Posts Tagged ‘Music’

Belated 2013 Favorites, And The Word for 2014 Is…


Yes, I suppose I could do the usual “goals for 2014″ post or a resolutions one. It’s that time of the year; it’s in the air. And I do have things I want to accomplish, and a loose roadmap for what I’d like to happen and when. I am enough of a type-A personality for that.

But the one tool that I’ve found, more than anything, to help create a year that has true intention and purpose behind it is having that one word for the year. The theme. The compass. That’s real elegance and simplicity to me, which gets more and more appealing as time goes on.

More than any book to write, side hustles to launch, projects to complete, places to go, things to do — I want 2014 to feel full of ease and white space and grace and kindness and gentleness. A yin year, a year of textures and fragrances, open air, wider horizons, breathing space, peace. But none of those words quite fit for what I wanted to create this year; I needed something more sensual and earthly. What’s the purpose of all that serenity in the first place?

And then it hit me: I wanted all that space and time because I wanted to let things soak in deeper. To really feel the passing of moments. To luxuriate in everyday pleasures, and feel to the end of the echoes of the larger world around me.

To make coffee in my French press and enjoy the smell of it on a cold winter morning. To play my sweetheart’s Nick Drake records and really listen to music in a way that I haven’t in awhile. To sit down with my nieces and nephews and watch them blossom under the gift of someone’s absolute, full attention. To let the moments accumulate and take shape, rather than rush through them, even the uncomfortable ones.

To savor life and experience as deeply as I can, of course.

I keep going back to geology, and the idea of the water table and how much water the ground can hold before it saturates and can’t hold anymore. At some point, any water that wants to soak into the ground with a high water table can’t seep into the soil, and so it floods and runs off. You just can’t soak in anymore. And the earth floods and water — and emotions — overwhelm everything.

I guess this year I want to absorb more, more deeply and more steadily. And so I’ve been thinking of what keeps me over-saturated (to keep running with this metaphor) and what I need to clear out to make more room. It’s been a nice inquiry, and still something I’ve been thinking over. But yeah, savor…that feels just about right.


But in the meanwhile, something completely random: I had an whole entry on my top music that came out in 2013, but I forgot to publish it. So here it is in part, in thumbnail form, not in order: (more…)

Happy PJ Harvey Day! Life Lessons on Art and Femininity

PJ Harvey is probably my favorite musician ever. Not just female musician, not just guitar player, not just singer-songwriter — I mean favorite out of anyone who has ever written and/or performed music. I have loved Polly Harvey for well over half of my life, when I first played “Oh My Lover” in my car when I was 16 and was instantly arrested by the first few doleful yet urgent notes. Sometimes I think I never really became a musician because of PJ Harvey, because she already made the music that sounds most like my soul.

Polly Harvey is 44 years old today. She is a Libra, a fact that never ceases to astonish me. Early on I had pegged her for a Scorpio, with her emotional intensity and her dark hair and eyes, and the general quiet composure and reserve with which she holds herself. It’s an amazing contrast to the unbridled, unabashed passion and emotion in her music. I still think of her as spiritually Scorpio, because she has that sense of a still, almost frozen passion — dark, deep waters concealing huge icebergs of churning emotion underneath.

When someone becomes your favorite musician early on, it’s almost as if they’re your spiritual teacher, your spirit guru. A musician or band when you’re a teenager opens up a vista of references for you to explore. Without Polly, for example, I’d never have an appreciation for Bob Dylan or Captain Beefheart or Leadbelly — or perhaps I’d have come to them much later. I’d never be compelled to explore Arvo Part, one of her favorite composers, or any of the farther reaches of modern classical. I probably would’ve read Georges Batailles’ Story of an Eye at some point, but not in high school like I did, when I read an interview when she mentions the book. (Reading Story of an Eye as a high schooler = WHOA. I’m not sure I was fully ready for that madness!)

But it’s not just books and other musicians. Music, I think, teaches you how to feel — or rather, how to make sense and create narrative around often tumultuous, inchaote emotions. I like to think back to that 18th century idea of a “sentimental education,” and how we grow wiser, happier, sadder or more compassionate through our emotional experiences. We don’t get to choose many of our emotional experiences: broken hearts, sudden passings, illness, those kind of things. But we do get to choose our music and movies and books, and these are sometimes just as valuable in bringing us closer to ourselves and the secret melodies of our hearts and souls. Choosing a PJ Harvey record often means choosing uncanny, melancholy, almost pagan-like experiences filled with strange, distinctive imagery and uncomfortable, primal emotion. But what safer guide do you have through the underworld than Polly Jean?

You can argue that there are better lyricists — though I think, reading over the lyrics of Let England Shake, she really stands among the rock greats like Dylan now. You can argue there are more innovative melodies written out there, more technically accomplished singers, better guitar players. But in terms of emotional range and a kind of open-veined expressionism, she’s second to none. She’s taught me a lot about being an artist and a soul here on earth, and I’m forever grateful that such a person exists in the world that puts such beauty and honesty into it. Here are some of the wise things that my rock star spirit animal taught me:


Now Listening: Lorde, Mazzy Star, Emmylou Harris, FKA Twigs and Other Ladyish Things

Just some lovely ladies making music for a Sunday afternoon! This is what I’ve been listening to lately. I go through cycles of being open to new music, and then just obsessively listening to a few things over and over. Like a spiral, perhaps: it widens and expands and goes upward at times, and then narrows and funnels down to deepen into one point. I’m at the wide, upward point now and open to suggestion. What are you listening to that you’d recommend? I’m up for anything!

Lorde, “Tennis Court”

Suddenly everyone is all “Lorde! Lorde! Lorde!” and she’s everywhere, even at the top of the Billboard chart. It’s super-tempting to be a hater, but you know, I really like how minimal her pop is. There’s just something innately elegant and self-possessed about her music, which is kind of amazing considering she’s 16. When I was that age, I was pretty much the opposite of elegant and self-possessed — I was a dang mess. Lorde is also something I can listen to with my nephews or niece, which makes me feel like I’m exposing them to something more interesting than some other pop tart on the charts. She uses the same pop vernacular, but what she says with it is different. Of course, one day as the crazy auntie I play to expose my kiddos to the Raincoats and the Slits and Huggy Bear and the like, but Lorde’s a nice baby step to that goal on the wide horizon.

Mazzy Star, “California”

I am beyond excited Mazzy Star is back! I always kind of had a crush on Hope Sandoval, and it’s nice to know the years haven’t blunted their romantic, slightly hallucinogenic take on Paisley Underground-ish folk. I remember when “Fade Into You” was the big alt-makeout song, though I was always more partial to their cover of “Five-String Serenade.” The new record is really nice: swoony, dreamy and pretty much everything you want from Mazzy Star, and perfect for Sunday afternoon listening.

Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife”

I really liked this record when it came out last year, but this is the song I keep going back to, again and again. There’s just something really happy and buoyant about it, but in this non-dippy way. Who doesn’t love a non-dippy happy love song, where you’re just stoked that the person you’re into is just hotness galore? I love how simple the video is as well, just Fiona singing with slightly crazy-face with her sister now and then, but of course I love it.

Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”

I can’t believe I’m putting this here, because I actually really loathe this band. I have never liked them; they have always irritated me beyond belief. You know how people are like, “Ugh! I hate U2!” and it’s this viscerally vehement reaction? Well, that’s what happens between me and Arcade Fire. It’s like gnash-teeth-narrow-eyes-clench-fists when I hear them. (And, they were once complete douchelords to an ex-boyfriend of mine who did sound for one of their shows, so there’s a bit of a grudge there as well. But I didn’t like their music before he worked for them!) And yet, I like this, mostly because it’s pretty disco-y and that’s pretty cool and not their usual thing. I can pretend they’re not Arcade Fire for a few minutes, and then it works pretty well.

FKA twigs, “Water Me”

I’m always going to have a place in my heart for left-of-center electronic music with evocative female vocals. I practically came of age with Bjork, you know? That’s bound to affect you in some way, kind of like having Pluto in your first house in your astrological chart. The influence is from deep space, but it’s definitely an undertow. I love how ethereal this is, and how it manages to be both distant and intimate…and her voice, of course, is supple and lovely. I don’t know much about this London-based artist, but I’m definitely curious to hear more.

Emmylou Harris, “Making Believe”

Emmylou Harris in the 1970s is pretty much my new style icon. I mean, just watch this and look at her, right? But more importantly, listen to her: so soulful, so clear, just kind of relaxed and perfect and plaintive. I’m on a big Emmylou jag; maybe I’ll write more about it later.

Sparks: Haunting Dulcet Voices, Earthy Yet Sunlit Lily Perfumes and Some Foodcentric Thoughts

Happy New Moon in January! I hope it’s a lovely one for you, and that any seeds you’re planting for yourself — whether part of resolutions, or just a “Hey, here’s something I need to get on” train of thought — bloom beautifully soon. Here’s what’s been making my life beautiful lately, along with some random thoughts about the connection between radiance, spark and food.

+ It saddens me slightly that new music has become just another source of information I have to “track” and “keep up with” — just another stream of noise that I have to tune out, really, since “tuning out” more and more is my default mode, especially if I want to make something beautiful and worthy to put into the world. I think something about the way publicity is everywhere — on my Facebook feed, Twitter, etc. — it makes it harder to differentiate what is genuinely worth seeking out. I don’t just stumble upon music anymore — I hear about it, then have to decide if something is worth the investment and time to seek it out in a very quick, fast way. Nothing sinks in. I can’t tell if it’s the time, or where I’m at in life. Maybe a combination of both.

But sometimes you click on something, or you stream a track, and it hits the spot. So: I really like this Eddi Front song. It’s moody, elegant, feminine, serene yet slightly dark — she gets compared to Lana Del Rey a lot, but without the quasi-hip-hop affectations and, you know, baggage. I see it more like: if you like Cat Power, or any other moody introspective singer with a lovely haunting voice, you will like her. I do, so I took the time to seek her songs out, and I am glad that I did. Her music fed my spirit for more than a few minutes. Maybe you’ll like it, too.

+ It is no secret how much I love perfumes, and I’m already on the hunt for something for spring. It’s just so nice to smell a bit of vetiver, citron, oakmoss or bluebell in the middle of winter, reminding yourself that things will be all bloom-y and green and verdant again in a few months. Right now my favorite candidate is Stella McCartney’s L.I.L.Y perfume. I love Stella in a way that is irrational — I just feel very friendly towards her because it’s clear she’s hard-working, creative and genuinely woman-centered. She seems like a nice woman to have some soup and coffee with. I really loved her Stella perfume — a lovely dark smoky rose — but it never lasted long on me, and I have a real problem spending a lot of money on some scented liquid that disappears on me in two hours.

L.I.L.Y., I’m happy to say, is a different story. It’s a beautiful floral scent centered around lily, which can get fusty. But here it reads sunlit and radiant. It’s nicely undercut with a truffle note, making it earthy, slightly dark and just a tad edible — though definitely not full-on gourmandish. I really liked it! I have the rollerball — hopefully it holds my interest long enough to invest in a full bottle come springtime! What fragrances do you wear in the spring? Please tell me — I’m genuinely curious!

+ It is funny what people suggest when you tell them that “radiance” is your vague guidepost for 2013. Champagne really is the most popular suggestion, and I am wholeheartedly onboard with this. But, to go the other way, people also love to tell you to go on some kind of “cleanse” or drink lemon water with cayenne or do a raw food fast or something like that. The logic is: clean up your insides and you’ll glow from the inside out. Now, I have done a raw food diet before: I did one last year in January. It was nice, but it did not change my life. I felt lighter but did not feel significantly stronger or more vibrant or vital, really. Maybe it’s because I eat pretty healthy in general. (Outside of my weakness for salty potatoes, but I don’t have them that often, so I should be okay.) But despite the lack of impact that these specialized ways of eating have on me, I thought I’d try something again this year: you know, just mostly plant-based foods, very little carbs and proteins. Just for a few days. A smoothie in the morning, non-processed foods, soup and salad for dinner, that kind of thing.

Well, what do you know: I didn’t make it. Part of it is that I’m pretty active: I run a lot, and you need more fuel. But I realized, I just don’t like feeling hungry a lot. I need a hearty breakfast, not a bunch of liquified fruits and veggies, as delicious as the smoothies are. I think hunger, even in the short term, is anti-radiance, anti-life, anti-pleasure. They work for some people, maybe, but not me. I need a strong, solid diet if I want to feel strong and solid enough in my life to do what I need to do and accomplish what I set out for myself. So I read stuff like Crazy Sexy Diet and that Beauty Detox Solution business, take what works for me (I do think it’s better to avoid high-sugar foods in big quantities) and then fuck all the rest of it that creates hunger. I’m not motivated by feelings of denial, scarcity and deprivation in life — they create fear and judgment. I run towards happiness, pleasure, genuine zest.

I think food is better when it’s healthy, but it should equally be pleasurable, whether that’s eating with loved ones, having a bit of delicious Shiraz with your evening supper, or a fat dollop of Chocolate Overload ice cream. I don’t think pleasure is at odds with healthy eating — I think maybe people have such disordered, tortured relationships with food because it’s so far removed now from pleasure. (I’m not talking about serious eating disorders here, but the strange miasma of guilt, should-think and obligation that surrounds eating and food, especially for ladies.) I think everyone has their own set of food rules for what works for their life and their body. So now I’m been dwelling on what works for me: kind of like my own manifesto for food. Thinking about it; will share a bit more in the future once I’ve, uh, digested the thought a little. And now I’m off to eat my fluffy scrambled eggs for breakfast and drink my delicious hazelnut coffee!