Thursday, November 16, 2006

Yesterday evening I solved a problem

On Antarctica, a friend of mine named Toby had a mix CD that his friends back home in Oregon had made him. Apparently it was made on the occasion of a road trip to Montana, as it was named “The Montana Road Trip Mix.” (Toby had literal-minded friends.)

I cottoned to the mix at once, burning it for myself. Mornings in the galley, alone in the dish room, I’d listen to it in between breakfast and lunch, the quietest time of the day. It was languorous, sexy, and odd; there were covers of Beatles songs, “world music” in a language I didn’t recognize, and two songs by a woman with a rich voice, with quirky orchestration; lots of left turns and quick swerves, reminiscent of Jon Brion’s work on Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine (which actually wasn’t the version that was released commercially).

But the mix CD came with no tracklist. Track 1, Track 2, Track 3, etc.; that’s all I had to work with. And no one knew who this woman was, not even Toby. I asked him to write his friends in Oregon and find out, but this either never happened or they didn’t know. I played the mix for people, asked them who they thought it could be; I Googled snatches of the lyrics … to no avail.

Cut, then, to yesterday; or, more accurately, this past Sunday, when I went to Earwax Records in Brooklyn and picked up three CDs: Brightblack Morning Light’s self-titled debut, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s IBM 1401—A User’s Manual, and a comp of “Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys” called Rogue’s Gallery.

I’ve been listening to the latter ever since; it’s full of strange seafaring nuggets, sung by a motley cast of characters, from Sting to new-ish Brooklyn band White Magic. One song, though, stood out to me over and above the others; it was called “Dead Horse,” and was sung by Robin Holcomb. I listened to it, walking around the city; I listened to it at night; I listened to it on the subway.

I couldn’t place the voice ‘til I did, out of nowhere, last night at 6th Avenue and 14th Street, about to descend into the station to take the L train home: it was the same woman whose songs I’d heard, lonely in the dish room, mornings in Antarctica. I highly recommend her.


Paulo said...

I've tried three times to write about Antarctica, and every time there's been something holding me back. I even forgot the name of Mt. Erebus at one point. Maybe it was post traumatic stress (...fucking Tami). Maybe it was lack of emotional distance from the subject. Maybe it was the fact that I know you'll do it so much better than me. I wish you could write my experience. I wish I could use your words.

jekowa said...

In a strange coincidence, I stumbled across the Rogue’s Gallery album just yesterday when a friend who uses Rhapsody asked me for a band to search for and I threw out the name “White Magic”, which they didn’t have, except for their participation in the sea shanty compilation.

I made the Montana mix. Glad you and Toby enjoyed it down in those icy lands. I think you have full rights to rename it as the Antarctican Galley Mix or some such – as you certainly gave it more listens than it got during it’s initial outing to Montana.

Toby sent your post my way, so I thought I’d follow up your discovery of Robin Holcomb with a full rundown of that mix (I believe you have the same version as the one I’m listening to to write this):

1) No Me Llores - Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos
2) You Look So Much Better - Robin Holcomb
3) Things Behind the Sun – Nick Drake
4) Don’t Let Me Down – Phoebe Snow
5) Strawberry Letter 23 – Shuggie Otis
6) Gotta Get Up – Harry Nilsson
7) Dreamin’ - Jill Scott
8) Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Nina Simone
9) Gaslighting Abby – Steely Dan
10) A Lazy Farmer Boy - Robin Holcomb
11) Brother – Jill Scott
12) Early in the Morning – Harry Nilsson
13) Cancio den Elegido - Silvio Rodriguez
14) I Tried to Believe - Robin Holcomb
15) Space Oddity – Natalie Merchant and Michael Stipe
16) Superheroes - Esthero
17) Ain’t no Sunshine – Bill Withers
18) Driving Along – Harry Nilsson
19) Cucurrucucú Paloma - Caetano Veloso
20) Los Amantes - Susana Baca
21) The Puppy Song – Harry Nilsson

FYI, not all my mixes are so literally named. Others have had names such as “Catfish Trampoline”, “Freedom Fries”, and even “Wicked Trancendence of the Lebanese Crack Patriots”. On the other hand, I did recently give a friend a mix called “Warm the House”, as a housewarming gift.

As long as I’m here, I’ll go ahead and share a few names of others, especially obscure ones, who I’ve discovered more recently and think are worth listening to:

• Lhasa de Sela – Mexican Canadian singer, mostly in Spanish, good stuff
• Low in the Sky – downbeat stuff from 3 producers
• Wax Tailor – great album, instrumental sample driven hip hop, French
• Ane Brun – Norwegian singer – I like “A Temporary Dive”
• Mara Carlyle – very hit and miss, but she has some beautiful stuff
• White Magic – as you mentioned
• Honeycut – new, good, funky, probably won’t stay obscure for long
• Fink
• Common Market – hip hop
• Bitter Sweet
• Electrelane
• Dani Siciliano
• Sidestepper – latin reggae

Also, I’ve taken to following this music blog( the last few months to find new stuff and it’s proven a pretty good source. Unfortunately his archived files are almost all down right now due to some legal squabbles. He does plan to continue posting though, and older stuff may go back up again at some point.

Hope something here leads you to more that you like.


P.S. Thanks for the weedy sea dragon, that thing is fantastic.