idaho and donkey boy
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.


Oof - Friday already. It's funny how weeks will sometimes slip right by you, tigers in the grass.

I wrote a couple of days ago that the new Idaho record, Vieux Carré, was doing very good things to my ears. And you know, it really is. But I was a-thinking about how much I was enjoying it, and how familiar some of the songs seemed to be. And then I checked the track-list again. Oh my. Well aren't I the fool. Vieux Carré is a German compilation. I don't know if it's a "best of" or simply a retrospective, but these songs have all been previously released.

All the more reason to buy it when it's released in September.

Idaho's not a household name, even in indie circles. And yet for twelve years Jeff Martin and his shifting band has been recording thoughtful, breathing rock music - like a river that snakes through the deep woods, dark grey and rarely visited. Idaho's not an act with sparkle, with confetti bursts. But in their best work, the slowdrifting songs seem to come alive with feeling. The overcast sky bursts suddenly, terrifically, into a downpour. Whereas Low's beauty seems heavily considered, worked towards, Idaho makes these overcast songs that occasionally and unexpectedly blossom. When the band fails, the songs simply drudge and drudge and end (see also the Red House Painters). But when they succeed, the music is glorious, magic, and maybe even timeless.

If inconsistency is the plague, however, a well-selected compilation is the cure. And Vieux Carré is wonderful. Some selections:

Idaho - "Bass Crawl". Rudderless noise and then that slow bass crawl, a human pulse. This is a song about breaking out of love, gulping up for air, of leaving it so that you can return. The love is whitecharged, beautiful. It's the arcs of an electric guitar, the rosy shadow of Malone Koenig's backup vocals. When Martin begins to sing, she's there - the guitar's smile, that quiet "underloaded" voice. Later the guitar circles back, still calling him, but when we return to Jeff Martin's singing - Koenig's gone. He's left her behind. Now Martin's alone with the guitar's beautiful pleading sound, that visceral memory. He steels himself, he tries to explain, he listens to his bloodflow and tries to feel the grounding bassline. He lets the noise flame on its own. Originally released on 1997's Forbidden EP.

Idaho - "To Be the One". 2000's Hearts of Palm featured the same basic lineup as the Forbidden EP - Martin with guitarist Dan Seta. "To Be the One," however, showcases none of "Bass Crawl"'s guitar solos. Instead, it's a flush, whirring love-song. An organ winds around Martin's voice, drums appearing like perfect coincidences. It's at once gloomy and aglow, a warm piano and cool atmospherics. Martin lets the song slow to a plod, everything stretching out for just a moment... and then drums, chord change, the stirring lift of the chorus. "What you're talking 'bout is pure." Perhaps they're words for doe-eyed indieboys, but as the song warms it's so very hard to stay cynical. [buy Hearts of Palm]

And, because I wouldn't want to finish the week's mp3s on such a dreary note...

Donkey Boy - "Midnight With Simon". Yes, it's a song that's centered around masturbation, but man, the beats here are awesome. The crunch of the downbeat, the seething feedback, and then the coda's astonishing slip into acoustic guitar. This is part of a new album by Donkey Boy, to be released in 2005. Dave DeCastris is writing song-stories about the absurd sheen of Midwest normalcy, the "freak" neighbours who stare through the window as you eat your cereal. The song's protagonist has his hand in his pants, yes. He watches TV and then he falls asleep. But around it all, the buzz of guitar, the tumble of percussion, and that peculiar shift into glimmery guitar.


A big cauldron of summery folkpop is available from The Twin Atlas, a Philadelphia-NYC duo. My favourite is "Rooftop Sounds," with its jangly acoustic guitar and tree-swinging bassline. Elliott Smith jamming with Saturday Looks Good To Me.

Here's a wonderful photo-essay on a Japanese arcade. Madness lives there. [via whimsy incorporated]


Next week I'm on holiday at a cabin in the Laurentians (so long as the doctor lets me go!). There will be no break in programming, however - I have a wonderful list of guest-bloggers lined up. More info to come.

Posted by Sean at August 20, 2004 12:56 AM

Have a good holiday!

Posted by Adrian at August 20, 2004 4:48 AM

I think that Donkey Boy song was written about me...

Good tune though


Posted by Simon at August 20, 2004 8:33 AM

Just stay away from unnecessary watercraft.

("Unnecessary watercraft"--good name for, oh, a Carla Bley record.)

Posted by rodii at August 20, 2004 12:53 PM

awesome Idaho songs. I think "Hearts of Palm" is a slowcore classic....I'd say, right up there with the Red House Painters "Rollercoaster". Isn't it true he handmakes his own instruments, or at least a lot of them?

Posted by Heraclitus at August 20, 2004 3:14 PM

Wow, where has Idaho been all my life! Actually, I think I taped an Idaho song of the old muchmusic show City Limits a long, long time ago if I'm not mistaken. I've since lost that tape, and what a tape it was, not just Idaho, but Hayden playing the song "Lounging" live in front of a fireplace, and Smashing Pumpkins throwing a hissy fit on MTV by destroying their biggest hit (at the time) "Disarm" on tv, robbing it of all it's beauty. Good times, I miss that tape almost as much as I miss my Cassette copy of Sonic Youth 'Dirty'.

Posted by caley mid at August 20, 2004 4:26 PM

great to find a review of Vieux Carre. i maintain the archive for IDAHO at . and to answer the question, the custom made instruments are 4-string guitars crafted by John Carruthers in California, not Jeff Martin.

Posted by brian at August 31, 2004 12:49 AM

Oh sheet mon!! Donkey Boy es a may sing!!

Posted by Vincent Drago at April 17, 2009 1:42 AM

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This is a daily sampler of really good songs. All tracks are posted out of love. Please go out and buy the records.

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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.

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