Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson | Awake on Foreign Shores & Judges | A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Published in: on July 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dead Man’s Bones

Apparently, everyone and their great-aunt twice-removed has already heard about Ryan Gosling’s band, Dead Man’s Bones. My friend James Lee and I decided that, despite the fact that he falls squarely in the “handsome Hollywood” camp, we don’t despise Gosling, because he actually seems to be cool. Checking out this “band” confirms that his quirkiness and ingenuity are genuine.

Gosling is a member of an unusually successful pack of former Mouseketeers, which includes Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. “Really?,” you ask. Yes, it’s true. And although nothing in this band indicates a future career as a glamorous pop star, his rapport with the children’s choir in this video neatly demonstrates the benefits of having been one of them in a former life.

Full of doo-woppy zombie silliness and spiced with genuine childlike dread, Dead Man’s Bones is helmed by Gosling and Zach Shields, and according to Wikipedia is based on their mutual obsession with the Disneyland Haunted Mansion, and childhood traumas about ghosts. To me, this is an example of the best kind of star-powered side-project – fun, collaborative, strange, and somehow both essential and superfluous to the star’s career. I put “band” in quotes, because the focus is really on the project itself, and not the formation of a long-lived group. Given the project’s organizing principle, subject matter, and overall tone it makes total sense that it incorporates a children’s choir. Plus, what’s creepier than a bunch of kids singing? Listening to the music and watching the videos, one gets a sense that the kids really are a part of the process and not just being exploited for effect. I really wish I could have seen this in concert. Or even better, been one of the kids in the choir, because it looks like they’re having a blast.

Check out a couple videos below, and don’t miss the website, which is appropriately disconcerting and full of other fun stuff.

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Dead Man’s Bones


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Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 12:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Louvin Brothers

I’ve long found it ironic that, despite my disdain for religiosity, songs about Jesus (especially if they are over 100-years old) are some of my favorites. I would never have imagined, seeing the cover for the Louvin Brothers’ album Satan Is Real for the first time, that I would one day grow to love listening to songs about loving the Christian life.

"For once't I had a happy home"

That’s what happened, though. Rather than leading me to believe in God, Satan, or the sinfulness of drink, hundreds of listens have made me a believer in the heavenliness of Charlie and Ira Louvin’s gorgeous harmonies. A part of me wishes that Satan was real, so that I could sell my soul to him in exchange for the ability to sing like this.

Charlie Louvin died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday, 46 years after Ira died in a car crash. The story of their influential music, rocky relationship, Ira’s hot temper and personal battle with alcohol, and Charlie’s remarkable post-Ira perseverance can be found in detail on the current homepage of, and Wikipedia. In an interview with Terry Gross (thump, thump) from 1996, Charlie talks about how he still moves to the left of the microphone to make way for his brother during the harmony parts of songs.

I encourage anyone who has any interest in country music, singing, awesome singing, or awesome music in general to seek out some Louvin Brothers. Trust me, all the cheesiness and proselytising is well worth it.

I Like the Christian Life:

The Family Who Prays:

From the Grand Ole Opry:

Published in: on January 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm  Leave a Comment  


I was raised in a house where toy guns were not allowed. Frequently, my parents would bend for clear plastic, brightly colored squirt guns – but anything that resembled or invoked a real gun was seriously frowned upon. Of course, this didn’t prevent me from playing “guns.”

Construx - 100% cooler than Legos

Like any enterprising, red-blooded American boy, I simply used the parent-approved sets of Legos and Construx to build my own guns. Also, sticks. I don’t view my parents’ approach to this topic as a failure, though. I think the important thing was not preventing me from shooting fake guns, but the clear, consistent message that guns are not a plaything, and that violence is not okay.

As a result, I’ve developed a kind of split, parallel attitude towards guns. On one hand, I have very, very little interest in real guns – certainly no interest in having one anywhere near my house, and not quite enough interest to ever go shoot one.

I’ve never bought the argument that “law-abiding citizens owning guns makes our communities safer.” I grew up in neighborhoods with plenty of gun owners, of both the law-abiding and non-law-abiding variety (funny how we act like that’s an impermeable division) and I never once heard about one of these law-abiders using his/her gun to protect him/herself. What I did hear about is the gangbanger who was shot in the alley behind my house, the five-year old girl who got caught in crossfire while playing in her grandmother’s living room, and the cop’s son from down the street who blew half his face off playing with his dad’s gun.

On the other hand, I take great pleasure in spending a couple dollars shooting zombies in the arcade after a movie. Basically my attitude boils down to: Toy guns can be fun, real guns are not toys.

Like many people, the recent shootings in Tucson have got me thinking a lot about guns and our relationship to them. I’m not a Constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that there’s no way in hell our founding fathers would ever ever (ever) have thought it was a good idea for people to be running around with war machines that can shoot 31 bullets in a matter of seconds. To me, Seth Myers nailed it on a recent edition of Weekend Update:

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Recently, the New Yorker published an interesting article by Jill Lepore titled The Commandments – The Constitution and its worshippers which illuminates the history of our public relationship to the Constitution, and the ways in which it has been manipulated and interpreted. Highlights include anecdotes about Ben Franklin, insight into the fairly new phenomena of “Originalist” interpretation and 2nd Amendment activism (see N.R.A.), and stats about how little Americans actually know about it.

“Pop quiz, from a test administered by the Hearst Corporation in 1987.

True or False: The following phrases are found in the U.S. Constitution:
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
“The consent of the governed.”
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“All men are created equal.”
“Of the people, by the people, for the people.”

This is what’s known as a trick question. None of these phrases are in the Constitution. Eight in ten Americans believed, like Boehner, that “all men are created equal” was in the Constitution. Even more thought that “of the people, by the people, for the people” was in the Constitution. (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, 1863.) Nearly five in ten thought “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was written in Philadelphia in 1787. (Karl Marx, 1875.)”

Obviously, this is a complex issue. For me though, I have to agree with Mayor Daley, who pointed out after the shooting in Tucson that all of the talk about rhetoric and who inspired who to do what overlooked the real issue – that these kinds of guns are available for people to buy and use. Say what you want about Sarah Palin’s disgusting rhetoric (I heard a spokesperson on NPR actually try to deny that the gunsight graphic used on a political map to point to Giffords’ district was not necessarily meant to depict a gun. Really? How do you “lock and load” a telescope?), the simple, inarguable reality is that it is impossible to fire a gun that does not exist. And, of course, just slightly less impossible to fire a musket from 1787 that takes forever to load.

Published in: on January 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Black Keys ~ Brothers

Another one of those bands that I just haven’t gotten into before. Just got my hands on this album and I can’t stop listening to it. Soulful, direct, retro without being derivative, quality songwriting. My impression is that until this album they’ve always just been a guitar/drums duo, and I gotta say I’m glad to hear a whole band. Why do so many bands these days think that bass is superfluous? Oh well.

Other than being an endorsement for the band itself, this album seriously contradicts my theory that producer Danger Mouse has jumped the shark. Definitely check out the album, and these live clips, which show that Patrick Carney may be one of the weirdest looking drummers around.

Ten Cent Pistol, live at Portland’s KINK radio:

Howlin’ For You, on SNL:

Tighten Up:

Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 1:17 pm  Comments (1)  

The Flowers of Edo

A couple of years ago I was involved in writing a grant proposal for Chicago’s Japanese American Service Committee. The project, called Winning the Peace (which is archived online here), was a historical exhibit about the Japanese-Americans who served during WWII as members of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). I won’t go into detail, but the whole story involves the forced internment of Japanese-Americans, the conflicted state of these MIS members who were risking their lives for America while their families were being rounded up as a “threat” to the country, and their strangely little-known, but significant, contribution to ending the war. These sometimes heartbreaking, and often heroic stories hold a great deal of resonance with dynamics in our present day (substitute Muslims for Japanese), and a helpful prism through which to view our past, present and future.

I haven’t read the new book about this, called Flowers of Edo, by Michael Dana Kennedy, but his brief interview on PRI’s The World is succinct and enlightening. Check it out.

Published in: on January 14, 2011 at 11:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Social Animal ~ David Brooks


An engaging article from the current New Yorker magazine about human happiness that points out, among other things, that it’s communication and socialization, not success, that tend to make humans happy.  Check it out.

Published in: on January 13, 2011 at 9:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Eyedea and Abilities ~ Spin Cycle & This Story


After hearing about these guys for a few years I finally got to see them last year at Reggie’s. Which is lucky, since Eyedea died in October last year, ostensibly from a drug overdose.

Their onstage presence was a study in contrasts – Eyedea pogoing and flopping about looking like a scrappy renegade gas station employee working himself into a frenzy like he was getting ready to swallow the mic, Abilities the picture of hip-hop cool back behind turntables and computers. Their music deftly straddles rock and hip-hop, with many of the samples and loops provided by Eyedea in the studio. At the end of one of their songs (I think it may have been Spin Cycle, below), Abilities used a record to play a very convincing guitar solo, in key, with different notes and everything. I’ve never seen a DJ do something so tonally advance. It was impressive.

Spin Cycle, in the studio (check out the “guitar solo” at the end):

This Story:

Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gorillaz ~ The Fall

Apparently, Damon Albarn is the MacGuyver of pop, able to make great music with little more than a stick of chewing gum, a paperclip, and some cat hair. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But he did make a pretty great album on his iPad over one month while on tour. I kind of hate him.

You can (and should) stream the album on the Gorillaz website: The Fall

Published in: on January 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

From New Yorker magazine.

Published in: on December 29, 2010 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment