Philly’s The War on Drugs are headed by Oakland transplant Adam Granduciel and also feature Philly own space forklifter, Kurt Vile. Of course, they also feature Philadelphia’s best space out and drive tunage. Back before some fine Philadelphians un-car-ed me, nothing pleased me more than blasting 2008’s stunning Wagonwheel Blues while I sped over the Girard Point Bridge as it framed Philly’s skyline (pictured, courtesy of PhillySkyline).
On October 26, they have a new 8 song EP coming out, Future Weather, on Secretly Canadian. But now that I’m carless will I still love the tunes as much? If they’re anything like lead track “Comin’ Through,” absolutely. Like most things in Philadelphia, the tunes are better when you walk.
But speaking of Swedish trilogies…back in January, the folk-electronica sextet from Malmö, Sweden, Fredrik, released a sophomore album Trilogi that is really three limited release EPs put together. Evocative and eerie, Trilogi takes you on a thematic journey from Frozen Forests to the Underworld. While I find it hit or miss at times, tracks like the plaintive and medieval sounding “Milo” makes Fredrik one more thing for Sweden to crow about.
Apparently they did a one week US tour back during Snowpocalypse 2010, stopping hardly anywhere (and yet finding time to play a bookstore in Harrisburg?), but if you like this you can catch them in a stripped down, acoustic, slightly hungover form over at the NPR website.
It’s not exactly weekend dancing music (unlike The Gas House Gorillas, who played energetic swing music to an appreciative Musikfest crowd of saddle-shoed hipsters and old folks alike the other night), but I like it.
*If you click on any of these links, click on this one.
Update! I forgot…that NPR concert has spooky whistling.
Then-candidate Obama at the Bethlehem Brew Works in April 2008.
As a resident of Bethlehem, PA, I had yet to make a post in the “Where You’re From” category. It’s not that there is no music scene here, of course. There are loads of live music venues and a number of universities that draw touring bands, but our close proximity to both Philadelphia and New York results in most of the quality local acts migrating out of the Lehigh Valley.
But given that it’s Musikfest, the 10 days in every August when the population of the Lehigh Valley converges on the streets of downtown Bethlehem and police look the other way as we drink lots of beer, spend too much on food, and enjoy hours and hours of free music, I feel obliged to make a post.
If you were actually planning on making your way to the Christmas City this weekend, I recommend these guides by The El Vee and Lehigh Valley with Love. I’ll assume instead that you’ve never heard of Musikfest and let a quick outline suffice.
As a fire needs heat, fuel, and oxygen to ignite, Musikfest requires, in ascending order of importance: music, food, and beer.
Beer: We drink our beer out of 24 oz. Musikfest mugs. They cost $9 this year ($12 for the ones that have blinking lights built into them), but you don’t need to buy a new one each year. So you can tell who’s been coming to Musikfest for the longest time by the style of mug they’re carrying. Bourbon street rules temporarily go into effect and we drink our beer outside, on the sidewalks, streets and under bridges. Despite the best efforts of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, likely the most dickheaded Liquor Control Board in the country, the best place to get your mug filled if you’re a beer snob like me is in a local bar instead of at a tent, where you’ll have to use Musikfest tickets to pay $6 for an MGD, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I recommend the Bethlehem Brew Works (who are apparently also selling half gallon growlers with sweet carrying pouches this year, what?) or the Starfish Brasserie, which currently has Stone IPA on tap.
Morning Call blogger Bill White knows a thing or two about the food at Musikfest.
Food: The food is really good and ranges from a pickle-on-a-stick and German sausage to Hogar Crea kabobs and Kenyan masala wraps, reflecting both the diversity and the appetites of the Lehigh Valley.
Music: You will hear some polka music at Musikfest; that is a given. You will probably dance to it. Apart from that, however, there are two basic kinds of concert at Musikfest, the nightly big-name concert that you must buy tickets for and the free concerts that set up everywhere else. Of that first variety, the groups are usually selected to appeal to children and their parents (and their parents). This year’s big draw is Adam Lambert, but Norah Jones, Counting Crows, Martina McBride, some incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd and some incarnation of Sublime were/are making an appearance. I usually don’t make it to these concerts, but several years ago I made it to Alice Cooper and it was unconditionally awesome.
Of the second variety, you can see this years full schedule here, but it’s a mixed bag. Folk, jazz, and rock are usually pretty well represented though not by their most glamorous or talented representatives. The Red Elvises (Russian surf-rock) and Los Straitjackets are perennial favorites. One corner of Main Street features Native American music and dance. This year the Wildflower Cafe, a delicious vegetarian live-music venue on Bethlehem’s Southside, put together an interesting lineup that included Emily and the Similars and this jazz/blues cellist named Trevor Exter. You can usually find at least a few acts that will surprise you by being good.
The Smiles and Frowns have been enjoying favorable and apt comparisons to such psych-folk architects as Syd Barrett and White Album era Beatles in the year or so since the release of their debut self-titled album. The Phoenix, AZ duo themselves describe their sound as:
…a bit of a mix. There are haunted train ride songs, and children’s theme music songs, psychedelic science fiction songs etc. I guess it’s mostly just a collection of experiments in sound, patterns, and melodies. (The Urbanian, 3/9/2009)
Whatever it is, I’m liking it and so is UK label, akoustik anarkhy, who are giving The Smiles and Frowns an official re-release this month. The 25 minute long mini-album ranges in tone from a playful and aloof track about a bird named Sam to a creepy, instrumental waltz titled “March of the Phantom Faces.” It’s tough to pick a favorite, in part because the 8 tracks, as distinct from each other as they are, hang together so well. But here’s one of the more playful tracks, about a boy named Cornelius who sits up in a tree all day, talking to animals through the use of a magical flute.
I don’t really have a good reason or special occasion to post the following except that I just happened to come across it and now must share:
After some googling, I found out that this performance is taken from a late night music variety show produced by Lorne Michaels, Night Music with David Sanborn, that featured mostly jazz and electronic music and aired from 1988 to 1990.
The transition into the song is sort of awkward, but in his solos, Sonny Rollins (who’s looking here like he could have formed the basis for The Simpsons‘ “Bleedin’ Gums” Murphy) really kills it in the good way. Be sure to note the alto player standing awkwardly (you see him at the 5:10 mark), thinking to himself, “Yeah, I know, I know…I shouldn’t even be up here!” (Update: now that I think of it, chances are that’s Mr. Smooth Jazz, David Sanborn, himself. So I guess he’s thinking, “screw you guys, it’s my show, I can share the stage with Sonny if I want!”)
Sonny Rollins looked quite a bit older when I saw him play at Penn State in, I think, 2001, nearly fifty years after he recorded the landmark, Saxophone Colossus.
Here’s the album version of “Who By Fire,” from the highly-recommended New Skin for an Old Ceremony (1974):
Kula Shaker’s Pilgrim’s Progress has been out for about two weeks now, and although I hadn’t set my expectations very high back then, I told you guys in April that I’d check it out anyway and let you know what I thought.
At first I sort of skipped through looking for something that struck me. What I was probably looking for was the classic Kula Shaker: over-earnest Hare Krishna mysticism mixed with hashed-out psychedelic pop (emphasis on the hashed-out). But with the exception of the eighth track, “Figure It Out,” I couldn’t really find it. And frankly, “Figure It Out” is not that striking.
But what you get instead with Pilgrim’s Progress, at least at its best moments, is a lot closer to sober folk. “Ophelia,” “All Dressed Up,” and “To Wait Til I Come” are actually pretty good. Like much of the album, each of those tracks, while still fanciful in ways that Crispian Mills can’t seem to resist, are plaintive little songs that would work really well in an all-acoustic setting.
Pilgrim’s Progress is uneven, but despite the lyrical goofiness of songs like “Peter Pan R.I.P.,” “Modern Blues,” and “Barbara Ella,” I’d say it’s worth a 40 minute investment of your time.
So give it a listen. If for no other reason, do it for Miss Bliss.
Some of you know that my brother has been teaching English in another country for a little over a year now. Last year, on July 4th, instead of the usual lesson he decided to lead a discussion in his advanced class about patriotism, national identity, and America by playing for them two songs that together make for a pretty thought-provoking contrast, which, for the benefit of all of us, I’m reproducing here.
The bullet-ridden body of Sergio Vega, aka “El Shaka,” was laid to rest yesterday. Vega is only the latest in a growing list of narcocorrido singers to fall to drug war related violence in the northern states of Mexico.
Narcocorridos are songs that often glorify the exploits of those in the drug trade (think Outlaw country or Gangsta rap but with polka).
The life of a narcocorrido singer can be highly lucrative, since rich gangsters – who make profits estimated at 3,000 per cent on drugs smuggled from Central and South America, where they are produced, to the USA where they are largely consumed – are prepared to pay tens of thousands of dollars to be immortalised in specially- commissioned songs.
It isn’t exactly a safe line of business to be in, though. A singer who writes catchy songs honouring the criminal activities of one gang immediately puts himself somewhere near the top of the hit-list of rival syndicates, who dislike seeing praise publicly heaped upon their enemies. Vega was no exception. A translation of the chorus of one of his recent hits reads: “I’m going to ask you a favour/Shaka told his people/I want to have some coca paste processed/Because that’s what the customer wants/At the end if it rains and I get wet/You will get wet as well.”
In gangster argot, “making it rain” means to shower bullets on a victim. (The Independent)
The following is the video for one of Vega’s recent hits, “Cuando el Sol Salga al Reves” (When the Sun Rises in Reverse):
“Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.” -Albert Einstein (on alcohol prohibition)
"What kind of music do you like?" "Don't talk to me."
I’ve got 4 tracks to share with not much in common except that I listened to them yesterday (though not for the first time), so I thought I’d just throw ’em all together and stop thinking about which (if any) deserved its own post. I’ve listed them below in order of most likely to get a thumbs up to least.
The first track is from Dag för Dag’s debut Boo (2010). Dag för Dag (Swedish for “day by day”) is a Stockholm-based trio led by American brother and sister Jacob and Sarah Snavely. The album is uncomplicated and fun and not very challenging, and “Hands and Knees” has a Mamas and the Papas sort of feel that I like.
This next one’s also a bit retro. Librarians’ second album, Present Passed(2010), is all over the place in terms of style. Probably best described as Animal Collective imitators, but on “Cranberry Palace,” they’re definitely channeling the Zombies.
Here’s one for banjo-lovers (I think NoiseNarcs may have one or two) and Philadelphia-philes (although there are definitely none of them here). Jack Rose was a Virginian guitarist and folk enthusiast who made his home in Philadelphia, PA. We unfortunately lost him back in December to a heart attack, but the posthumously released Luck in the Valleyis solid, solid listening. Glenn Jones plays the banjo on the elegiac “Moon in the Gutter.” It is undoubtedly my favorite of these four tracks.
And lastly, I’m finishing as I began, with a Scandinavian three-piece, but this is pretty much the opposite of “Hands and Knees.” It is not for everyone. If you didn’t like Bitches Brew, then you should stop listening now. But if you’re into manic jazz/rock fusion, then organ-led Elephant9 might be for you. Walk the Nile (2010) is their second release and it makes me want to run around in circles.