed into electronica as the band regrouped as a quartet, resulting in a new danceability that left some fans confused but others, like me, thrilled.
10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito
NYC's indie rock trio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, returned to the scene with anotherblast of no hold barred musical creativity.The single, "Sacrilege," was featured on my Spring 2013 Playlist, with the powerhouse vocals of Karen O matched by a choir no less.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (Other albums on heavy rotation throughout this year)
The Walkmen (photo in digital booklet from Heaven, 2012)
As the news of fave indie rock band The Walkmen taking a hiatus hit last week, I found myself reeling in self pity. I have been a fan of the band since their song "We've Been Had" on that Saturn ad back in 2003 caught my ear and left me wanting much, much more. Not that they didn't deliver -- when I finally saw the band live at Crossing Brooklyn Ferry in May 2012, they were playing material from album number seven, Heaven, which wasn't even out yet. Old and new songs were presented with the same gritty take on indie rock, sealed by the plaintive, emotional tenor of frontman Hamilton Leithauser. This concert had me holding my heart often, as their authentic approach to traditional band instrumentation and soul-bearing music cut to the core. The night earned a spot on my list of Top Concert Experiences in 2012, while the album was a Top Ten Releases of 2012. The title track was also one of my Top 20 Tunes of 2012, after appearing on my Early Summer 2012 New Music Playlist. Now that band members are moving on with solo projects, this album may well be the very last one.
The official video for the song "Heaven" shows a nostalgic pastiche of footage and photos of The Walkmen through the years. A lengthy article on Stereogumdiscusses how members joked how they should quit after this video was made, since it was such a fitting conclusion to the band. It begins with someone's kid hopping around backstage, as the lyrics enter with "Our children will always hear, romantic tales of distant years." Yet as the song was presented live, I had no idea the end was near. They played like a super tight group as always, with a common upbringing in the D.C. area creating an instant bond that carried into the music. Sure, they had spread out from those early years as young men making their way to the Big Apple, to Philly and New Orleans, and the new collection was created virtually, but that's nothing unusual these days. After all, the song credit was still given to The Walkmen, a nod to the group aesthetic. But it seems recent gigs were treated as guys getaway weekends, with the pull of family responsibilities bringing an early conclusion to the rock and roll lifestyle. While I'm saddened by this next stage, I'm still thankful for all the great music in my collection attributed to this band. Check out both videos below, and be sure to acquaint yourself with anything by The Walkmen you may have missed along the way.
London's electronic music producer and composer Jon Hopkins stopped by the KCRW studios this week on "Morning Becomes Eclectic." While I was unable to catch it live, the show is posted in the archives for listening on demand.
In his dreamy British accent, Hopkins says right off how he's "delighted" to have a grand piano for the session. As I found out researching my 2010 interview with him at Moogfest in 2010, Hopkins was a child prodigy on the instrument, as the love of all things electronic would come along a bit later. He presents several tracks off his latest album, Immunity, calling the collection" concealed experimentalism" in the interview. (I wrote about the single, "Open Eye Signal" back in June which appeared on my Late Summer New Music Playlist.) Hopkins also talks about working with Brian Eno, who would draw a diagram for "introducing accidents" during the artistic process. Unfortunately, time ran out before the entire set list but it's still worth visiting, along with the new album if you haven't already. This classically trained musician has an ear for form and beauty, along with an inventive electronic wizardry.
Link to listen in the KCRW archives here and watch the performance of the first song in the video below.
1. Breathe This Air, Immunity (2013)
2. We Disappear, Immunity (2013)
3. Abandon Window, Immunity (2013)
4. Nightfall, How I Live Now (2013 Movie Soundtrack)
5. Autumn Hill, Insides (2009)
6. Open Eye Signal, Immunity (2013)
Turning the page from the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, it's time to move on to celebrating all that was noteworthy in 2013. PopMatters posted The 75 Best Songs of 2013 today, after tallying the staff picks of only five for the year. I was handed writing assignments for two of my picks, Arcade Fire's "Reflektor" (#16) and Phosphorescent's "Song for Zula" (#17), while Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" claimed the #1 spot on the list. It's always interesting to peruse this compilation of musical tastes, checking out unknown bands and genres. Here's my picks for PopMatters and I'll put together a post for the Top 20 Songs along with Top 10 Releases for 2013 (with video highlights, of course!)
TOP 5 BEST SONGS
1. "Reflektor" - Arcade Fire
2. "Get Lucky" - Daft Punk
3. "The Perfect Life" - Moby (featuring Wayne Coyne)
4. "If You Didn't See Me (You Weren't On the Dance Floor) -
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
David Byrne's 2010 concept album written with Fat Boy Slim about the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos, Here Lies Love, morphed into a theatrical production at NYC's Public Theatre last spring. After a successful run where it was extended four times, the award-winning musical appeared for a one night only concert to raise funds for the Philippines. The cast contacted Byrne about doing something to raise money for relief efforts after Super Typhoon Yolanda (as Typhoon Haiyan is known in the Philippines) hit with catastrophic results on November 7th. After The Bowery Presents donated the use of Terminal 5, the show quickly came together, showcasing the soundtrack with the original cast and costumes.
Most of the cast is Filipino and as Byrne wrote in an email promoting the show, "The show is about the resiliency of the Philippine people -- that sentiment couldn't be more timely." He came out to welcome the crowd, introducing a representative of Doctors Without Borders and also suggested donations towards 350.org, a climate change organization. From there, it was non-stop singing by a talented group presenting memorable melodies that stick with you in that classic musical tradition with Byrne's danceable world view. Ruthie Ann Miles not only gives Imelda Marcos a pulse from the beginning but more importantly a heart -- she carries the show with her star presence and solid voice. For more information about the relief organizations, see below.
To preserve our planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million ("ppm") to below 350 ppm. But 350 is more than a number—it's a symbol of where we need to head as a planet. At 350.org, we're building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis and push for policies that will put the world on track to get to 350 ppm.
The latest compilation for Late Fall 2013 featured three songs that I wrote about individually so there's some repeats on this YouTube video playlist (Travis plus The Naked and The Famous) but I chose a live video from The Bing Lounge for The Wild Feathers, since they are just so fun to see in performance. There's also a video from that venue for Okkervil River that I chose for their song, providing another glimpse at a band doing their thing. The Midlake video shows them superimposed over colorful clouds during the song, yet it's still nice to see them in action. Same goes for the Phantogram video from The Current radio station in Minneapolis -- I welcome the opportunity to see these bands I haven't witnessed live in concert.
For those looking for some crafty film work, there's an arty black and white video for The Cults complete with floating vintage appliances and a sweet classic Beemer. Man Man's video is also harking to the past with old footage and script lettering for the lyrics. And Broken Bells released a "Pseudo Video" for their song "Holding on for Life" (just showing the album artwork with the audio), might as well call it what it is! Enjoy the visuals at link here or below, although the first one makes me a bit squeamish...
There’s plenty of new music around to create one more
playlist for 2013. New bands such as The Wild Feathers and Love Inks make an
appearance in this compilation while established groups such as Travis,
Luscious Jackson and Mazzy Star return to the new music fold. Also back for
another round are The Naked and Famous, Cults, Tennis, and Phantogram, while
remixers RAC composed some songs of their own.Artic Monkeys returns to its rock roots, Okkervil River finds a wider
musical net with a nostalgic theme, and Broken Bells provide a glimpse of the
next album.Check out all this and more,
plus a quiz about the longevity of some of the bands. Link to listen here.
**EXTRA CREDIT IF YOU CAN NAME EVERY BAND THAT EXISTED IN
THE 90s -- WITH BONUS POINTS FOR ONES THAT HARK BACK TO THE 80s (ANSWER AT THE
END OF THIS POST!)
1. "Let Go (featuring
Kele & MDNR)" – RAC
RAC stands for Remix Artist Collective, a group of
international musicians dedicated to the craft of melody-driven remixes.After over 200 indie-focused tracks, founder
Allen Anjos, a native of Portugal living in Portland, has released an EP of
original songs, Don’t Talk To,
including this bouncy tune “Let Go.”
2. "Down Down the
Deep River" – Okkervil River
This song is from The
Silver Gymnasium, a concept album by Austin’s indie folk rock band Okkervil
River (its seventh).Lead singer Will
Sheff mines his childhood in New Hampshire for an unflinching look back, which
takes the six-piece into a new direction of tuneful melodies via captured images
from the past.
3. "High Road" – Cults
New York based indie pop duo Brian Oblivion and Madeline
Follin weathered their split as a couple by writing songs for their second album,
appropriately called Static. The song
“High Road” finds the dreamy low-fi sound intact as the band continues on.
4. "Are You Ready?" –
Luscious Jackson is back in the swing of things with that
signature NYC swagger after toying with a reunion for years. As if asking the
fans, “Are You Ready?,” this revamped quartet clearly is -- rocking full
throttle through a fourth album, Magic
5. "Antiphon" –
“Antiphon” is the title track of the fourth album by Texas folk
rock band Midlake, the first with guitarist Eric Pulido taking over lead
vocals.Majestic harmonies carry this
quintet through a trajectory of emotion alluding to the plight of man, all while
referencing an overthrown orator in ancient Greece.
6. "Hearts Like Ours" – The Naked and Famous
This New Zealand band landed in L.A. after touring the world
to create its sophomore album, In
Rolling Waves.The swirling heartfelt
chorus of “Hearts Like Ours” conveys lead singer Alisa Xayalith’s personal pain
about losing her mother to breast cancer as a girl.
7. "Holding On for
Life" – Broken Bells
Indie rock duo James Mercer of The Shins and artist-producer
Danger Mouse are getting ready to release another album as Broken Bells, After the Disco. This single, “Holding
On for Life,” alludes to that past scene with an archetypal falsetto chorus.
8. "Moving" – Travis
Scottish alt quartet Travis emerges after a five-year
absence with its seventh studio album, Where
You Stand. This song, “Moving,” is
written by bassist Dougie Payne, stretching singer Fran Healy’s vocals to new
heights, although still enabling that trademark emotive warmth.
9. "Black Out Days" – Phantogram
Phantogram is an electronic duo founded by Sarah Barthel and
Josh Carter, friends since teenagers in upstate New York.“Black Out Days” is an echoing tune off a
self-titled EP with second full album, Voices,
10. "Do I Wanna
Know?" – Arctic Monkeys
English indie rock band Arctic Monkeys formed in 2002 and
have explored different genres through their five albums. The latest is, AM, named for the group initials with a
nod to The Velvet Underground’s VU.
Classic hand claps and foot stomps make way for singer Alex Turner’s rapid-fire
delivery in “Do I Wanna Know?”
11. "Mean Streets" – Tennis
Husband and wife duo Tennis, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley
of Denver, recently released a five-song EP called Small Sound.“Mean Streets”
establishes a breezy confidence for the couple, as a vintage-tinged ambiance
permeates the song.
12. "Head On" – Man
“Head On” is a the melodic single from On Oni Pond, experimental Philly band Man Man’s fifth album since
2003.The multi-instrumental jam plays off the laid back vibe of lead singer
and lyricist Honus Honus.
13. "The Ceiling" –
The Wild Feathers
This Nashville quintet has roots in Texas and Oklahoma,
along a shared love of 70s country rock that saturates their self-titled debut.
The full on vocals in “The Ceiling” convey an infectious chemistry between
these former lead singers.
14. "Outta Sight" – Love Inks
Love Inks is a trio that self-recorded a debut LP, Generation Club, on a half-inch tape
machine in their hometown of Austin, Texas. Lead singer Sherry LeBlanc croons
over synth beats and key strikes with a pining lustful urgency.
15. "Peace Sword
(Open Your Heart) (featuring Tobacco)" – The Flaming Lips
In typical overboard fashion, The Flaming Lips’ one song
project for the Ender’s Game movie
soundtrack inspired a four-song EP called Sword.
This characteristically epic tune showcases the
electronic wizardry of Tobacco from Black Moth Super Rainbow with cinematic flair.
16. "If We Were
Banished" – Radar Brothers
Jim Putnam formed indie rock band The Radar Brothers in L.A.
without brothers but with an intention to create songs expressing a universal
musicality.The meditative world of “If
We Were Banished” is from the band’s eighth album, simply titled Eight.
17. "California" –
Mazzy Star is back after fifteen years with its fourth
studio album, Seasons of Your Day.Hope Sandoval’s distinctive languid
deliveryowns the proceedings as
vocalist and lyricist, while composer David Roback’s guitar humbly makes way.
DID YOU GUESS EIGHT BANDS? BONUS POINTS IF YOU KNEW THE FLAMING LIPS AND MAZZY STAR GO BACK TO THE 80s…
The duo known as Painted Palms appeared on my new music radar back two years ago, when a tune from their debut EP, Canopy, "All of Us," claimed a spot on my Summer 2011 New Music Playlist. Cousins Reese Donohue and Christopher Prudhomme grew up together in Lafayette, Lousiana and after years apart are together again in San Francisco. They have always shared their music whether across town or miles apart --compositions with 60s psych pop leanings using modern electronic production.
Last spring the pair released Carousel, a 7" that yielded another pick for my Spring 2013 New Music Playlist, "Click." Now, they're preparing to drop a full album in January via Polyvinyl Records, with the title track "Forever" ready to preview. The song begins with action packed distortion worthy of a film score, before vocal and percussive layers make way for a melodic chorus through the creative clutter. Thoughtful lyrics bring an introspective vibe that allows for a bit of ironic shoe gazing, as Prudhomme sings "Thinking about myself too much I can see that/I don't know what to be."
I have extolled the virtue of radio -- online or otherwise -- as a source for new music but it can also bring a song into your day that you haven't heard in so long that it feels like new. Such was the case when "The Golden Path" aired on KEXP last week. I felt the thrill of discovery all over again, even as I remembered how I loved the song when it appeared as a single back in 2003. It has an intricate, electronic chug provided by The Chemical Brothers underneath that wacky laid back yet timeless vibe, via vocals by The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. Stephen Drozd of the band chimes in with the transcendent harmonies during the chorus.
The first thing I did was buy a copy for my music stash, which immediately felt bereft without it. (Maybe I owned a CD of it at one point? The cover artwork here does look familiar.) Looking online for a video, I found this live version from the MTV 2003 European Music Awards at a huge outdoor venue. While I have issues with the constant swirling crowd shots and cropped close ups of the performers, Coyne's stage presence is always a joy to behold. It's fun to see his shout outs translated, for example "Come on everybody!" becomes "Vamos todos!" He even slips in how he's going to tell us a little story before starting the down the lyrical path, allowing more Oklahoman country twang than in the produced track.
Dan Wilson appeared for a sold out show at the intimate room that is now a redo of Joe's Pub. (There's a new entrance through the Public Theater and spiffed up interior, but thankfully you can still feel the soft rumble of the NYC subways under foot.) He unfolded his lanky frame through the tiny stage door with his beat up acoustic guitar, wearing jeans and a denim shirt. Brad Gordon was also there to provide accompaniment on piano or via a keyboard that rested on top. In his low key way, Wilson thanked everyone for coming and surveyed the set up, saying simply, "Alright, everything seems to be where it should." And it was throughout the night, as fans were captivated in their seats by this singer/songwriter's every utterance.
The evening was billed as "Words and Music with Dan Wilson" but it could have been "Words, Drawings and Music with Dan Wilson" as a charming illustrated set let was passed out afterwards (check out my autographed copy at the end of this post). This visual arts grad from Harvard actually pursued a career as a painter before learning bass to be in a band after years of piano lessons. His connection to all the arts are still extremely strong, as life's experiences have only enhanced the poetry in the lyrics.
Wilson talked about being in a band and becoming a father (which led to the Semisonic hit "Closing Time," although he still can't believe no one got the double meaning. Check this YouTube video for the full story.) He also shared the heartache of being caretaker for a disabled child (which inspired the song "Your Brighter Days"). He spoke about co-writing songs with "strong women" such as Carole King, The Dixie Chicks and of course, Adele, who he collaborated with for three songs on her 2012 Grammy winning album, 21. Some of these stories I had heard during an interview I wrote for PopMatters right after this Grammy moment, but it was still a thrill to hear them in person.
Meeting up after the show
The songs came alive as his familiar voice released into the room, with that clear Midwestern sincerity. Wilson joked about how he liked working with women as men tend to write about the "furniture," which usually included cars or trucks. He confided how he actually likes being a "wuss." Instead of Field & Stream or Guns & Ammo, Wilson would rather publish titles such as Poetry & Peacefulness or Expresso & Journaling. Clearly, this is a guy who not only knows his limits but is able to see the humor in it all and the crowd enjoyed laughing along with him.
The highlight of the evening centered around the audience's encouragement for his new single, "Disappearing." (It is from an upcoming album due in 2014.) This song has a new lyric video with illustrations and lettering by Wilson, as directed by Noah Lamberth. Like the music, his art has a timelessness that makes it readily accessible yet perfectly poignant. While it came off as a lovely tune live, when I read the words with these enchanting visuals as the chorus repeats it pulled at the heartstrings even more.
Every year, I get out my beloved Nightmare Before Christmas collection around Halloween and listen to Danny Elfman's amazing soundtrack (if not revisit the 1992 movie as well). It's a universal tale of learning to love oneself and others plus the notion of "There's No Place Like Home," all painstakingly told in a unique world of stop motion animation. Elfman voiced the singing voice of the protagonist Jack Skellington although he wasn't planning to -- the demos just stuck. Jack's heartache and longing clearly comes through, but his voice also reminds me of my own coming of age in the 80s when Elfman was the singer of New Wave band Oingo Boingo.
Casette Postcard & Ad for Hawthorne Collection
I'm reminded of an illuminating interview with Elfman on KCRW a few years back (link here) as a fancy box set of all the Tim Burton soundtracks was coming out -- he has scored almost all of Burton's movies in a creative collaboration that began with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure back in 1985. An L.A. native, Elfman presented three shows last week in the city (along with a earlier date at the Albert Hall in London and plans for more in Seattle and Vancouver) called "Danny Elfman's Music From the Films of Tim Burton." It was his first concert appearance in eighteen years, as hearing loss is a cause of concern for this hard-working composer. How I wish I could have been there, maybe he'll make an appearance on the East Coast? Here's the original trailer for The Nightmare Before Christmas, along with photos of my collection for anyone so interested. This also includes books, shirts, a blanket, musical score and of course, the movie. It's always a treat for my ears every year.