Listed: Joanna Newsom + Adrian Tomine
Bay Area singer-songwriter-harpist and recent Drag City signee Joanna Newsom was born in the quasi-urban no-man's-land of Nevada City. Although the onstage arrangement of just a woman and a harp may reek of renaissance fair, Newsom pulls it off with the beauty of Vashti Bunyan and the sincerity of Will Oldham (with whom she recently toured). She has self-released two EPs, songs from both of which are available on her website, www.walnutwhales.com, and has a full-length coming early next year from Drag City Records. She was recently voted by the East Bay Express to be the Bay Area's "most crushworthy female," her male counterpart being the almighty Barry Zito. Between Will Oldham and Barry Zito, Newsom has certainly placed herself in good company. Luckily she more than has the talent to keep up, and even perhaps even surpass her impressive peers.
Today I am listening to these musics. Tomorrow different ones, I think, or none at all for a little whileÖ
1. The Hidden Cameras - The Smell of Our Own (Rough Trade) - Impossibly beautiful. The songs are very church-sounding somehow (like Jesus folk songs from the early seventies), but if you listen carefully theyíre singing all about gay love (in an awfully unstylish, exaggerated vibrato). They sound to me like a mixture of John Denver, Cat Stevens, a little bit of Yes (circa "Iíve Seen All Good PeopleóYour Move"), and maybe Pentangle? Mostly, they donít sound like anybody to me. They avoid being treacly through sheer earnestness, get stuck in my head instantly, and arenít annoying to have stuck in oneís head. Amen.
2. David Bowie - Hunky Dory - One of my favorite albums. Except Iím tired of "Changes;" all the other songs never get played on the radio. And I love that he recorded two versions of "Quicksand," very cheekyÖone all shimmery and symphonic, and the other stripped-down, with just an acoustic guitar. I helped my brother move into his new room tonight and we played this album real loud and tried to make sure the tapestries were hanging straight and all that.
3. The Music Tapes - 1st Imaginary Symphony for Nomad (Merge) - This should have been the album that officially retired the Singing Saw: itís beautiful here but I donít want to hear it yawling on any other albums from hereon in (too easy, like wrangling ghosts and making them emote for you). Anyhow, this here is an album so nice it makes your belly hurt. Maybe itís because the songs were recorded on 1897 Edison Wax Cylinder recorder, and a 1940ís wire recorder, and a little cassette reel to reelÖI donít knowÖ I like the graphic-art-strip that comes with the album, too; itís just a very well-developed story. This band manages to write the most disjunctive, delicately held together songs, while still coming off like the strange godchild of popóbut maybe theyíre just the noise of all those bones of the dead godchild of Pop, clinking against each other in the dark. Anyhow, on a good day you can dance to it.
4. Texas Gladden - Ballad Legacy (Rounder) - A lot of these songs are field recordings Alan Lomax made when Texas Gladden was a very old woman (in about 1940), and I think itís one of the best female voices ever recorded. Itís Appalachian, of course, but thereís a sense of even older history to it, a fineness alongside the steeliness, something regal or magical. She was such a functional singer, too, which I think is an almost lost element in musicÖa lot of the album is lullabies, for example, because she was rocking her grandbabies to sleep while Lomax recorded her.
5. America - Das Letzte Einhorn - The soundtrack to my all-time favorite movie, The Last Unicorn, is based on an even lovelier book, by Peter S. Beagle. This album is America at their best, which (to me) means milky-silver high harmonies and complete sincerity, buoyed here by flugelhorn and oboe, that sort of thing. A German import, it was never released in the US.
6. The Coral - The Coral - Swashbuckling sea chanteys, harmonized to what might usually be an unsettling degree, but it sounds really wonderful here somehow. They remind me of pirate music, or Southern black spirituals, or Russian folk, or something I donít know the name for (maybe an early incarnation of ska? Though I should shy away from that word as Iím not sure exactly what it means). Thereís organ, banjo, xylophone, and a bunch of other stuff atop the usual rock instruments. I have to be in a certain mood to want to hear this album, but today you caught me. Listening to them makes me jog my elbows back and forth.
7. Devendra Banhart - Oh Me, Oh My, The Way The Day Goes By the Sun is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit (Young God) - This is a cassette Devendra gave me a copy of a few years ago, which later became his CD by the same name. But the tape has more songs, see, and they are so beautiful. This last week I went to New York City and Devendra gave his apartment to me and my sweetheart for two days, and left a whole heap of new recordings there to be heard. They are absolutely perfect. Things in the world will be different once people hear these songsÖat least more attention will be paid to the preparation of good food and the dead, I think.
8. Several recordings of pieces by Ruth Crawford Seeger: Sonata for Violin and Piano (1926), with Ida Kavafian, violin, and Vivian Fine, piano (CRI); Five Songs to Poems of Carl Sandburg (1929) with Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano and Gilbert Kalish, piano (Elektra/Nonesuch); and American Folk Songs for Children (1950), (Arr. Ruth Seeger) sung by Pete Seeger 1962 (Smithsonian Folkways) - The experimental composer Ruth Crawford Seeger gave us one of the saddest and most wonderful stories in American history (read her biography by Judith Tick, please). In addition to helping develop the dissonant counterpoint which was to become a defining musical element of the first half of the century, she also worked closely with the Lomax brothers to arrange their important collections of early American song. She married the composer Charles Seeger and became the matriarch of one of the most important families in American folk music (begetting Mike, Pete, and Peggy Seeger). Her compositions (especially after her collaboration with the Lomaxes) are few, but represent to me the only body of American work that gracefully takes into equal account both the codes of folksong, and the tenets of classical experimentation. That means sheís one of the most legitimate American musical voices of all time.
9. Mix-tape for Amy...who is chasing bonobo apes around the Democratic Republic of Congo (she doesnít have a tape player but she has a CB radio, so Iím going to attempt a little broadcast)...
*Can I do this? - I canít think of any more music today; Iíve mostly been working on this tape for my friend. Itís all easy music, some Beach Boys ("Feel Flows"), Kate Bush ("Wuthering Heights"), Leonard Cohen ("The Old Revolution"), Vetiver and BrightBlack (both amazing bands, and friends from the Bay Area), Anne Briggs ("Go Your Way"), Small Faces ("Itchycoo Park"), Donovan ("The Magpie"), Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra ("Some Velvet Morning"), Bob Dylan ("One More Cup of Coffee"), Talking Heads ("Donít Worry About the Government"), Karen Dalton ("Katie Cruel"), Neil Young ("Cinnamon Girl"), and also Will Oldham, Fleetwood Mac, the Notwist, and so on (this is too diffuse to reveal much of anything about anything, isnít it?).
Bay Area comic artist Adrian Tomine began drawing his best-known series, Optic Nerve, at the age of 16. He has since published most of his material through the Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly Books, in addition to having work appear in The New Yorker, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Time. Tomine's stories are as inconclusive as life, paired with a simple but unmistakable visual style, and exploring themes of adolescence and young adulthood with amazing detail and insight. His most recent collection of Optic Nerve comics, Summer Blonde, was published by Drawn & Quarterly in 2002. Tomine's original artwork can also be viewed (and bought) at The Comic Art Collective. (The photo of Adrian was taken by Wendy Jung).
Ten albums that I loved as a teenager that still "hold up" for me:
1. Tiger Trap - Tiger Trap (K) - The soundtrack to my first big romance. Sarah and I would go see them play at The Cattle Club and hold hands.
2. Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (Columbia) - My dad had a lot of folk albums in his collection, but this was the one I'd borrow and listen to the most. "Girl From the North Country" can still get me a little choked up if I'm in the right mood.
3. Sam Cooke - The Best of Sam Cooke (RCA) - Another favorite from my dad's collection. Everyone loves these songs.
4. The Go-Betweens - 16 Lovers Lane (Beggars) - My brother borrowed this album from an Australian guy he met at college and made me a tape of it. Maybe not their best album, but it was the one I heard first. I learned how to play every song from it on the guitar.
5. Teenage Fanclub - Bandwagonesque (Geffen) - The first time I heard this album, I thought, "This is exactly the kind of music I've been searching for." All the other kids were going crazy for Nirvana, but I secretly liked these guys better.
6. Jonathan Richman - Jonathan Goes Country (Rounder) - The cover seemed completely uncool to me, but I'm glad I got past it. I tend to get interested in things in a backwards way, so this album, along with Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue," showed me that country music wasn't just "Achy Breaky Heart."
7. Yo La Tengo - Fakebook (Matador) - I bought the cassette of this on a whim, and I knew I'd discovered something special the minute I popped it in my mom's car stereo. Keeping with my method of backwards discovery, this album of cover songs introduced me to a lot of other great bands.
8. Matthew Sweet - Girlfriend (Volcano) - I still love listening to this CD through headphones. How could he ever top this one?
9. The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (Silvertone) - Bad singing, bad lyrics, but boy, this still sounds pretty amazing to me.
10. Galaxie 500 - This Is Our Music (Rykodisc) - I actually shoplifted this CD from the Tower Outlet, but I ended up liking it too much to re-sell it to Esoteric Records for cash. Sometimes just walking around in New York makes me think of these songs.
By Dusted Magazine