black flowers and valentines / try to take your heart
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.


Okay - "Sing-Along". The man who calls himself Okay both is and isn't. Marvelously musical, with a voice like tin cans, but a rare illness makes it difficult for Marty Anderson to travel let alone tour. Is this why a song called "Sing-Along" is without any singing-along? Or is it a matter of choice? Is it ironic? Is he asking who would sing along with a chorus like this?

"I don't believe anything
that you say!"
Layers of synths and a gardener's plod, a melodic shuffle that reminds me of late 90s alt-rock -- The Eels, early Beck, Apples in Stereo. And that masked voice, a pebble rasp, a sage's promised pop song.

[Get the combo of Okay's High Road and Low Road from Absolutely Kosher for a mere $20.]

Yo La Tengo - "Black Flowers". If you forget everything you know about Yo La Tengo and their albums, you're left just with the songs. Some are intimate, some are swirling, some stammer and others skree. But while Yo La Tengo does have a couple of signature sounds one of the most remarkable things about them is the breadth of their talent. Their annual covers fundraisers are the second-best evidence of this chameleonic side, but the proofest proof is simply the tunes. The effortless new pop of "Cherry Chapstick", the white-boy soul of "Mr Tough", or this, a song called "Black Flowers", which is (like "Mr Tough") off their inconsistent new record I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. (For my money, the murmursoft And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out is the best of their albums.)

"Black Flowers" is one of my favourite songs of 2006 - this beautiful twist of melody and instrumentation, delivery and the undelivered. Ira's got a tawny melody, light as sparrow, but he puts it in a room with sounds of deep blues, reds, blacks. Piano, french horn, violin, and these brilliant clipped synth-strings, like sprouts. The song's sumptuous, a ballad worthy of the radio - it has all the gentle prettiness that attracts people to Sufjan Stevens, the cresting feeling that draws listeners, even, to Snow Patrol or Coldplay (listen to the Chris Martin-like "Oh-oh" at 3:09). This is in no way an insult. Yo La Tengo throw onto their album a single song like this, this one straight ode to loveliness and melancholy, with drums and Georgia oohs at just the right time; they throw it in like an afterthought. "Oh, by the way, we've also mastered this form." It's plain and unconflicted songcraft: it rubs my heart til it glows. No fucking around: just glassy, sweet song; dark petals blooming.




Carl has composed a beautiful post on the Mountain Goats, over at Zoilus.

Winners of the NYC Grizzly Bear contest are Ryan S and Nico R. (I'll be in touch.) Thanks for all the terrific entries. The most popular answer for what Grizzly Bear would eat in a forest seems to have been... smores.

Posted by Sean at September 22, 2006 3:00 AM

Crap I forgot about that, I was gonna say pillows. Oh well NY is about as close as Russia is to me anywho.

Posted by cory at September 22, 2006 5:16 AM

I'm pretty James McNew sings "Black Flowers" not Ira.

Posted by Joe at September 22, 2006 2:38 PM

I bought Okay's High Road at Pitchfork this summer, based on the guy at the Absolutely Kosher booth's firm recommendation. I dig the album quite a bit, with 'Sing-Along' being one of my favorite tracks. 'Mind' is probably my favorite track off the whole thing; the chilling, gradual build around the sole lyric "hallelujiah" is nearly breathtaking. Happy to see it on here.

Also, I have Crohn's, though to a much less crippling extent as Anderson. It's a shitty disease to have, but at least it's made me the master of poop jokes.

Posted by brian mcawesome at September 23, 2006 9:57 PM

Yeah, I thought "Black Flowers" was McNew too. It sounds very 80s to me, like a veiled New Romantic homage or something. (I mean that as a good thing.)

I find the new record more eclectic than inconsistent, gloriously so. And Then Nothing... is by far my least favourite Yo La record. But chacun son gout.

Posted by DW. at September 24, 2006 8:49 PM

The Okay records were some of the best and most underrated stuff of last year, his croak against those melodies ... but a big turnoff to lots of people at first. Anyone have an idea of his health? Not much up on abko or Marty's Myspace page.

Posted by indiefolkforever at September 25, 2006 3:29 PM

Yeah, when I first heard this song it reminded me a lot of John Cale in it's simple, sophisticated sense of quiet song-craft(from "Paris 1919" say - an album off of which YLT have covered 2 songs) and then I pointed this out to my girlfriend and she said; "Coldplay".

(another vote for it likely being James McNew)

Posted by n at September 26, 2006 3:08 PM

Holy shit, "Black Flowers" is teh genius.

Posted by Vidiot at September 26, 2006 3:37 PM

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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.

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