"Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait" -Longfellow

Thursday, January 27, 2011

White Elefant releases "El Infante" EP

White Elefant is one of those rarest of San Antonio bands that A) sounds from San Antonio without sounding bound to San Antonio and B) isn't readily connectible to some sort of  'scene' (i.e. balding DJs  with an ear for little but Friday night booty, crap metal, tepid and self-aggrandizing indie-pop/rockers).  Josh Mathis is the singer, songwriter and lead creative force behind White Elefant, a band that has been growing and evolving in a patient and natural manner since 2006.  Mathis' vision of songcraft is one of the most refreshing that I have ever encountered; an innocent approach that lets the art realize itself in a stream of consciousness fashion that achieves a seemingly impossible precision.  El Infante is White Elefant's first real recorded release and it's a perfect combination of an almost deadpan style, that makes their live shows feel so refreshingly entrancingly honest, and just the right amount of studio richness.  Kudos are certainly to be given to mixer/master-er Dave Novak of Toastworks Productions for staying out of this band's way while helping them banish any but the most aesthetically endearing mediocrities.

Opener "We Don't Stare" was born from a wandering acoustic jam that Mathis used to play at gigs while his band members grabbed a beer or used the facilities (Mathis never seems to succumb fully to the fact that these shows happen at places of debauchery and consumption).  The song has developed into a kind of anthem for the band itself, musically and lyrically expressing an alienation and restlessness that comes across alternately as a source of weakness and of confidence.  The five song EP's monstrous and sneering second track, "Insult to Injury", is the release's sharpest and most perfect moment.  Play this song incredibly loud with the bass up high and you will feel like you are hearing something startlingly new and simple, while somehow left with the unshakable notion that you've been here before... and things are more complicated than they seem.  The song surges in and out like panicked breaths, towers like a hesitant giant painfully aware of its own crushing step and deals with loneliness and self-professed holiness as artifacts of a timid emotional state.  "Warning Shot", one of the band's newest songs, is well placed at the middle of the EP as it provides a moment for reflecting in the uncluttered spaces between its bluesy vamping swagger.  A song that shows versatility and attitude, "Warning Shot" is followed by the best example of pure pop-rock songwriting in White Elefant's canon: "Safety in Numbers".  Seeming to be written from a distant vantage point of post-apocalyptic wisdom, "Safety in Numbers" is a remark on all we go through and all that we might be willing to put ourselves through... and for what?  "After all the time we've wasted and after all the lights stop spinning and after all their hands stop reaching out because after all, nobody's winning"... these lines perfectly express the shrugging acceptance of this beautiful song, with just enough distortion and pounding to remind you that it was, in fact, raised in a sweltering hot garage.

Rounding out this set of songs, which represent several different eras in White Elefant's history, is the grunge-country toe-tapper "I'll Make It Up to You".  This song is one that essentially belongs to bassist Fil Grady and drummer W.J. Robinson. The song bounces casually upon cymbals and rough low pulses before ending abruptly, confronting the listener with the reality of a sudden silence... always a welcome challenge at the end of a neat and profound statement of artistic purpose.

listen/download: White Elefant - We Don't Stare

You can (and really, really should) buy this EP on itunes.  Additionally, you can stream "El Infante" in its entirety at the band's Myspace page (where you'll also find info on upcoming shows).

AND... here's a link to another piece about Mighty Whitey LeFant, written by Feli and I for Local Aesthetic SA.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reaching for Uncertain Satori Behind the History Membrane

Ligeti's Musica ricercata 2, played by Vicente Uñón

Enemies and their dark hallways are the salts of selves denied as the general brightness is the true focus of our myriad loves unending.  If you go out looking for a creator, why not first consider yourself?  Your brothers and sisters?  There will never be a human reality stronger, more absolute, larger or more essential than the human power to believe in it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Better Late than Never: My Top 5 Albums of 2010

ONE: Beach House - Teen Dream
It’s breathtaking.  If you haven’t been converted to Beach House yet, you owe it to yourself as a New Year’s resolution.  Teen Dream, released at the very beginning of 2010, is the culminating manifestation of a slow and mad confidence developed over several years and two other LP efforts.  Victoria Legrand’s voice has grown into a powerful and heavy orange force among the black and brown and grey thumps and crawlings that constitute Beach House’s sound.  It’s more than music to get lost in; it may help you find yourself again.  It’s nostalgic enough, unsteady enough, romantic enough, jaded enough… with wisdom and as humorless as a heart attack… but innocent.  It’s the best album of 2010.  It is one of the most profoundly important albums of our generation.  Personally, not many albums I’ve ever heard have felt quite so genuinely and powerfully moving, so warmly magnetic and ruminant.
TWO: Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
“If I ever wasn't the greatest, I must’ve missed it” boasts Kanye on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s opener “Dark Fantasy”. To be honest with you, I think that goes too far; that fool was never really the greatest rapper or producer… but maybe the greatest character.  Anyway… the fact that this line goes too far is important.  The whole album goes too far.  In fact, if you’ve followed Kanye throughout this year then you know that he has, more than ever, made a living out of going too far- and he seems to be forgiving himself and becoming more authentic in the process.  This album, and the G.O.O.D. Friday songs that led up to it, are impressive in their scope, their sheer imagination and their swagger.  Kanye has successfully let his ability to see himself catch up with his ability to see what people want.  He is now giving us what we really want from him, from many of our rappers: reality… no bullshit, “what the fuck do you want bro this is me”, never scared, mature and witty… reality.  Of course, part of the entertainment and awe value comes from the fact that Kanye’s reality is so far removed from anyone else’s.  But he still has weaknesses and he is not afraid to explore them in art, openly.  He’s not afraid to be romantic, tongue-in-cheek, boastful or self-deprecating.  He’s become a rare example in the mainstream rap community of how a dude can be everything; whatever the fuck he wants to be.  All of that becomes a part of this album- this album which is musically diverse and complex and jarring, lyrically fresh and brilliant, socially timely and absolutely bursting at the seams with energy and the kind of really-really aware self-confidence that we all gasp to see at work.
THREE: Pill Wonder - Jungle/Surf
Underwater Peoples (the label that released Jungle/Surf) is one of the record labels that inspired and impressed me the most this year and this album is the kookiest, most leftfield, most ‘underwater’ example of why that’s the case.  In a survey of mine and Felicia’s listening habits over the course of 2010, this album looms significant in content and in attitude.  Jungle/Surf is one of the several compelling reasons that this year has wanted so badly to be a never ending summer:

a bro walking towards the ocean in lime green shorts, cabanas in the background fading into dusk and into the smoky insect circles of summer night. You stand while your tired legs, still dripping, dance of their own accord to the pull and bass of the ocean. The winds pick up sand and swirl it around the neons of the falling sun… we can ALL remember standing naked at the edge of eternity…it feels just like this.
FOUR: Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
I do not feel that this album signals any new directions or great innovations for Indie rock’s most popular band.  In fact, I was tempted not to like it at all when, in the depths of a gritty and hot summer of irreverence and lightness, I was confronted with its heavy and serious demeanor… like “great Bruce Springsteen decided to wear his jeans and khaki workshirt to our beach party”.  Then, however, I really listened to and heard the album’s title track.  Feli fell in love with it first and in its repetition I began to, I suppose, remember just how well its themes of sour heat and paranoia and disillusion and ennui do belong in any decent summary of summer’s soul.  Slowly, in a way that we rarely are courted by songs these days, Felicia and I found ourselves connected to and enthralled with another (“Rococo”) and another (“Sprawl II”) and even more (“We Used to Wait”, “Deep Blue”, “Ready to Start”).  The album may very well be the last thing that can come out of the band’s serious infatuation with the decay of the modern community and communication, but that doesn’t make it any less troubling… that doesn’t make it any less of a catharsis.
FIVE: The Roots – How I Got Over
It is a shame, and surely indicative of some great societal/cultural flaw, that hip-hop foundationals The Roots ninth album How I Got Over has been so overlooked by critics (coverage) and laymen (sales) alike.  The album features some incredible details that far overshadow the fact that The Roots body of work can sometimes seem excessive at the expense of its power, its vitality.  Featuring members of the Dirty Projectors, Jim James and Joanna Newsom; this Roots album is smarter, more elegant and seems altogether necessary and even prescient in this historical moment.  2010 was a year where the negative in the newsfeed seemed to dominate the positive.  How I Got Over is a thoughtful and wise sonic and lyrical argument that it doesn’t need to be that way… we CAN take greater control, through greater discipline and further noticing, and create better lives for ourselves and those that will come after.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Ya Se Muerto Mi Abuelo"

Out in the brighter sun of jungles the jaguar sleeps a dance of nap. In the huge tropically haughty hug of Machu Piccu, the magicians are musicians who hear and see the sonic bits that correspond to every atom. When you are called to move, you move.When the chance to be at home, back under the greeny water, comes... you leap. Even death is full of life and the hypnotic whimsy of pulses of friends as yet unmade.

Narrowing and Expanding

i didn't wake up today.
i think i freaked out the flowers
but i just can't comprehend why life is such a bother,
             such a serious box.
if i can't give you the freedom of New Zealand
  at least a blog, the pasta, our cat framed in the dense sleepy devotion
                          of my morning shower mist.
i can imagine your soul for adventure like a color-changing bead:
valuable in the true sense like caught molten sunlight, now golden
like a racing heart pulled, just in time, from the government hologram of worklife.
        if my imagination is smaller than Costa Rica
   then i've been waiting for the universe to be un-proven,
                 and we can shake off the long stare of expecting life-
     we'll go grab a beer or two- in love.