Monday, March 14, 2011

Balmorhea and Frank Fairfield at Echoplex - March 6, 2011

I heard some really fine music last week at a few shows after taking five night off. The movement to incorporate classical instruments, particularly strings, into the indie rock ensemble was beautifully illustrated this week by a number of shows I attended.

I had never heard of Balmorhea until they were highlighted in Brand X and I liked the description of their music. This mostly instrumental band from Texas appeared at the Echoplex last Monday, March 7, on a bill with Frank Fairfield, and since it was billed as a partially seated show, I decided to buy a seat and let their music wash over me.

I took a seat near the front as Frank Fairfield ambled on stage to play a set. I've been seeing him for a while now, ever since he was an opening act for Fleet Foxes locally, and on their first national tour in 2008. And I've witnessed the same phenomenon each and every time. He sits down in his unassuming manner, picks up his small guitar, tunes a bit and launches into one of his unearthed, early 20th century compositions and the audience gasps.

No one is ever quite prepared for the authentic sounds that come out of this young man. Though still in his mid twenties he seems to be channeling the heart and soul of musicians from a hundred years ago. He incorporates not only the vocal mannerisms, but many of the small tics and foot stomping, even the sudden bursts of laughter, that usually accompanies such music. And when coupled with his astonishing virtuosity on guitar, violin and banjo, he easily and handily whips the crowd into a near-frenzy, even though most of this audience was seated.

Everyone was caught off-guard, as they always are, by the intensity of his playing and singing. People, myself included, have been quick to label his music as Appalachian or Dust Bowl but, as he reminded us, these instruments are universal. His obvious love of the music he's playing and his desire to entertain and educate comes flooding out over the crowd.

When I Picked up their CD, Constellations, at Amoeba I knew I would like Balmorhea as soon as I heard the echoes of Erik Satie and Ennio Morricone, from his 1970's period (think Bertolucci's 1900 or Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven). As soon as they began you floated away on a cloud of feeling and emotions.

Their music has a bit more punch in a live setting, but still contains the sweeping orchestral sound their string section brings to the mix, creating definitive musical satisfaction. And when four musicians were all pounding away on the giant table xylophone, the repetitious movement came to resemble dance and moved the viewer/listener into a trance state.

Balmorhea's compositions are beautiful and delicate. carefully orchestrated to highlight each instrument, yet always eloquent and well formed. I came away totally in a dream state.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

February Listening Pleasure

week of February 4 - 10, 2011:

1. Lord Huron - Mighty (self release)

2. Lord Huron - Into the Sun (self release)

3. Alpine Decline - Visualizations (self release)

4. The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (Nonesuch Records)

5. Pepper Rabbit - Beauregard (Kanine Records)

6. Tommy Santee Klaws - Rakes (self release)

7. Kenseth Thibideau - Repetition (Temporary Residence)

8. Nightfur - Glass Wall EP (self release)

9. George Glass - George Glass EP (self release)

10. Obi Best - Sentimental Education EP (self release)

Fueled by the February 4 set by Lord Huron at The Echo, of which I only saw two songs (had to catch Pageants up the street), I nonetheless gorged myself on their two EPs, Mighty and Into the Sun all week. These albums have real staying power and a sneaky way of burrowing into your subconscious. Alpine Decline's Visualizations continues to hold me captive with their primordial stew of guitar, bass, drums and dreamy voices coupled with their gift for songwriting that is as elemental as it is intellectually stimulating. Definitely above the average. The Low Anthem album is a quirky thing, but I'm enjoying it. The others are returning regulars.

week of February 11 - 17, 2011:

1. Iron and Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.)

2. Alpine Decline - Visualizations (self release)

3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (Merge Records)

4. Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)

5. Autolux - Transit Transit (TBD Records)

6. Arcade Fire - Funeral (Merge Records)

7. "The Wind and The Lion" - soundtrack, Jerry Goldsmith (Arista Records)

8. Duniven - Duniven (self release)

9. Tommy Santee Klaws - Rakes (self release)

10. Kenseth Thibideau - Repetition (Temporary Residence)

After letting the Iron and Wine album run it's course, I was surprised to see Kiss Each Other Clean had become number one on the Rolling Stone college listening chart. I'm always surprised when somethng I know shows up on this very commercial list. (I mean that in a negative way.) Kind of how I feel about the fucking Grammys, even though they gave album of the year to Arcade Fire, which caused me to want to hear all their albums again. So I guess I have to thank the Grammys after all.

I was sent a copy of the Dunivan album and it landed at number eight. The lead singer reminds me of Joshua of Eastern Conference Champions or Chris of Telegraph Canyon, and I mean that in a good way. I think there's a good variety of songs here and I can listen to it repeatedly.

I suppose I need to mention why the soundtrack to The Wind and The Lion is on the list. Oddly enough, I did not like the film when I saw it when it first came out in 1975, but my brother bought the album and it gradually became one of my favorite albums. The big double CD which contains the complete chronological score along with the original album presentation supplimented by source music came out last year on Intrada, and it was a dream come true. The music became so much a part of me that, even odder, I have now come around to love the movie as well.

week of February 18 - 24, 2011:

1. Choir of Young Believers - This Is For The White In Your Eyes (Ghostly International)

2. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (Merge Records)

3. Duniven - Duniven (self release)

4. AV Club - Whale Talk (Manzan LLC.)

5. The New Pornographers - Twin Cities (Matador Records)

6. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (Merge Records)

7. Count Fleet - Count Fleet EP (self release)

8. Iron and Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.)

9. Alpine Decline - Visualizations (self release)

10. Lord Huron - Mighty EP (self release)

The Choir of Young Believers show I saw at Bardot was so stimulating that I became obsessed all over again with their album and played it over and over. Arcade Fire required more and more of my time, which I was happy to give. The Dunivan CD is quite enjoyable, and the AV Club have played a couple of strong sets at Lot 1 Cafe and then at The Echo, one of which was with Count Fleet. The New Pornographers' Twin Cities is simply one of the best CD's I've ever heard, and regulars Iron and Wine, Alpine Decline and Lord Huron round out the list. By the way, did you see, Lord Huron are scheduled for a date at The Troubadour on May 14.