Saturday, January 31, 2009

heartworn highways

Not too long ago, my friend and singer/songwriter extroardinaire Allen Thompson sent me two new songs he just recorded, one original called "Sick Of Me," and a cover of the Grateful Dead's classic song "Mission In The Rain." With two full length albums already under his belt, and a third one on the way, if these songs are any indication of how his new album will turn out, we are all in for a treat.

Growing up in the town of Roanoke, VA, Allen has spent most of his life living and breathing country music. He once told me a story about driving around with his daddy at age five while Guitar Town, Steve Earle's legendary debut album, was blaring through the tape deck. Probably not long after the opening title track ended, Allen pointed to the stereo and declared "that's what I'm gonna do." He's spent the rest of his life trying to make this dream come true, and with these two songs as examples, I think he's well on his way.

"Sick Of Me" is as sad a country song as they come. As beautiful as it is brief, this three minute track flows through your ears as soothing as the breeze might flow through your hair while driving down an open, nameless highway somewhere in the heartland, with this song blaring through the speakers. Allen’s songwriting really lends itself to the open road, as any great country music should. While most Myspace music profiles boast about the intricacy of the artist’s work in an attempt to make them as unique as possible, the “sounds like” section on Allen’s profile simply states: “going out for a pack of cigarettes and never coming back.” There is a great sense of desperation, yearning, and heartbreak present in this song, the kind that might help a listener realize that their life and circumstances have become pure shit and they’ve been in the depths of despair longer than they could remember. It feels normal by this point. This would be an appropriate first song to put on the stereo when you finally decide to leave, with no hopes and no idea where it is you’re going.

Taking cues from Steve Earle, Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt, this is pure whiskey-drenched Americana done the way it should be, with an ethical sense of dedication and appreciation to its forefathers that is nearly unparalleled.

I’ve never been the biggest Grateful Dead fan, but realize now I may have been wrong all along after hearing his cover of “Mission In The Rain.” Allen makes it sound like he could have written it, particularly when he belts out the line “all the things I planned to do, I only did halfway.” This classic song permeates the kind of dissatisfaction and discontent that an artist often finds his or herself consumed by when they realize that reality falls fall short of their dreams. The lines come from his heart even though he didn’t write them, as the best covers always sound.

Expect another update soon when I work my way through his newest full length which I just received in the mail today! I am not totally done with it yet, but I can already say that each song on here is the best thing he’s ever written, and it just sounds fucking amazing.

I’ll be back soon with more on Allen, an update on my friends in Red Collar, and thoughts on the best music for the wintertime blues!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

#3: No Age-Nouns

This Los Angeles band made waves and waves of buzz last year, and rightly, perhaps strangely so. No Age, along with bands like Mika Miko, are a centerpiece of a strong DIY punk scene that has blossomed in Los Angelees, revolving aroun based the all ages, volunteer run music venue The Smell. The band is only made up of two people, a guitarist and a drummer, and for those of you who would view them as simply a "duo" or a somehow incomplete band, just a couple of lame guys who couldn't find a bassist but wanted to bang out noise nonetheless, y'all are sorely mistaken. They blow apart and in many ways redefine the limitations that a band's size can have on the music they put out. They've been described as a perfect blend of Husker Du and My Bloody Valentine and I guess that's about right. With a number of tunes that make for immediately re-playable short punk songs, and a few songs of beautiful ambient interlude, this is an easy one to play from beginning to end. Their live performances are ones to remember. With the instantly relate-able, i'm-sure-i've-heard-this-before, positive and inspiring nature of their songs, the crowd at their shows plays an equal part in creating the boundless energy in the room.

I saw them for the first time at the Bowery Ballroom last fall during CMJ, playing alongside Dan Deacon, Deerhunter, White Williams and Ponytail, and they seriously tore the roof off that place. After seeing them three more times during the week of SXSW, all before Nouns even came out, I was hooked. My memories of seeing their set at the Sub Pop showcase will keep me warm when I am old and cold. After a long and exhausting day walking around the streets of Austin, my friends Tim an Liz and I decided to give it our all during their set. There weren't that many people there for some reason, so after a good number of gin and tonics, we started dancing our asses off with no apology while the rest of the crowd stood around, likely burnt out and jaded after having already seen dozens and dozens of other bands that week (SXSW will do that to you). We looked across the room and saw a couple other people dancing, and lo and behold it was Dan from Wolf Parade and his wife, who make up The Handsome Furs, who had just played earlier that night. I ran over to them and asked if they wanted to come dance with us, since we were the only other people dancing there. They eagerly joined us and we spent the rest of the set jumping around, making the metal hand signs during the sweet guitar feedback, heckling No Age to play Vampire Weekend covers (to which the drummer responded "this song is by Vampire Weekend, it's called "I'm a college dick!," and then immediately refuted his statement so as to perhaps avoid drama in the blogosphere), and all around having a great time. I took off my shirt cause I was so sweaty and then their drummer said on the mic "dude, where's your shirt?" Then the guitarist shook our hands after the show and we gave the Handsome Furs hugs and Tim, in a high pitched shrieking voice just yelled "I LOVE YOU!"

It's pretty cool to see an all ages scene like the one in L.A. blowing up and making serious waves around the country and the world. In my mind, the success of No Age is a reflection of the powerful inertia that the DIY punk community can create. Throughout their brushes with success, they have brought their ethics and their sense of where they came from every step along the way. I hope they continue to make powerful statements like Nouns for years to come. Below is a sweet video of them playing in Baltimore.

"Teen Creeps" off of Nouns

Saturday, January 24, 2009

it's been a while...

So I clearly lost steam in my year-end countdown, as I only got down to #5 before I quite altogether. I had grandiose plans for my year in review updates but I suppose I got so sick of narrativizing a year that wasn't even over yet that I just had to stop. Now with a little bit of distance, I am happy to move on into a 2009 that, with the Inauguration of a new president less than a week behind us, feels like it just began. We had beautiful weather in Washington D.C. on friday and it came with hints of springtime. There's a lot to be excited about, so I will quickly close out my year end list with a few tidbits about my final choices!

# 4: Pygmy Lush- Mount Hope

There are only positive things that I can say about this album, and not only because I am currently volunteering at Lovitt Records, the fantastic Virginia based label that put out this fine record. I first picked it up when I visiting friends and my then-girlfriend in Berkeley, CA this past August. We started dating over the summer and had a quick and intense relationship, and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to her as she took off with her friends to go to the Burning Man festival in Nevada. I know, I know, sounds like some vomit-worthy hippie version of American Graffiti, but true nonetheless. I went to my friend emily's house immediately following this sad goodbye and, staring face to face with a suddenly blank and unpredictable future, put this album on and floated deeply into the sounds that were consuming me. Coming from Sterling, VA, this acoustic album is gorgeous and hits the melancholy spot. I highly recommend checking this out, it may be the best album you would never have heard of other than by word of mouth.

i've gotta run so more later!