Soundcheck Sunday: Kris Delmhorst

“Birds of Belfast”:

Rose Cousins and Juliet Turner covered this a year or so ago; you can find their version at the very bottom of this page. I’m undecided as to which one I like better.

ALSO: Rose is coming back to Victoria (and western Canada) in September, touring with Jann Arden. (FUCK YEAH!) Go buy tickets, ok? It’s going to be a funny fricking show.

Soundcheck Sunday: Wild Strawberries

“Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead”:

Now, if we look realistically at the nature of human life, we see that it is fleeting and unpredictable, illusive almost. Birth, life and death pass by in the twinkling of an eye. Thus we never hear of the human body lasting for ten thousand years.

And who today can keep the body young and healthy for even one hundred years? Yes, how quickly our lives slip away. Whether I am the first or someone else, whether today or tomorrow, our lives on earth do indeed one day come to an end. Life seems to vanish unseen like ground water, or to evaporate like the morning dew on the summer lawn.

Thus our bodies may be radiant with health in the morning, but by evening they may be white ashes. If the right causes and conditions prevail, our two eyes are closed forever, our breathing ceases and our bodies lose the glow of life. Our relatives in great numbers and with great wealth can assemble, but they are powerless to change our situation. Even the rites and rituals of grief and mourning change nothing. All we can do is prepare the body for cremation; all that is left is white ashes.

In view of these facts, does it not make sense to focus on the things we can change? We cannot control the passing away of both young and old alike, but each of us can take refuge in the Buddha of Infinite Life who promises to embrace, without exception, all beings who but recite his Holy Name – Namo Amida Buddha. This you can do here and now, freeing yourself of any worries concerning your future life.
–Rennyo Shonin, 1414-1499

Soundcheck Sunday: Terre Thaemlitz

I’d really like it if you went over here and listened to this track (not embeddable, not available on YouTube or anywhere else that I’ve been able to uncover). It’s a piano version of Paul Gardiner’s “Stormtrooper in Drag,” which often gets reclassified as a Gary Numan song because of who was doing the vocals:

“Stormtrooper” has always been one of my favorite Numan tracks. When I discovered Terre Thaemlitz had done a piano cover of it, my first thought was “Whozzat?” and then “What the hell?” I still don’t think I understand who Terre Thaemlitz is and what her body of work represents — I didn’t pay enough attention to those kinds of classes in university — but holy crap is that piano ever hypnotic, and what an interesting and unique take on electronica!

PS: Hi! Long time no write!

Soundcheck Sunday: Ruth Moody

RuthMoody

I knew I was in trouble the moment the music started. It drove a spike deep into my heart that pinned me to my seat, in a way that made me think mostly about pulling over so I didn’t have to pay attention to the traffic or not crashing into something. So that’s what I did, and turned up the volume and closed my eyes, and in that moment I knew I had found a new musical obsession. At six thirty in the morning after a night shift, sitting on the side of the road, engine running, I didn’t even wait for Margaret Gallagher (still sitting in for Sheryl MacKay on CBC’s North by Northwest, not my favorite CBC morning program) to tell me who it was: I Shazam’ed it, and realized immediately that I wouldn’t be going to bed for a while.

I’ve been trying to explain exactly what it was that made me stay up an hour after my bedtime to listen to an album on the strength of a single track, and I can’t. What I can do is say that I’ve decided I love “These Wilder Things” so much it almost hurts. No, check that: it does hurt. It’s this wonderous, amazing folky blend of sorrow and joy and love and loss and fear and it’s all driven by That Voice. Ruth Moody’s. Who is apparently part of the Wailin’ Jennys, a band I’m going to have to take more seriously from now on if That Voice is part of it, and hooray for discovering new music! But I stayed up way past my bedtime between nights to listen to the whole thing from start to finish, and it’s like this horrible drug that makes me want more more more. I want to wrap myself up with this album in a blanket and hug it as I go to sleep. That’s how much I love this album. Remember that embarassing mash note I wrote to Edie Carey a couple years back? Yeah, like that, but more.

And here’s why: The title track is this awesome force to be reckoned with, a mediation on doubt, hope, and the future. I played it again in the car driving to work the next night, and I played it loud, and you just want to soak in Ruth Moody’s lyrics and That Voice. My goodness. It’s like Rose Cousins on steroids (and seriously, Rose is a force to be reckoned with). Ruth Moody is better. I didn’t think it was possible, and I’m not kidding about this — if you haven’t listened to the track I included above, do it now so you can understand what I’m talking about. The last time I got this obsessed with a voice, it was Hayley Williams’, and I don’t even like Paramore. Anyway, if this isn’t enough to convince you, maybe you’ll listen to Mark Knopfler (who is on this album, no fooling). “She is on the very top level of singers and songwriters out there and I can’t take her off my jukebox.” She should be on your jukebox too, and never ever come off it.

OK, one more story. I was going to do a Soundcheck this week on Neko Case’s new album (“The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You” — vying for the most complicated album title I’ve run into since Marnie Stern’s “This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That” but now I’m just naming albums with long names). You’ve been around a bit, you’ve heard her previous work, you know how good Neko Case is. “These Wilder Things” is better than Neko Case’s new album. I love it to bits.

Bonus Ruth Moody tracks after the cut:

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Making Sparks

About five years ago, I bought an album called “If You Were For Me” by Rose Cousins, on the basis of her performance on a CBC Radio 1 show I half-listened to while recovering from a night shift. It didn’t immediately gel with me — though I did love the title track right off the bat — but over the space of the next six months I realized I was listening to it more and more, and caught myself humming bits and pieces of it to myself. When we got married, I had a conversation with the guy we’d hired to do our music, in which he asked what kind of stuff we liked, and it was very difficult for me to not blurt out “Rose Cousins.”

“If You Were For Me” has since become one of my very favorite albums, right up there with Edie Carey’s “Another Kind of Fire,” Gaslight Anthem’s “The ’59 Sound,” and, of course, Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.” I wrote a lengthy mash note to “Another Kind of Fire” back in 2008, where I talked a bit about Rose and the timelessness of her music. Re-reading it today, I’m not sure I did it justice.

This is all preamble to the real reason I’m writing this post: Rose Cousins has a new album out. And it is deeply, deeply good. If you’ve liked her previous stuff, you’ll like this new record a lot more. Listening through it the first time, this morning, I realized that it was pretty much exactly what I had been hoping for out of a new Rose Cousins album: you can clearly see how her work has evolved over the years, and how it has become deeper, more textured, more serious. Which isn’t to denigrate either “If You Were For Me” or “The Send Off” — they’re both excellent albums in their own right. But “We Have Made A Spark” is better. Much, much better.

Thematically, this is a dark album; there are recurrent images of loneliness, isolation, and unhappy relationships. Several tracks (“Go First,” “This Light,” “One Way,” “The Shell”) make for outstanding Sad Bastard music, but it isn’t just the same kind of complaint over and over again. Much like Sarah Harmer’s “Basement Apartment” captured a very specific kind of angst about mid-to-late-20s existence, Rose’s lyrics on some of these tracks are about a particular place and time in one’s life, the sort of desperation and sorrow that comes with a failing relationship, the desire to escape for something better and yet lacking the strength to do so:

I want you to go first
It’s only getting worse
Either way it’s gonna hurt
But I want you to go first
I need you to leave There’s no room to breathe
I need you to leave
I could hold you all night
And it wouldn’t make it right
I have held you all day
It doesn’t go away
And it’s when I hold you close
That’s when it hurts the most

The lyrics capture something meaningful, but the richness of the music (there’s a string quintet that plays through here) is something else entirely. This album was recorded and produced by a group of musicians in Boston, and the competence on display here is shocking. Without drawing too many comparisons to Sarah Harmer here, I was reminded of how “Oh Little Fire” was almost a virtuoso display of a group of musicians who were very good at what they do and enjoy their work immensely — It’s the same sort of thing here. Rose has very clearly found a great bunch of collaborators. Go through the list of people who worked on the album, and names start to pop out: Edie Carey’s here; so is Charlie Rose, Rose Polenzani, and Jennifer Kimball. The collaboration is impressive, but to my mind one of the strongest tracks, “This Light,” is just Rose Cousins and a piano, a format that allows her talent to shine. (I confess that when I heard about the concept behind this album, I was a bit paranoid that the essential “Rose-ness” would be diluted, but while there are a good number of people involved in making this record, it is unquestionably Rose Cousins. Paranoia unfounded.)

There are also a few bonuses: a very nifty cover of Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind,” and two do-overs of tracks from “The Send Off”: “All The Time It Takes to Wait” and “White Daisies.” I’m not a big fan of the latter, but the former is done much more in the style that she has apparently been performing the song live — see this version with Royal Wood as an example — and it is so much better than the original. I admit that the live version has ruined other album versions of that song more or less forever, so it’s nice that “We Have Made A Spark” has something close.

It’s a great album. Go run out and buy a copy, ok?