Sunday, September 28, 2008

See, I Told You

Winter begins in Fairbanks, Alaska, with a couple inches of September snow.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Miles to Go

I don't know about where you are, but here in Fairbanks, the change of season is in full swing...from summer directly into winter, it would seem, as our autumn here lasts only about a month. We had our first hard frost this week, and all the birch trees are now swept clean of their leaves; outside everything is golden, and ripe-seeming; a blanket of white will soon put all of that ripeness to rest, like plums stored in an ice box (W.C. Williams, anyone?). Change comes to us again...

It is amazing, to me, how often the subject of change comes up on this blog, in these mixes. I guess it truly is the one constant in our lives, but there's also no doubt that 2008 has been a crazy, topsy-turvy year. Kevin & Rowan are in Italy, Amanda is in Utah, Beechcraft is for sale, and--TMI alert--I'm about 6 true loves away from where I started the year. (If anything convinces me of the constancy of change, it is the changeability of my own stupid heart.) And now winter is coming at us. And then it'll be spring again. Round and round we go on wacky Planet Earth.

And all I really know about Merry-Go-Rounds is they usually have music, so here we are. The title of this one comes from Robert Frost, who knew more about winter than I ever will:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it's queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there's some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Miles to Go
1. Part One, Band of Horses
2. Too Much Space, Lisa Germano
3. White Winter Hymnal, Fleet Foxes
4. Mykonos, Fleet Foxes
5. Godspeed, Jenny Lewis
6. Black Cab, Jens Lekman
7. Lights Out, Santogold
8. Father to a Sister of Thought, Pavement
9. I Hate It When That Happens to Me, John Prine
10. I'm Your Man, Leonard Cohen
11. Acid Tongue, Jenny Lewis
12. Don't Think About Me, Earlimart
13. The Ice Is Getting Thinner, Death Cab for Cutie
14. The Lake, Antony
15. Endless Song of Happiness, Yael Naim
16. Nothing Is True, Earlimart
17. Sing It Again, Beck

Band of Horses is a band of winter, if ever there was one...ditto for Lisa Germano. Check the beautiful album cover...Fleet Foxes are a band to watch, if you haven't picked up on them already. Alex saw them live, opening for Wilco, and he was impressed. They remind me of My Morning Jacket a lot...the new Jenny Lewis is the bomb! See my post about it...Jens Lekman is so good, such a unique and earnest artist. I love him and you should too, if you don't already...Thanks to Suzanne for the rest of the sweet Santogold album!...this Pavement song puts me in a reflective mood, perfect for winter...this is from Prine's newest album, Fair & Square. He put it out after battling cancer, and you can sense the weariness in his fighter's's L. Cohen to lighten our introspection...I went with two of the slower songs from Acid Tongue, but there are some great straight-ahead rockers on the album, too...I'll never get over Earlimart's Mentor Tormentor, one of my absolute all-time favorite albums...I just finally got hold of Death Cab's Narrow Stairs. Another solid album...thanks to Sarah for both this Antony & Yael Naim. Beauty from Antony, per usual, and doesn't this Yael Naim sound a bit like "Gloria in Excelsis Deo"/"Angels We Have Heard on High"?...some more Earlimart and then some classic Beck to bring it home.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Financial Meltdown, Pt. II

Only one thing left to do...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Ice Palace, by Tarjei Vesaas

Here, the first ever Mixed Cookies book recommendation. I feel a bit like Oprah...

This short novel, Norwegian Tarjei Vesaas' The Ice Palace, comes in at just over 180 pages, but packs an emotional punch equal to anything I have ever read. Written in 1963, The Ice Palace tells the story of two young girls, Sis and Unn, girls who build a powerful, magical friendship between themselves, only to see it taken away from them quickly and tragically. In the aftermath of this tragedy, one of the girls must confront adulthood and loss at a much-too-young age. In a very obvious way this is a traditional "coming of age" story, but it is one of the very best I have ever read. To me it is even superior to Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.

What makes the book so moving and so profund is Tarjei Vesaas' spare style, which allows the turbulent emotion of the novel to be clearly seen and understood. The style feels like magical realism, actually, probably because Vesaas so perfectly renders the magic of youth itself. The author seems to have an amazing grasp of child psychology, and he transfers it to the page beautifully. The entire experience is exhilarating, sad, wistful, ominous, and joyful all at once...just as muddled as those years were for most of us, I suppose.

I do not feel I can do this work enough justice here. Let me say this for the book: I cried hard through the last 20 pages or so, at each and every revelation of the ambiguous truth of human experience that Vesaas has masterfully packed in. It is wonderful. If you were ever a child, or if you have ever been heartbroken, this book is for you. So go buy it at Amazon.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mad Scientists--or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Worldwide Financial Meltdown

There is no doubt that our current financial downturn is worrisome, given the unprecedented and unexpected Perfect Storm of events that have occurred recently. Fractures have appeared in many vast and important segments of the economy, beginning with the subprime mortgage default crisis of 2007. Now it seems that the entire lending sector is in serious trouble, with many companies teetering on bankruptcy (these are the AIGs and Merrill Lynches we are hearing about right now), and the rest of the entire sector scared and definitely eager to hold on to their capital, therefore reducing lending (which puts pressure on interest rates to go up, which further exacerbates all of the problems in a marketplace sector that is wholy dedicated to lending money). Add to all of this the larger concerns we have had for our economy in the last 5 years--the price of fuel, the state of our airlines, the extremely wasteful spending by the government (which is now deeply, deeply in debt and in a poor position to help boost the economy)--and it is clearly a grave situation out there, especially for the little guy. This is as bad a financial crisis as our nation has seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, which makes this definite gut-check time.

All of that said, however, we must be careful to not panic--and there are many reasons not to. For one, we must distinguish between finance and economics. Finance refers to money itself: distribution, investement and lending; economics refers to the study of choices made by people when faced with scarcity (scarcity is a universal principle appliable to any commodity...what resource isn't scarce when you come down to it)? The two overlap when we discuss macroeconomics, where money can be understood as liquid capital, but remain distinct at other levels.

One important distinction is the level of regulation employed by overseers (aka government) of the financial and economic markets. Economic markets are very much still free markets, free of regulation and red-tape (except in certain few sectors where it has been determined regulation is beneficial)--at a microeconomic level, it is still very easy, especially in America, for a single person to begin their business or develop their idea.

Financial markets, however, are very regulated. The Federal Reserve has a great variety of instruments at its disposal to regulate lending--exactly because the Fed itself is the largest lender in the nation, and sets important interest rates to the largest borrowers in the world. In other words, the financial markets have very active babysitters--and we all know this to be true, since in the last decade Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, somehow became a celebrity, and also because every 3 months for the last 10 years we have heard on the news the most minute shift in interest rates as set by the Fed.

In 1929, when the stock market crashed, these tools were not developed at all, not even close--understanding of all of finance and economics at that time was still in the dark ages, compared to what we know today. Information technology also helps the Fed react amazingly quick today. With the tools and the ability to quickly manipulate them, our nation is truly in an unprecedented position to help stabilize the lending sector.

Underscoring this strength is that governments and banks around the world have reacted to this crisis already, today sending a great influx of cash into strapped markets, thereby lowering interest rates and encouraging relaxed borrowing and lending. This may seem like a counter-intuitive thing to do, perhaps leading to inflation, but the truth of the matter is that in 1930 our government tightened lending policies--exactly when they should have relaxed them, encouraging the economy--and this is exactly what made the Depression so "Great." The fact that Federal Reserves the world over understand that this is a world crisis, and are acting in lockstep to react, shows how much strength we have, and how far we have come.

In the meantime, the overall economy shows mixed signals, as it largely has for the last 7 years. Greening the economy, finding renewable energy sources, and war-spending are still much greater long-term concerns. What we face now is a credit crunch--a HUGE one, but a credit crunch nonetheless. It will require some buckling down in borrowing, as lending giants and the government itself will need to rebuild capital before borrowing can be executed as swiftly as it was in the mid-to-late 1990s, but a careful and concerted effort by all Americans and by our next president will undoubtedly be able to keep our economy growing--if ever so slowly--over the next few years.

Mad Scientists, like that guy above, taking care of us one dollar at a time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ray LaMontagne...Perfect for Sunday Morning

Sunday morning, nothing much to do but wait for football to start (let's go fantasy team!)...otherwise I'm just up early to sit at my desk, balance the ol' checkbook, and stare dreamily out the window at the beautiful greens and golds of our Alaskan autumn. So beautiful, so perfect...and then Ray LaMontagne came on my iTunes, and suddenly the morning got even better!

I'm a fairly recent convert to the Church of Ray, but I am happy to be here now. Ray is amazing: his voice often draws comparisons to Van Morrison, but to me it is a little more lush (if a little less powerful); I think of him more of a musical descendant of Nick Drake or a contemporary of Iron & Wine than anything else. But those comparisons come up short, I think, because while Mr. LaMontagne does do the folk/soul fusion, it is the intensity of his perception, the accuracy of his lyrics, which set him apart. I was lucky enough to get a copy of his 2006 Till the Sun Turns Black, and I was quickly amazed by how many of the songs seemed to speak straight to my soul, like great poetry on the page: "Gone Away from Me," "Empty," "Lesson Learned," "Within You," and "Three More Days" among them (and all on that one album!).

So here are some Ray LaMontagne videos, perfect for Sunday Morning. These are outtakes from a BBC Four special Ray put on in 2007. Awesome stuff (with decent sound quality)! Enjoy!

"Three More Days"


"Be Here Now"


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jenny Lewis' New Album, Acid Tongue, out 9/23/08

Sometimes I like to think I'm pretty ahead of the curve on knowing what is out there as far as music goes. And then I find out one of everyone's favorite artists, Jenny Lewis, has a new album coming out in just two weeks, and I wonder: how ahead of the curve could I really be? Two weeks? What a poseur...

No matter, though, because the main point is we should all rejoice in this new hearlding of Jenny Lewis material! Excuse the Biblical connotations there, but that is the level of my excitement for this news. After all, Lewis does have the voice of an angel, doesn't she?

She does...but Acid Tongue is an apt title for this album, which sees Lewis exploring a grity, blue-collar rock'n'roll sound, something more akin to the gospel-fired blues of the Rolling Stones or Emmylou Harris than anything Rilo Kiley has done (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and White Stripes seem more modern touchstones.) It's a dark angel kind of thing. Also haunting this album are the spirits of Carole King, Carly Simon, Chrissie Hynde and, seriously, Diane Keaton (check Lewis' hat above and compare to the singing Annie Hall).

And check out the amazing list of guest stars on this album! I about died when I realized Elvis Costello had started singing...

The gospel is clearly carried forward from Lewis' work with the Watson Twins on 2006's Rabbit Fur Coat, but the heavy guitar blues fog that cloaks her in this album feels brand new, suitable to Lewis' voice and aesthetics. She seems slightly mysterious and aloof on a lot of this album, which I don't think I'd normally accuse her recordings of, but I like it here. Key tracks for me (on first listen) are: "Pretty Bird," "The Next Messiah," "Acid Tongue" (4.5 stars there), "Godspeed" (5+++), and "Carpetbaggers." And everything else, too.

But, friends, do not take my word for it!!! You can listen to all of the album at:

Jenny Lewis' Myspace.

And then on 9/23/08 we'll have another entrant for album of the year!!!

UPDATE: Today, Sept. 16, I doubled-back to the MySpace to listen to the new album again...and sadly found that they've taken most of the new album down. It was apparently a limited-time thing only. Still, you can check out a couple new tracks, at least!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Here & Now

Unable to sleep overnight, restless in my mind over many questions, eventually a musical one occurred to me: "Steve, what is the best music of 2008 so far?" Looking over my collection, I noted several artists that will likely make my year-end best-of list--Vampire Weekend, Basia Bulat, Ra Ra Riot, and Mason Jennings among them--but I also realized that there are a lot of gaps in my knowledge of what has come out in 2008. It seems that for a long while now, most of my mixes have spanned many decades...which is great in a lot of respects, but at the same time, I have always enjoyed making mixes of brand new music that I just discovered that very same day. And so, thinking these thoughts, I set out to make another mix that had "Here & Now" written all over it.

Now not all of this music is from 2008: the Alton Ellis is from the 60s, Moxy Fruvous came from the early 90s, and a few other tracks are from 2003-2007. But 11 of 18 songs here were released this year, so that's not so bad. And from those, two artists especially stand out here: Thao and Santogold. Thao is Thao Nguyen, a female singer-songwriter whose songs are beautiful, quirky, and effervescent. Itunes compares her to Cat Power, which I might buy if Cat Power were on some really really good anti-depressants! Santogold is composed of various musicians but always fronted by Sandi White...and I'm not sure what I think of the band's complete body of work yet, but I will tell you I love her voice and I freaking love the song on this mix, "L.E.S. Artistes," like a fat kid loves cake. Oh man, that song's so awesome(!)...the Santogold, not the 50 Cent I referenced there, that is.

As is most everything here! Let me not mince words: If you're going to perhaps download only one mix this month, it should maybe be this one.

Here & Now
1. M79, Vampire Weekend
2. Bag of Hammers, Thao
3. Your Heart, Donovon Frankenreiter
4. L.E.S. Artistes, Santogold
5. Ghetto Pop Life, Danger Mouse & Jemini
6. Blue and Gold Print, Mates of State
7. Never Knew Your Name, Mason Jennings
8. Each Year, Ra Ra Riot
9. Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms, Frightened Rabbit
10. Whiter Shade of Pale, Alton Ellis
11. Run Off, Breathe Owl Breathe
12. Memphis, Tennessee, Mason Jennings
13. You've Really Got a Hold On Me, Thao
14. Stephen, Voxtrot
15. My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors, Moxy Fruvous
16. How Deep Is That River, Mason Jennings
17. Touch the Hem of His Garment, Basia Bulat
18. I Wish I Was the Moon, Neko Case

Vampire Weekend is probably going to be the band that gets my blog shut down, seeing as how I have given away virtually their entire album here...I had to buy the entire Thao album, it is so impressive!...this Frankenreiter song made the original mix of Vacation Song, then I cut it, so had to add it here...OMG I LUV "L.E.S. Artistes." Maybe the single of the year thus far? Or am I just infatuated?...I also love anything produced by Danger Mouse...still having trouble getting all the way in to this Mates of State album, but I dig this track...Mason Jennings should get lots of props here, too, as this mix features 3 beautiful songs from his newest album, In the Ever. I've purchased the whole thing now and it's really substantial work. Mason Jennings is seriously going to end up with a lifetime's body of work that will rival anybody's...Ra Ra Riot ra ra rules!...Frightened Rabbit seems like a band to keep your eyes on; love the guy's voice...I really love old reggae covers of old American pop songs, and this cover of "Whiter Shade of Pale" may be my favorite...I like how this "Run Off" song picks up steam, esp. with the "roo-hoo-hoo-hoo!" chorus...big shouts to Memphis, TN!...okay, you can hear the Cat Power in this Thao version of the old standard, "You've Really Got a Hold on Me"...Katy gave me this "Stephen" song by ultra-cool Voxtrot a while back. Is it self-absorbed to put it here?...Vanessa gave me this Moxy Fruvous song. So funny...a nice gospel-ish duet here with Mason Jennings and Basia Bulat..."I Wish I Was the Moon." Neko Case, how I want a new album from you!!!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Two Sides to Every Story

So, here's a mix I made this morning, when I should have been writing. Somehow it came to me that I needed to rock a bit harder than seems twice or thrice a year the need to listen to loud guitars overtakes my usual urge for well-crafted pop melody. Not that these songs aren't all well-crafted...and not that there isn't plenty of pop to be found on this mix. Just that there's a certain rock swagger that cuts through the whole mix, I think.

Man do I love that word: "Swagger."

Two Sides to Every Story

1. Beyond Belief, Elvis Costello
2. Stadiums and Shrines II, Sunset Rubdown
3. When the Levee Breaks, Led Zepplin
4. Nature of the Experiment, Tokyo Police Club
5. Mockingbirds, Grant Lee Buffalo
6. I Think I'm Going to Hell, My Morning Jacket
7. The Future, Leonard Cohen
8. Walcott, Vampire Weekend
9. Consequence, Incubus
10. Shady Lane, Pavement
11. Changes, David Bowie
12. Killing Lies, The Strokes
13. The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine, Spoon
14. Waitin' On A Friend, The Rolling Stones
15. You Don't Know How It Feels, Tom Petty
16. Turn My Head, Live
17. Life In A Glass House, Radiohead
18. Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine (Live), Bob Dylan

"Beyond Belief" is one of my favorite Elvis Costello joints...and speaking of guitars, this Sunset Rubdown track features some weidly excellent axe "When the Levee Breaks" Led Zep's best work? It's up there...Tokyo Police Club is a very interesting group, check out their body of work..."Mockingbirds" by GLB. This song got me through Fall 05 all by does MMJ rock!--and in a variety of styles...Leonard Cohen still equals God...Vampire Weekend is surely positioning themselves to take home Steve's Album of 2008 Award...this morning I realized how much I miss listening to Incubus..."A shady lane / everybody wants one / a shady lane / everbody needs one." So true Mr. Malkmus...I tend not to give Bowie enough credit, but that guy is as seminal as anybody to me...I can't wait for a new Strokes album, whenever that will be..."He makes love to the duke, he swordfights the queen / he steals the whole show in his last dying scene / no one sees the two sides of Monsieur Valentine"...speaking of swagger, ladies and gentlemen, Mick Jagger!...remember the video to this Tom Petty song? Awesome...I don't think people think of the album Secret Samadhi when they think of Live, but that's my favorite from them...still groovin' on Radiohead after the concert...Bob Dylan swaggered sometimes, too. When he felt the need.