Archive for the ‘Aphera’s Adventures’ Category
He walked out onto the stage wearing white feather wings and told us, “My name is Sufjan Stevens and I’m your entertainment for the evening.”
And with that same veil of modesty, he plucked the sad little tune of Seven Swans on his banjo seemingly alone on a vast, dark stage. Only a minute later the backlight flashed red, as the trumpets glared to reveal an eleven-piece band behind him. He threw off his wings and awkwardly pulled on a pair of metallic pants and space suit while simultaneously slinging, now, a guitar over his head. It was so cute- like a costume change a six year old would make trying to imitate his or her favorite pop star. But this was Sufjan and it was so Sufjan.
I say this because, during the concert, we really got to know Sufjan. We listened to him fumble with the three laws of physics and his philosophy on the end of the earth, the beginning of the earth and what he calls the middle of the earth. We laughed nervously when he explained his diabolical relationship with cliffs and abysses like the Grand Canyon. He was so endearing, lonely, funny, but at the same time this man, dressed in metallic flared pants and a neon headband, was also the genius behind the music we were all so moved by.
The theme of the evening was the loneliness of the universe. Sufjan repeatedly used the words, “lonely”, “end”, and “primal”. Primal instincts became important when he described this newest album. He said he stripped his music of form, convention and history (haha). His performance was primal in two very different senses. In one way it was the product of Sufjan’s uninhibited self. It was the removal of any cortical reasoning and instead it was a reliance on older, ancient pleasure centers. It was hedonistic, an overproduction and over sensory stimulation. But it was also primal in another sense. When we weren’t “entertained” with productions such as Age of Adz and Impossible Soul, we were soothed with slower pieces. Sufjan became a soloist, a single lonely man on stage. His music became extremely raw, stripped…
But the majority of the show, when we weren’t watching a man and a banjo, was a Broadway musical: Eleven people on stage, 3 dancers, costumes, props, backdrops. Sufjan made sure you felt the apocalypse nearing when he sang, “Age of Adz” – a song he said, “confuses heartbreak with the end of the earth.” Someone next to me shouted, “They’re the same thing.”
Were we a bunch of overly sentimental alternatives watching an emotional rollercoaster? Sufjan certainly admitted that going through his concert every night was emotionally, physically and spiritually draining. But it made performances such as “I Walked”, and the drippingly gorgeous ,“The Owl and The Tanager” an experience rather than just a passive listening session on the audience’s part.
Sufjan played the 25 minute monster “Impossible Soul” – a song that could only have been written by Sufjan and certainly only have been performed by him. That was the beauty of the whole concert. It was the creative product of Sufjan and in an infinite number of years no one will be able to reproduce all the elements that went into it. Sufjan created a cosmic event that can only occur in some space and some time never to be exactly the same again.
Name dropping Erik Satie, according to Stuff White People Like, is a golden ticket to appearing well versed in classical music yet “modern and post-modern at the same time.” Well I’m about to take you one step further.
In 1970, the Camarata Contemporary Chamber Group released their strange “contemporary” reorchestration of Satie’s music. The “contemporary” here means using non-traditional instrumentation and often Moog synthesizers (another reviewer calls them vulgar; I think that’s partly true). But Satie’s music is so playful that it seems fitting that one should take his music and turn it on its head. Today, people regard classical music as sacred and untouchable but in reality it’s just asking to be toyed with (if rock bands can cover each other, why can’t classical artists do something similar?). For instance, think of the score; in the composer’s attempt to tell the performer exactly how to perform the piece the composer literally spells out the piece unto the score. So to see a group of people take Satie’s score, which is often barren of specificity in direction, and make something that sounds so magical out it is a glorious thing in itself. Not to say Satie’s original pieces aren’t magical but they can be bleak and often introspective.
So that’s my spiel. Anyway, I found this LP at the vinyl section of Webster’s Book Store (BTW is it still around?) in State College and I decided to buy it and I was very happy with what I got. It’s a fun album — comical at times, innovative at others, and most certainly entertaining. I ripped it to digital a while ago and I just thought of sharing it after having a conversation about Satie last night with a good friend. So, I’ve added a selection or two to the playlist and below is a download link for the my vinyl to digital rip of the album if you’re so inclined. It’s worth it if you have any interest in Satie, Moog synthesizers, or appearing well versed in classical music.
p.s. Sorry to break the BoC streak…
Yesterday was Record Store Day and in honor of it I biked to Reckless Records, a cool record shop in the loop, to check out the scene. I was surprised to see a live metal band playing in the tiny store. It was great fun but I didn’t end up buying anything. Anyway, two new Record Store Day releases that stuck out to me as prominent were a 12″ from Beach House and a new new new new song from Blur! Wow, how many years has it been? Anyway, here’s what I have to say about the releases: the Blur song is excellent and it almost seems like a part of a bigger picture and I would die to get a Blur release this year. Graham Coxon’s guitar throughout, and especially at the end, reminds me of why I care.
The Beach House track, meh… It sounds like a Teen Dream outtake, which it probably is but if you haven’t had enough Beach House then go for it but I wouldn’t have spent money on the footlong (12″ release) if had been able to find it in any of the record stores I went to yesterday. I went to two by the way. The second one was this cute store closer to campus that I walked into on my way to dinner at Ribs n’ Bibs. Dinner at Ribs n’ Bibs was great though. I had a “Bronco Burger” with fries and slaw for three dollars. What a steal!
It’s midnight on a Wednesday and the neighborhood club right outside my window is blasting Beyonce. What am I doing home at midnight on a Wednesday, which happens to be salsa night at El Agujon? I’ve just had a week full of papers and exams and although it’s already the weekend for me (minus the Kichwa tutorials that have a growing tendency to occur over coffee) I’m exhausted and just want to go to sleep. I suppose Beyonce is better than the group of guys who play volleyball with a soccer ball on the basketball court also right outside my window, though the endless chorus of ‘¡chucha!’ never fails to entertain. Or the marching orders that will wake me up at 7:00 AM, blasted through a loudspeaker for students of Colegio Nacional Mixto Manuel Cordova Galarza which is also, thanks to the unique geometry of Quito, right outside my window. This in mind, I settle back and hum the chorus of “If I Were a Boy.” Except for the fact that it’s not “If I Were a Boy.” This version, popular for obvious reasons here in Ecuador, is “Si yo fuera un chico.”
Ecuadorians are intensely proud of their Latino rhythms. Just about every club, as if by some national mandate, has a salsa hour – including La Casa de Cerveza and Beertropolis – and I have yet to meet a man (with the notable exceptions of my host-brother Wilson, and his friends Esteban and Pinky, all of whom I love for this very reason) who can’t shake his hips just as well as Shakira. More often than not bus drivers will blast a laundry list of traditional cumbia songs, and don’t seem to mind it when gringos are inspired to do a little dirty dancing in the aisles. Marco, La Universidad Politécnica Salesiana’s Danza Tropical instructor, flat-out refuses to choreograph to reggaeton. “Reggaeton es el Diablo,” he once insisted and gave us gringos in the class a mini-lecture on the many reasons why these rhythms are not REAL Latino rhythms. This being said, Ecuadorians also love the English-language music scene (ALL of it – from Guns and Roses to Korn) and it is a rare day when I’m not serenaded with Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me” regardless of whether I’m on the streets of Quito or camping in the Amazon.
Spanish translations of English lyrics, including Beyonce’s “Si yo fuera un chico” and Jason Mraz’s “Suerte” get a lot of air time on Ecuadorian radio. Perhaps still not as much as Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA,” but more than they might otherwise. And yet, these songs bother me more than Miley ever could (which is a lot). While some might suggest that the purpose of such translation is to make the music accessible to a wider audience, or in the case of Mraz, to facilitate partnerships with other artists, I have a hard time buying this line. Translation seems less to me like cultural accommodation and more like an effort to move CDs.
I’m not sure if Beyonce and Jason Mraz even speak Spanish.
Maybe it’s the idea of them mouthing lyrics they don’t understand that just makes the songs sound so hollow.
Having taken an ethnomusicology class, I’m somewhat familiar with debates about cultural appropriation. And I’m not sure if I’d rather hear Beyonce and Jason Mraz making money off of a salsa rhythm or the Spanish language. But at least a salsa rhythm would be a nod to the rich variety of music produced in Latino America, rather than an attempt to push the exact same homogenous pop that already dominates the airwaves by dressing it up in Spanish. I’m not saying that Latino America doesn’t produce bad music. It does – and that’s why it doesn’t need any help from the US.
Perhaps my misguided notions of ‘authenticity’ (a word that anthropology has taught me to be wary of) are part of the reason I remain so dedicated to Juanes. The obsession, prompt by Señor Ramsey in my freshman year of high school, has continued at such a level of intensity that any mention of his name, even by one of the many guys for whom I happen to be head-over-heels and thus would like to impress, prompts an immediate and at this point instinctual response: “I LOVE JUANES.” It earns me plenty of eye-rolling; Juanes is the Latino-American equivalent of the Beatles and the Jonas Brothers and pretty much any big-name British or American band that has drawn a cult of young female followers from around the world. But that’s exactly what I love about him – he’s developed a fan-base that rivals any English-speaking artist even though he refuses to sing in English. In interviews, he insists that Spanish is the only language he understands inside and out, that he would feel disingenuous singing in anything else. Although he’s a straight-up pop-rocker, he’s also intensely loyal to the rhythms that Marco would classify as ‘real’ Latino rhythms and pens lyrics that address the current socio-political situation in Colombia. For this reason, even when I’m totally ‘fregada’ (more or less ‘screwed’) – running late for class, having left my house without my cell phone and only a twenty-dollar bill (which are impossible to use here as no one ever has change) – hearing “Un día normal” in an internet café immediately puts me in a good mood.
This isn’t to say that I don’t support polyglots like Manu Chao (I LOVE Manu Chao) or the idea of cross-cultural collaboration in general. It’s just to say that I support cross-cultural collaboration when it’s truly cross-cultural, that is to say that it embraces the unique and important musical contributions of whatever cultures happen to be crossing. Of course, I recognize that there are not necessarily clear lines between ‘cultures’ (my anthropology background kicking in again) but for me it’s pretty clear-cut that Beyonce and Jason Mraz creating Spanish versions of their popular English songs isn’t so much cultural ANYTHING as it is a form of musical prostitution. But if they were to translate their English songs into Kichwa, I suppose that would be another story….
Dan Deacon knows how to get a dance party started – here’s a clip of him at Hopkins in 2008. I was there but had no idea what was going on.
Last night, we spotted Dan Deacon dancing at Metro Gallery with a wooly, pink sweater tied around him. That’s not why he caught our eye though; it’s because he was leading a group of ten people in a game of follow the dancing leader. It works like this: Everyone stands in a clump, facing one wall on a relatively roomy dance floor. The person toward the front of the group takes on the leadership position and makes up dance moves to the beat of the music. Everyone behind that person mimics his or her moves until that person passes his or her role off to someone to the left. The group turns to their left to face that wall and follows the person in front again. You continue round and round in circles.
We joined in because it looked like fun. The most ridiculous dancing always occurred when Dan Deacon was leading the group. I mean, at one point everyone on the dance floor was laying on their backs with their hands and feet up in the air like a dead bug.
It was 730 pm at the Days Inn near the Seattle Airport and I was unwinding from the whirlwind that was the bioethics conference in Tacoma. This was the end of my trip. My flight back to the east coast was the next morning at 830 am so I had ditched my Hopkins counterpart, who was roaming around Seattle, to stay closer to the airport for my early flight. But, I was feeling absolutely restless staring at the plaster wall when I kept imagining concerts, and liveliness going on only 15 minutes away in the indie music hub of the country.
Most of my trip took place in Tacoma where the two of us Hopkins kids attended a bioethics conference. Unlike the rest of the east coasters, we decided to forgo the suits, jackets, and uncomfortable shoes. However, I wish I had brought a floral cotton dress, dark tights, and a pair of Frye Boots because that seemed to be the look on the University of Puget Sound Campus. I observed this trend sipping coffee at the large windowed and thus sunlit coffee shop where MGMT’s ‘Flash Delirium’ played right before Caribou’s ‘Odessa’. I shazamed the next couple songs …
heard in a puget sound coffee shop
Caribou ‘Odessa’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yq_tDOFU5tY
The Archie Bronson Outfit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chmaBWe7oqI
Lightspeed Champion ‘Marlene’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCo-U6war6c
Anyway, after two days on UPS campus and one night out in Tacoma, it was unbearable to sit in my hotel room around 730 pm. So when George texted me, ‘No Regrets!!’ I made the decision to get on the light rail, and make my way into Seattle.
Typed, my night sounds subpar- the concert I wanted to go to at Crocodile was sold out, and I spent the rest of the evening in one location before having to run back to catch the last light rail at 1230 am. But in my mind it went more like – smiling to myself when people watching the hipsters standing outside Crocodile before finding refuge in a small well-lit nook across the street. Appreciating the friendliness of the wait staff the chefs who offered me advice on how to get around Seattle (apparently Belltown = ‘hos and bros’ and Capitol Hill = ‘gays and hipsters’). Laughing when the chef joked I was getting free smells and placed a sample of their famous flan in front of me to try.
On Monday I found myself in Wicker Park, a cute hip part of Chicago. There I found “Reckless Records,” an old Chicago record store and upon entering it I felt this warm happiness I hadn’t felt since I last entered the now out of business “City Light Records” from back home. I immediately raided the discount CD rack where I found countless favorites of mine as well as some albums I’d been meaning to pick up. I walked away from the store with 3 of the latter having only spent 7 dollars. That’s pretty good considering one of the discs I picked up was The Smashing Pumpkin’s double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
So, now I’d like to share with you a selection from each of the records I picked up.
First from Nico’s Chelsea Girl I’m giving you “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.” It’s a beautiful song with a string/flute arrangement that is to die for. With the recent activity of female singers such as Joanna Newsom and Charlotte Gainsbourg I thought Nico would be relevant.
Second is “Cupid De Locke” from The Smashing Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It doesn’t really represent the Pumpkin’s sound at the time (though it was varied) but I love it for being very ahead of its time and straight up pretty. It’s almost reminiscent of something from Merriweather Post Pavilion, no? Regardless, take one from the kings of alternative.
Lastly is “Bandit” from Neil Young’s concept album Greendale. Although I believe Neil Young is having a hard a time writing a song as awesome as his old classics, I still think his music is relevant because he’s experimenting with formats and forms for his music. He’s an innovator and that is something I really respect. Listen to the song closely because this song, along with the album as a whole is really good at connecting with the listener –the way Young’s voice and his words just tear at you. It’s very pretty.
Anyway, enough of that. Go out and support your local record store, if you are still fortunate enough to have one. Where else you gonna get such kickass deals and such knowledgeable service?
Costa Rica may not have offered insight into a new music craze – at least not after one week. But pairing some kids from LA with a few tediously long bus rides resulted in a new repertoire of tunes to begin the year. Whatever the source, here is Aphera bringing you quality noise. Also, circumaural headsets seem to be all the rage.
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros: 40 Day Dream
Miike Snow: Animal
Blasts From the Recent Past
Yeasayer : 2080
Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver : Hazelton
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