0171 “1000 Words”

Good lord. This song is absolutely insidious. It’s crafty. It’s electronic and warm. And once it’s set foot into your mind, it is nearly impossible to evict. It’s both simple and complex, a stream of consciousness nursery rhyme moving back and forth between descriptions of what someone is doing and what someone is thinking which is to say it perfectly mimics how the brain works every waking moment of the day. It’s like some glorious Pet Shop Boys deep cut and features words like “dappling”, “overborne”, “billowing” and “squinting” and is the devil in the best way.

Weekly New Wonders Playlist !

7d59d6d44f3d2bc6066a1c3309c5fb0a

As a kid I thought this was 1 serving as it said Hungry-Man, as in 1 singular human. In retrospect I see eating 1 whole pound of food is probably meant to be a shared a experience with another human no matter how hungry you are. But I definitely ate a few of these things solo. The latest Weekly New Wonders Playlist is equally full: hefty and fat with pop anthems and crying music: please enjoy !

As usual you can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify but please note playlists are slightly different ( 1-2 songs) as not every track is available in both places. Check ’em both out if you are a nerdy completist like me.

Listen on Soundcloud here:

Listen on Spotify here:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/esperanza19/playlist/7aNhnt0SvZy1pWEfotYvCQ

Touch, Feel, Lose and Cry, Cry, Cry

Preface: PuR contributor Andy Moreno and I had a long talk about the recent allegations directed toward Ryan Adams and the conversation was complicated. The obvious questions surfaced. Does continuing to listen to the music of someone you know has done something terrible, has hurt other people, mean you are tacitly okay with what they’ve done? Does the art itself exist as a completely separate entity from the artist? We started talking about Adams and inevitably moved up the “genius” ladder and ended up discussing Michael Jackson, Miles Davis and Picasso. Brilliant artists yes, but people who did despicable, damaging, and unforgivable things to other people.

I loved John Martyn, the late English folk rock legend. He made some indescribably beautiful music that pulled me through the darkest of times: there was a year where I listened to him every single night to help me calm down and sleep. Those songs were a light. Years later I discovered that while he was recording all this powerful, heartfelt music, he was being physically abusive toward his wife Beverley on a regular basis. He was a raging, drunken asshole. It was repulsive to hear, still is, probably always will be. It’s been hard to reconcile in my head that I still adore his plaintive and sad signature song “Solid Air” and still listen to it, because part of me wants to hate him, cut him off.

Andy wanted to write something regarding Ryan Adams. Here it is.

Full disclosure, Ryan Adams has been one of those artists that I’ve seen many times live, and whose music I have obsessed over through it’s many phases. I have rooted for him knowing he’s probably not a nice person in the same way I secretly love Woody Allen films.  His vocal tone and range is so precious. His songs rain to use his term. Even though he rejects all connection to Alt-country, those Whiskeytown songs were all favorites of mine.  When I hear them I still go places that no other music takes me. Ryan’s Heartbreaker and Gold albums in particular, along with a few others, helped me get through very tough relationship despair and grief and then later became the live soundtrack to more horrid recklessness of my own creation.  Touch, Feel, Lose was a lifeline for days. I was playing and repeating the track as if to stop hearing it would bring all the hurt rushing up to my head. Come Pick Me Up’s, ‘take me out, fuck me up’… I clung to this song on many nights like a raft floating through the lonely abyss. ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina what compels me to go’…Firecracker, Sylvia Plath, Answering Bell…a plethora of music to ache by.  For me, there was nothing else for days. And some of those days lasted for years. In short, if those songs weren’t allowed to roam the earth I don’t know what.  I seriously don’t.

So it seems almost ironic that he would become the next Hall of Shamer in regards to his private dealings with women. Right now though before we continue this much needed war on the misuse of power we definitely, most certainly need to put focus on the other silent victim, the art itself.

You want to hear my truth?  I don’t think the art is, was, or ever will be the guilty party.  Art needs some type of protective rights just like helpless babies and kittens, rescue dogs, the wild horses of Arizona, the tired, hangry polar bears.  The creator is not the art. This means something. I believe the division is crucial here.

If you rape or kill someone, you should go to jail and if you’re career is ruined, not my problem. I am very torn though over companies acting as judge and jury over anyone, as if they are a living breathing soul. I believe companies should put out art based on it’s value, not the artist’s virtuous standing.  If you make a killer song or record before, during or after a wrongdoing that work should be allowed it’s freedom, in my opinion.

Related image

The actual art or product whether it be food, movies, paintings, music or songwriting, whatever the form, is very valuable to society and once formed can move, provoke, stimulate, inspire and heal, separate from it’s maker.  Some work even achieves greater heights. I have to say I consider the art form as the true precious commodity at stake here. Not that I don’t have deep compassion or serious empathy for anyone who falls victim to abuse.  Of course I do. But while all of us very imperfect humans try to work all this out we must consider the truly defenseless. Creativity sometimes comes out of our most deranged twisted folks. It comes out of pain, not only from the beautiful, happy people but lost idiots and damaged souls.  It’s the one good thing we do that separates us from all the other animals. Do we have to squash the work as well as the person? Throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak? For example, no one I speak to is surprised at all about the accusations because even though I adore so much of Ryan’s music, it was no secret in town years ago that his behavior was less than stellar as a regular human walking the planet.  He was an immature little punk with new money and a penchant for young girls. And his songwriting wasn’t always brilliant, but sometimes it was. I just read that based on written stories and an upcoming investigation his unreleased albums are now being squashed immediately including 2 on Blue Note Records. I get that it’s a smart business decision but are these companies really doing us a service? I also get the artist would be monetarily rewarded but support of the art is not condoning their private behavior.  If you see it that way, we’re going to need to drastically reduce our record collections. I can cringe hearing Ted Nugent’s political views but please crank that Stranglehold.  I don’t have the answers but there must be another way. After all, so much of that side of this argument is driven by the original hater, Mr. mean green himself, the almighty dollar.  And we all know he is not that sensitive, so we need to stop pretending companies have real hearts, accept that they are equally flawed and realize that pendulum could swing the other way one day.  I personally do not want to start being judged by Target or Citibank, or Whole Foods for my shoddy behavior. Plus why take away the one positive thing that we might get from all this ugliness and hurt? That’s the beauty, if this makes you want to exit the Ryan Adams train then it’s your God given right to do so and no one can take that privilege away unless we let them.   I just see us losing more freedoms if we start navigating creativity by some corporate-made moral compass.

 

Ephraim Lewis: It Can’t Be Forever

image2-2

This is a sad story. British singer Ephraim Lewis made a grand total of one album. It was called “Skin” and released in 1992 and was full of chilly, introspective, life affirming alt-soul. While overall it’s a pretty fine record, it’s also undeniably “of it’s time”, featuring very slick early 90’s production values ( faux strings, muted horns, shimmery backing vocals) and that pseudo electro-cool groove that became so common in the wake of Massive Attack’s “Blue Lines”.  Still, it’s full of sinewy, anthemic and memorable songs and the filler is minimal. And Lewis’s voice is absolutely beautiful, rising up from the bottom of the sea to the most glorious of falsettos with ridiculous ease. It sounds like a first album, full of promise, a few killer songs, and endless potential. And frankly, in that respect, it’s no different than Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”, another by no means definitive statement, despite the grand hyperbole regularly attached to it. Like “Grace”, it’s a snapshot of an ascending talent who was going to make something truly great in time.

While not perfect, there are some undeniably stunning moments on “Skin” , specifically the slinky, sinister groove of it’s initial single “It Can’t Be Forever”, the desperately keening title track, and the languid and sultry beauty of  “Drowning In Your Eyes”   (the latter being the finest recorded moment of Lewis’s career). The vocals are absolutely faultless throughout.

Elektra, Lewis’s label, believed in him wholeheartedly and why not, he had absolutely everything going for him, the voice, the looks, all of it. They had expectations and believed “Skin” would be big.

The video for  “It Can’t Be Forever” received a bit of MTV airplay and the album garnered a few positive reviews and went on to sell over 100,000 copies worldwide. Pretty damn good for the debut of a previously unknown singer… but disappointing from a record company perspective based on the millions of promotional dollars that had been invested to launch it.  Besides “Skin”, Lewis also contributed an ethereal beauty of a song on the forgettable “Made in America” soundtrack in 1993. And… that’s where it ends. That was all his recorded output. He never got to make his grand artistic statement, his big record. He was dead before he even reached his 27th birthday. He died in 1994 under dramatic, sordid, and still not quite explicable circumstances in LA while beginning the recording of what would have likely been his breakthrough 2nd album with none other than Glen Ballard, the legendary producer/writer behind Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill”.

His death wasn’t publicized and at that point in the technological universe, even though I was working in a mega record store, I didn’t hear about it until a month after it happened. It was shocking and extraordinarily sad news to say the least.  Two years earlier I’d met Lewis at one of those old school record release party things set up by his label and he’d been a charismatic sweetheart. It was a pretty low key event to celebrate the release of his aforementioned debut album. The venue it was held in was decorated with cheap cardboard “flats” depicting the album cover and as apparently talking to him wasn’t enough for my immature, overly jacked up arse, I took the liberty of tearing one right off the wall in front of him, like you do, and having him sign it for me. He laughed and said “Ha, tear it right off why don’t you !”. This is it:

image1

A bit battered and stained (from what I have no idea) as I had it hanging on my office wall, frameless and vulnerable from the next day onward. Anyway, he happily let me fangirl all over him, allowed me to ask inane questions and stand way closer to his person than I probably should’ve.

Admittedly, I was already a bit of a fan at that point and prior to that meeting had fallen pretty hard for his brand of spiritual, and sexy alt soul. Plus he was British which appealed to my obsessive Anglophile tendencies. He was important enough that for all these years I’ve kept that page at the top of this piece from a 1992 Interview Magazine in an old portfolio case in my closet. Just never wanted to throw it away.

Here’s where things get complicated. Electra believed in Lewis’s potential and were willing to keep investing in him but they needed hits. Which to them meant casting aside his producers/co-writers from the unsuccessful ( in their eyes) first album, Bacon and Quarmby and connecting Lewis with someone with a proven track record, namely Glen Ballard ( who at that point had a myriad of big time credits to his name including co-writing Michael Jackson’s mega”Man in the Mirror”).

And things were changing not just professionally for Lewis, but personally. By 1993, he had parted ways with his long-time girlfriend and fallen in love with a man. According to Paul Flowers, his boyfriend at the time, Lewis said he’d never felt more contented or at peace with himself as he had within this new relationship.

In early 1994, Lewis headed to LA to begin work on his second album with Ballard. By all accounts he was feeling pretty good. And more comfortable with his sexuality. It was all coming together. But it only took a heartbeat’s worth of time for everything to crumble into pieces. While in LA, Lewis immersed himself in the local nightlife. Met people. Partied. And ultimately indulged in drugs.

On the night of March 18th, 1994 police were called to the apartment complex Lewis was staying at while recording in LA. He was creating a disturbance, yelling, climbing from balcony to balcony undressed and behaving in a disturbing manner that suggested he was having a bad reaction to some kind of drug he’d ingested ( post mortem reports support this). By the time he crashed through a top floor window, the police had physically reached him and there was a confrontation. Something occurred resulting in his falling off the top floor balcony onto the street below and suffering life ending head injuries as a result. Sordid, terrible, shocking. There’s been speculation that the police had something to do with this, that they’d tased him, which resulted in his panicking then jumping. Another story went that he’d threatened them with a makeshift “knife’ fashioned from a piece of broken glass from when he’d crashed through the top floor window and was in such a deranged state that he’d suddenly leapt off the building without prompting. We’ll never know.

It’s a terrible story. A terrible waste…but there remains this sweet old record out in there in the world you can still listen to right now, that’s worth listening too, that may really touch you. And there is also this heartbreakingly beautiful live performance which says more than anything we’ve offered here :

That voice huh ? Still makes me cry. Ephraim Lewis, he was something.

Listen to “Skin” on Spotify :

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/5XZnllNMwSlcILCQnjOCnJ

 

Weekly New Wonders Playlist

 

c83935baab6e4b1cb841b9a934c9aef0

Love this album cover. Couldn’t find a decent pic of it online but hopefully you get the idea. It’s way better in person I swear. It perfectly conveys the wistful and weary country soul of the legendary title track the LP is named after, which hopefully you’ve heard ( both from 1973). It’s about getting strength, as well as the will to keep going, from a song, which is a sentiment we strongly appreciate and relate to around these parts. And with that, here are the latest soul freeing and magnificent offerings from the past week.

You can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify but fyi, the Spotify list is a couple of songs longer as there are tracks that are not yet on Soundcloud. Check ’em both out if you don’t want to miss anything.

Soundcloud:

Spotify:



 

Dog Trainer “Fever Dream”

Spacey, spinning, tuneful,”Fever Dream” perfectly captures the otherworldly, out of body feeling of it’s title. It’s the sound of waking up in the middle of the night when you are burning up and wondering where the hell you are and that sometimes disorienting feeling you get when you walk out of a movie theater onto the street back into the real world after sitting in the dark for 2 hours. Most of Dog Trainer’s stuff travels down that same avenue , all lost, lush, and lo-fi and innately melodic and it’s all kinda fine.

Taft “Winters”

Clocking in at nearly 6 minutes, “Winters” might well give you the sensation of taking a journey. It’s otherworldly, epic and over the top, featuring Taft Mashburn’s gigantic, wavering and emotive voice over a post rock backdrop. Yet even with all the widescreen beauty on display here, there is still something innately lonely and solitary at the core of the song. It’s really something.

 

Sun Silva “Sun Skin Air”

Schizophrenic and lush, “Sun Skin Air” is a melodic mix of krautrock and pop and features a straight up prog bridge that sounds like it wandered in from an early Genesis album. Basically it’s a bit of a whirling dervish, completely infectious and extremely difficult to avoid getting completely charmed by and sucked into.

I Know Leopard “Heather”

Them Leopards are back with another wonderful and criminally sticky pop tune, this one a message for “Heather” whom they’re fed up with being mistreated by, but who still rules their life. “Call me when you get your shit together”, and “hope it’s not the way you’ll be forever”. Jaunty and blue and just too true.