Wilco’s The Whole Love Revisited

Check out what got posted to the Wilco website today:

http://wilcoworld.net/#!/the-whole-love-now-available-on-piano-roll/

This is very exciting news!  I am totally going to pick up a player-piano version of The Whole Love to go with my vinyl box of the album.  My player-piano is sadly deficient when it comes to Wilco records.  And on coveted 30-gram onion paper, too!  That’s just manna from heaven.

But I’ll have to act quickly; I presume the player-piano version will only be available on April 1st 🙂

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The Boys Are Back In Town

Okay, maybe they’re not “boys” per se.  How about ganders (and geese)?

Heritage Hills Geese

After a relatively short and mild winter here in the hinterland, the migratory birds are starting to return.  These Canada geese have parked themselves on the edge of the local wetlands, squonking away like modal jazz saxophonists.  One presumes they are the reconnaissance skein of their flock, sent ahead to scope out the situation for the legions to follow.  Or perhaps they were just really keen to travel.

Geese are one of those creatures that mate for life, travelling and nesting in pairs.  That’s something noble to admire about our fine-feathered friends the next time you’re cursing them for chasing you off a golf course or messing up your lawn.

There was an item on 60 Minutes this week about people that are afflicted with face-blindness, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  The report also mentioned the reciprocal situation: people that can’t forget a face.  I don’t have perfect facial recall – or face blindness for that matter.  But I’ve often wondered if I have an unusual ability to memorize musical passages.  There are so many songs that seem to get imprinted directly onto my brain, as though I have a multi-track tape recorder lodged between my ears.  I can skip forwards, backwards, isolate various instruments, and pick out specific melodic phrases and beats and lyrics.  It’s also really easy to pick out instruments or voices that are slightly out of tune.  It’s a skill with absolutely no value when it comes to earning a paycheque in my chosen profession, but it thankfully seems to add to my ability to appreciate music.  Hopefully every music fan has some degree of this ability.

On Sunday, the weather was nice so I jumped on the Heel-Toe Express and did a loop around the neighbourhood.  My trusty Nike+ shoes and iPhone app tell me that I hiked 16.35 km in a tick over three hours, which is pretty decent considering the number of slushy sections that required careful navigation in the shade.  The music was on shuffle, and a bunch of great songs came up, but three of them have really stuck with me all week.

I’ve always loved the melody of “All The Right Reasons” by The Jayhawks.  That band has a knack for writing songs that seem so simple, pure, and effortless (but I’ll bet it’s really a lot of hard work).  I was probably thinking subliminally about the geese when my tape-recorder brain picked out this lyric:

Like a tired bird flying high across the ocean
I was outside looking in, you made me live again
From the mountains to the prairies little babies

As far as I know, geese don’t migrate across oceans.  But with a little artistic licence, there is something oddly romantic about the idea of pair-bonded couples settling down in a wide-open field to raise their brood.

A little while later, as I was climbing a hill, “P.S. You Rock My World” by Eels really captured my imagination.  I’ve had those strings and palm-muted guitar sounds swirling through my mottled mind ever since.  Mark Everett, a.k.a. Mr. E, has found a way to turn his personal tragedies into stunningly compelling music.  The lyrics and quietly defiant musical tones of this song seem to implore the listener to put on a brave face and make the best of a bad situation.  “Maybe it’s time to live”, indeed.

Near the end of my stroll, just as my feet were getting sore, “You Were A Kindness” by The National came on.  It’s one of the bonus tracks from the extended version of 2010’s masterpiece High Violet.  The whole song seems to rotate around an axis defined by Matt Berninger’s sombre lead vocal and a beautifully distressed piano motif.  First thing in the morning and last thing at night, as I’m chasing away the ghosts that haunt my soul, I can still feel the resonance of that piano.

You were a kindness when I was a stranger
But I wouldn’t ask for what I didn’t need
Everything’s weird and we’re always in danger
Why would you shatter somebody like me?

Upcoming Music Releases – March 2012

March 2012 has been a pretty quiet month for new releases.  Here are a few notable releases that you can expect to see in the shops soon.

6-March-2012:

UK’s Kaiser Chiefs return with new album Start The Revolution Without Me.  I adored 2008’s Off With Their Heads, with its ridiculous bounty of jaw-dropping tunes.  By contrast, last year’s The Future Is Medieval was completely underwhelming.   For those of us waiting for the Chiefs to bravely return to form, the early reviews of the new album are almost universally negative.  That’s never a good sign.  If this album stiffs, it could be the end of the band.  (Post-Script:  it turns out that this ‘new’ album is really just a rehashed USA version of last year’s UK-edition of The Future Is Medieval with a few tracks swapped out, which makes it even more pointless than I feared).

Kelowna, BC’s Yukon Blonde return with their second full-length LP.  I’ve only heard some brief snippets of Tiger Talk online, but it definitely seems like a change of direction for the band.  The new album amps up the Sloan-y hook-laden pop-rock of their fine debut LP with new, punkier textures.  What it lacks in immediacy, it more than makes up for in energy.

13-March-2012:

The Decemberists are about to embark on an indefinite hiatus.  The band is not breaking up, but rumour has it that they could be taking a five-year break from recording and touring.  To help tide us over, The Decemberists are releasing a double-CD (or triple-vinyl) live album called We All Raise Our Voices To The Air.  It was assembled from the best performances on their well-received 2011 concert tour.

20-March-2012:

The Shins are back with new album Port of Morrow.  As previously discussed on this blog and others, it should be interesting to hear what kind of sound the newly-reconstituted Shins are going for.  Just a head’s up – I inquired about the vinyl version of Port of Morrow at my local record shop yesterday.  While the shop has some CD copies in the back and ready to sell, it sounds like there have been some distribution issues with the vinyl version and it might not be on the shelves until the end of March.

Spiritualized also return with a new album called Sweet Heart Sweet Light (technically released on 19-March-2012, since Monday is the traditional UK new release date).

27-March-2012:

The Mars Volta are back with new album Noctourniquet.  After staking out their territory with a succession of dense, frantic, hyper-hyphenated (progressive-jazz-psychedelic-thrash-metal-alt-rock) records, they broke their own mould with 2009’s relatively restrained Octahedron.  Time will tell if the new sonics explored on that record have set the stage for this new one.

Future Note:

Record Store Days is coming up on Saturday, April 21st.  Expect to see a rush of special releases in time for RSD 2012.  With summer just around the corner and Coachella’s kickoff to the festival season, April should be a fun month for new records.

Go Places

And a heart will always stay one day too long
Always hoping for the hot flashes to come
For the glue to dry on our new creation
Come with me, go places

The New Pornographers, “Go Places”, from the 2007 album Challengers.

Your intrepid blogger just returned from a week-long training course in Augusta, Georgia. A significant part of my day job involves the design of tailings and hydrotransport piping systems. In layman’s terms, I write the specifications for systems that pump rocks and sand around. It’s all part of the convoluted web of processes that eventually produce the hydrocarbon feedstocks that fuel your car, shingle your home, and encapsulate your iPod. With a little ingenuity you can turn dirt into a Dyson, soil into a Subaru.

Over the course of the week, I met a variety of cool people from all over the world. Most of them had some sort of engineering background, but they approached slurry transport in ways that were unique to their respective industries. Whether for bitumen production, dredging operations, minerals processing or other technological pursuits, we all came together to hear the experts unravel and demystify the cutting-edge concepts of slurry pump systems. And, yes, we found a bit of time after class to get drunk & tell stories, too.

Not to say that the week was without musical interludes, but they were tougher than usual to come by. Sampling the local FM radio stations can be fun whenever you visit a new town. You never know what sort of local legends you might stumble across, especially in a town that proudly features a James Brown Boulevard. But in Augusta, as in most places, the terrestrial radio waves are completely awful. It didn’t really matter if it was Top 40 or modern rock or classic rock or R&B or ‘90s or ‘80s music – the lowest common denominator reigned supreme. With robots and algorithms programming the corporate airwaves, it’s an endless tide of music guaranteed to neither offend nor entertain. The music was analogous to the United States of Generica flickering past my car windows – Creed, Semisonic, and Ke$ha might as well have been Applebee’s, Best Buy, and Chevron.

My tastefully appointed rental car was adorned with neither satellite radio nor a USB input. The vehicle registration said 2012, but the dashboard stereo was stuck in 2002. After giving up on FM radio, I left it up to my trusty iPod to shuffle us through an eclectic mix of favourites as I cruised the highways and byways.

As I blogged earlier, one of my favourite pastimes is making new associations between travel and music. The pump course wrapped up fairly early on Friday, which left just enough time to make two side-trips before returning to my hinterland home on Saturday night. It was cool to hear Whiskeytown’s “Jacksonville Skyline” come up in the rotation, as though it knew we were just a hop & skip away from north Florida. As I neared the coast, the playlist conjured up Guster’s “On The Ocean” and Death Cab For Cutie’s “Transatlanticism”, which seemed even more appropriate.

Not long after, fate found me moseying down the avenues and riverbanks of old Savannah. It was fun to do some people-watching in the local shops, then I munched on a handful of pralines while container ships navigated their way into port. Even better was hopscotching among the myriad parks and green spaces that dot downtown like so many checkerboard squares. Memorial plaques gave me a crash course on Georgia’s colonial founders and Revolutionary War heroes.

I simply could not visit Georgia without retracing some of the footsteps of my musical idols. On Saturday, I took the scenic route back to Atlanta by diverting to Athens, the birthplace of R.E.M. Good indie record shops are sadly extinct in Augusta and Savannah, but there is at least one shop in Athens that looms large in R.E.M. lore. Wuxtry Records is legendary for being the shop where my guitar hero Peter Buck met and befriended Michael Stipe and Bertis Downs, setting the stage for Georgia’s greatest indie-rock export. I spent the better part of an hour scanning the bins and shelves at Wuxtry for vinyl treasures, walking away with as many as I could cram into my suitcase without getting Canada Customs on my ass. The walls were adorned with a whimsical array of R.E.M., B-52s, Pylon, Widespread Panic and Drive-By Truckers gig posters. I’m told that Wuxtry is still in the same location as the Buck/Stipe era; regardless, the shop was a very cool experience and had that unmistakable High Fidelity vibe in spades. I could totally imagine young Peter and Michael behind the till, chatting about their favourite Patti Smith records.

There wasn’t enough time to look for more of the R.E.M. sights, although I think I briefly spotted the trestle bridge from the back cover of Murmur. I’ve heard that Masters Stipe and Mills still have homes in Athens, but I’m not the sort of person to invade their privacy. Rock stars are people too. When former drummer Bill Berry left the band, he reportedly retired to a farm near town to grow hay and relax. After cruising into town past picturesque farm after farm, I can totally appreciate why.

All things considered, it was a great trip. Both the analytical and artistic sides of my brain got a workout. I even found time for a few literal workouts, donning a t-shirt and shorts for some brisk mid-winter hikes. Temps in the 70s are always nice in March; springtime in Alberta just can’t compare.