Wednesday, July 29, 2009

on music...

...and being an artist. But in the place of my own rant here, I'm gonna leave it to some of the people I admire most on Earth to put into words what I can't yet get past a deep emotional state.

I found this Melissa Etheridge quote a while back; I can't remember where, but it really spoke to me and to where I feel music or any art should be coming from:
And this sort of whole dream of success and this dream of “I’ve got to have a hit song”, “I’ve got to do this” – it wasn’t mine – I don’t wish to dream that anymore. I wish to create - I believe that there’s a world out there, who wants to hear music like this, who wants to put music on to be fed, to be nourished, to be held up and enlightened and excitened. And I believe that artists do that for people, and that I can do that for people."

A couple of years back,
KT Tunstall (an artist I have a great deal of respect and affection for) recorded a beautiful acoustic album over a few days around Christmas on the Isle Of Skye, and during a little clip from the adjacent DVD, she says something which I had to rewind and listen to twice or three times because of how much it was my exact way of thinking. It really stuck, to the extent that I paraphrased it as the title of my music blog, "Chasing Songs":
"My experience of writing music is that I don't really have a choice, it just..I kind of follow it. I'm sort of chasing songs, and I catch up with them."

Alanis Morissette is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the most talented and characteristically beautiful artists on the planet right now or for a long time. Her generosity of wisdom and of her gift, her peaceful spirituality, and her humble earthliness and warmth all make her, for me, a truly phenomenal artist. These words speak so directly to me, I can't imagine explaining the basis on which my mind, ambition, & heart work better than she has:
"I live to heal ruptures and bridge the human and the divine aspects of life, and I hope that by sharing my own experiences through speaking, writing and art, I can support people in their personal journeys, wherever they may be at," she explains. "The initial writing is for me, and the sharing of it is my offering to others to make these songs and writings their own. For people to derive comfort, inspiration, validation or self-definition in accordance to what I write or how I live...this is my service."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Regina Spektor's "Far", & gig at the Serpentine Sessions, Hyde Park (06/29/09).

Good afternoon all :)
I realized recently that I kind of mentally/verbally write hundreds of reviews, and so I'm thinking it might be fun to actually get some down somewhere. And seeing as this is the place for getting things down, here goes.

The Record:

It's been almost ten days since I bought Regina Spektor's latest album "Far", and I'm thinking now is the optimum reviewing moment. Ok, so we should probably get one thing straight before I start writing this: I love Regina Spektor. In my iTunes there resides five hours' worth of Regina (all five available albums, and whatever else I can find without the use of things like LimeWire, which I dislike intensely). Of eighty-three songs, sixteen are rated four stars and the rest are five-and I take my iTunes ratings very seriously and am very conservative in my starring. For the purposes of perspective, No Doubt (who are my favorite band of all time, and whose entire discography I also own) have only twelve five-star songs, out of ninety-one. And I arguably love every No Doubt song that has ever been recorded. So, yeah, Regina Spektor is an utter genius and I cannot fault her. I adore her originality, the strength and beauty of her voice, her command of instruments/random objects as instruments (including her evident life long bond with her main instrument, piano). And I love her character. When she sings, it's as though she becomes the music-she's so alive and big and strong and animated; and then as soon as the last note rings, this sweet, shy, modest, even child-like persona emerges-usually expressing profuse gratitude to her audience. I love her love and her oddness and bravery and talent, and I love her spirit and...I'm gonna stop now because I may be worrying my girlfriend slightly haha. But nevertheless, it does happen that artists I adore release albums that disappoint me (Alanis' "So Called Chaos", zum beispiel, made me almost resent her being in a stable relationship hah), and I'm always part nail-biting when waiting for a release from someone important in case it fails to enamor me.

When I first start listening to a new album, I always resist shuffling to start with so that I hear it in the intended order and don't neglect songs that I haven't heard yet or don't immediately click with. During the first few runs of "Far", it immediately struck me as having a very different atmosphere from previous albums, especially the most recent, "Begin To Hope", in that the first few songs almost seemed to flow into one another; rare for Regina, as her tracklists are usually so eclectically varying in style and subject matter they read like titles off the "other" shelf in Odd Library, Randomsville, Tennessee haha. For want of a less ridiculous analogy. So this album has that new element for me for a start; it flows, and so listening to it in its entirety feels like a journey, which I really love in any record.

Another development is the unexpected presence of far more "personal" lyrics than usual; a defining quality of Regina's music, and one of the first things one would most likely notice when listening to especially her earlier work, is that much of her writing is in dramatic monologue, which adds to her unique quality and gives her subject matter a warming universal feel, but means that we don't see much actual Regina directly. What I mean is that, when listening to an artist, one of the most prominent aspects of appreciation for me is feeling as though I'm getting to know the writer through his or her lyrics-which is more of a challenge when the artist is often writing from others' perspectives or telling stories, however enthralling the stories may be. So, much as I love this aspect of Regina's writing, I appreciate the more personal lyrics occasionally-this was something I liked about B.T.H. and am glad to see in Far as well :)

I have to say I'm also shamelessly overjoyed to see the return of a lack of accessibility/increase in oddness in songs like "Genius Next Door" and "Dance Anthem Of The 80's", and also of that kind of uplifting, wise characteristic found in "Laughing With" which is reminiscent of "Ghost Of Corporate Future", the first Regina song I ever heard and fell in love with all those years (three or four haha) ago when I stumbled across Queen Spektor by chance on MySpace, back in the day when you could search by genre and location (genre: folk/alternative, location: New York). MySpace has done some good to the world after all haha.

I am super happy to see the inclusion of songs such as "Blue Lips", & "Human Of The Year", which I'd heard live and loved and hoped would make it onto the next album. I am feeling the lack of "Bobbing For Apples" slightly, but can see its place as a live number and its potential to have rifted the flow of the album slightly with its... volume? Haha. Also very very glad at the joy and positive energy that the presence of "Wallet" and "Folding Chair" brings; again, having heard live versions of these I hoped they'd make the cut, so :)

My overall? "Far" is a beautiful, full, perfectly Spektor album, with lines like "what if the sword kills the pen?" living strongly alongside "...we're all laughing with God.", and old school stories like "Riot Gear" and "Genius Next Door" flowing seamlessly into the bravely immediate "Eet", "The Calculation", and "One More Time With Feeling", both species of song speaking with that universal quality that Spektor so often carries, but for different reasons. I love that for me it seems to show an evolution in Regina, but that she hasn't succumbed to the very easy trap of yielding to commercial success and grown accordingly into something not herself (not that we ever dreamt she would). I love that I can sit and listen to it and fall into its feel or atmosphere and be in a state of joy illimited but still very awake. I love Regina and I love "Far".

Rating: Immaculate Collection

The Gig:

The first time I saw Regina Spektor live was at Festival Hall a couple of winters ago, and that was one hell of a concert. Mesmerizing, beautiful, and unique. The audience was respectfully silent during every song; you could hear every perfect note and line resonate through the apt venue throughout every song, broken only by the wild release of applause between songs which continued into a roaring, full standing ovation for the entire five or ten minute pause before the encore and pretty positively identified the during-song silence as out of pure respect. And it was a phenomenal gig, which fit perfectly with its surroundings in what is very much a concert hall. It was concert perfection, almost classical, and it left me in awe.

But, in her own words, "good is better than perfect", and I'll take a gig over a concert if pushed-and Hyde Park was a gig. A reviewer in the Guardian (in a review of Bon Iver's set the following day) described the tented stage at the Serpentine Sessions as "in the shadow" of Blur's big loud stage, also up in Hyde Park, and I'll allow that it was a little intrusive on first walking into the area, but the gig that took place in that comparatively little stage in the tent outshone any gig that I can imagine on the hulking industrial monster beside it. The very smallness of the venue actually gave the gig a real intimacy and feeling of connection not only with Regina herself but with the crowd as well. I spent the couple of hours with my shoes off, singing along with the lack of inhibition of being in the shower (as I always do at gigs :) ), loving her presence and the whole spirit of the time & place, and appreciating the perfection of this gig in its imperfection and individuality, and Regina's evident ability to bring this sense of moment and fitting unique character to each live performance. Not particularly long, not in some arrogant big-stuff venue, and not with comfy seats or a perfect view, but this was easily the most awesome gig I've ever been to.

Moment of the night: just before "Bobbing For Apples" Regina, apparently overcome by the uncontrolled applause and general reception- "Man...I wish I could fit all of New York City in here; everyone would be so happy to see you guys. You're fucking awesome."