Courtney Barnett - "Avant Gardener"
Last year around this time, I had this job as a receptionist at a massage therapy clinic. The place was a kind of pseudo-spa whose overall vibe hovered somewhere between utility and luxury; it was small, just a few rooms, not super-fancy, but also not the kind of place you'd ever go if you didn't have health insurance. It was up on the second floor of a storefront, above a place that sold fancy hearing aids, in a sleepy/bougie part of town not far from where I lived. My bosses were these two women, a mother and a daughter, who had opened the clinic together for wildly different reasons - the daughter because it had always been her dream, and the mother because she was bored and unhappy and had a lot of money.
I got to know the mother pretty well - let's call her A. - not because she really worked there, but because she'd come in and sit next to me at the front desk on days when she didn't have anything else to do, complaining about all the people in the world who were trying to trick her out of her money or her dignity. She was from the most frustrating and depressing subspecies of day-job boss - the kind of person it would be very easy to feel heart-piercing sympathy for if you did not also rely on them for orders and a paycheque. There was another receptionist too; C., a girl with the breathiest calm I'd ever encountered, who wrote self-help books in her off-hours and whose every spoken word felt edged with a faint glow of quiet strength and spiritual purity even when she was just asking if you could take out the garbage or whatever. Her hair was perfect, and every patient who came in melted at her hi, welcome, and next to her I looked and felt like a tornado or a house destroyed by one. You cannot complain to a person who speaks in pure light about how much your contractor wanted to charge you to knock out a wall - your words will just burn up in their atmosphere - but me, I'm different.
Actually this is, I'm pretty sure, why A. hired me in the first place. I do not necessarily look or act particularly calm or spa-like, but I can listen like a motherfucker, especially when I'm being paid to do so. (You hear a lot, out in the world, about the various indignities of shitty minimum-wage work, but I feel like no one really talks about how easily and often you can end up becoming your superiors' de facto sounding board, psychiatrist.) A.'s unhappiness rang out a strange chord against the rest of the place's hypercalculated, Bed Bath & Beyond-y calm; she'd complain to me about what an asshole her dog-walker was as I replaced the "LAUGHTER"-scented oil in the diffusers, or about her shitty ex-husband while I clicked the salt lamps on and off, or about one of the other employees while I typed up this week's schedule, watered the ivies, stared blankly at the wall hangings that whispered love and patience across the foyer's pale blue walls. I nodded, made nice faces.
I've had a lot (a lot) of day jobs in my short life; many of them have paid better than this one did, and most of them had nicer bosses. But I loved working at the clinic, fiercely and irrationally. I told my friends that it just felt good to do things, to organize stuff, to be part of a machine, and this checked out - I'd spent the year beforehand stagnating on my couch, writing copy for an SEO firm and slowly driving myself crazy, so, like, sure.
I was only supposed to work part-time, but soon I started volunteering for all-day shifts, getting up early to open the place and staying late to close it too. I'd come in every morning clutching a gigantic, scalding hot tea, flick the alarm off and the lights on, kick my boots off and drop my ipod in the dock, blasting Kendrick Lamar loud enough that I could sing along to "Money Trees" in the breakroom while I chopped up lemons for the day's first jug of soothing, spa-like water. (The second I heard the front door ding open I'd have to book it back up the hall in my socks to switch to A.'s "calming" playlist, a disorienting mix of Gregorian chants, soft ambient string arrangements and Michael Bublé.) Then the day would move along in little cycles; there was always laundry to fold, files to pull from the overstuffed cabinets, then later alphabetize and put away. After everyone left, I'd linger as long as I could in the place's quiet emptiness, inventing tasks and chores until I couldn't convince myself there was anything left to do. Then I'd go next door for a burrito. Then, finally, I'd go home.
If you were watching this part of my life like a movie, it would not take much for you to see that I was maybe avoiding a few things in other quadrants of my life that wanted dealing with - or, if you're feeling more generous, that maybe one part of my brain needed time to sift through some stuff while another part, closer to the front, busied itself with the steady morse code push of dopamine that comes from simple tasks in a straight line. You're the audience, though; seeing this stuff is your job. If you'd asked me I probably would have just shugged.
Still, there's only so long you can talk yourself out of yourself. There was this one night when it turned out neither I nor C. could close the place, and when I told A., bracing for anger, she replied in a sweet, high-pitched voice that I had never heard before: it's okay, I'll take the shift. The next day I got a call from C.; A. had left the washing machine on overnight, overfilled; it had flooded, caving the floor in and destroying most of the downstairs hearing aid place. So... are they going to close? I asked C., who just laughed, like a thousand distant, beautiful bells. Nope. They want to stay open. Come in.
They'd already had repairpeople in for hours by the time I got there. Everything in the foyer had been piled haphazardly into cardboard boxes or covered in thick plastic tarp. There were 4 or 5 big weird machines sucking water out of the floor and walls, blaring a thick dull white noise in concert that didn't hurt your ears at first. I remember inhaling and tasting plaster dust on my tongue; I remember A. coming down the hallway, catching my eye, and waving a cheerful "hello!" like there was absolutely nothing going on.
It's strange, surreal moment, when the perspective shifts - when you realize that this whole time you've been a character in someone else's movie and not the other way around. I stayed at that job for another week, shrugging weakly when people would come in and wince at the noise. My last day I stayed even later than usual - shifting boxes, rearranging tarp, trying not to look out the window. When I finally left it was dark outside, and freezing, and I went for a burrito one last time. I didn't want to go back to the movie about me, not quite yet.
[buy The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas]
Radiant Baby - "Snail On TV"
Radiant Baby - "You can dance"
Radiant Baby - "Save me from myself"
We were on the way to our show in my '98 Subaru which has a huge rust hole in the door. It holds my phone like a rustic artisan docking station. I used to have a '97 Toyota so my next car will be perhaps be a '99 Honda? Slowly moving up to date. I wonder if in 2032, i will be driving a 2004 model, or by the time, hopefully i'll be driving car fueled by my own farts which would be great for environment.
We were at the light and got rear-ended. Just a little bump like someone who taps you on the shoulder but still surprises you a little bit. I got out and checked the ass of my car. It was fine, dirty and wrinkled, with a bit of paint chipping as usual. I saw the guy who bumped into me still sitting in his van. I went up and talked to him. His van was so dirty probably a mid 90s or even early 90s model van and on his empty passenger seat, there were two bags of chips open which he was eating and continued to eat while I talked to him. On the back seat, there was a baby sitting in a baby seat. "I'm sorry, i wasn't paying attention." he said still finishing his last bite of chips. He was probably paying attention to the chips. He seems sincere and I was fascinated by this weird situation. I just said, "no worries. my car is old anyways, careful next time." he said "thanks. mine too!" It was a weird and slightly awkward moment, the kind I love. The baby was completely un-phased.
Maybe he was thinking about how he wants to be a better father and was reading 'Parenting for Dummies' while driving. I dunno. I wish the best for him and his family.
We got to the show and played. I thought if it would be funny if we played that show with all the band members wearing neck braces from imaginary whiplash and we would call ourselves, Crash Test Dummies. But we didn't.
Amanda Shires - "When You Need a Train It Never Comes"
I happened on Amanda Shires because of a New York Times magazine article about her husband, Jason Isbell. His story was an inspiring, though not unusual, tale of excess and redemption. The part of the article that stuck with me was when the writer said he'd had Shires' song "When You Need a Train It Never Comes" on repeat for weeks. Once I heard it I understood why. It's not the kind of song I'd ever listen to just once. Spooky, depressing, sad, desperate, with an expressive edge that comes from a narrator who has maybe already given up. When I first heard it, I thought of it as a straightforward break up song, but since then I've read interviews with Shires where she mentions having written countless songs about suicide, which gave the song a darker layer that I hadn't picked up on previously. After over a year I still have it on heavy rotation and it is my go-to song when I am feeling crummy. It's a song made to be on repeat when you're driving away from a rotten situation, or when you're awake and alone in a house full of sleeping people because sadness won't let you rest.
Emily Hall - "Embrace". "Embrace" is the apex of a modern opera composed by Emily Hall, with a libretto by the Icelandic writer Sjón. It is the sound of a man climbing. Scaling an electrical pylon, hand over hand, into a clear blue sky. That climb - reaching, straining, stepping closer & closer & into the space that he wants. An answer at the top of a silver tower, a deluded fulfillment. And throughout it all you can hear the ground below, the windy ground below and all its movements. All its deadly facets. The singer is named Allan Clayton. He is a tenor singing at the edge of his range. He sings at the edge of his range and yet he sings as if he is at home in it, at rest in it, so totally safe as he clambers higher and higher toward oblivion. [buy/listen on bandcamp]
All Dogs - "That Kind of Girl". Physical objects hang together in the air. They exist in space, molecules fastened in a row. You cannot deny their presence or their force - not as a boat nudges through the water, not as a spear is pushed through your side. A song is not a physical object. It is not a boat, a spear. And yet it hangs together in the air. And yet it is a presence, a force. A song is not a physical object. And yet it is a boat, and yet it is a spear. [buy/listen on bandcamp / thanks Hamza]
11:54 AM on Sep 21, 2015
Yo La Tengo - "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House"
Pink silk jackets. Feathered hair, impeccable skateboards, liquid jawlines, triplicate. Thin hands gripping thin forearms, in a pyramid, in order, doppling through the suburbs like a snake or the dream of a snake. Take them in together and they sing like distant pavement in a heatwave. Their colour warbling at the edges like a melting VHS, the whiskey dulling in the backs of all their throats like a bad secret. Eyes like wrenches. Skin like petals. Wheels that whisper to the pavement as they pass under your window in a palindrome: please yes please yes please yes please yes.
[buy And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out]
10:03 PM on Sep 20, 2015
There are so many great discoveries every year.
Im most excited about these guys.
I posted before but I just can't explain how Chevalier Avand Garde makes me feel. Past Present and Future. Something nostalgic and melancholy yet....future shop. ok I failed as a serious music journalism. But I mean they are great.
Bully - "Trying"
This week it's Pop Montreal, and if you're at all like me, you're feeling overwhelmed by the whole thing and don't know where to start. I recommend consulting Sean's always thoughtful guide to the festival, but also, when in doubt, just go see women.
My picks include local feminist punks Heathers, Halifax's off-kilter pop jammers Old and Weird, backpack hip-hop legend Jean Grae, and the sensational soul singer and guitarist Barbara Lynn with the Ponderosa Stomp Revue. Bully from Nashville and Partner from Sackville, NB, are also both guaranteed to destroy with their unique takes on nineties-style alternative rock.
Have a great festival everybody!
about said the gramophone
This is a daily sampler of really good songs
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Said the Gramophone
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about the authors
is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors
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Back to the World
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Wattled Smoky Honeyeater
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