Monday, January 26, 2009

January Music

A new Fosco Lives! feature: Music Mondays.

You may recall that, in preparing his half-baked end-of-the-year recommendations, Fosco discovered that most of the songs he really liked in 2008 were actually released in 2007. Well, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, because Fosco has spent these first few weeks of 2009 grooving to some great music from 2008.

At one point recently, Fosco complained that he sometimes feels adrift in the world of contemporary music, with no reliable guide to what new music he might enjoy. Basically, Fosco was bemoaning the demise of radio as a source of music that appeals to him. But then, something miraculous happened: Fosco's friends came through for him! Ted Gideonse announced his Golden Teddy Awards for Music which introduced Fosco to TV on the Radio and Fleet Foxes. And then the always reliable Todd chimed in to recommend The Gaslight Anthem and Cut Copy.

But then things got even better, thanks to... The New Yorker?

I guess Fosco shouldn't be too surprised. I mean, after all, he does owe much of his initial interest in Radiohead to an Alex Ross piece from 1997 (right after the release of their masterpiece, OK Computer.) And he learned about the importance of Wilco from an excellent review of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

But ever since the arrival of full-time pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones (who is not, as Fosco believed for over a year, a woman), music criticism in the The New Yorker hasn't been that helpful to Fosco (except for one great piece that introduced Fosco to Slint). The problem is probably the extraordinary catholicity of Frere-Jones's taste: he is interested in everything in pop music. Fosco not so much. Fosco may be sheltered or narrow-minded, but he just can't that excited over a review of Little Lil Wayne's newest mix tape.

And then, just days into 2009, things got better. The New Yorker ran Kelefa Sanneh's profile of Will Oldham, who (as of late) records and performs under the name of Bonnie "Prince" Billy. The profile is glowing and it made Fosco curious about this obscure musician who is quietly extending the authentic tradition of American country music. Also, any musician who uses quotation marks in their name is totally cool in Fosco's book.

Well, it turns out that his music is really amazing. Powerful lyrics and simple melodies. The only problem with Will Oldham's oeuvre is that it is huge and much of it is recorded on odd labels and under many different names. However, if you start with the easy-to-find iTunes stuff (I'm still there), you'll be just fine. This is a song called "Easy Does It" from the most recent Bonnie "Prince" Billy album, Lie Down in the Light. I have no idea what the video accompaniment is.

Try to get a hold of his songs "New Partner" or "I See A Darkness."
Be forewarned: BPB can get much darker than the rollicking tune you just heard.

The next week, in the following New Yorker issue, Sasha Frere-Jones wrote a review of his favorite album of 2008: Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago. Apparently, the entire album was recorded by one man alone in a cabin in the woods near Eau Claire, Wisconsin (much multi-tracking is involved, which is one of the things that make the songs so great). The lyrics are mostly (Frere-Jones's phrase) "word salad." And the whole thing is absolutely gorgeous. Fosco has listened to it almost nonstop since last week. This is Fosco's absolute favorite song from the album, "The Wolves (Act I and II)". The auto-tune in the second half of the song is absolutely exquisite. Seriously.

Frere-Jones spends a paragraph of his review talking about the beauty of the sentence fragment "what might have been lost" from this song. The "might" is what makes it so powerful. As he notes:

Those words are what get me—joined with melody, they seem like a summary of the entire album, especially with that highly conditional “might.” Trying to keep track of everything lost? Or celebrating what wasn’t? When the band was done, and the crowd had filed out, I was still in my seat.
There is a new Bon Iver EP making the rounds on the intraweb and Fosco can recommend it. Other highlights of For Emma include "Flume" and especially "Re: Stacks" (Fosco's second favorite song on the album). This is exactly what music is supposed to sound like in January.

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