Saturday, July 29, 2006

Thoughts on Singing and on Nina Simone (An Assay by Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond)

I've contributed to the Blogathon over at Clever Titles Are So Last Summer.

As we're supporting the charity "Global Fund For Women" I saw it fitting to ask several artists about important female influences they had during their lives.

Shara Worden of the wonderful band My Brightest Diamond agreed to write some words and she came up with an extensive assay discussing the art of singing and her favourite singer of all time Nina Simone.

I posted this assay over at Clever Titles Are So Last Summer during the Blogathon, but I thought I'd repost it here, because I don't want to get this wonderful piece lost in the shuffle of 48 postings in the course of 24 hours.

Please read it, it's well worth it.

Thoughts on Singing and on Nina Simone

Western classical singers can be evaluated on a technical, musical, stylistic (the proper use of ornamentation appropriate to the time period of the piece) as well as aesthetic basis. In contrast, the evaluation of folk music (by “folk,” I mean all music that is not classical. Historically folk is known as the music of the people, which includes rock, R&B and pop, etc.) is quite different and based largely on aesthetics. And, of course, an aesthetic evaluation means that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

There are other qualities like a broad repertoire, flexibility, improvisation, intonation, phrasing or performance by which folk singers may be evaluated, but I will move on to my point: Nina Simone is my favorite singer of all time.

Let me set out my favorite qualities in a singer, my personal aesthetic. A singer should employ a basic understanding of vocal technique, which is an understanding of breath, ease of phonation and the easy use of multiple registers. (Technique and emotion are best friends. Try not to separate them for they go hand in hand.) It’s also important that one’s vocal production be sustainable. Each voice is different, so what is sustainable for one is not necessarily sustainable for all, for example I could never sing like Tom Waits or scream like Prince, but they do and must have vocal cords of steel. If a singer has a really cool quality in their voice, like a gravelly sound or a great scream, but can’t sing consistently or looses their voice by the end of a show because of their vocal production, I am concerned. The moment I become concerned for a singer’s well being, I’ve stepped outside the position of the receiver, the recipient of the music, and I am now a doctor or a caretaker (though that feeling is only internal). I do not want to be worried for the performer while I am listening. I want to be transported and moved to feel something, to connect to some other part of myself or to connect to humanity in a new way. I cannot be free to do so if I am concerned for a singer’s health. This is obviously a very personal issue. Certainly what makes me uncomfortable may not make someone else uncomfortable.

Ultimately technique is to aid a singer in employing different emotions in their interpretation of song. This can mean a million different things, but so often I find myself, or other singers, stuck with three different vocal sounds, three colors, three emotions: mad, sad or regular. Mad sounds like loud, screaming, gripping, veins popping out, whereas sad is breaking the voice, whispering or is sometimes quiet, high and pretty while regular is just normal. Regular stays the same and does not change, but the great singers use so many more colors to express themselves and therefore we are led, as the listener, to those other emotional worlds. Through song we may experience certain emotions for the first time and that indeed is a magnificent gift.

For me, Nina embodied all of these qualities. Her breath was under such control that she could sustain phrases for what seemed to be an eternity, as in “Wild is the Wind”. To take that kind of time in one’s phrasing, one must not over effort, the sound of “trying” cannot be in the voice. It is to be completely in the present. Mysteriously she propels the song forward with such long phrases that would by most singers sound like plodding through mud. For her, it’s like floating slowly down a smooth river. We are transported by her!!

Not over-efforting, let me explain that more. I saw Nina at the Beacon Theater several years ago. Aside from the concert having an audience with a full range of age, social economic status and race, the musicians being stellar, and the venue being my favorite in New York City, I was most struck by the sense that Nina didn’t have anything to prove. She was singing incredibly well and whipping us up into a frenzy with her horse hair fan, as we begged her for more encores. She was at the end of her life and needed not to win us over, because indeed we were already won. I thought of young singers in such stark contrast, metaphorically doing vocal back flips, shoving themselves down our throat, trying so desperately to get our attention. How different it was for Nina, who was not singing from a place of insecurity but of security. To be musically secure is to not rush. I am not altogether sure about the connection between how one truly feels about one’s self and how one sings. Musicality is not always connected to one’s emotions. The most emotionally secure people do not automatically make the best singers, but the connections between psychology and performance are interesting to think about. In any case, whether Nina was the most secure person in the world, I know not, but what I know is that in the voice, there was a freeness and musicality that I found exhilarating. My interpretation of what is needed for such phrasing has come through observation of my own experience in being able (or not able) to sustain phrases or believe that I could take the time to say something. For me, security and assuredness are paramount in achieving that suspension of time.

Over the whole of her career, Nina displayed incredible range of emotions, from her playful rendition of “Marriage is for Old Folks”, to her childlike “Beautiful Land”, the volatile and revolutionary “Mississippi Goddamn”, the desperate “My Man’s Gone Now”, the strained and stark “Strange Fruit”, or her oozingly sad “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except for Sometimes)”, the vocal colors didn’t seem to end. At times she risked intonation or safe beauty for higher emotional virtues. This is to lose control in a very controlled way I believe, to allow something unexpected or direct to occur without getting in the way of one’s self or in the way of the music. What makes that loss of control delightful is when someone as capable as Nina allows herself to go somewhere unexpected, the result is an even greater heightened emotion, not a static unchanging one. I am never moved to “doctor worry” in her loss of control. I am held within the song and the world is made even broader to me, the listener. That quality allows me to remain the listener, allows the performer to remain within themselves and the music to be above us all. We are all here to serve the music, so the moment the performer begins taking away from the music, something is amiss.

If you have heard only a few songs of Nina, please listen to more. In order to appreciate her, you need to have a wide listening of her recordings, for her repertoire extended from folk, to blues, to jazz, to rock, to show tunes with themes of social justice, love, loss and the color blue. My favorite compilation is the Philips Recordings, which Verve released a few years ago. It includes 5 different albums, some of which are double albums. Play “I Put a Spell on You” at volume ten and become a convert.

Nina Simone - I Put A Spell On You (follow link)


Largehearted Boy just kicked off the Music Blogger's Blogathon over at
Clever Titles Are So Last Summer!

So head over hear a wonderful song by the Mountain Goats and check back often today. We're updating every 30 minutes for 24 straight hours.

I'll contribute to the blogathon later in the day.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Detektivbyrån - Hemvägen 16A

This is exactly what I needed right now. The sun is blasting down with all its force, the temperatures are tropical, the sweat is flowing.

I can't listen to sweaty, heated summer songs right now. I can't dance through the night as the heat is draining all my energy.
All my Summer Songs (all the Girl Talk and Lily Allen and whatnot) are currently left on the shelves (or out of my Playlist).

This is my song for this heated summer.
Its from a new band out of Sweden called Detektivbyran. They haven't released anything yet, but the first demos I heard from their Website promise wonderful things to come.

"Hemvägen 16A" starts with a wonderful accordeon piece that very much reminds me of Yann Tiersen (that's a good thing, at least for me).
It builds and builds using great diverse instrumentation, like glockenspiel, a trumpet and a clarinet.

This song glides through the air, it flows, steadily builds, until at last you can't help but start moving, even if the air conditioner is losing its fight against the heat.

Detektivbyrån - Hemvägen 16A

And another reminder:
Blogathon: This Saturday.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I (heart) Spiders

Before I leave for the Go Die Big City! gig this evening, I have to give you this amazing video by them.

It's all Old School Nintendo-ish, and it's all great in that way. (and why did the Arcade Fire never do such a video? I mean, ARCADE and all?).

And the song is really fun, too. Nothing sophisticated about it, really.
Spiders, La-La-Las, Videogames, Quirkiness. what more do you want for summer?
And you gotta love the La-La-Las.

Now go to their Myspace and download some songs, befriend them and show them some love. Thank you very much.

I'm out now.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Standard Bitter Love Songs

I know I'm a little bit obsessive with The Mountain Goats recently, but I really really love them right now. And today I found another wonderful Live Archive.

Standard Bitter Love Songs - A Mountain Goats Resource has tons and tons of downloadable Live shows from the Goats. This is huge.

Shows reaching back to 1994 up until 2005. It really is incredible.

I know I'll spend hours browsing through it. maybe days.


Another thing I wanna share:

On this page you can legally stream dozens of albums:
Some streamable albums include:
  • Lily Allen - Alright Still
  • Peter, Bjorn & John - Writer's Block
  • Golden Smog - Another Fine Day
  • TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
  • Peaches - Impeach My Bush
  • CSS - Cansei De Ser Sexy
  • Muse - Black Holes & Revelations
Just click on "OMHOOG" to scroll up and on "OMLAAG" to scroll down. Click on an album cover to start the stream. This is a site from the Netherlands called 3 Voor 12. They are a respected music website over there, so you don't have to worry that I link you to a malware infected site from Russia or something.

3 Voor 12 also has a great archive of streamable concerts. Wanna Listen to Lady Sovereign kicking it live, or Goldfrapp, or the Mystery Jets, or hundreds of other shows? Go Ahead.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Blogathon 2006 & Swedish Indiepop

I've just decided to help Bethanne over at "Clever Titles Are So Last Summer" at this year's Blogathon.
It's a simple concept: in the course of 24 hours we will blog every 30 minutes, and we're doing this to raise money for charity. I'm not yet sure if we're going for a theme, or if it will be anything goes, but I know it will be fun.

Bethanne decided to sponsor the "Global Fund for Women", and we all need to support her in this brave quest.

Blogathon will happen on July 29.
We're in the course of setting things up, I'm not sure how many bloggers will join the fun. (I hope it will be a lot of them - I need some sleep :-)

But we will make it, we will raise money, we will make the world a better place. Please join us, donate some money, read the posts and have fun.

And as we will sponsor the Global Fund For Women, I want to introduce you to a woman who deserves our attention. Another gem right out of the beautiful country of Sweden.

Maia Hirasawa - My New Friend (Myspace)

I found Maia through Hello Saferide's Myspace page. Maia is a member of Hello Saferide, but records also songs of her own.
These songs are in the vain of the tender indie pop Hello Saferide are playing. This was a really pleasant find, she really deserves to be heard.

(and to be absolutely honest with you: I fell in love when I saw her smile :-)

If you want to buy her EP, send her an E-Mail.
It's just 9 Euros including shipping for International Customers.

The Mountain Goats Live Archive

I just found this wonderful archive of selected Mountain Goats performances. This is the best way to spend your time until the release of their new album on August 22nd (thanks Cindy).

The Mountain Goats - No Surprises (Radiohead Cover)

And if you needed another reason to Pre-Order Get Lonely, head over to Parking Lot Cities for a beautiful assay about the new album.

(Mountain Goats official homepage)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Contrast Podcast

The Contrast Podcast may be the best thing that happened in the music blogs this year.

The concept is simple.
Tim Young, the host of the podcast, suggests a theme and music bloggers just have to send in a short voice description and a song that fits the theme.
Tim will then compile the podcast and put it online.

And the great thing that happened is that tons of music bloggers started to contribute to the podcast so every episode is filled with tons of great music from very diverse sources. It's awesome.

This week I contributed to the podcast.

The theme was "When I was 16, I liked..."

what better fits that theme than the ultimate Teenage Angst hymn: "The Good Life" by the beloved Weezer.

The podcast is great, you should all listen to it.

Rumble Strips - Motorcycle

Oh this is so fun.

1. Put on your dancing shoes.

2. Pump up the Volume of your Speakers. To The Limit.

3. Smile when the horns start playing.

4. Slowly start moving.

5. Be amused by those silly lyrics.

6. Shake Your Head.

7. Start moving faster.

8. Start singing along.

9. Dance.

10. Dance Faster.

11. Look melancholic when the tempo of the song decreases.

13. Be fascinated when a quirky songs (almost) turns epic.

14. Well not really. It’s too quirky for its own good.

15. Press repeat.

The Rumble Strips - Motorcycle


And head Over to Green Pea-Ness to download Rumble Strips' fantastic new single:

"Hate Me You Do"

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Another Weekly Blog Sampler

Remember when I said this would be a weekly feature. I guess that was three weeks ago. or was it a month? Yeah, I'm a lazy f*** sometimes. I know.

Anyways: These are my favourite posts of the last week (in no particular order):

Berkeleyplace had a feature on "conscious rappers"
A conscious rapper has his (or her) own style. He doesn’t promote the Thug Life, but might have come from it. He’d rather uplift the people than his $ accounts. He doesn’t wanna sling ki-s, and his biggest enemy is ignorance. This week, I’m posting on my favorite conscious rappers (currently working).

He posted about Saigon, Lupe Fiasco & The Coup. At least check out Lupe Fiasco's Kick Push. It's the best rap song I've heard this year.

Motel de Moka posted about the Top 12 Contemporary music albums of 2005-2006
The albums that I'm proposing for this ranking allows us to get close to some of the most relevant composers of contemporary music. Released between April 2005 and May 2006, the recordings on the list were positioned according to diverse opinions and reviews published on specialized media. The following guide intends to provide the listener a decent collection of some the most interesting albums in the genre but also generate an appreciation for the sonorous diversity of our epoch.

Bows + Arrows has a new, extremely cool header and a new b-side by The Hold Steady.

Ryspace posted a magnificent self-recorded bootleg of a recently recorded Okkervil River Show.

RBally continues to be a fantastic blog for live music and posted a radio set by everyone's beloved Feist performing Live on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Green Pea-Ness shared the best new indie-disco tracks I've heard in a long time: The Rumble Strips' "Hate Me You Do" & Long Blondes' "Fulwood Babylon".
ATTENTION INDIE DISCO DJS: I am about to do your job for you. If the ever-throbbing dancefloor confined entirely within my head is any indication, here is exactly how you get a bunch of graphic-design majors to spill their drinks in frenzied excitement next time you're out on the job.

1.681 is a terrific blog that shares a song they love and a photograph that describes said song. It's a fantastic concept. This one works especially well: Tom Waits - “The Black Rider”

Carl Wilson ends his guest shift over at Said The Gramophone with a terrific post covering Final Fantasy, Destroyer & Vancouver Nights. But really everything Carl wrote over there is a must read.

Goodhodgkins put together a spreadsheet covering most of the recent best-albums-of-the-year-so-far postings throughout the blog-o-sphere.
He also had some songs of the recently leaked Mountain Goats album.

Nothing But Green Lights posts on former Art Brut's guitarist new project Mucaca Mullata.

Said The Gramophone's Dan Beirne created a absolutely haunting visual for Parenthetical Girls' "The Weight She Fell Under".

The latest Contrast Podcast features Beatles Covers. And is absolutely magnificent.

Fluxblog writes some words about recently deceased Syd Barrett, original leader of Pink Floyd.

Skatterbrain posted a Q&A with John Patterson of The Grates.

My Brightest Diamond - Something Of An End

I didn't expect to be blown away by this song.
I expected some soft whispering innocent sounds from Shara Worden, best known as a member of Sufjan Stevens' Illinoisemakers.

And then this song comes out of my speakers. And all of a sudden I'm captivated, what an unbelievable song.
This doesn't have anything of the soft, chillful sounds of Sufjan. Yes, it's tightly orchestrated like her former project, but this is dark, it's enigmatic.
When she starts singing you will be haunted by her voice, and the beautiful, complex orchestration.

it starts innocently, but then all of a sudden you can't help but notice your room is shaking, but it doesn't matter. you must get through it.

oh, it is shaking terribly. You're falling to the ground...
No!!! YOU MUST NOT! Everything's crashing down. OH NO!

"the earth started shaking,
yeah it was crazy, heaven and hell came crashing down.
it was beautiful and terrible,
so beautiful and terrible."

And you can't help but listen to it in absolute awe, and the next thing you'll do is hunt down every single song you can find of her in the inter-web.

This is a revelation.

My Brightest Diamond - Something Of An End

Her album "Bring Me The Workhorse" will be released on August 22nd on Asthmatic Kitty.

More Information:
(Official Homepage)
(Ashtmatic Kitty Records)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Will Sheff on File Sharing

Okkervil Rivers's own Will Sheff wrote this very interesting and eloquent piece on File Sharing. This is a must read.

A short excerpt:
My real concerns with file-sharing are primarily aesthetic.

There’s a story by Jorge Luís Borges called “The Library of Babel.” It describes a fantastical library composed of an apparently infinite number of identical rooms. Each room contains 1,050 books. Printed on the pages are words whose lettering and order are apparently random. Because the library is complete, among the gibberish it also contains every book that is possible, every book that could ever be written. It also contains every imaginable variation of every book possible, whether that variation is off by thousands of letters or by a single comma. Borges adds that it must contain, somewhere, a book that explains the meaning and origin of the library itself – just as it contains thousands of variations of that book, true and false. He writes, “When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure…As was natural, this inordinate hope was followed by an excessive depression.”

The internet – with its glut not only of information but of misinformation, and of information that is only slightly correct, or only slightly incorrect – fills me with this same weird mixture of happiness and depression. I sometimes feel drowned in information, deadened by it. How many hundreds of bored hours have you spent mechanically poring through web pages not knowing what you’re looking for, or knowing what you’re looking for but not feeling satisfied when you find it? You hunger but you’re not filled. Everything is freely available on the internet, and is accordingly made inestimably valuable and utterly value-less.

Read more.

The Mountain Goats - Woke Up New

This song is so utterly beautiful, I can hardly take it.

John Darnielle, describes the morning after a relationship ended, and in the way he describes these small subtle details, he exposes his utter despair and feeling of loneliness way better than harsh words ever could.

This is a total heartbreaker and at the same time it’s one of the most captivating songs I’ve heard in a long time.

On the morning when I woke up without you for the first time
I felt free and I felt lonely and I felt scared
And I began to talk to myself almost immediately
Not being used to being the only person there

The first time I made coffee for just myself, I made too much of it
But I drank it all just cause you hate it when I let things go to waste
And I wandered through the house like a little boy lost at the mall
And an astronaut could've seen the hunger in my eyes from space

And I sang
Oh, What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?
What do I do without you?

The New Mountain Goats album “Get Lonely” will be released on August 22nd on 4AD.

The Mountain Goats – Woke Up New (MP3 from EMusic

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Benjamin Walker's Theory of Everything

This is not a music post.
But quite essential nonetheless.

If you don't listen to Benjamin Walker's Theory of Everything, I suggest that you start with it immediately.

It's one of the most fascinating programs I've ever heard. TOE is a weekly podcast which discusses the most different things. Whether it's about the legend of Stanislaw Lem, the music of Ethiopia, a curious incident at the Slobodon Milosevic trial, a college for clowns or CIA's wiretapping program, it's always interesting, amusing, shocking, curious, often very funny.
The program is presented in the form of interviews, fictional stories, semi-fictional stories, telephone conversations, always quite differently, always a treat to listen.

At Theory Of Everything's website you can find a blog and a full audio archive of shows dating back to 2004.
I highly recommend the following shows, I especially and quite heartily recommend "Clown College":
slobodan revisit
Chinese hearts
Stanislaw Lem
Clown college(GO NOW, LISTEN!!)
Holler Back

Friday, July 07, 2006

Margot & The Nuclear So and So's -

what a wonderful video this is. some beautiful animation for one of this year's best songs. Absolutely stunning.

I'm in awe when I listen to this song, it touches me like hardly any song in recent memory.

"When I woke I was alive in sombody's room
I felt life and love and hope infested my bones

Wake up you've got a lot of things to do
Wake up the sun is rising without you

When I woke my body was dyin all over the floor
I felt apathy and hate infested my bones

Wake up you've got a lot of things to do
Wake up the sun is rising without you"

How can you not love this song, these lyrics.

At the 2:30 mark in the video I was actually close to tears. yeah this blog is a mess, and so am i :P

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Beautiful Tender Music & A Reminder That This Blog Ain't Dead

This is just a lazy post, to tell everyone that I'm still alive.
If someone actually thought I ended the blog after a week, you're wrong.
I'm just in a lot of stress right now, and don't have time for music blogging.
Life can be such a mess sometimes, all my respect to bloggers out there who regularly post every single day.

I need to talk about a research paper tomorrow morning, and I really hate working on that presentation.
anyways, I need a calming voice right now to prevent me to throw this paper right in the garbage can, and so I listen to a couple of beautiful, tender, calming songs.
like paper bird.

paper bird is a one-girl-project consisting of home-recorded songs.
she uses pretty primitive equipment for recording, plus a couple of beloved
instruments (including the recorder, guitars and the glockenspiel).
sounds come from the streets, the beaches, the mountains.

I need to talk about paper bird in more detail in the future (because she writes such wonderful songs, but I don't have time for doing that tonight. So I advise you to head over to paper bird's myspace, and listen to these songs. You won't regret it.

Also over at her homepage, you can download 3 EPs for free.

Back to science.