Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Southeast Engine is Back

How do I write about Southeast Engine without being hugely biased? This band has embodied the feeling and the idea of living in Appalachia for the past 5 years for me – ever since I moved down to Athens, Ohio for college. They were the first concert I saw, and continued as one of my favorite bands through my entire Appalachian experience. They defined Athens. They defined the feeling of being home there. Their shows were common, and albums were released reliably. I remember the anticipation for a new album. Sitting in Cincinnati with my boyfriend at the time, he played me “Psychoanalysis.” We sat there with out mouths opened, positively high on the excitement we had for anything new and Southeast Engine.

I had a radio show. I interviewed local musicians. About three weeks into my show, I decided I needed to have Southeast Engine on the show. I hung up posters on every street corner in town, announcing that “Athens favorite rock band” would be on the radio. I was so star struck when I met them, I almost laugh at my own naiveté. Ok, I do laugh. It will silly. I was ridiculous. In the next four years, I saw them over and over again, realized they were real human beings, and they didn’t take themselves too seriously. I became friends with Adam Torres, my favorite band member… who is no longer with them. I found out he convinced them to let him in the band because they needed a keyboard player. He didn’t play keyboard. Once he was in, he played guitar. It makes me smirk.

My friends and I would go see Southeast Engine at the old Front Room, in the old Baker Center. That was before the school remade a new Front Room into a sterile box of coffee addiction. The old room was dark and dingy and the crowd sang along to half the show. It felt raw and alive, and it was a completely new experience. If you listen to Southeast Engine’s old material, it has a much more punk feel to it. It’s not polished, and the storytelling is not quite there yet. They were young. It is still some of my favorite.

Since then, the band has evolved. Its albums tell stories, and a theme unites them. You hear a lot more of the folk influence of Appalachia in them. And no album feels more Appalachian than Canary.

Here's my try at reviewing it........

This Athens, Ohio-based band takes us back in time for their latest release, recalling both the story and musical likeness of the Great Depression era. They stay true to what they know, though, steeping the songs in the kind of Appalachian folk that screams out with the occasional electric guitar, but mostly glimmers with organ and acoustic pickings.

Canary is a concept album that takes us along for a ride with a family stuck in a mining town with the worst kind of economic tragedy. Trombone and trumpet float atop “Cold Front Blues,” about snow’s devastating effects on a town dependent on natural resources, and ragged guitar solos rip through “1933 (Great Depression),” a track that captures a sense of hope despite hard times. Lines like “When church lets out her face is the one I see/ her dark blue eyes of mystery/are making me devout” build the multidimensional characters in Southeast Engine’s narrative. These are the sort of love songs that people stopped writing in the age of bling and Bieber.

We learn that the main character’s mother has died in “Red Lake Shore,” which starts with a faraway vocal echo. It builds with Leo Deluca’s shuffling drumbeat, and the spot-on vocal harmonies of frontman Adam Remnant, and his brother and bandmate Jesse. Billy Matheny cuts into “At Least We Have Each Other” with a hotter-than-the-Devil flame of organ, adding an old-timey feel to the chiming piano that accompanies it.

Through the album, it’s easy to develop a relationship with the family whose life Southeast Engine details. The theme rings out as especially meaningful today, with Appalachia still dealing with environmental disasters like mountaintop removal mining that wreak havoc on its communities. This is an album that finally seems to capture the feeling that Southeast Engine has been working toward since they formed in 1999. They’re writing about what they know, and the music resultantly falls right into place.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Letter to Sub Pop Records

Dear Sub Pop,

I love you dearly. You send me wonderful records every now and then, and you send them by mail! Do you even know how excited I am to receive records in the mail? It is my favorite kind of mail.

In exchange for your kindness, I do try to listen to everything you send and read all the press releases that come along for the ride. I do enjoy a musician's story, even when you puff them up to be something probably a little bit greater than they really are. But I like positive music journalism, so reading impassioned things about new music is encouraging.

However, I think you should get your act together on this Twilight Singers press release. I cannot read words strung together when every single sentence has one adverb: best.

I get it. You like this guy's new record. You even think it's better than the rest of his records. And, by golly, it might be the most impressive thing the man has done in his life.

But GET A GRIP. You're pretty much making it sound like this man invented the English language. Like this guy was the first person to make it sound like a guitar is attacking the air with its soundwaves. Like this guy invented all musical instruments and then taught all humankind how to use them. Like this guy is the only one capable of making a song worth listening to.

For all I know (and I don't know), Greg Dulli is a musical genius. Maybe he invented a genre. Maybe he climbed to the top of the pyramids with his legs tied together while the peaceful protesters of Cairo threw stones at him. Maybe he got stuck in between two mountains, cut his arm off, proceeded to compose a symphony with one arm, and then carried the remaining 1,800 sufferers of the Guinea Worm to Canada on his back to get them some better health care.

But for god's sake, TONE IT DOWN. I'm pretty sure the man is not god.

Much love, and sincere admiration for your record label,


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Papercuts - Fading Parade

I saw Papercuts once. The opened for Vetiver at a dive bar. I went with a boy I liked. I was bored out of my mind. The only thing I remember was too much fuzz (reverb, not alcoholz). I might have fallen asleep during their set, was I not standing for its duration.

I thought to myself, "Papercuts are way more boring than I thought! I will never care about them again!" And then they never occupied my thoughts again.

Until this week. Fading Parade, their latest (and forth) album, arrived in my little mail box. It was shoved in there, the envelope barely fitting. I took it out, I smirked, and I shook my head in disbelief. Sometimes the things you ignore come back to you in the most opportune times.

I popped the album into my car on the way to work. I was in awe. This stuff was way beautiful. It's Beach Housey. It's woozy in a "i slept in til noon and ate a dozen pancakes with my favorite person in the world" kind of way. It feels full and kinda bedhead and puffed out.

This Jason Robert Quever guy writes all the songs and plays all the instruments, and then he has some guys help him with his live show. I don't know how he went from pretty boring to superpretty and dreamy (in a good way), but he MASTERED it on this album.

The second song on the album is called "Do What You Will." The album is good from start to end, but I can't help but go back to this song. It doesn't really remind me of any specific music. Maybe a little bit of a 60's surf vibe, a little 00's lo-fi sleeper sound, a little chillwave? It's not that original, but it also doesn't sound like anything else I've heard lately.

This isn't going to be some mind-blowing album. It's not Mumford and Sons. It's not Tallest Man on Earth. It's just quietly sneaking into your brain, overtaking your thoughts, making your life a living dream. And a really good dream, at that.


Papercuts - Do What You Will

Ohhhh my lord. Just checked Sub Pop. He's on tour with Beach House. Ladies and gentlemen, if you live in a cooler city than me, you MUST go and be wooed.