Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists determined by our favorite artists. This week: Geographic storyteller Sufjan Stevens and psych-twang-rockers Young People.
Sufjan Stevens +
During the past few years, Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens has released a number of fine albums for the Asthmatic Kitty label. But none of them came close to the cohesive and heart-breaking brilliance of his latest album, Greetings From Michigan, a loosely threaded concept album on which each song is named and/or themed after a city in Michigan. Stevens' voice is gently reminiscent of Nick Drake, but his lush and elaborate production is more similar to that of the Beach Boys or the Flaming Lips. More impressive still, Stevens plays over twenty different instruments, ranging from English horn to oboe to sleigh bells to electric guitar. Never one to dwell for too long on the same subject, Stevens recently took a moment to share with us a variety of his favorite things.
Sufjan Stevens' TOP TEN Everything:
1. Favorite story collection: Flannery O'Connor's The Complete Stories Her stories are unflinching gothic tales distilled to the wild particulars of the American South, with the supernatural invocation of holiness in the meanest spots. What does that mean? I have no idea.
2. Favorite chamber piece: Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians I've decided that "minimalism" is just not accurate for the kind of music that evokes infinite significance in a single chord played over and over. For the mallet players, I've heard this piece is hard on the wrist.
3. Favorite Restaurant: Zen Palate (34 Union Square East, New York, NY 10003) This is the McDonald's of vegetarian cuisine. Fast, affordable, flavorful, and good for you. Eggplant, peppers, string beans, sweet potato fries, carrots and cashews. Tomatoes marinated in light vinaigrette, imitation meats in curry sauces, sunflower seeds, kale and brown rice, the fragrant noodle soups in bowls big enough to fit on your head. Of course, it's not the finest dining. In fact, it's middle class. But this is why it's satisfying: you walk away feeling fit, full, and financially ok.
4. Favorite Sports Figure: Lance Armstrong His heart is said to be one-third larger than the average man's. Is this a biological fact, or poetry? I don't care. I like him either way.
5. Favorite Novel: Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov This is the book you take to your deathbed.
6. Favorite Tool: The Leatherman This thing will KO a Swiss army knife in 12 seconds. The one I have is equipped with pliers and a fork, screwdriver, scissors, a bottle opener, and whatever else I might need if stranded in the Bronx or the Berkshire Mountains.
7. Favorite Album: Nike Drake's Pink Moon (Rykodisc) Eleven songs in less than half an hour, with just one guitar (a few piano notes on the title track): this album has timeless, unpretentious guitar playing, satisfying chords, prophetic lyrics, and an emotional environment that stays with you for years. Nick Drake's singing has a closeness that is rarely caught on tape. I don't believe in sweetness. There is nothing sentimental or sweet. You get the feeling that these songs are necessary.
8. Favorite Movie: Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue Ten independent films (each an hour long) shot in the sobering landscape of Warsaw Poland, rendering bold ethical narratives with complex character sketches. The characters themselves (when faced with moral dilemmas) manifest extraordinary psychological revelation. Somehow this looks terrifying on film. The variation of tone (from piece to piece) is remarkable, from tragicomedy, to horror, to farce, to romance. These are movies to own, to pass down to your children.
9. Favorite live band: The Ex The only (woman) drummer (I know of) who can hammer through complicated, multilingual syncopation on a mammoth kit and sing folk songs punctuated with a cowbell, the whole time holding together her band: these gangly guitarists and bass players scissoring through a mathematical mess of feedback. She keeps everyone in line.
10. Favorite Opera: Henry Purcell's Dido & Aeneas The shallow libretto was written for children, but the music is a bi-polar masterpiece of moody basso continuum and contrapuntal punches. I have a 1986 recording in period instruments where the witch's dance is punctuated with bow scratches on the viols (to evoke a thunderstorm). This seems terribly ahead of its time. Dido's lament has some of the darkest tonal gestures in all of 17th century opera. It will make you weep for hours.
Brooklyn ensemble Young People first made their mark on last year's self-titled debut (5RC), a collection of songs previously released as a cd-r and a few new tunes. Singer Katie Eastburn's hauntingly beautiful and country-tinged vocals lent an exciting uniqueness to offbeat, eccentric folk-rock tunes. It was one of the most exciting debut albums of 2002, as well as one of the best all around recordings. Their new album, War Prayers was recently released by a new label, Dim Mak, and is now out in stores. Young People are beginning a nationwide tour, the dates for which are available here.
1. X - Wild gift This record doesn't have Ray Manzarek's organ interjections like their 1st LP Los Angeles did, though he did produce...i find the production to be a little more 'rustic' this time, if that makes sense. 'some other time' is one of my favorite songs they did. 'white girl' is on there, too. When I listen to this, I think, 'wow, there were a lot of good records that came out in 1981'. It makes me proud to be a sometime Angeleno, too.
2. Rio Bravo, directed by Howard Hawks, 1959 I think this movie is REALLY fucking good. Some people have a problem with John Wayne, but he made a lot of fine films, and with him here are Dean Martin (who gives an unexpectedly touching performance as the alcoholic deputy), Walter Brennan, Angie Dickinson, Ward Bond, and Ricky Nelson. The character interactions are very human and warm in this movie, whereas in another Hawks movie, To Have and Have Not (with Bogart and Bacall), there's a lot more of the stylized 'snappy dialogue' going on, so it feels a bit more removed. despite a lot of dialogue, the films don't just feel like people standing around talking, though. Also, the lighting is not as unrealistic here as in some westerns, and inappropriate lighting to me can be annoying as fuck (see 'fail safe'), making some scenes a lot less believable. I still have not seen this movie from start to finish, only in pieces to the equivalent of three times through or so. This problem is plaguing me.
3. The Internet Movie Database I spend hours on this thing looking up all sorts of shit, like what movies Bert Glennon photographed and what Phoebe Cates has been up to the last 10 or so years, then it's 5 in the morning all of a sudden.
1. Teenage Girls I've been hanging out with a group of girls aged 14-17 in Manhattan this summer. All five boroughs are represented in this group, and they are loud and sweet and beautiful and teaching me incredible dance moves, and they pump up my attitude such that I make Jeff mad with this 'tude. I'm a new resident of New York, so this is an awesome way to get acculturated. Plus Im helping them make a play with lots of dance and song so it's all this fun for art and cheering crowds.
2. Roberta Flack. No explanation necessary, but Ive been listening to First Take, Quiet Fire, and Chapter Two nonstop, between Roy Orbison and Charles Mingus' New Tijuana Moods.
3. Roy Orbison I saw a concert made for filming on PBS the other day with The Boss, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, KD Lang, Bonnie Raitt and all kinds of bigwigs making up his band; old dudes looking like they played with the real Elvis. But who cares about all of them when Roy is singing? please!
1. David Bowie - Hunky Dory I listened to this record about 700 times in a row, albeit while drinking excessive amounts of caffeine, and became entirely obsessed, just more and more fascinated by what could have made Mr. Bowie take the leap of faith that he took both musically and image-wise to create such an otherworldly thing. God damn. It doesn't seem that out to lunch when you first hear it, but now whenever people are like "Hedwig and the Angry Inch duuuuude that's so weird and per-FOR-mative!" I think they really have not experienced this or Ziggy.
2. Television - "Venus (de Milo)" (from Marquis Moon) When you stopped picking up your guitar and wasting an entire day trying to figure out the entire song from start to finish, wasn't that a sad day? I vacillate between wondering whether it is a lack of crafty and good guitar rock songs existing or my lack of inspiration or love for the instrument anymore. Really it's probably a combination of the two. And regardless, when i started listening to this song the other day I sat down and blew off two different meetings and three meals and sleep in order to get my head around it. I love it so much, and I also love how impromptu and laissez-faire everything sounds.
3. Boredoms - Vision Creation Newsun Another leap of faith in musical history that probably has zero to do with faith and everything to do with insanity and "the groove." Why do bands forget about the pulse? Or the groove? Or rhythm?? Is it UNCOOL? I remember when everyone was hating on jam bands and Jane's Addiction and whatnot and there was a decided "anti-groove" movement going where it just seemed less important but really overall is there anything more than that (besides melody)? Boredoms always impress me no matter what they do, but this album is something I would spin at my own personal rave that I throw in the afterlife.
4. The Smiths - Strangeways Here We Come, and in general all of their recorded output, maybe with the exception of Meat is Murder This band had all the subtlety of a drag queen on Quaaludes reciting the Norton Anthology. Yet, I guess that meant subtlety was on their side. At any rate, I grew up playing along with Johnny Marr guitar lines by ear and listening to Morrissey's storytelling and still love it all so dearly.
By Dusted Magazine