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I was born at a relatively young age. Growing up consumed the better part of my childhood. As a young man I chased a lot of girls. But they kept getting away. Then I got older and even slower, so I got married. I've lived in New York City almost since before I moved here. I summer in Manhattan, which is like New York City, but with more humidity.

Here's me, without baby, thinking big thoughts. (Actually, what I'm thinking is, "Hey, these aren't Pringles!") I think I look better with baby.

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The New Folk and Me
Friday, May 06, 2005
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I consume pre-recorded music. And also, about the new music I’ve consumed…

For years, I’ve tried to keep up on what’s hot and new. But as I age, I’m becoming more comfortable with my tastes, with knowing what I might like. And I feel less and less compelled-- less obligated, really-- to check out all the hot new releases. No Franz Ferdinand for me; no Kills, no Raveonettes, none of these bands that harken back to 80s synth pop, which I didn’t really like in the first place. I mean, I rushed out and bought records by Elastica, Oasis, and Blur in the early 90s when they were the rock bands du jour, and I’ve gotten rid of all of them long ago. No, I’ve actually decided that I will be far more judicious in my record purchasing. I’m going to severely limit what I buy from past years, and try to zero in on new releases that I have reason to believe I will like based on my tastes, and not what’s hot and happening. Which sounds funny, I know, but I’ve decided to give in to my hokey, melodic tastes and stop trying to “keep up.” Stop checking out albums because "I really should." Indeed I recently cleaned out my CD collection and put about 200 into storage; I know I won’t be playing Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation or the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy any time soon. No matter how great these albums are, how seminal, I just never seem to want to hear them. And if I suddenly get the itch, well, I can get my hands on them in a few days.

So here’s an example. Animal Collective put out a record last year, Sung Tongs. All the rage. Amazon keeps recommending it to me. So I listened to the clips. They did nothing for me. Five years ago I would have bought it because, you know, I like to stay hip and current and down with the music the young people dig. But no. Not anymore. Also, I have passed on Los Lonely Boys and Kings of Leon, who are the hot new rockers. I think Los Lonely Boys are OK, but hell, give me the Los Lobos live album any day. I’m old and cranky. And besides, the Lonely Lads stood up the Allman Brothers when they were supposed to open last summer, and the Allmans are my home boys, so I’m holding a grudge. And double besides, rock’n’roll done well is actually not a scarce commodity in my collection. Do I need the Kings of Leon or Los Lonely Boys if I have every Tom Petty, Los Lobos, Silos, and Faces album ever released? Seriously, not a rhetorical question; if you have an opinion, post a comment.

So anyway, I’m not going to buy anyone’s back catalog releases unless I’m really, REALLY bowled over by something, or unless there is a glaring hole in my collection somewhere (doubtful.) I am no longer a completist..

This year, some of the new things I’ve heard include:

Bright Eyes, both Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and I’m Wide Awake Its Morning. Mostly I like the former. People are calling Connor Oberst the new Dylan (I think he’s the new new new new new new new new Dylan), and of course that sucks for him. The last New Dylan I heard was the guy who recorded the late 80s album Oh Mercy, which was pretty darned good. The kid is, I guess, 24, and has a ton of stuff out already. Clearly he isn’t there yet, but I think Wide Awake is a nice listen, and the guy he reminds me of, oddly enough, is Steve Forbert (remember “Goin’ Down to Laurel”? Apparently it’s a dirty stinkin’ town.) Mostly it’s something in the vocal timbre. I’m not going back catalog on this guy, but I will keep my eye on him. I think he’s a real comer, the hype notwithstanding. Songwriting is the thing, I think, that gives an artist like this legs, and the kid can write.

Iron Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days and this year’s Woman King ep. The former came out last year but I made an exception because I really thought I would like them, or him as it were, and I was right. Iron and Wine is one guy, Sam Beam, a professor from Florida. He’s supposed to be part of this new, neo-folk thing, which I don’t really get; but I will say that this record is made out of what seem to me like organic sounds—you know, acoustic guitars, light percussion, the human voice. It doesn’t sound like the early 70s; it doesn’t sound like any era at all. But it is an easy, pretty, soothing listen, not challenging but still rewarding. So I got the ep that came out this year—more of the same—and I am impressed enough that I ordered his/their first, which is supposedly a classic of this so-called “New Folk” genre, The Creek Drank the Cradle, from 2002. It is official: I like Iron and Wine. Enough to go back catalog.

Josh Rouse, Nashville. If you don’t own his 1972, from last year, stop reading (I can wait) and go buy it. This one continues in the same vein; 1972 was an homage to music of that year (the kid was zero at the time). This one is not, but I think it goes down just as easy. More power pop, less nostalgia, but also more pop than power. I like the poppy end of the power pop spectrum; I’m more McCartney than Cheap Trick. And I just downloaded an FM broadcast of his April 29, 2005 Nashville gig from Dime a Dozen; great stuff. Everyone I recommended 1972 to has become a fan; my wife, who is no music nut but still manages to have impeccable taste, really likes him and put both 1972 and Nashville onto her iPod.

Beck, Guero. I like Beck, but with the exception of Midnight Vultures, which I liked more than everyone else (it was derided as his “Prince album,” but I like Prince albums), I always end up wishing I liked the album more than I actually do. This one is no exception. He remains one of the most interesting, innovative, daring major artists around, but I just wish he spoke to me more than he does. This one echoes Odelay, which was his monster breakthrough, and even has the Dust Brothers again. So I guess if you dug that, check this one out. I guess the sound byte is, the humanity of Sea Change and the hip hop eclecticism of Odelay. I think it deserves more of a chance than I’ve given it.

Arcade Fire, Funeral. Another one of those “new folk” albums from 2004 that I just got around to. I don’t know what makes these artists share a genre, and I think it is somewhat forced. For example, Animal Collective, who seem to share many fans with Arcade Fire, sound nothing like them, and neither sound anything like what I’d consider folk, old or new. I believe this band is from Montreal, and they are a 5-piece. This record, to me, has some very compelling moments, but there is something about it that keeps me at arm’s length, whereas I like records that invite me in. I think you have to be more attracted to angst and alienation than I am to really dig this. The story goes that band members collectively experienced three deaths during or right before the making of this album (hence the title). It is not what I’d call peppy. Indeed the CD comes with an insert which provides the lyrics, and it is laid out like the program from a funeral. Whoo hoo, let’s party! I am not loving it, but damn, every time I am ready to pull it out of the changer some moment floats past that is eerie, ethereal, compelling. I feel like this album is too good to dismiss, but not enough up my alley to embrace. Again, I feel like I may dig it out in a year, drop it in the player, and somehow suddenly “get it.” That happens sometimes. But then, I thought that would happen with the Jesus and Mary Chain too.

Devendra Banhart, Rejoicing in the Hands. Yes, more “new folk” from 2004. At least this guy sounds like a folk musician; many songs are just his voice and his finger-picked guitar. But I’d probably call this post-folk; these are artists of a generation where someone like Jeff Buckley is probably occupying a place in the pantheon akin to the one Woody Guthrie occupied for Dylan and Springsteen. I don’t hear the remnants of dust bowl balladry or protest songs in this music; I think if you craned your head and listened hard enough you might hear, say, Buckley, Cobain, and whatever other touchstone 90s troubadours you might mention. But I like this guy. Interesting, oddly off-kilter compositions, and something about the cadence and voice vaguely reminds me of Tiny Tim—which is not to belittle Banhart, but rather to try and place his sound in some sort of context. His guitar picking does have a sort of ukulele vibe to it, and his songs sort of lope along. I can put this on Sunday mornings and have it on while my wife is reading the paper and I am playing with the baby. I’m not going back catalog on him, but I might just get his next one.

If you’ve clicked through some of these links to Amazon, you might have noticed how often these artists appear under each other’s releases in the “customers who bought this record have also bought” section. Apparently I'm supposed to check out someone named Sufjan Stevens as well. Rouse probably is the exception, but the rest of them probably occupy some similar head space. They don’t sound alike, at least not to my mid-life crisis ears, but then sometimes there’s something happening and you don’t know what it is-- do you, Mr. Jones?


Posted by: --josh-- @ 9:02 PM  

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