Sunday, June 25, 2006

My Morning Jacket with Tails

This past Thursday I caught the second night of My Morning Jacket’s two night engagement with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall in Boston as part of the Pops’ genre-bending “Edgefest” series. In my own mind, collaborations between rock bands and symphonies will forever be defined by the gaudy drama of Guns ‘n Roses November Rain (which, admittedly, was bitching). Absent, however, from MMJ’s gig with the Pops was any of that over-the-top-ness. Rather, the collaboration was understated, artful, and thoroughly enjoyable.

To be sure, during a few numbers it felt and sounded as if two groups were simultaneously sharing the stage rather than playing together. During those songs the Pops woodenly moved through their arrangements of MMJ songs while MMJ played as if it were business as usual, disregarding the array of musicians behind them on the stage.

But these were outweighed by more moments of intertwined brilliance. The two groups were largely conscious of one another and worked to play together and off of one another. Often the strings or the brass would pick up the lead guitar line or the melody. The most satisfying moments occurred when the Pops filled in the space carved out by Jim James’ airy vocals, as in “I Will Sing You Songs” from It Still Moves. The Pops brilliantly filled the space between James’ vocals and the rest of his band without ruining the haunting emptiness that makes so many MMJ tunes compelling.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Top 10 of the Moment

Here's a fun one, as long as you listen to music on iTunes. They might have this on iPods too, but I wouldn't know, since I'm apparently one of the four people left in the country who doesn't own one.

Go to the list of the "Top 25 Most Played" in iTunes. What are the top 10?

I, I have learned, apparently like Rilo Kiley. a lot.

1) Josh Ritter, "Lillian" (live at Neumo's, Seattle)
2) Rilo Kiley, "The Absence of God" (More Adventurous)
3) Rilo Kiley, "Hail to Whatever You Found in the Sunlight That Surrounds You" (The Execution of All Things)
4) Tom Waits, "Cold Cold Ground" (Frank's Wild Years)
5) Rilo Kiley, "More Adventurous" (More Adventurous)
6) The Band, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (The Last Waltz)
7) Elliott Smith, "Junk Bond Trader" (Figure 8)
8) Elvis Presley, "If I Can Dream" (Legendary Performer 2)
9) Glen Phillips, "Don't Need Anything" (Winter Pays for Summer)
10) Rilo Kiley, "Does He Love You?" (More Adventurous)

Post yours as a comment.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

What is Art? Are We art? Is Art Art?

I saw lots of interesting paintings at the Rittenhouse Square art show yesterday. Not that I really think I have a great eye for artistic appreciation, but certain paintings could even have been said to move me. This, combined with the recent discussion about Belle and Sebastian (and about how much we appreciate works because they are "derivative" or "original"), I have a few questions about what it means to appreciate certain works.

The problem struck me when I saw a painting that was highly reminiscent of what I had been taught was impressionist art. Later, at another display, I saw a painting that was almost an exact replica of one of Claude Monet's "Japenese Footbridge" paintings. I liked it, even though it wasn't by Monet.

So that got me thinking about how there are some pieces of art -- and musical works -- that offer nothing new, in the sense of technical or creative innovation from what came before it, but that can still move us. On its own, the work may be great. But I'm convinced that context does matter.

Should knowing any art history affect our appreciation of that fake Monet work? I think the obvious answer to this question is yes.

Does it matter who comes up with the bulk of technique we value in a work? If this new impressionist whose work I saw yesterday changed a tiny bit of what he or she saw in Monet and then called the whole work his own, should and do we still value it? And to bring it back to the Mongrel's main topic, how do we react to a Belle and Sebastian song that largely sounds like it was ripped off Love or the Zombies? And does that make us appreciate Belle and Sebastian, as a band, less than if we hadn't known about Love or the Zombies? If it does, does that devaluation in turn translate to the music itself? Even though the music is essentially the same thing as that Love or Zombies song that moved us?

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Friday, June 02, 2006

TOP 15 EARLY B&S SONGS

(or Belle & the Best of 'Em)

To expand on the recent lively Belle & Sebastian (B&S) discussion, I ask that you post your top 15 early B&S songs. The period I define as early B&S is identified by the initial splurge of truly inspired Stuart Murdoch songcraft - what many consider to be the quintessential (classic, recognizable) B&S sound - and includes the following releases:

1996 LP Tigermilk
1997 LP If You're Feeling Sinister
1997 EP Dog on Wheels
1997 EP Lazy Line Painter Jane
1997 EP 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light
1998 LP The Boy With the Arab Strap
1998 EP This Is Just a Modern Rock Song

Some would argue against including the last two listed releases. This is fine, and on principal, I would agree. Some may argue for including releases subsequent to those listed. This is less fine, and if you feel this way, please explain yourself (for the benefit of humanity).

I ask that you list 15 songs because I don't want anyone taking the easy way out and just listing If You're Feeling Sinister.

RPSHYENA'S TOP 15 EARLY B&S SONGS
(in order of release)

1996 LP Tigermilk
1. The State I Am In
2. My Wandering Days Are Over

1997 LP If You're Feeling Sinister
3. Seeing Other People
4. Me and the Major
5. Like Dylan and the Movies
6. The Fox in the Snow
7. If You're Feeling Sinister
8. Judy and the Dream of Horses

1997 EP Dog on Wheels
9. Belle & Sebastian

1997 EP Lazy Line Painter Jane
10. Photo Jenny

1997 EP 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light
11. A Century of Fakers
12. Beautiful
13. Put the Book Back on the Shelf

1998 LP The Boy With the Arab Strap
14. The Boy With the Arab Strap

1998 EP This Is Just a Modern Rock Song
15. Slow Graffiti

I welcome all criticisms (or personal attacks if deemed necessary) based on my novice judgement!

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