Music For Your Mama

With Mother’s Day upon us, I figured a mother-centric post was in order. Here are some songs for mothers, songs about mothers, and even some songs with the word “mother” in them. I am trying very hard to resist the urge to add Flight of the Conchords, “Mutha’uckas” to this list right now. Somehow, I don’t think Mother would approve…

1. The Beatles, “Julia”
This 1968 release off the White Album was written by John Lennon for his mother, Julia Lennon, as well as his future wife, Yoko Ono. He is the only Beatle to appear on the recording and it marks the first song he wrote for his mother, who was killed in a car accident in 1958. The first two lines, “Half of what I say is meaningless/ But I say it just to reach you, Julia,” were adapted from the poem “Sand and Foam,” by, poet Kahlil Gibran. “Ocean child” refers to the English translation for Yoko’s name and all in all, it truly is “a song of love”.

2. Elliott Smith, “Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud”
This soulful track off of Figure 8 tells the tale of a successful rockstar debating whether or not his mother would be proud of him. Lines like, “there’s a silver lining in the corporate cloud,” allude to the fact that he has sold out and is ill at ease about the decision he’s made. The track is likely referring to Smith’s contract with DreamWorks Records in 1997.

3. Bon Iver, “Flume”
The meaning of this eerily beautiful song is somewhat ambiguous. Many interpretations have been offered for the opening track off of Justin Vernon’s self released 2007 album, For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon once described his lyrics as “sounds that eventually turned into words”. With lines such as, ” I am my mother’s only one/ It’s enough/ I wear my garment so it shows/ Now you know,” Vernon confesses to a kind of vulnerability which is present throughout the album as a whole. Lyrics appearing later in the song, “I am my mother on the wall, with us all,” seem to reference a photograph or family portrait.

4. Scissor Sisters, “Take Your Mama”
Introduce your mama to some disco glam pop and “take your mama out all night/ Yeah, we’ll show her what it’s all about/ We’ll get her jacked up on some cheap champagne/ We’ll let the good times all roll out/ And if the music ain’t good, well it’s just too bad.” Thanks to the Scissor Sisters though, the music is good and it will have you dancing in no time. Give this electric track from their self titled debut album a listen!

5. The Shirelles, “Mama Said”
This 1961 single off the album The Shirelles Sing to Trumpets and Strings, reached #4 on the Billboard Top 100 list. It is a jewel of a song from the New Jersey girl group. Revel in this glorious golden oldies piece of pop music and always listen to what Mama says! I know I do.

Happy Mother’s Day from Euphonie!

Also recommended:
The Rolling Stones, “Mother’s Little Helper
Jeff Buckley, “So Real”
The Smiths, “I Know It’s Over”
Kate Bush, “Breathing”
Devendra Banhart, “Hey Mama Wolf”

*Special thanks to Mama Caseley (Curtis), Mama Roth, and Mama Kamens

Appreciation! La Blogothèque

In a hallway, in front of elaborate iron-worked windows and two green trash bins, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon leads his band in an acapella version of “For Emma,” off his debut album “For Emma, Forever Ago,” clapping rhythm like a human metronome. Vernon tries and fails to open the door for building residents, vocalist/pianist Sean Carey then buzzes them in, bassist Mike Noyce smirks at Vernon’s ineptitude, Carey stoops to pet a friendly dog that runs over; throughout all of which the band never pauses in their acapella serenade. The long hallway, lit by a soft pink glow that seems to radiate off every surface, fills with beautiful three-part harmony. As the song winds down the camera pans to the other end of the entrance-way where a crowd has gathered to listen, and the same dog jumps playfully, looking to be pet.

No. 93 in an ongoing series of Les Concerts A Emporter or ‘Take Away Shows,’ this Bon Iver performance is one of my favorites. Produced by La Blogothèque, brainchild of Chryde and French indie filmmaker Vincent Moon, the artistically filmed live performances take music out of the concert halls and into the streets, literally. Bands play acoustic and/or acapella sets walking down the street, in parks, bars, apartments and even elevators!

The groups, with guitars strapped to their backs, portable percussion (maraca’s, a single drum) and vertically carried keyboards travel through quaint city backdrops and everyday soundscapes (birds, rushing traffic, surprised screaming fans a la The Kooks video) like bands of roving troubadours. In an I’m From Barcelona video, lead singer Emanuel Lundgren leads an unprompted ever-growing pedestrian chorus that follows behind him, like a pied piper of indie rock.

On Parisian boulevards lined with trees and in the interiors of architecturally aesthetic buildings an honest, clean sound is captured in continuous, single-takes, through a lens that makes the images appear to have been sepia-toned and then filled in with water colors. The minimalistic performances paired with facial close-ups, lends an authentic experience to online viewers, granting intimate access to your favorite bands. The only audience is the omniscient camera, or occasionally impromptu crowds of curious locals drawn in (as are we), by the music.

Started in Paris in April 2006, the project has now spread globally and involves other directors in addition to Moon, who shoot bands in locations around the world such as Jerusalem, Montreal and Austin, TX. Lykke Li, The National, Cold War Kids, Fleet Foxes, Bloc Party, Beirut, Margot and The Nuclear So & So’s, The Shins, Andrew Bird and many others have performed for the web outfit. For a full listing of bands and videos go here.

“Our goal is to try and capture instants, film the music just like it happens, without preparation, without tricks. Spontaneity is the key word.”

Other Favorite Performances (in no particular order):

Squeezed into an elevator, the 8-piece outfit still manages to churn out a heartfelt rendition of “Neon Bible,” off their album of the same title. The jigsaw puzzle of guitars, violins, brass instruments and bodies are fitted together in a claustrophobically tight space, making for an intimate performance venue. Band members bang on the ceiling and rip magazines, while bowing violins swell in a tide of emotion, producing a sound that the small space cannot contain. Or if that doesn’t do it for you, the sheer fact that the whole band with instruments fit in that elevator is a feat in itself!

The camera encircles the foursome in a gated courtyard/parking lot as they play acoustic guitars, a keyboard laid down on the concrete, and use dumpsters as a drum set. Surrounded on two-sides by the windows of high-walled apartment buildings, Ezra Koenig’s squeaky voice echoes and amplifies around the courtyard. Something about the open space and stripped down rendition of “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance” with big drum sounds and a simple guitar riff just works. Then almost like an afterthought the video cuts to the band walking single file down the street playing a minimalistic guitars/vocals/maracas version of “Oxford Comma.” The band’s sparse song stylings echo Moon’s single takes and shaky panning shots, the marriage of which is a match made in heaven . . . or maybe Cape Cod by way of Paris.

You don’t need to do much to make Fleet Foxes look and sound good. With their beautiful, ethereal harmonies and signature Pacific Northwestern flannel outfitting, the group was one of the best to break out 2008. What makes this video great is that Moon in fact doesn’t do much, using subtle filming techniques such as an enhanced dark/light color contrast, and strategically picked locations to compliment the band’s sound and image. A slowed, acapella version of the “Sun Giant” on a park lawn brings to the foreground the naturalistic imagery abundant in the lyrics, and the epic “Blue Ridge Mountains” is performed in a deserted, high-ceilinged area of the Grand Palais, an old palace that fills and echoes with their brazen saccharine voices.

Rant: Down with the Encore

If you ask me, the encore is a tired and outdated process. The band has left the stage, the lights are darkened, and yet, the audience continues to shout and clap like those wind-up toy monkeys with brass cymbals. “Encore, encore,” the French word for “again,” can frequently be heard and you already know that the band is gonna come charging back onstage and play that hit song of theirs that they not so inconspicuously omitted from the set list. When a concert is over, I am ready to leave. If it’s a weekday, I am ready to hop on the subway and go home, and if it’s a weekend, I’m ready to head to the nearest bar. Besides, if a band is good enough, I’d like to think that the audience members will be satisfied, encore or no encore.

So, you can imagine my delight while at a Bon Iver concert at Town Hall a few months ago, when Justin Vernon announced that there would not be an encore. One fan was outraged and unleashed some gobbledygook about the failing economy and wanting to get his money’s worth. Yet, Bon Iver played practically every song, not only from For Emma, Forever Ago, but also from their new EP, Blood Bank. We were even treated to a cover of Sarah Siskind’s tragically beautiful, “Lovin’s For Fools”. I felt that my money was well spent and left feeling pleased with the show.

Other artists agree with me on this matter. The Strokes generally skip out on encores and Ben Folds once poked fun at the useless ritual as well, saying something along the lines of, “I’m coming back, but you should try to act surprised.” Spare our voice boxes the screaming and shouting and take it from Elvis. Leave the building.

Thursday Top 3: "Grower" Bands

I am a big believer in “growers,” those bands that take more than one listen to truly appreciate.  To call a band a ‘grower’ is not a negative thing. Instead it simply means that the first impression of a band may not be the most accurate one.

     It is like that person who, at first, you don’t like.  You think they are weird. You don’t get their sense of humor or their pop culture references. You keep hanging out with them, however, because you see a little bit of good in their character.  Maybe they have good taste in beer or an interesting fashion sense.  Then something strange happens.  After a few hanging-out sessions, you start to laugh at their jokes. You start to recognize their references and even add on a few of your owns.   Suddenly they are your new B.F.F.F.

     By the same token, growers are bands that at the first listen do not soothe the sense, but with a few more spins make perfect sense…
1. The Hold Steady
To me, The Hold Steady is the ultimate example of a grower band. The first time I listened this Minneapolis band, I was not a fan. I could not get past Craig Finn’s voice or how he sing-talks. The guitars were too loud and raw. I did not get why everyone loved this band so much.

But now, I get it.  The beauty of The Hold Steady can really be found in their lyrics.  The songs are simply stories about friends, bar nights, parties, adventures and bar nights.  The stories told in “Party Pit,” “Massive Nights” and “Chillout Tent” are more of a shared-history than a rock song.  It is to the extent that their friends seem familiar – like your friends. Not all of THS’s songs are loud.  The quieter and more vulnerable ballads, like “Citrus” and “Lord, I’m Discouraged,” are prime examples of the ever reaching talent that this band possesses.  It only takes a few tries to recognize it.
How Resurrection Really Feels (from “Separation Sunday”) mp3
Citrus (from “Boys and Girls in America”) mp3
2. Pavement
     For some reason, I always ignored Pavement as one of those bands on my “very influential yet not my taste” list. I had heard a few songs in the past but it never stuck.  Then, while creating this list, I decided to give them another try (at the suggestion of Kevin, from the-Audiobahn).  As I downloaded “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” and “Slanted and Enchanted,” I did not know what to expect. I had listened to a lot of Stephen Malkmus solo stuff in the past and liked it but was not thrilled by his voice or off-kilter lyrics.  But what the hell.  Second time is the charm, right?
     After only a few listens of each of those pivotal Pavement albums, I immediately found myself bobbing my head along with the 90s sensibilities of many of their songs, like “Cut Your Hair” and “Filmore Jive” (from “Crooked Rain”).  Many of the songs on “Slanted and Enchanted” are reminiscent of Weezer’s “Pinkerton.”
     So my advice if you have disregarded Pavement in the past: give it another chance. This is a prime example of when a really influential band is actually good and not just incredibly overrated.
Gold Soundz (from “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain”) mp3
Zurich is Stained (from “Slanted and Enchanted”) mp3
3. Bon Iver
I love mountainy musicians, like Fleet Foxes and Ray LaMontagne. I usually develop an admiration instantly because, I think, part of me wishes I lived surrounded by sky-lines made of mountains instead of those made of sky scrapers. The instant love I expected to have with Bon Iver did not happen at first sound.  It was something about the raw nature of his voice that made me wonder, “Could anyone’s voice actually sound like that naturally?”  I liked the guitars though so I kept listening to “For Emma, Forever Ago.”  After 12+ listens, I grasped the true talent of Justin Vernon.  His voice is definitely an acquired taste. But I believe his unique voice and gorgeous lyrics have secured him a place in the Mount Rushmore of mountainy musicians (if there was one).
For Emma (from “For Emma, Forever Ago”) mp3
Blood Bank (from “Blood Bank EP”) mp3
Honorable Mentions:  Neko Case, Martin Sexton, Regina Spektor, Vampire Weekend