smogging
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.

 

It's Wednesday. We're going to make that Smog day.

According to the Drag City website, Bill Callahan a) doesn't look anything like I thought, b) has been recording music since 1990. His new record, A River Ain't Too Much to Love comes out in about two weeks. He is a very, very good artist.

Let's be chronological with these songs.

Smog - "Red Apples" (Floating EP version). It's strange that Smog's strange, inky song is, today, better known as performed by Cat Power. Her version is a great one: the blues of the song, its sadness, is more explicitly voiced by Chan. But Smog's LP recording of it, on Red Apple Falls, draws its power from a different rhythm, less swing and more plod, monotony giving weight to the images. The organ's deep in the background, the wavering silenced sound of - well, something. Something important.

This version of "Red Apples" is taken from Floating, a 7" released in 1991 (six years before RAF). It's lofi and silly, that warbling synth-squeezebox thing, like the song's being played on a wobbly jell-o piano. But as the song wears on (and it doesn't "wear" for very long: Callahan keeps it short here;) that goofy sound starts to sound more and more desperate, more and more absurd, awful and trembling and wrong. The narrative, sinister and enticing, gains a note of even more high-stakes urgency. It's like Eraserhead. I scare, I weep, I pang, I worry, listening to the last fuzzy words - "for us-" - and then he's cut off. (By what?)

I went down to the river
To meet the widow
She gave me an apple
It was red

I slept in her black arms
For a century
She wanted nothing in return
I gave her nothing in return
I gave her nothing in return

The ghost of her husband
Beautiful as a horse
Pulled up an apple cart
Full of millions of red apples

For us


Smog - "Look Now". This single was released in 1999, although it's not included on that year's LP, Knock Knock. (Look at that cover!) One of Smog's calling cards is the circling instrumental line, chords that build for a few measures and then return home, repeating for minutes on end. He'll call things out over the circling sounds - here acoustic guitar, piano, - and make them change colours, his lyrics turning it all into something else. It's subtle but it's beautiful. On "Look Now", the track feels at times lonely, at times energized, at times immobile - when the overdubbing comes in, it's becoming empowered, joyful, it's gaining momentum. It's soft and it's also firm. It's an invitation. It's a love-song. Sort of. "Look now! Look!"


Smog - "The Well". A River Ain't Too Much to Love sounds fantastic. Every instrument seems to rub a different spot, and Bill Callahan's voice comes coffeecrackly in your ear, perfectly close-and-removed, perfect perfect perfect. "The Well" is a glorious song, funny and surprising and frankly, pretty close to transcendent. It's got that typical Smog repetition, but every time each part of the song arrives (cymbal shush, violin scrape), it's like a bud springing into bloom. It seems to be on a loop, but there are those little beats of difference, voices answering Smog's song, when everything changes (slightly, slightly).

And, of course, it's hysterical. When Smog first calls "Hooo!", it takes a moment to realize what's happening. And by the time he says "Hello," it's funny. Then you know what's coming, you get excited, you wait and wait and - yeah, Smog, he just slows everything down. It's a joke at your expense, he's going to draw this out - but when the punch-line does finally come, it's not said like a punch-line. There's an awkward sidewaysness to the delivery. It means something.

And where I'm moved is when the drums gear up in the end, in the rainbow moment where all the song's rhymes and themes burst up together, astonishingly written, wry and poetic, a lesson taught, a lesson learned, a joke and a parable. And my heart just swells on a woody springtime day.

A River Ain't Too Much to Love is released on May 31. You would do well to buy a lot of Smog stuff in anticipation: he is great.

---

Said the Gramophone - Rilo Kiley/Idiot Jed Contest

Last week I called a contest because Warner Music was offering our readers new(ish) CDs by Rilo Kiley and Idiot Jed. Both are up and coming bands of some note - you've even heard Rilo Kiley here (albeit not from me).

The challenge for the contest was as follows:

You must draw a picture using rudimentary computer art software (MS Paint, Graphic Converter, etc.), or using PhotoShop but with one hand tied behind your back, which incorporates the words "SAID THE GRAMOPHONE". These pictures will be judged entirely on awesomeness - that is to say, neither the best, the worst, the funniest or the disgustingest pictures will win, merely the awesomest.

The submissions were slammin', so I'm going to post them all. Click any image for a bigger version. First of all, though, the winners:

Contest Idea prize - Jgriz
(will receive one CD of his choice)

Jgriz came up with the "stupid-art-with-stg" theme, so he wins a CD. I even have his address already!

First Place - Arif Richter
(will receive both Rilo Kiley + Idiot Jed CDs)

Arif's contribution was indisputably the most awesome picture I received. It has an ant-eater tongue-unicorn thing nibbling at an MP3 book. It has a flying thing. It has a sunrise and a tree and another sun and skyscrapers out the window. It has a ladder leading into a palm tree. It has a chesterfield. And look! It has a turntable. Hooray!


Second Place - Elizabeth McKee
(will receive both Rilo Kiley + Idiot Jed CDs)

Trees with robot-heads and banana-arms are awesome. What sold it for me, though, I think, was the cute girl in the corner and the swirlycurly Gramophone font. And the fact that the "THE" was spelled out in pink space-battling, um, things.


Third Place - Mason
(will receive both Rilo Kiley + Idiot Jed CDs)

Awesome in a totally different way. Although it was clearly done by someone who knows what they're doing, I loved the sloppiness to it, the sullen-confused-breaking love that's caught in those thick-circled eyes. More importantly, the phone.


Fourth Place - Dustin Goodyear
(will receive one CD of his choice)


Fifth Place - Matt
(will receive one CD)


Sixth Place - Spencer Dobbs
(will receive one CD)


The other totally rad entries:

Winners: Please email me your postal addresses and CD preferences (Rilo Kiley or Idiot Jed), from the same email addresses you used to submit your entries.

Thank-you all for your submissions, and congraulations to the winners. Oh - and thanks to the Rob for making this possible.

Posted by Sean at May 10, 2005 8:09 PM
Comments

I think it's time for a new logo, you've got a nice pick there...

Posted by Matthew in London at May 11, 2005 9:15 AM

Is that reverse chronological or forward?

Nice tracks, nice art.

Posted by Tuwa at May 11, 2005 1:44 PM

Thanks for posting The Well, it's really a fantastic song. I'm gonna try to go to the release party in Big Sur at the end of the month. 2 hour drive, but it should be worth it.

Posted by Eric Rojas at May 11, 2005 3:15 PM

Been digging "The Well" for awehile, glad to see it get some more 'press". It's an amazing song, just beautiful, funny, and makes me want to dance around. What a story to it too.

Posted by SmallWonderRobot at May 11, 2005 5:20 PM

The cover of Knock Knock sure has a lot of cat power, doesn't it?

Posted by Pleasant Plains at May 11, 2005 5:46 PM

My favourite is definitely the green one. 'cause that guy is singing, through his nose, to that miniature camel zebra.

Posted by Dan at May 11, 2005 6:56 PM

Sean, Do you really have a beard?
Annette

Posted by annette at May 11, 2005 8:44 PM

I do - but it's not a very good one. Is this ok?

Posted by Sean at May 12, 2005 2:54 AM

thanks for the Smog tracks. Haven't listened to him for awhile. I remember hearing about him via the Flaming Lips. They covered one of his songs on an EP they released and their story about Bill Callahan really intrigued me and made me want to check him out.

Thanks again.

-cb

Posted by cb at May 17, 2005 2:26 AM

I got my CDs today (via express)
No Idiot Jed though, but Idiot Pilot! ( http://idiotpilot.com/ ) Never heard of them, no idea what to expect, but i guess i ll find out (sticker on the case says: "[..]between the blurry atmospherics of Radiohead, bleepy techno & the throat-shredding metal of the Deftones")

Again, thanks a lot!

Posted by Arif at June 6, 2005 9:42 AM

p.s.: for some reason both cases are cut. no clue why, does anyone know? not that i care or something, just looks weird: http://yact.net/cut.jpg

Posted by Arif at June 6, 2005 9:48 AM

Hi Arif.

It seems likely that I, like an idiot, messed up the name of the band in question. Very sorry! (Sigh.)

CD cases are often cut when they are "promo" copies from labels, to reduce resales. Some labels are mean and don't like critics who right reviews of their CDs to be able to resell them if they don't like them! (A lot of used cd shops will still buy cut cds, mind.)

Posted by Sean at June 6, 2005 10:07 AM

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

Site design and header typography by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet. The header graphic is randomized: this one is by .
PAST AUTHORS
Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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