Thursday, May 31, 2007

Deep Space

"They were blurry and clean/Outer space in between/
With a depth and a form unclear"

I remember reading a few years ago that scientists had located a black hole that emits a sound 57 octaves below middle C - the lowest note ever observed in the universe, and well outside the audible range for humans. The note has a wavelength millions of miles long, and takes ten million years to complete one modulation. The black hole has been producing this note for over two billion years, providing a sort of cosmic symphony to any entity large and old enough to witness it (the Flying Spaghetti Monster? A polar bear?).

I was happy to hear that the universe had such a powerful bass note, because I've always loved songs that have a steady background a few octaves below the rest of the music. It adds a distinct richness that can't really be achieved any other way. Here are a few songs off the top of my head that fit the bill:

R.E.M. - You Are The Everything (at 2:28)
Phish - Train Song (at 0:38)
Elbow - Grace Under Pressure (at 3:16)
G. Love & Special Sauce - Stone Me (at 0:08)
Radiohead - Exit Music (For A Film) (at 2:50)

And here's a poem by Mikhail Horowitz about the black hole, printed in the New York Times science section on August 3, 2004:

A supermassive ghostly Robeson robed in nothingness,
I serenade the void from the heart of the Perseus Cluster,
underhumming the underpinnings of the galaxies in B flat,
''Smoke Gets in Your Eyes'' at 57 octaves below middle C.
Not even God hears me.

But any one of these icy nights beneath the warbling stars,
those shards of horns long shivered that still take solos,
if you close your eyes you can almost sense my presence,
holding down the cosmic bottom for billions of years,
blowing the antisong of the antispheres.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Under the Covers with The Band

"They say ev'ry man needs protection/ They say ev'ry man must fall/
Yet I swear I see my reflection/ Somwhere so high above this wall"

Since grade one, there hasn't been a band that I've obsessed about as irrationally and pervasively as the Band. In the early days of The Canals, as Danny can attest, I had some trouble keeping this from being a 50% Band blog. Shadows of the temptation can be seen in my mention of drummer Levon Helm in a couple of earlier posts along with a few shaky comparisons to contemporary groups. Like a love-sick sea captain writing unstamped letter after unstamped letter, only to mail the lot into the great blue, or an addict trying to kick a bad habit with chewing gum, I would write a few private, unpublished Band posts here and there. That is, only to get them out of my system. But my levees weren't built to last, so I'll hold back the flood no more. Crack open that box of Q-tips in your bathroom closet, clean out those ears, and listen up to the feature that began in a land before time. Here is Under the Covers with The Band!

The Allman Brothers Band – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Listen as Gregg Allman forgets the words and just try not to crack up. He sounds senile as hell.

Wilco – I Shall Be Released (Live)
All I can say is that I wish I had been there.

The Roches – Acadian Driftwood
It’s really refreshing to hear a Band song done by a couple strong, reedy female voices.

Ekoostik Hookah – The Weight (Live)
A very Band-like and soulful rendition done by an excellent Columbus band. I especially like the gruff voice of the singer in the fourth verse.

Flying Dogs -- Katie’s Been Gone
This version by Italian group Flying Dogs is one of the most bizarre songs I’ve heard in a while. The singer sounds almost exactly like the Band’s bassist Rick Danko doing an Italian accent. Auditory gold.

Cowbirds -- Look Out Cleveland
They stick pretty close to the formula and instrumentation set up by the Band, nothing too impressive or mind-blowing here. The inconsistent and overdone southern accent gets a little grating. Should have gone with Italian.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Forms

"Talking about music is a game in that you can't talk about music. It's like talking about the human mind. We have no real understanding of how memory works, what purpose dreaming serves, what the function of seemingly unused areas of our brains is. The truth about music is also beyond our comprehension. When you change one note of a great melody, why do the composer and you and I all realize it's ruined? We don't really know why it's ruined, just that it's ruined... Icarus works in a way that is especially hard to talk about."
-The Forms

It was the track names, not the stellar reviews, that made me pick up the new untitled album from The Forms. Track 5 is called "Borges" (Benjy's grandfather) and track 9 is called "Oberlin" (Benjy's brother's alma mater) so I knew the band had some cosmic connection with The Canals.

Turns out this blog is far from the only thing The Forms have connected with. Both of their albums were produced by Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies) and the music has received pretty much the best reviews I've ever read. The band has been compared to Sunny Day Real Estate, Nirvana, and Modest Mouse, but they remind me of a less melodic and more rockin' version of The Shins. They literally march to the beat of their own drummer, with almost every track in either 5, 7, or some other bizarre time signature that I couldn't even recognize. It's like they hear music in a completely different meter than other bands.

The music feels a little like an instrumental track to another song. Sometimes it feels like something's missing, but your ears are constantly bombarded with so much sound that it's impossible to put your finger on what it might be. It creates a weird situation where it sounds a little like background music but it requires and holds your complete attention. It's haunting and powerful - the type of music with nothing specific to cling to but that you won't be able to stop thinking about any time soon.

The albums have been described as mysterious, but even more mysterious is the band's lack of presence in the blogosphere. A total of four blogs have written about The Forms, and none have featured tracks from the new (not-yet-released) album. This despite Pitchfork giving their debut album Icarus an 8.5 and naming it the "#1 album of the year." They deserve better, and The Canals is here to provide just that.

From Icarus:

The Forms - Stravinsky
The Forms - Sunday 1

From [Untitled]:

The Forms - Oberlin
The Forms - Transmission

The Forms' Myspace
Buy Icarus here (for $2.34...)


Monday, May 28, 2007

Searching For Polar Bears: A Multimedia Essay

"Someone told me/It's all happening at the zoo/
I do believe it/I do believe it's true."

Rather than barbecuing or parading, I spent my Memorial Day weekend on a quest to find the king of the ice. Yesterday my crew and I got on a train and headed due north -- to the heart of the Bronx.

Simon & Garfunkel - At The Zoo

We started out on the African plains. A long way from the North Pole, but interesting in its own right. We were greeted by a zebra.

Elbow - Scattered Black And Whites
Michael Jackson - Black Or White
The White Stripes - Black Math
Nate Allman - Stripes

On our way out of Africa we noticed two monkeys grooming each other, and we took turns doing the same. Under the beating savannah sun it's important to keep your hygiene in mind.

Outkast - So Fresh, So Clean
Chuck Prophet - What Makes The Monkey Dance

We met up with some gorillas. This one was deep in thought.

Ben Folds - Philosophy (live)
Elliott Smith - I Don't Think I'm Ever Gonna Figure It Out
Norah Jones - Thinking About You

And these brothers were enjoying some good-natured roughhousing.

The Hollies - He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother
G. Love & Special Sauce - Love
Golden Earring - Radar Love

Just when we thought we couldn't make it one more step, we spotted a camel in the distance. We all piled on and high-tailed it to Antarctica.

The Beatles - Ticket To Ride
Calexico - The Ride, Pt. II
Alberta Cross - Lucy Rider (acoustic)

Stopped for a bite at the Dancing Crane Cafe.

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife 1 And 2

We spotted something on the side of the road, and we knew we were headed the right way. Personally I think this sign was a bit of an understatement. I'd describe them as something more like "Majestic Creature of the Icy Kingdom" or "Savage Titan of The Milky Way."

Hem - Almost Home

And then the beast appeared before us. I felt such sympathy for my Polar brother. It seemed like I, too, was covered in a dense fur.

"Jump in the water, my friend!" I screamed, but the beast paid no heed. He just sat, absorbing the Sun's rays like the martyr I always knew he was.

All of a sudden, he sprang up on his haunches. He was 25 feet tall if he was 5. He roared at the heavens as if to say, "God - if ye be more mighty than I, strike me down in front of my minions!"

Needless to say, he did not fall.

Wax Fang - Bi-Polar Bear
Modest Mouse - Polar Opposites

What a day.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Blazing, Broken, Canyon Arrow

It seems that arrows have played a major part in my life this past week. Don't worry, my flock, I haven't impaled myself or shot anyone yet, but I have had few runins with the noun called arrow. There was an arrow in the mind-melting season finale of Lost last wednesday. It's not the most personal interaction with an arrow, but it's still there. My good friend Max found out recently that he has good arches (As I write the word "arches" I'm reminded of archery, which also involves arrows. Coincidence? Not while I'm still breathing.), which in turn causes him to have a very straight walk. If you see Max walk, you'd know what I mean when I say he walks straight. It's like he was shot from the bow of God. And that was where I thought of a great pick-up line.

A man walks into a bar, sits down, and orders a drink. He has a brief chat with the bartender about the Marlins game last night. The television fuzzily burns to life, with a news anchor giving tips on how to prepare for the next hurricane season. The man gets bored and looks to his neighbors at the bar. To his left there is a well dressed older man, munching on some mixed nuts and sipping whatever it is that is in his glass. He has a strange look about him, caused cheifly by the distinct difference between the redness of his mustache and his hair. On second thought, it's actually probably a toupee. The mustachioed man continues to drink and eat after the first man looks to his right. A nice looking woman in her early thirties is chatting on her cellphone about apolstery and drycleaning, and despite the tame subject matter, the man watches her intently. When she finishes her conversation and shifts her body to leave, the man opens his mouth to say,

"Hey babe, I'm as straight as an arrow shot from the bow of God."

But he doesn't say it. He just sits in his stool, looks back up at the TV, and learns tip number four.

Throughout the week I've thought about the few arrow songs that I know, and I'm surprised to say they all seem to have a similar feel to them. A warm western desert aura of ancient native wisdom. Or something to that effect.

Blackalicious -- Blazing Arrow
Autumn Defense -- Canyon Arrow
Buffalo Springfield -- Broken Arrow


Friday, May 25, 2007

Feed Yourself

If you haven't heard, yesterday was quite a day for The Canals. Google announced that it will be acquiring Feedburner for $100 million. And Feedburner provides our feed. That's right - this blog was part of a multi-million dollar deal with Google.

We promise not to let our newfound success get to our heads. We're gonna share the wealth the way we always have - by providing you, the heroes, with music that "shanks the inner ear and pumps the pulse of the nation." (For the record, I favored the slogan "from birth to deaf." If you like it, leave a comment and maybe it can change. The power is in your hands.) That being said, here's a quick plug for Feedburner:

"Sweet relief/That's what you come and get from me/
I give it up every time you want it/You got it I'm burning down"

Let me start by saying that if you didn't know this blog used Feedburner, that's because I never configured it. Let me continue by saying that until yesterday, I pretty much didn't know anything about Feedburner or feeds in general. But last night that all changed...

And what a night it was! First, I reconfigured our Feedburner so that you can actually subscribe to it. Next, I read about why I took the time to do that. It turns out that Feedburner is as revolutionary as it looks and sounds. Here's a list of a few great features:
  • A single link to the feed brings you to a clean, friendly landing page with links to different subscription options
  • It supports easy email subscriptions
  • It's compatible with any feed reader application
  • The feeds are interactive (automatically include links to email, technorati,, digg, and facebook, so you can share The Canals with the world)
  • The feeds look great and have a simple URL
So, if you've already subscribed to our feed, upgrade to the next big thing! And if you haven't, this is the chance of a lifetime! Click on literally any link in this post, or click them all! This thing is so hot it's single-handedly responsible for global warming! Act quickly before Al Gore sends us a take-down request!

Jeremy Fisher - Cigarette
Ray Lamontagne - Burn
James Hunter - No Smoke Without Fire
Phoenix - On Fire
Voxtrot - Firecracker
Foy Vance - Stoke My Fire


Week In Random

"Ninety-five degrees on the blacktop/
I hear its cool on Mars"

It's that time of week again when we go bat-crazy and hit the shuffle button with all our might. here goes nothing.

Third Eye Blind - The Background

Interesting bit of background on 3eb: when they played at Spring Fling, the guitarist tried to make out with a certain McKean girl's 9th grade sister.

Simon and Garfunkel - The Boxer

First of their songs I ever heard.

G. Love & Special Sauce - Don't Drop It

This song has already been posted on here, maybe more than once. One of my favorites. This feature has been eerily un-embarassing to this point.

Barenaked Ladies - Told You So

I'll admit it, I went through a BNL stage. Whever you think about their music, though, it's great that they use Nettwerk as their label and released their newest album on Amie St. And this song isn't bad.

Don McLean - American Pie

Another classic camp song, and a great American tune to get you pumped for the holiday.

Ben Haper - By My Side (acoustic)

Ben Harper is one of my favorite artists. He's great with acoustic songs like this, but even better on the funky tracks off his latest release, Both Sides Of The Gun.

Eddie From Ohio - This Is My Town

Bought this track because I was considering seeing them at World Cafe. I decided against it.

Jack Johnson - Holes To Heaven

Jack Johnson is required listening for any day that hits 80 degrees. I think my iPod might be heat-sensitive.

Dave Matthews - Cry Freedom (Live)

Almost got through one of these posts without a Dave Matthews track. "Cry Freedom" is terrible on the studio album, but I like this version.

Bert Jansch - M'Lady Nancy

With the current Baroque craze I'm surprised this track isn't burning up the charts.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Minority/Women/Small Appreciation Day

"They got little baby legs/And they stand so low/
You got to pick 'em up/Just to say hello"

I saw this sign on the subway yesterday:

"Get Prepped For Success!

Minority/Women/Small Business Owners:
Sign up for the MTA and other government agency contracts."

Now I’m no activist, but I know politically incorrect when I see it. I’m not sure who the ad is addressing – Business Owners who are Minority/Women/Small or people who own Minority/Women/Small Business – but one isn’t much better than the other. Whether this is blatant insensitivity or a case of badly-thought-out slashes, The Canals is dedicating this post to the victims.

So here’s to you, Minority/Women/Small – we’re proving once and for all that you don’t need subway ads to help you out. These artists have already realized your worth.

Amos Lee – Arms Of A Woman
Bert Jansch – A Woman Like You
Bob Dylan – Just Like A Woman
Brett Dennen – Because You are A Woman
Billy Joel – She’s Always A Woman To Me
Belle & Sebastian – Women’s Realm
Green Day – Minority
Kelly Joe Phelps – Spanish Hands
Jackson C. Frank – Spanish Moss
Elbow – Mexican Standoff
James Taylor – Mexico
M. Ward – Chinese Translation
The Decemberists – My Mother Was A Chinese Trapese Artist
Sufjan Stevens – Size Too Small
Bruce Springsteen – From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)
Randy Newman – Short People
Elton John – Tiny Dancer


Edit: This hilarious exchange took place on, in the comments section for the lyrics of “Short People.” (Italics added for emphasis.)

We Don't Need this Song | Reviewer: EGJ
------ About the song Short People performed by Randy Newman

The "Short People" song lyrics are very clever. However, I find the song offensive and "belittling". As a culture we do too many things to people to emphasize our differences. There are numerous obstacles humans face that make one feel less sure, unwanted, ill-equipped, and inferior to others. This song would have been cleverer if it had lauded the advantages and special view point of people who are different. Random acts of kindness are what will save the world - not acts of meanness.

Amazing Song | Reviewer: Vgfh
------ About the song Short People performed by Randy Newman

People, you're taking this song for something it isn't. It is not an attack on anyone. It's like a lot of people have pointed out, satirical. The only people it is taking the piss out of, are the people who have these views for no good reason. Being English, I appreciate satire and can see sarcasm when it is there. However, in my experiance, and I'm sure this isn't the case of all people, other nationalities have trouble seeing sarcasm, and this is probably why a lot of you seem to be taking it the wrong way. Chill out and see it for what it is, an attack on prejudice and not an attack on short people.

Good thing we have heroes like Vgfh to prevent attacks on attacks on prejudice while never, ever, holding any stereotypes of their own.

Icky Thump single Review

Yo, check it. We got Cobb Salad here, you know, poet laureate crankin' this b, reppin' Icky Thump wit' his take --

"Who's usin' who?/What should we do?/
Well you can't be a pimp/And a prostitute too"

As the resident White Stripes Fanatic, I feel the need to direct your attention to the new White Stripes video. I really am certifiably crazy for the White Stripes; a Hispanic Canals guest blogger once told me I was redirecting sexual frustration into passion for the duo. She hit the nail on the head.

Anyhoo, the release of the video gives me a chance to properly review “Icky Thump.” The Canals previously posted the single, but it was “removed by request.” (In the defense of Warner Brothers, they are strapped for cash. In defense of The Canals, we’re not the morons behind the AOL-Time Warner merger.) So the video gives us a chance to legally link to the song again.

As for the music itself, it is an evolution of early White Stripes music (as opposed to “Get Behind Me Satan’s” revolutionary change.) For hardcore fans, this is ecstasy. Jack brings the raw sound of Detroit and mixes it up with some new instruments, including a deliciously dirty synthesizer. The song plays more like a live track than a single, and the unique sound of the song’s solos will guarantee no two concert renditions will sound alike. Meg’s powerful drumming keeps the cacophony from ripping itself apart, providing the needed momentum to Jack’s rambling guitar.
The song should also be noted for its political message, a direct rebuttal to a certain asinine member of Bloc Party.

As for the video, it plays into the “Get Behind Me Satan” mold. First, create a video with a creepy model and “avante garde” feel. It is well done, but somewhat uninspired— nearly a literal translation of the song. The most interesting aspect of the video is it’s overt sexuality, an unusual move for the band. Plus Meg is sporting red hair... Not entirely sure how to feel about that. But true fans will be waiting for Michel Gondry’s take on the album. Lucky for us, Jack created a song just for him. Wait for the video of “I’m Slowly Turning Into You” to be truly blown away.

-Jacob Schutz, poet laureate

Bonus Track: Forest Sun – What The Poets Know

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Under The Covers with Jackson C. Frank

"Living is a gamble, baby/Loving's much the same/
Wherever I have played/The blues have run the game"

I don’t think any one song has been covered by more of my favorite artists than “Blues Run The Game.” It’s the perfect song to cover – it has a simple, haunting melody, timeless lyrics, and plenty of room for interpretation.

The first 4 tracks are by Frank and 3 of his supposed one-time flat-mates. If these guys actually did live together it would make an incredible movie. All of them ended up as iconic musicians but in such different ways. Watch the video of Paul Simon playing Connie Hawkins in basketball on the 2nd episode of SNL and tell me you wouldn’t kill to see what it was like for him to share a room with Nick Drake.

Also, the version by The Decemberists was the first time I ever heard them. This fact alone makes me forever indebted to the song.

Jackson C. Frank – Blues Run The Game
Nick Drake – Blues Run The Game
Simon and Garfunkle – Blues Run The Game
Sandy Denny – Blues Run The Game
Bert Jansch – Blues Run The Game
Counting Crows – Blues Run The Game
The Decemberists – Blues Run The Game

If you haven’t heard of Jackson Frank, you’re not alone. Read this short bio to familiarize yourself with his incredibly interesting and tragic life.


Ambition never hurt nobody

"I watch your mailbox like Vietnam guerilla warfare/
That's not your real hair, rip credit cards, I don't care"

Ambition is a luxury only the lucky, the fortunate, or extremely talented can afford. Thankfully, the Canals is chock full of all three, making it possible for us to dream 'till our faces turn blue. What, you may ask, could we possibly be ambitious about? After all, we're only a semi-successful music blog with unfocused tastes and a mediocre web-design. Well, scoff if you like, but we have a dream, a dream as clear and pure as the day, to bring the music to the people. We dream to throw the most brain-bustin', ear-poppin', foot stompin' concert this side of the Lebowski Fest. Despite not knowing jack-squat about concert promoting, I think we could make it a reality within the next three years. And with a pretty fly lineup to boot.

Space-obsessed, sex-crazed rapper, Kool Keith goes for a mere $4000 for college shows. Compare that to the exorbitant quarter mil that Dave Matthew's Band demands, and you've got yourself a chance.

Kool Keith -- I'm Seein' Robots

Apparently obliging Philadelphia residents, Dr. Dog (a current favorite of mine), throw the most energetic shows in the galaxy, and I doubt that they can deny a Canals community festival of sound-waves. Plus, their label, Park the Van Records, has some other killer Philadelphia acts too. Perhaps The Teeth, for example.

Dr. Dog -- I've Just Got To Tell You (A great song off Takers and Leavers that I've wanted to post about for a while)

Throw in a couple more local rappers, rockers, and roustabouts, and you got yourselves a show. You may laugh and pity us for our sad pipe-dreams, but have some faith. Someday in the near future, you might be shakin' it in the front row of a Kool Keith concert, smack dab in the middle of Clarke Park. Let me ask you this, who you gonna pity then?


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Artists I Should've Seen, But Didn't

"I can hear your cornstalks sigh/Underneath your prairie sky/
Southern swamps have footsteps filled/And hound dogs howl at freedom's will"

Believe it or not, even a Canal makes mistakes. I missed my fair share of performances over the past year for various bad reasons. Here’s a short list.

Tea Leaf Green – John Brown
Tea Leaf Green – Taught To Be Proud

I’m hoping this concert will be the only one I ever miss because I was studying. I don’t really understand how it even happened once. These guys played at Penn in March, and Austin told us they and Lotus melted more faces than my room did when I wasn’t in charge of the A/C.

Patrick Park – Past Poisons (live)
Patrick Park – Life’s A Song (live)

I downloaded his album off Amie St. the day after he played a free concert at World Café.

Rocky Votolato – Portland Is Leaving
Rocky Votolato – Red Dragon Wishes
Rocky Votolato – Postcard From Kentucky

I didn’t go because I felt sick, now I feel sick because I didn’t go.

Alexi Murdoch – Blue Mind
Alexi Murdoch – Orange Sky

This one wasn’t really my fault, but I still won’t be able to forgive myself if I never get to see him in a setting like North Star Bar at some point.


Film Review: "Once"

"Take this sinking boat and point it home/We've still got time/
Raise your hopeful voice you have a choic/You've made it now"

I’m hardly qualified to write a film review (“The 6th Man” is securely in my top 10…), but “Once” is hardly a typical film. I’d describe it as an extended music video for an entire album, with hidden-camera-like insight into the lives of the artists.

The main characters are played by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – both accomplished musicians with no acting experience. Hansard plays an Irish, guitar-playing vacuum repairman and Irglova plays a Czech, piano-playing house-cleaner. The movie follows the characters as they meet, begin to make music together, and work up the courage to repair past relationships.

And that’s really all there is. The dialogue is so realistic that you almost feel guilty watching them interact. Irglova plays her part so naturally that I spent a good part of the movie trying to figure out which of my East European friends she reminds me of, until I realized that I don’t have any. There are no clichés, no corny lines, no real happy endings to the conflicts – the characters don’t come off as important or genius, just human and talented. And as someone who likes people-watching almost as much as he likes music, this ends up being more than enough.

But the movie is more about the music itself than anything else. Most of the songs come from Hansard and Irglova’s album The Swell Season and many are also featured on releases from Hansard’s band, The Frames. It’s the type of music that brinks on over-the-top drama, but is always mellow at the same time. Hansard and Irglova compliment each other perfectly, and the movie seems to be a pretty good representation of their musical relationship. Here’s how they describe each other:

Glen: "It [The Swell Season] was released around the same time as we started to work on the film. When I met Marketa it was immediately obvious how remarkable she was, and so for me, there was a whole new breath of creative life to be working with someone who could give so much to the music. I am very lucky with my band, they are incredibly creative, but when I met Mar it added a whole new area, a whole new voice, a whole new contrast to what I did. I think John [Carney, ONCE director] caught sight of that."

Marketa: "We have been working together for the past six years. We met in the Czech Republic, where I am from, when The Frames were over to play a few gigs. Glen got me up for a song and I started playing piano and then we started to write songs. It was very slow and very natural process. Then we recorded an album a year ago."

This is the type of movie that I could see myself watching time and time again, much like listening to an album. If you like the music, definitely go see the movie. If you don’t, still go see it, and I promise you’ll at least appreciate it after.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – Falling Slowly
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – Sleeping
Glen Hansard – Lies
Glen Hansard – Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy

The soundtrack will be released tomorrow (5/22), but you can buy The Swell Season now.
“Once” website
The Swell Season myspace
“The Frames” myspace


Monday, May 21, 2007

Mulching With Townes

“Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” – Steve Earle

"All the poets do push-ups/ On carpets of rubber foam/
Loudly they laugh/ At some joke that's been made"

I’m often compelled to return to old musical favorites for utterly inane reasons. Laying mulch in my backyard under the hot Ohio sun, for example, seemed to be the perfect occasion to revisit my boy Townes Van Zandt. As a country singer-songwriter and overall badass, Townes had an enormous impact on modern music with his poetic and melancholy tunes about women, booze, and the hard life. Unfortunately, he never broke into stardom during his stay on earth, and remained a cult figure for much of his life. He’s sadly often remembered for the cover versions of his timeless songs (Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard had a #1 hit with Townes’ “Pancho and Lefty”), but no one else can make your soul bleed and your mind clear like the man himself.

If you decide to go hunting for Townes music, start with the live recording Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas, a chilling two-disc set that doesn’t muddle up his songs with the razzle-dazzle of overproduction. Then pop in the documentary, Be Here To Love Me to get to know the story behind the legend. Once that’s all done, you won’t forget to bring Townes along the next time you go mulching.

Townes Van Zandt – She Came And She Touched Me (Live)
Townes Van Zandt – Don’t Let The Sunshine Fool Ya’
Townes Van Zandt – Pancho & Lefty
Townes Van Zandt – Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold (Live)
Townes Van Zandt – Dead Flowers (featured in The Big Lebowski)


Introducing Newton Faulkner

"And I'm scared of failure/So scared of success/
Guess it'll all work out"

I heard about Newton Faulkner from Nizlopi’s myspace page and decided right away to buy his two EPs. The problem was that they hadn’t been released in the US yet and the only online store selling them was the UK iTunes. If you’ve yet to experience an international iTunes store, I can tell you it’s one of the most frustrating things in the world. I sat at my computer with his music in front of me, able to preview the songs but unable to buy them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a similar situation with online music, where I honestly want to buy the music from a legit source but end up forced to get it some other way. Good thing we have copyright laws to look out for our musicians…

In the case of Newton Faulkner, there were no “free” online sources either, so I ended up importing the physical CDs. When they finally arrived (after a month and $30) it turned out it was worth the hassle. There’s definitely something about him that reminds me of Nizlopi, but he also has a completely unique sound. He’s a minor key, syncopated, more produced, gravelly-voiced, mature version of my other favorite UK artist. His plays a distinct style of guitar that sounds like the airtap guy, and basically provides its own percussion. His music lacks the uplifting melodies that characterize Nizlopi, but somehow even without real memorable choruses his music is still catchy.

The live and acoustic songs sound as good or better than the more produced tracks, which makes me really want to see him perform. Someone needs to get him and these other British bands over here. They don’t even have to go farther than the east coast. One Nizlopi/Alberta Cross/Newton Faulkner show in Philly is all I’m asking.

Faulkner’s 1st release, Full Fat, was the #1 single on Amazon last year, but for some reason we’re the first blog on hype or to feature his music. His first full-length album is set to be released on July 23. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get my hands on it before school starts in the fall.

Newton Faulkner – To The Light (Acoustic)
Faulkner – Feels Like Home
Faulkner – Full Fat
Faulkner – Lullaby

Stream some more tracks from his myspace. I especially like “All I Got,” which must be from the upcoming album.

Buy his EPs on Amazon.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Good Fortune Cookie

"Summer was gone and the heat died down/
And autumn reached for her golden crown/
I looked behind as I heard a sigh/But this was the time of no reply"

Last night I got a great fortune:

Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening all at once.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that it actually makes grammatical and contextual sense, that my favorite number (22) was one of the 6 “lucky” ones listed below it, or that it closely resembles one of my favorite quotes of all time (“People are DNA’s way of making more DNA.” – E. O. Wilson), but the Chinese guy who wrote this really hit close to home. Close enough, in fact, that I’m writing a whole post about his idea.

Here are some timeless time-related songs:

Alexi Murdoch – Time (live outro to “Shine”)
Semisonic – Closing Time
Dr. John – Right Place, Wrong Time
Old Crow Medicine Show – Big Time In The Jungle
Donavon Frankenreiter – Every Time
Lee Moses – Time And Place
Jim Croce – Time In A Bottle
Nick Drake – Time Of No Reply
Ollabelle – Before This Time

Edit: I did some research after writing the post and it turns out that I gave China too much credit. The fortune was actually written by none other than Woody Allen, which explains a lot. I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed in the Big Red for selling out – aren’t they supposed to be the wise ones?


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Album Review -- Sky Blue Sky

"But this is what love is for/ to be out of place/
gorgeous and alone/ face to face"

This past Tuesday marked the release of American rock group Wilco’s sixth studio release, Sky Blue Sky. This time around, Wilco has taken a step back from its signature sound in favor of a more subdued and intimate alt-country style. While it holds much in common with their earlier country-tinged album, Being There, Sky Blue Sky remains distinct with its simplistic friends-in-a-room sound. Nearly everything has been toned down or modified since A Ghost Is Born. The instrumentation is sparser, leaving time for each member to shine while the others wait in the wings. The member that really benefits from this arrangement is guitarist Nels Cline, who tears open almost every track with a solid and memorable riff. Without the sometimes grating guitar noise and general clamor of previous efforts, the guitar work begins to sound more like living, breathing guitar and instead of synthesized whirrs and clanks. Jeff Tweedy’s strained whisper of a voice plays off perfectly against the ephemeral style of the album, sounding naked and live. This nudity is at least partially influenced by the communal processes of the Band, an influence that Tweedy and Co. have been quite vocal about.

Tweedy in a recent Rolling Stone interview: “I always liked the Band as a model -- a bunch of guys sitting around with a typewriter, drinking coffee, writing. That seemed the most fun -- a collective thing. And somehow we ended up being that.”

Somehow indeed. And the results are more than satisfying. Each song, despite its sparseness, maintains a fullness and almost edible tangibility. Building and building and building is the best way to describe the structure behind each song. They often seem to want to explode from the speakers and ooze out onto the floor, but instead deflate back to safety. Every time I listen to the quiet and unassuming Please Be Patient With Me, I half expect the whole band to break into a raucous jam as the finger-picked acoustic guitar morphs into Cline’s electric gold. This building can get frustrating, but always keeps the sound from seeming contrived or conventional. And thankfully there aren’t any streets called Convention on Wilco’s musical roadmap. Immediately after Please Be Patient With Me, everything spills over with Hate it Here. The song seems much like the fragile love song before it until the chorus and Beatles-esque melody crank it up to cosmic proportions.

Last Thursday, two days after the release of Sky Blue Sky, some friends and I went out for a walk around town. As we passed by the house of a classmate attending West Point, we saluted and continued on. That is, until I noticed the pizza delivery guy at his house was blaring Either Way, Sky’s first track, from his car in the street. And so, loved by myself and pizza guys alike, Wilco’s newest is a treat for all.

Wilco – Either Way
Wilco – Please Be Patient With Me
Wilco – Hate it Here

Buy Sky Blue Sky here.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Week In Random

On the train this morning I was thinking about what a great addition the “shuffle songs” feature was to the iPod. Then I realized that some of our readers might not be up on the latest technology or might not have a big enough library to fully take advantage of it. I knew it was my duty to create our 2nd weekly feature, “Week In Random.” Every Friday, a Canal will bare his soul for all to see, posting the first 10 tracks that play when he hits Shuffle. We promise not to hold anything back, as long as you promise not to judge. Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

"I detected faint axilla scent/That put me off my appetite/
But mouflon warring where I went/Renewed in me a need to fight"

Ben Harper/Blackalicious – Brain Washers

Benjy gave me this album a few months ago because my library was weak on hip-hop. It still is.

Phish – Axilla I (Live)

It pains me to know I’ll die without seeing these guys in concert.

Sam Prekop – Something

Just picked this up off *Sixeyes the other day. I love mellow songs with driving beats.

Dave Matthews Band – Shotgun (Live)

I have a feeling DMB will be way over-represented in these posts. Nothing to be ashamed of, though – they’re a big part of my musical past. This happens to be my favorite song of theirs.

Richard Wagner – Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt from Gotterdammerung

I wish I could say something sophisticated about this, but unfortunately I’ve never listened to the piece. Looks promising, though.

Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, and Mike Marshall – Barnyard Disturbance

Three amazing musicians, one album of bizarre music.

John Martyn – Don’t Want To Know

“I don’t want to know about evil/Only want to know about love.”

Johnny Five – Call Response

I bought this album on a whim and was pretty disappointed after hearing it.

Pearl Jam – Jeremy

Classic song from the days when I used to listen to the radio in the shower. Or at all, for that matter.

Taj Mahal – Cakewalk Into Town

Hand claps + tuba = pure gold.

That’s it for this week. Make sure to keep up with this feature – it’s only a matter of time before I’m forced to post a High School Musical karaoke track, and that’s something you won’t want to miss.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

What’s In a Name?

"She puts eggs in her orange juice/Coffee in her tea/
Puts olives in her jelly/Says that's the way it's gonna be"

For the past few weeks I’ve been working at a music supervision company in New York. I know what you’re thinking: “Cool.” But it’s actually even cooler than you thought when you were just thinking that a second ago. Not only am I working in The Big Apple, The City That Never Sleeps, and The City So Nice They Named It Twice, but on a very special street in that very special town. Yeah, you guessed it – this Canal has been spending his days in the heart of Chinatown, on none other than Canal Street.

Now, we at The Canals don’t believe in fate, but we do believe in the cosmos – and this connection is cosmic to the extreme. You see, The Canals and Canal St. share more than a name – we share a story. Both had illustrious pasts, but were eventually destroyed by their very creator: Ambition. (To brush up on our history, see our first two posts: 1 and 2.)

Canal St. was not always paved with concrete and saturated with fake luxury goods. No, it was once a real, beautiful canal, a Manhattan oasis, bringing a bit of glory to China and a bit of China to Glory (the US of A). It was brimming with the purest water in any of the five boroughs. Dragons raced gleefully down the banks. The Irish sake bombed with the Italians. Palestinians danced with Israelis on the shores. People came from near and far to witness the spectacle and partake in the constant merriment. Every day was the Chinese New Year, and it was always the year of The Canal.

But such peace could not last. Eventually, people started to exploit beauty for profit. Fights broke out. Darkness set in. Over time, as hope evaporated, so did the canal. Just as Panama Lee was not ready to change the world with the music of his band, the world was not ready to be changed by the magic of Canal St. So what’s in a name? Only the remnants of a glorious past, and a constant reminder of a tragic downfall.

On a happier note, I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here. They have over 20,000 albums in the office, and I’m free to sample them all. Here are a few tracks I’ve discovered since I started working. They’re pretty good, but the best will be featured in a series of detailed posts over the next few weeks.

Andrew Bird – Dora Goes To Town
Emitt Rhodes – Somebody Made For Me
Blue Merle – If I Could
The Concretes – On The Radio
Nouvelle Vague – Just Can’t Get Enough
Pas/Cal – Bem, Please Come Home
Sandy Denny – Solo
Paul Westerberg – We May Be The Ones
Cary Brothers – Honestly


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Under The Covers with Nick Drake

This is the debut post of our debut weekly feature. Every Wednesday we’ll highlight the music of an artist as interpreted by his peers. So dive under the covers – they’re ready and waiting. Soft, warm, and bed-bug free, we guarantee only sweet dreams and lullabies. That’s right – once a week The Canals will be your personal tooth fairy, delivering glorious sounds straight to your deserving ears. And best of all, we don’t even ask for a tooth in return – just your unwavering loyalty and maybe a comment or two.

"Time has told me/You came with the dawn/
A soul with no footprint/A rose with no thorn"

Day Is Done – Nick Drake
Day Is Done – Norah Jones
Day Is Done – Elton John

Two great covers here, and so different from each other. The up-tempo, driving feel of Elton John’s version highlights the desperation of the song, and Norah Jones’s relaxed, earthy jazz style brings out the melody. I really like the saxophone on hers, and it’s also one of the only tracks here officially released on a studio album (Come Away With Me).

Northern Sky – Nick Drake
Northern SkyDenison Witmer

Simple acoustic version. It loses the feel of the original, but nice to listen to, I guess.

Pink Moon – Nick Drake
Pink Moon – Beck
Pink Moon – Damien Jurado

Two more simple acoustic covers. I was excited for Beck’s take on it, but I thought it was pretty boring. I liked Damien Jurado’s guitar on his, it sounded like he was tweaking some of the original chords.

River Man – Nick Drake
River Man – Til Bronner

Really liked this cover. Bronner added some nice touches. If there’s one Drake song perfectly suited for this kind of improv style, it’s River Man.

Time Has Told Me – Nick Drake
Time Has Told Me – Kelly Willis
Time Has Told Me – Elton John

Elton John’s cover is great again here. He pretty much just spices up the rhythm and adds some vocal runs, but it’s a fun listen. Kelly Willis offers a somewhat bizarre country-ish version, but is also the only artist here to try adding strings and vocal harmony.

Which Will – Nick Drake
Which Will – Beck
Which Will – Lucinda Williams

I liked this Beck cover more than “Pink Moon,” but I still don’t get why he didn’t “Beckify” the music at all. With the second cover, Lucinda Williams manages to turn the song into a cheesy, boring ballad.

I wasn’t planning on being so critical, but I was pretty disappointed by most of these covers. I was surprised at how sparse they all sounded. Nick Drake’s strength was not his melodies, but his instrumentation and delivery. He wrote sweeping string and wind arrangements that gave his songs a distinct mellow but brimming-with-music quality. He created unique soundscapes for each song, where the vocals and virtuosic guitar just seemed like a final touch or last-minute thought.

I realize that covers are meant to interpret and not imitate, but I feel like most of these stripped so much from the music without adding anything of their own. That being said, a few were really good, and all of them put the originals in a new light. Plus, it’s always good to see the Drakonian influence in action.

Look forward to a more concise, less critical “Under The Covers” next Wednesday…


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

New Release!

On a day like this, you could wave at neighbor or lie in the street. Laugh at joke, don't worry you're broke. Build a canoe, but decide to swim. Jump a fence, but the gates so close. But most of all... buy Wilco's Sky Blue Sky. Here, if you want to.

Watch out for a comprehesive review coming soon.

Wilco -- Shake It Off

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Album Review – Leopold and his Fiction

A few weeks back we neglected to post about a Swedish pop group that had so graciously reached out to us. And then, as if to thank us for not jumping the gun on our first featured group, along came San Francisco rock combo Leopold and His Fiction. Separately known as Daniel Toccalino and Ben Cook, the duo released its self-titled debut album in October of 2006 on their label, Native Fiction Records. Maybe it’s a little too heavy to call it destiny, but the name-link between Daniel and Ben of Leopold and us here at The Canals was enough to draw our attention. After a few listens of the album, the mystical connection began to pale in the light of the delicious mixed fruit smoothie of rock, country, and blues that they have to offer. Well, I guess their debut is less of a smoothie than an oil drum filled with moonshine and gasoline, but who’s to judge? The combination of Detroit guitarist and vocalist, Daniel, and Kentuckian drummer, Ben, allows for simultaneous creative bursts of unrestrained filth blues and subdued sunburned country.

A simple connection can be made between Leopold and his Fiction, The White Stripes, and The Black Keys, if not for anything but the use of a guitar and drum kit combo. The influence of delta blues, Detroit grunge, and twangy southern spit shine drawl spans across the three, but don’t let that muddle the field any. Look deeper and you’ll see that the differences transcend the similar appearances, as Leopold’s debut album shows a versatility and diversity all of their own.

Leopold and his Fiction is a collection of lo-fi jaunts and mesmerizing tunes that make you want to hike up your overalls, drift into warp-speed, and trip down the road in a tin can with your best friend. The first track starts off strong, almost indiscernibly strong. The thick guitar and distorted voice mix together to form some sort of an über-riff, and packs a punch that may turn off the more laid back, countrified listeners. The wail of the chorus of this track, She Ain’t Got Time, pulls itself from the depths of the grunge and pays homage to the love-lost tales of long past blues singers. From that launch pad of grungy Detroit rock, a wellspring of blues and country busts forth, letting the album slowly ramble its way back into the Kentucky half of the duo. The unforgiving guitar riffs and pounding percussion are soon replaced by down-home slides and picks in songs like Gonna Be Your Boy and Miss Manipulation. On the technical side of things, many of the group’s musical choices keep the album from sounding like just a drummer and a guitarist. Daniel’s use of mic distortion and additional instrumentation on some tracks keeps the album from feeling hollow or sparse, a potential pitfall of minimalist groups. Ben’s skillful drumming surpasses the abilities of many other similar duos (i.e. a certain Ms. White), and provides an able backbone for each song on the album. The curious forty-second pause before the unusually fragile final track, Broken Down Blues, allows for close listeners to take a breather and reflect on the album for what it is: an unforgettable boxcar ride of rock with a strong, bold mug of hard cider in your hand.

Leopold and his Fiction – She Ain’t Got Time
Leopold and his Fiction – Gonna Be Your Boy
Leopold and his Fiction – Miss Manipulation

I strongly suggest that you buy Leopold and his Fiction here.


Friday, May 11, 2007

My Favorite Artists (Part 3 of 5): The Actual Tigers

"It's gonna be a waste of your time/
I'm gonna tell you things you already know"

I’ve only been home for a week, but my freshman year musical associations are already set in stone. “The Auld Triangle” by Dropkick Murphys brings back memories of St. Patrick’s Day, when, among other things, we watched Benjy’s dad selling DVDs on a late-night infomercial. Anything by Ella Fitzgerald makes me think of a certain roommate’s idea of seduction, which may or may not be in need of some refining over the summer. The outro to “Wake Up” by Dr. Dog is pretty much just pure joy. The Shins represent the last month of spring semester, and remind me of Yanik’s concluding opinion of my music library (“I guess there are some good songs, but it’s just not the kind of music you want to listen to…”). I can’t play “Grace Kelly” in public, because I’m afraid I might break out into Alex’s dance.

But all of these associations pale in comparison to those I have with The Actual Tigers. Their first and only album, Gravelled and Green, was my freshman year. It was there on St. Patrick’s Day, it was drowning out Ella Fitzgerald, it was on the “study” playlist from the end of both semesters, it was playing in my iPod while the carpenter was breaking shelf. If I had to make a soundtrack for the year, it would be this album from start to finish.

I highly recommend reading this detailed review, but I’m going to do my best to give a brief impression of the band. Gravelled and Green is either the most guilt-free pop music or the catchiest rock music I’ve ever heard. It represents the best of both worlds, but never strays too far to one side. For every simple melody, there’s an unpredictable, unrestrained jam. For every typical major chord, there’s one verging on dissonance. It’s like each song is teetering on the edge of two personalities – at first content with a clean, pleasant sound, but always eventually plunging into “a regular old hootenanny of hedonism.” And the best part is that this tension, this flip-flopping of character, is only magnified with each listen, so that each time you’re even more eager for the breakdown. As the CD progresses it doesn’t disappoint – the last track (“The One That Got Away”) is the absolute perfect ending to an album.

The Actual Tigers also bring with them a certain mystique. The band began as Willis, and released one album under their original name. Gravelled and Green was released in 2001 to much critical acclaim, but for some reason never caught on. They broke up soon after and their music has basically disappeared. There are no pictures, lyrics, or tabs on Google (which makes singing along a challenge). Amazon doesn’t even carry their album. All this just makes them more appealing, despite the frustration of knowing that they’ll never release any new music. We did manage to track down the self-titled album from Willis, and it’s decent. Also, Tim Seely (singer and songwriter of the Tigers) launched a pretty successful solo career, but his music doesn’t resemble the band’s much at all. Listen to tracks below, but know that those not posted here are still more than worthy of Canals airtime.

The Actual Tigers – Bad Day
The Actual Tigers – Testimony
The Actual Tigers – On A Roll
The Actual Tigers – The One That Got Away
Dr. Dog – Wake Up (Outro)

Buy the CD here. There are only six left (one is $155), and knowing The Canals’ popularity and clout they won’t last long, so act fast.

You can stream four more tracks on their myspace.