Saturday, January 15, 2011

Incongruous things I've watched and have thought about

Here's a few videos I've watched this week and have thoughts on:

Danielson: "Grow Up"

I'm fairly new to Danielson and its creator, Daniel Smith. For those of you who aren't, you can probably guess how I got into the New Jersey native. Sufjan Stevens is a sometimes member of the Danielson Famile (an alternative name for when Smith's family - a somewhat loose term, which includes both sisters and brothers as well as family friends like Stevens - joins him to perform and record music) and I, being a little more than entranced with Stevens lately, looked up the documentary Danielson: A Family Movie (or, Make A Joyful Noise HERE), which he appears in. It's a really interesting documentary, even for someone who was not at all familiar with its subject matter. Smith is a devout Christian, and his faith is unabashedly reflected in his music. That said, his music doesn't really fit under the umbrella of Christian rock, as its freak flag flies higher than that sort of music will usually allow. In one of the film's most interesting moments, filmmaker JL Aronson interviews concert-goers after a Danielson performance (sample dialogue: Guy: "He talked about the holy ghost, you know? And everyone was clapping, and I was like, 'you know you're clapping for Jesus, right?'" Girl: "And we're Jewish, so that was a little awkward."). People are conflicted about this helium-voiced artist who preaches about God through psychedelic, punk-influenced indie folk-rock. Over the course of the documentary's filming, Stevens had started to gain recognition and praise for his albums, MichiganSeven Swans, and the breakout Illinois. As an illuminating parallel to the earlier streeters, Aronson also interviews people after they've just seen one of Stevens' concerts, and they rave over how beautiful and accessible his music is, and how they don't care that his work also contains religious themes because it's just so literary and lovely to listen to. There are parts of the documentary that drag a bit, and the editing can be jumpy in parts (there are some really interesting scenes that get cut off before any natural conclusion is reached), but overall it is a very interesting doc.

All of that was just an aside to my real point, which is to direct your attention to the music video posted above. On February 22, Danielson will be releasing their first album in five years, Best Of Gloucester County, through Smith's own label, Sounds Familyre. "Grow Up" is the first single from this album. The video, directed by Ben Stamper, features Smith wearing a spiffy uniform, mowing a field with an old-school cylinder mower. It's rife with all sorts of metaphorical significance (growing up is tough because there's always something - like lawn mowers! - that want to cut you down), and the photography is really crisp. Basically, it got me excited about the new album, which I suppose is the point of the video in the first place. You can click here to download an mp3 of "Grow Up" via

Iron and Wine session with
(Click through for the video - I can't embed it here)
For those of you who don't know what is, allow me to introduce you to your new obsession: is a performance blog that takes the best artists of the day and has them record a handful of unreleased, rare, or re-worked songs, strips them down to what is usually their acoustic bare bones, and then gives most of them away for free on the website. Each session is accompanied by a beautiful illustration of the band or artist, and a creative write-up from co-founder Sean Moeller. They have some really incredible archived sessions that you should check out (like this Grizzly Bear one or this Deerhunter one), but the one that I want to point out came out this week from folk singer Sam Beam of Iron & Wine. If you're familiar with the Garden State soundtrack (I know you are, don't pretend), then you know Iron & Wine through the song "Such Great Heights" (you know, the one that, when you hear it on your mp3 player, makes you wish you were at home alone, curled up in your bed instead of on the subway surrounded by grumpy people, because this song always makes you cry a little bit, and you're afraid of showing emotion in public places where people can see and think you strange, but - oh, this song is sweet!). So Iron & Wine make very pretty music, and their session is no exception, but what makes this so special is that you get a video of the session as a bonus! The video features Beam singing and strumming a classical guitar, while Rosie Thomas provides the backup vocals. Thomas, by the way, has an incredible voice, and it's worth checking out her own recordings if you're curious. The video is a shaky in parts, but it's interesting to watch how the whole thing gets put together. Go behind the scenes, and enjoy.

Psychic Reality: "Fruit"

Psychic Reality - Fruit from Not Not Fun on Vimeo.
I had this whole thing written up about how I didn't like this song because its cover of Billie Holiday's landmark recording, "Strange Fruit," diluted the original's visceral message about the lynching of African Americans into a soft-handed look at materialism and drug-use (or at least, that's what the video suggests) - but then I sort of thought I was overreaching and decided to trash it all.

This was a premiere I caught last week on's sister site, is a collective of blogs from around the world that cover the weird, on-the-fringe music produced in the hushed sancuary of basements, hay lofts, and home studios, and released into the universe with the carefree attitude that suggest the question, "if you record it, does it even matter if they come?" I like a lot of what they post, and this really caught my eye because of the Holiday connection (it doesn't really count as a cover since most of the words are different - more like a sampling/jumping off point). Psychic Reality is the vehicle in which Leyna Noel Tilbor produces her shimmering brand of house/electronica. It's not really my thing, but may be just the thing for others. Go out and explore, children.

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