The Pure Expression of the Cocteau Twins

There is nothing harder in pop songwriting than coming up with a great lyric.  It’s true, lyrics aren’t everything.  Great singers paired with the right melody can allow one to overlook an average lyric.  But nothing lasts longer in my stereo than a song with lyrics that are complex enough to allow the song to be reinterpreted over time.  I don’t necessarily mean complex like Dylan, although he obviously has written an unbelievable amount of great lyrics.  Something like Stand By Me is quite simple, but has a certain Biblical depth to it that seems bottomless.

But sometimes it is great to get away from lyrics and into pop songs that sound like pure expression.  No one does this better than the Cocteau Twins.  Not only is Robin Guthrie an exceptional guitar player, whose echoey sound can be seen as a precursor to many 90’s acts like My Bloody Valentine, but singer Elizabeth Fraser has one of the most expressive voices of all time.  The songs are drenched in reverb and delay, making it hard to tell at times if she is using words at all or singing in her own made up language.  (I think she does both, but which she is doing is often hard to tell.)  I’ve written about them before, but diving back into their music has made me think that they don’t get the amount of attention they deserve.  Although they share certain sonic characteristics with their peers, they are definitely unique.

There really isn’t better music to dream to, whether that is at night while falling asleep or on a long walk while daydreaming.  It’s like stepping into a strange sonic fairytale or a beautiful renaissance tapestry made out of sound.  Whether it is a clear and starry night or a rainy day trapped indoors, the music seems to fit.  Yet all of this is almost pointless.  It’s pure emotion captured in sound, and really defies easy description due to this.

All of their music is not the same.  They did start out very early on almost like a goth band before quickly finding their feet.  There were some later records that were less impressionistic.  But for the most part they were who they were.

Strangely enough singer Elizabeth Fraser has only released a couple songs since the demise of the band.  It’s almost like she was channeling the spirit and then woke up one day and realized her time had passed.  As a starting point I really love their collection Stars and Topsoil which covers their 1982-1990 period.  Many of their albums are worth owning, but fans debate as to which ones.  (Though Treasure seems to be loved by almost all.)  As far as getting your feet wet I think this not only demonstrates what made them unique, but is also highly accessible.

My New Band, The Savage Poor, at the Saxon Pub Tomorrow Night

Savage Poor Saxon

My new band The Savage Poor will be playing the Saxon Pub tomorrow night, June 5th, in Austin, Texas at 10pm.  The band consists of myself, my brother Ben Brown, drummer Alex Moralez, and bassist Roger Wuthrich.  This is without question a rock n roll band, but like the Clash rock n roll is more the attitude in which we approach a stylistically diverse set of songs.

Sunday night is a tough sell, but feeling good on Monday morning is overrated.  Join us and take joy in the fact that you will be able to freak out your coworkers Monday morning when you look like you have been to space and back.

We will not “just shut up and sing”.  We will make you think and question all while shaking your hips.  So many forget, but rock n roll is meant to be a subversive cultural force.  It just happens it is one that you can party, celebrate, and sweat during as you have your mind expanded.

Listen to our latest single and B-side here to get two of the many shades of our color palette:

Everyday American Thoughts – New Single Release

Lou Reed’s ‘New Sensations’

An album that never ceases to raise my spirits is Lou Reed’s New Sensations.  Reed faired much better than most 60’s artists in the 80’s. The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, Live in Italy, and New York are all extremely well regarded records.  Only Mistrial falls flat due to extremely dated production.  I personally think New Sensations belongs with his other gems from the decade, but it’s a different kind of work than the others.  While the other records are stripped down fairs, highlighting a four piece rock band with limited overdubs, New Sensations utilizes pop production, some of it of its time.  However, instead of marring the record, the more commercial production only seems to play a perfect foil for Lou’s literary and often darkly funny lyrics here.  Sometimes they heighten the absurdity that Reed is commenting on, and sometimes they simply help bring the melodies of Reed’s lyrics to life.  On the song Turn to Me, Reed sings:

When your teeth are ground down to the bone
and there’s nothing between your legs
And some friend died of something
that you can’t pronounce, ah
Remember, I’m the one who loves you
hey baby, you can always give me a call
Turn to me, turn to me
Turn to me

The over the top gospel backing vocals make that song seems as if it is being delivered by a late night TV preacher, preying on the desperation and insecurities of those all too alone at night.  Reed never lets the song lose its rock n roll power, but the extra element helps to create a theater of the mind.

………………………………….

One of my favorite songs on the album is the song Doin’ the Things That We Want To.  In it Reed pays tribute to other artists, specifically Martin Scorsese and Sam Shepard, that try to infuse their work with deep meaning.  Reed created music that had literary ambition, that was cinematic in scope.  He was aiming for the moon when so many other songwriters just aim for spring break.  If only more would try to follow in his footsteps, perhaps our culture wouldn’t feel so empty…

There’s not much you hear on the radio today
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
But you could still see a movie or a play
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
Here’s to Travis Bickle and here’s Johnny Boy
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
Growing up in the mean streets of New York
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
I wrote this song ’cause I’d like to shake your hand
(Doin’ the things that we want to)
In a way you guys are the best friends I ever had
(Doin’ the things that we want to)

Anohni “Drone Bomb Me”

The new album Helplessness by Anohni, formerly Antony of Antony and the Johnsons, has caught my attention.  It is an album of glistening, beautiful, disturbing protest songs.  I don’t know the album enough to give it a proper review.  However, I have heard the song Drone Bomb Me several times.  (The video starring Naomi Campbell is worth tracking down.)  The narrator of the song is a girl from Afghanistan whose family has been killed by a drone, and who now begs for a drone to grant her a similar fate.  I have a super high threshold for artistic things that a lot of people won’t go near.  This song even made me uncomfortable for a brief moment.  But that is exactly why it’s a brilliant piece of political music, even if I haven’t decided what to make of it in a larger sense.  In an era of repetition and cliche, there is something new and interesting going on here.

Drone Bomb Me

Drone Bomb Me by the singer Anohni.  I like the political by way of the club.  For some reason it is more uncomfortable dressed up in these clothes.  It’s more emotionally striking.

I like art that makes me feel uncomfortable.  It’s rare that it I find anything that does, but when I do, I run towards it.  If my first impulse is to turn it off or turn it down, I try to do the opposite.  I don’t do this because I am trying to prove some point.  I may end up disliking whatever it is.  But I realize that if I feel that strongly about something, it is hitting me on a very deep emotional level, and that is rare and worth investigating.

The Meaning Behind The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’

Today I was reading Aidan Levy’s excellent Lou Reed biography, Dirty Blvd.  I’ve been listening to The Velvet Underground since I was 13 or 14.  I always felt the first song on their debut, Sunday Morning, to be a pleasant, but slight, addition to their catalog.  But it is easy to overlook things if you aren’t paying attention.  In the book Levy talks about how the song is actually dealing with the issue of paranoia.  The song features the lyrics, “Watch out, the world’s behind you.”  I noticed, as I’m sure many others have, that the song adds reverb to the vocal part of the way through the song, an effect that makes a sound seem farther away, mirroring the sense of uncanny by the narrator.  Levy states that this song was chosen as the first song as a way of warning listeners at the time about the sonic insanity that was to come.

‘The One and Only’ – Kirsty MacColl

There is probably no artist that brings me near tears more easily than the late great Kirsty MacColl.  She has filled my life with a great amount of joy.  I’ll sometimes listen to her records while walking around Lady Bird Lake in Austin.  It might be months without a spin, but there I am again:  With an ear to ear smile, or trying to hold back tears, depending on what emotion is pouring out of her in any particular song.

I’ve written about her before, but whenever I listen to her I can’t help but think, “God, how do more people not know?”

One of my favorite songs of hers is the last song on her album Electric Landlady, called The One and Only.  The last few lines of the song destroy me every time:

Some lives read like a postcard
And some lives read like a book
I’ll be happy if mine
Doesn’t read like a joke on an old Christmas cracker

(Here is what a Christmas cracker is if you are unaware.)

Like Moonriver or Somewhere Over the Rainbow, this is one of those happy/sad songs, that can be mined for more or less of either emotion, without ever completely shaking off the other feeling.  Even if that place over the rainbow doesn’t exist, even if it is a dream that never comes true, the dream still allows us to temporarily transcend our circumstances.  You can sing a song like that and communicate the sadness of the reality, or the beauty of the dream, you can choose one emotion over the other, but that other emotion is still there, giving the song a complexity.

The One and Only can be viewed as being defiant in the face of heartbreak, of one refusing to give in, of transcending.  Or it can be listened to as being sung by someone that is trying to put the best face on the sadly realized reality of lowered expectations.  The song can be one or the other at different times, or it can even be both at the same time.  The song ends on a hope, that just as easily could be posed as a question.

I once read author Nick Hornby say something along the lines of how pop songs are puzzle, that they hold are interest until we can solve them.  The thing that is so beautiful about a song like The One and Only is that there is an interpretive element to it.  It can’t ever be solved.  Therefore, it will always be out there if needed, like Kirsty, ready to move us again.

 

The Molly Maguires – Free Download

MOLLY MAGUIRES, Sean Connery, 1970, mustache
MOLLY MAGUIRES, Sean Connery, 1970
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Make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

Down the mines no sunlight shines
Those pits they’re black as hell
In modest style they do their time
It’s Paddy’s prison cell
And they curse the day they’ve travelled far
Then drown their tears with a jar

So make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

Backs will break and muscles ache
Down there there’s no time to dream
Of fields and farms, of womans arms
Just dig that bloody seam
Though they drain their bodies underground
Who’ll dare to push them around

So make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

So make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

An old Irish folk song, recorded at 4am.  I love this song both as a song and for its topic.  My favorite version is Luke Kelly singing it with the Dubliners.  There is no point in even trying to match there version, which casts it as a celebratory drinking song, so I did something different with it.  I know where not to tread!

As the media drifts further on into the realm of the ridiculous, as income inequality builds, remember that people actually fought for the rights working people take for granted every day.  Though there is some dispute as to the exact story of the Molly Maguires, their story is not near the only one.

The photo above is Sean Connery and it is from the 1970  The Molly Maguires.  It’s a film I saw as a kid.

Ramones, Remixes, and the Road

This last weekend I spent 20 hours in a van?  Something like that.  Kevin told us if we had gone straight, instead of in a triangular route, we could have driven to California.  The whole time I was in the van I was basically living in the world of the Ramones, in my opinion the greatest American Rock N Roll band.  Up above is one of my favorite clips of them.

While I was traveling I was also listening to our our new single release to check out the mixes. (I’m releasing a series of home recorded singles between now and when a new studio release comes out at the end of the year.)

Everyday American Thoughts – New Single Release

I realized that I dropped the ball on mixing the B-side, Gone Fishing.  Don’t attempt to mix something at 1am the day before hitting the road at 7:30am!  Anyway, I fixed it and replaced it.  If you haven’t heard it take a listen.  If you downloaded the first version, I’m telling you, this version is better.

Everyday American Thoughts – New Single Release

These songs are political songs that aren’t expressly political.  It’s my attempt to capture the mood, the insanity, the sadness, and the anger of this current political cycle.  This is not what this election is about, but how a lot of it feels.  Well, too much of it anyway.  As inequality rises, the environment breaks down without barely a mention, the meaningless media are only handing out tickets to the circus.  One party abdicates all attempts at responsible governing.  People laugh at the lines of a dangerous fool.   Despite everything, there are still moments of hope.  Everyday American Thoughts is a song for when that hope seems distant, when you need to laugh the laugh of the insane, rather than cry.  It’s a rock n roll whirlwind, rising above the chaos, carrying it skyward.  Gone Fishing, the B-side, is the opposite side of that coin.  It’s spooky despair, looking behind the curtain, wondering how we got here.

Everyday American Thoughts is also the first time that I got our new band lineup all on a track, even if the track isn’t an exact replication of our live sound, as I did a lot of the overdubs.  I’m extremely excited to bring this lineup out into the live arena.  Very soon.

A-side: Everyday American Thoughts

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Lead Guitar – Ben Brown
Drums – Alex Moralez
Bass – Roger Wuthrich
Guitars, Vocals – Jeff Brown

B-side:  Gone Fishing

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Drums – Alex Moralez
Guitars, bass, vocals, sounds – Jeff Brown

Click the download button to download.  If you have any trouble, once the link opens, left click on the file. 

This is the second release in a series of singles.  Some info from the first release:

My brother and I are forming a new band.  We just recorded a new album in December with Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith of Marah producing, some of our favorite musicians in the world.  That album will be out late this year.  Everything is so new we don’t even have a name for our project yet.  While we get all of the pieces in place I’m going to start releasing songs through here that I have been recording at home.  Doing this will allow me to release songs that otherwise would get lost in the shuffle.  These are often older songs that didn’t make the new record, or new songs that I don’t want to wait years to release.  I’m extremely excited for the year ahead.  Stay tuned.