It comes as something of a surprise that one of the best pieces of writing on music I read this past year wasn’t even about a 2013 release, but rather a future one. Father John Misty’s open (and promotional) letter to the world about Damien Jurado’s upcoming album, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, does more in its short span to wrestle with contemporary listener pathologies, and goes further into grappling with notions of faith and the spiritual as they relate to creative expression in the modern world, than most music critics will in years worth of writing. Not surprising is that this came from a fellow musician. I quote below, but the whole thing is worth yer while:
You know what else they have a lot of in “America”? Religion. Don’t leave out that old-time relijun or your souffle of polite, revisionist, fantasy America is going to fall flat at the foot of the Cross. When “folk” comes up in their iTunes genre column, them lily-white champions of gravel-voiced, hard-won-wisdom-shilling, Millennial old-timin’™ expect some goddamn symbolic imagery, man! Not actual faith per se, I mean, c’mon now, what are you: fucking insane?
Damien Jurado is every character in every Damien Jurado song. He is the gun, the purple anteater, the paper wings, the avalanche, the air show disaster, Ohio, the ghost of his best friend’s wife. It is a universe unto its own, with its own symbolism, creation myth, and liturgy. You might go as far as to call it a religion, and your religion is a character in his religion.
Level with me. You’re reading this because of Damien Jurado’s new album […] You are a progressive minded, left-leaning person who in parlor-style conversation regarding the globo-political ramifications of Sky Person relationships laughs knowingly so as not to be judgmental and very reasonably concedes “Well, I don’t believe He’s some old man with a beard sitting up in the clouds” at which point everyone agrees on (insert benign middle-ground) and moves on.
Consider this: What if the only way to understand a religion is to create your own? Who is this Silver community? Where the hell are they in the Bible? Is this heresy? Agnostic reference? Isn’t this sun business a little, I don’t know, animistic? Pagan? Go ahead and answer that question for yourself. I’ll give you a second. Do you understand the music any better?
Faith is like theater: it isn’t meant to be read, or analyzed it is meant to be performed and inhabited. Upon being asked if he believed in Gawd or not, Norman Mailer replied, “Sure, why don’t you and make him better?”
Questions of the spiritual or faith as it resides in music, especially in the western tradition, for a very long while seems to have been one of those ‘tread lightly’ topics for most all of the self-serious scribes chronicling the evolution of popular music. Exceptions to this rule of course exist, but from my vantage point there remains a strikingly agnostic attitude when it comes to considering the deep river of creation from which every artist worth their salt will tell you they tap into. A typical allusion to this fact by a writer will be expressed in an aspiritual way, most often by tracking a cultural lineage of influences to situate the artist within an identifiable cannon of expression. And while that can be helpful when discussing larger collective histories and movements, it effectively de-mystifies the artist’s pursuit, which in its purest form is a mystical practice. An artifact born of great creativity will always be a small scale archetypal remnant of creation itself.
If we take seriously this question of higher, more divinely sourced consciousness, and ourselves as the humble translators fashioning these empyreal dialogues into material form, we run the risk of sounding like a nice brochure for an also-ran Joshua Tree retreat, or, less generously, perhaps like we’re naïve. Perish the thought of actively seeking and visiting with the unknowable or ineffable; in our banal age of tech-forward solutions for seemingly every human problem, where consumption, possession, and connection births our nobility, the capacity for stillness, the inherent need to convene with the expanse of our inner selves, meets a slow dry death. This is where the artists intervene, where music hits the spheres. Where acts of passionate listening become active protests against such mitigating factors on the soul . . . and where my long windedness comes around to talking about the quintet of albums I was most taken with in 2013. ___________________________________________________________________ Steve Gunn – Time Off
In a classroom recently, a young man with an inquisitive look asked me, “Do you like rock festivals?”
“I suppose I do. Depends which one.”
“Yeah, I kinda thought so. My mom was somewhat of a hippie and she took me to a bunch of music festivals up in the mountains growing up. Now, like, I can’t get past listening to the Grateful Dead.”
“How old are you?”
. . .
Steve Gunn will readily admit he can’t get past the Grateful Dead either, and this is without question a good thing. His unadulterated love of the mesmeric jam, known scientifically as a mind expansion device used in strategic attacks against the compartmentalized parts of the brain, heard/experienced on Time Off as cyclical guitar phrases and a near heroic sense of finding the groove and “lettin’ in ride,” is an unsolicited but wholly necessary antidote for freeing up some roaming space in the ol’ noggin. ___________________________________________________________________ Califone – Stitches
Cut the connection / Just to stitch it together / Again again again
Focused and vibrant, with a deft balance of new world textures and old world tradition, Califone’s 2013 release Stitches offers a complex and layered blend of word, sound, and color; synesthesia for the music seeker. Washes of autumnal tones dance with gracefully staged rhythms while narratives born of a searching, so focused it could be called a type of faith, contrast and create expressive patchworks rich with imagery and open breadth. Given proper and mindful attention, this record unfolds revealing a multidimensionality of intent that will linger long after it passes the ears.
Like a fine wine, Califone just better with age.
___________________________________________________________________ Cass McCombs – Big Wheel and Others
Small wheel run by faith
Big wheel run by grace
A wheel in a wheel go round and round
So gets rolling the title cut to Cass McCombs’ capital L-P long player, or what could otherwise be considered a keen, and wry, dissertation on an idiosyncratic American west, one that any real resident wouldn’t be forgiven for not recognizing. Literary in its scope, and populated by a cast of wayward peoples lost from a Sam Shepard play, McCombs’ ‘wheel within a wheel’ invocation at the album’s outset rightly situates the complicated struggle inherent in the process of identity. Do we view ourselves strictly within the physical and material paradigm of this allegedly fallen world, with faith playacting as our bridge to more ultimate states of understanding? Or can we identify directly with divined grace as our inherited expression on this planet? Bear in mind also that this type of questioning is situated within a song that comes from the perspective of a man longing to be behind a bulldozer to push dirt around.
McCombs’ gift is his ability to take these matters serious enough to explore them with a levity and gentle nature, utterly lacking the trap of sanctimony many a skilled songwriters would fall into.
___________________________________________________________________ Bill Callahan – Dream River
Giving praise in a quiet way / like a church that’s far away
If it hasn’t become apparent yet, this year figured a big one with what Father John Misty might more agreeably call the “hard-won-wisdom-slingin'” American songwriters caste. Bill factors hugely in this troupe of javelin throwers. Perhaps the most sharply distilled of them all, he seems with each release to hack further and further into some type of core conception of what the songwriting process is or can be. What remains here on Dream River is soul music as expressed on an individual level, a more literal iteration of the term and perhaps more a universal one as well.
___________________________________________________________________ James Blackshaw & Melnyk Lubomyr – The Watchers
In Enochian literature, The Watchers are angels sent by the Holy One to Earth to oversee the seeded creation. Once there however, they soon fall prey to lust for human women. Led by their leader Samyaza, a pact forms to rebel against the heavens by procreating with them as well as illicitly teaching greater humanity advanced technologies in weaponry, science, and the arts. Their offspring, large savages known as the Nephilim, run rampant across the Earth threatening the future survival of humankind. At that point, archangels Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel have had it with the insanity, asking then God to cast judgement upon the fallen angels for their corrupting nature. Uriel is then sent to Noah as a messenger to warn and prepare him for the upcoming cataclysm of The Flood. As punishment to The Watchers, God declares:
And when their sons have slain one another, and they have seen the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them fast for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, till the day of their judgement and of their consummation, till the judgement that is for ever and ever is consummated. In those days they shall be led off to the abyss of fire: (and) to the torment and the prison in which they shall be confined for ever. And whosoever shall be condemned and destroyed will from thenceforth be bound together with them to the end of all generations.”
Now what this all has to do with the four blissfully exquisite guitar and piano improvisations contained on this album . . . heck if I really know. But shucks if it don’t make for a compelling subtext! ___________________________________________________________________ And of course, because there is always just too much good music to adequately give testimony to here, this is an extended mix of many other great releases from 2013. ENJOY! 1. Majical Cloudz: “Turns Turns Turns” from Impersonator
2. Merchandise: “Anxiety’s Door” from Totale Nite
3. Hiss Golden Messenger: “Sufferer (Love My Conqueror)” from Haw
4. Ty Segall: “6th Street” from Sleeper
5. Thee Oh Sees: “Maze Francier” from Floating Coffin
6. Cave: “Shikaakwa” from Threace
7. !!!: “Even When the Water’s Cold” from THR!!!ER
8. Golden Gunn: “Dickie’s Theme” from Golden Gunn
9. Glenn Jones: “Alcoeur Gardens” from My Garden State
10. Danny Paul Grody: “Time Spirals” from Between Two Worlds
11. The Besnard Lakes: “People of the Sticks” from Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO
12. These New Puritans: “Fragment Two” from Field of Reeds
13. DARKSIDE: “Paper Trails” from Psychic
14. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: “Finishing Jubilee” from Push The Sky Away
15. Mazzy Star: “California” from Seasons of Your Day
16. Forest Swords: “An Hour” from Engravings
17. Oneohtrix Point Never: “Chrome Country” from R Plus Seven
18. William Onyeabor: “Good Name” from World Psychedelic Classic 5: Who Is William Onyeabor?
>>Download Transa 2013 Mix HERE<<
Rest In Peace Lou Reed