April 30, 2009
I can’t think of many Double LP’s that I know and can enjoy all the way through with little to no filler. The thing that makes records like Filigree and Shadow or Red House Painters I AKA Rollercoaster such a successful effort is the layout and variety of the songs and how they flow.
I bring up filigree and shadow because Ivo was aiming for each side to play likes it own little EP and hates that the c.d release takes away from that, which I totally get. I’ve started to think of Rollercoaster as 4 little EP’s since I’ve gotten the vinyl version a few months back. When you listen to it from that perspective you start to really notice the variety this album offers.
The first side (or first EP which for this post we’ll refer to as the Grace Cathedral EP) is probably the greatest example of the overall sound of Red House Painters, contains a couple of the most accessible tracks of the 4AD era. The Grace Cathedral EP consists of the first 4 songs: Grace Cathedral Park/Down Through/Katy Song/Mistress. With these 4 songs you get a taste of everything Red House Painters can offer you. You get a couple of their more college-rock oriented songs, their totally downtempo slowcore sound, and an example of stark and haunting acoustic songs. These are also great examples of Kozelek putting his pain on display with no room for interpretation. The lyrics in these songs are as plain as day, clear as crystal. This guy is hurting. Mistress would go on to become a staple of their live shows, and especially in the post-4AD era, where it really shined. It was stretched out and Mark Kozelek would show off his vocal ability with the last half of the lyrics. Lets talk about the lyrics for a second. He pretty much covers all of the ground that is typical of his lyrics all related to a love in his life. He explores the feelings of fear and doubt with Grace Cathedral Park, as if it shouldn’t be expected that anyone would treat him with Kindness. When he’d sing the why are you like this live in 96/97 or on the 2001 tour, it gives me shivers, because the emotion in his voice would reach an all time high with that. Songs like Down Through and Katy Song don’t hold back feelings of lost love and loneliness. I really enjoy when Kozelek refrains from using metaphors or imagery that isn’t blunt, and these songs are a perfect example. When you hear him sing “where you walked away and left a bleeding part of me. Empty and bothered watching the water quiet in the corner numb and falling through”, it doesn’t get any clearer than that. Mistress is a bit different, but definitely brings back a theme of doubt with the song being about wanting someone new, definite feelings of zero satisfaction and hurt with the person he is with now. This is probably the strongest side of the 2xLP, but the record doesn’t lose steam if you’re patient.
Moving onto the second side, which we’ll call The Funhouse EP, this side is a bit more mish-mash. It contains what I believe to be the strongest and most moving song on the whole record, which is “Things Mean A Lot”. Starting with an eerie chord progression and lyrics about hurting a loved one and loss or the possibility of seperation (sounds like it could be about Katy, which was a source of inspiration of lyrics for Mark Kozelek, but who am I to say which songs are about her). Ever so softly comes in percussion and a delicate and simple piano line, and it comes after my favourite line of the song (“You threat to make me dead, but none of this will matter or surface again”) and comes in lines about a fear of distance (“Scares you to know that we won’t be watching the same sun or brooding the same thoughts”). The ending of this song sounds incredible epic without overdoing any part of it. Repeating the line “Things mean a lot, don’t mean nothing later” with that second guitar playing an unforgettable melody, and the continuation of the piano just playing root notes. Listen to that second guitar with really good headphones and you’ll hear 2 different things going on, and it will always be one of the most beautiful things I will be able to recall. Then unfortunately comes “Funhouse”. There are most likely a lot of people out there who enjoy this song, but I am not one of them. But the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, so instead of harshing, I will just pick up the needle and move on. “Take Me Out” took a long time to grow on me. I was always kind of thrown off by its simplicity in the sense that its just a few simple chords. I think what does it for me is the additional female vocals. On a second glance of the lyrics, I see how hard hitting some of these lines and how close they hit to home for me. Especially the chorus: “if only you could take me out instead of back into a relationship i don’t understand.if only you could take me out instead of back into myself that’s dying within”. I wish I knew what he was referring to by “those holes”. More than likely a phone reciever or a speaker. It could be speakers because of the reference to music of this crazy time. I won’t spend much time mulling over it, because I will forget to listen to how pretty this song actually is. It definitely does come to fruition in the second half with the female “oohs”. I started to love the folk or church chords of this song. I got really tired of these kind of songs and its what lead to my falling out of liking Bob Dylan, but I am also unable to dig or relate to his lyrics. Of course I see the merit and the levels of introspection explored, but it just doesn’t translate into something more for me. I guess while Dylan will be the songwriter of a generation, Kozelek will be the songwriter for my time on this earth. I should also mention looking at the record as 2 LP’s, this is a perfect way to end the first record. Its nice and quiet, it fades out well, and when you pick it up to put on the second record and hear the fading in of side three, it feels like it hasn’t left just yet.
Now onto the Rollercoaster EP (Side 3). This side to me has always been the darkest. Its definitely the side that makes me think of grey skies or that in between time of the darkness that comes with the moon and the bright sky that leaves with the sun. The song “Rollercoaster” has always been a song that to me reflects the Dream Pop side of Red House Painters. That distored guitar that sounds like its been dipped in flange, with some of the drum patterns, really gives me a cocteau vibe but more natural sounding. This was another grower of a song for me, even just writing about it makes me appreciate it even more. Theres also a special significance to this song. Up to this point, songs from this album and Down Colorful Hill have always been a way to reflect for Kozelek, but this song really showcases his growing obsession with the power of memory and almost being brought back to the present time or the end of an event and being forced to continue with lines like “reminding me i’ll never be able to relive this day except in memory”, and “but where’s dad and where is mom? looks like from here on out it’s just me and you”). When it comes to the power of memory, this song ranks up there with San Geronimo, but I think this song is definitely more bittersweet. Next is the New Jersey. A full band arrangement of this song would be featured on Red House Painters II, and the full band version if definitely my preferred but i think with this version, the harshness of these lyrics really come through. This song borders along the lines of cruelty much like mistress. It almost sounds like a statement to someone that says “This is a good as it will get for you, and that isn’t saying much at all”. It suggests that there was potential for the character in this song, but instead resulted in failure. This version also uses additional female vocals and just the one guitar playing a simple line, with the echo and reverb on the vocals definitely seperates this stark version from the one you can hear on Bridge. Theres a bit of a dissonance to parts of the full band arrangement, but it sounds like it could be geared more towards College radio while this song sounds more like a personal statement. “Dragonflies” is a song where the lyrics don’t do as much for me as other songs, except for the one line “This is the first you spoke of it”, because of I think of instances in which I’ve had to say that. Its definitely a darker song of the album without verging into the category of a skipper, which is perfect. The bass is definitely present in this song and helps the bass drum sound booming, and the subtle instances of an additional guitar track help to make this song chilling. This song also builds up steam really well, with the drums picking up the pace in the nearer end of the song, and Kozelek putting a bit more effort into his singing, and the guitar starting to strum with more consistency, which leads into quite the powerful ending which is probably one of the louder parts of the album up to this point along with the ending of Funhouse. After this we hear the piano version of “Mistress”. I love how one small change of lyrics makes all the difference in this song, when he sings “I want a piece of these brutal beatings and name callings”. I think the only thing that takes away from this song is the ending where Mark sings all the “aahs”, but it definitely adds to the eerie nature of this side and makes for quite the haunting ending to this side. I like the idea of not having to go out with a bang. This side slowly climbs up with Rollercoaster, stays stagnant with New Jersey, then walks then runs up with Dragonflies, then takes you slowly all the way back to the bottom with Mistress.
Now we reach side D. We’ll call this the Strawberry Hill EP. I should be calling this the most darkest of sides because of “Mother”. This is definitely the epic of the record, clocking in at 13 minutes. Each of Red House Painter’s records has an “epic” song. On the Down Colorful Hill it was the title track. What made it the epic was that it was the longest and had a lot of shift in sound, starting with the military-style drumming with the dreamy overdub while a quiet guitar strums chords beneath it, then picks up steam and has that one part that reaches quite the intensity. I wish I could talk about Mother with such enthusiasm, but I can’t. I do enjoy how there are two parts of this song. Part 2 of this song is introduced with the reverse guitar being faded in, and the rest of the song is just mark scatting over the continued slow beat, but the song definitely sounds like it is ascending. Next we have Strawberry Hill. This along with Mother makes deciding which side is the darkest a close call, but this song doesn’t really do it for me in the regard. I do love this song though, a lot. It continues the slow climb of this side much like side 3. I’m starting to get tired since this was post was long, but this song seems like a total representation of Mark Kozelek as a person. The song explores people talking about his nature and the way he carries himself. Hiding out in his room, his quietness, and his fears, and his sadness. This song is definitely hard hitting. It has a real catchy chorus that sounds nice while his voice soars over the group vocals, and the addition of piano on this song is definitely a plus. They use piano so well on this record, as to not overdo it. They would continue to use piano well on Ocean Beach with their song “Shadows”. “Brown Eyes” is a great closer. Its short and to the point. Its a great closer to this side and the album overall. The way the band leaves as quick as it comes in and this song is definitely a bummer.
I’m not really sure how to cap this off. This post was me doing my best Roger Ebert Impression.
April 12, 2009
Someone has been posting live videos of Red House Painters from a set at the Black Cat in DC from 96. I have the audio of this set on my pc, and of the 13 or 14 sets I have, this is by far the best of them. This captures them abandoning the need to play it like you heard it on the album, and yes, its just as boring as I had hoped. I don’t know why that excites me but it does. I like how their live show would definitely cater to more than casual listeners. Sadly, none of the sweet banter is included. It seems like the user is going to upload every song possible, probably having to cut short songs like river (It clocks in around 18 minutes on this set) and Evil (20ish minutes). Regardless, its exciting to finally see some footage of this band. Before you’d be hard pressed to find videos or even pictures of this group except for promotional photos. Kait is napping and I have to wear headphones because she still thinks this band sounds awful. Happy Easter Jason, I hope we can see each other soon.
April 6, 2009
You know that theme you love from True Romance? Well you have Badlands to thank for it. Someone has posted live videos of Red House Painters from a 1996 show from the Black Cat. I have the audio to that set on my pc. Its just as boring as I imagined it. I’m stoked on it. Hopefully he posts every song from the set. Might be hard to tackle make like paper, its about 15 minutes if I remember correctly.
I haven’t updated in a while. I figured if I couldn’t think of something to say about Red House Painters or a great hip hop record, then there really isn’t anything worth talking about. The First S/T Red House Painters 2xLP went on ebay for about 250 dollars Canadian. That sucks for people like Jason who really need a copy. The 2nd S/T is at 63 bucks Canadian right now, and still has 4 days left. Jason get on that if you read this in time. Big news is that Songs for a Blue Guitar is finally getting issued on vinyl by Plain Recordings if I remember correctly. This is really exciting because Jason pre-ordered a copy for me along with his. Jasons great, my best friend.
I’m gonna switch gears for this post and talk about a different group. I want to talk about how Depeche Mode’s new album leaked. Its called “Sounds of the Universe” and I was hoping since Playing The Angel had some definite bangers, and had a real noirish vibe to it (a la Portishead), my hopes for this were high. I checked out the album and overall was not impressed. Maybe they’ve exhausted their ability to write a solid album front to back. This happens to all bands as they grow old and we all know it. Bands reach a point where you’re better off just touring and playing your back catalogue and pulling out some forgotten songs that true fans will die for. Its sort of like U2. If you discredit this band as a whole, then you shouldn’t listen to music. They are definitely one of the big bands to shape college rock into what it became along with bands like REM (who got huge too and compromised their jangly sound but stayed pretty good from time to time though I only really listen to Murmur), The Replacements (Westerberg started his catchy pop rock solo career which is amazing stuff) etc etc. Boy, War, Unforgettable Fire, even Achtung Baby all have stand out tracks that you should like. If you need further reassurance that its cool to appreciate them, Pitchfork gave War and 8.0/10, though if that is what makes you like them, you should hate Matt Pond PA (low low ratings, will never understand why). Anyways, Depeche Mode much like U2 or one of my favourite bands New Order suffers from one thing. A tendency to write half-rate lyrics or ones you kinda cringe at because they’re sort of stupid.
A prime example from each band where the song is great but the lyrics sorta hurt:
U2- Two Hearts beat as One
Depeche Mode- Sweetest Perfection
New Order- (so many to choose from, we’ll go with…) Age of Consent
My friend Meghan has serious beef with Two Hearts but the song is so damn catchy, I can let myself overlook it. I mean I won’t discredit Medicine Bottle by Red House Painters even though theres no more “ladies underwear” hanging over his alarm clock. Its still one of the hardest hitting songs from that record (or just their catalogue of songs in general). Its especially tough for a band like New Order because its definitely cool to prefer Joy Division to them, and Ian Curtis was definitely talented at writing gloomy as shit lyrics. But lets be honest, Unknown Pleasures isn’t good. Closer is great because its dark and sounds like a goth-rock record, and the early stages of Goth Rock are just fine. Christian Death made a sweet LP, Mutiny/The Bad Seed by The Birthday Party is great, and Bauhaus is better than your favourite band, and I only just like Bauhaus.
The point that I’m trying to drive home here is this: If you’re on a bus ride or drive home and its late at night, Violator by Depeche Mode is your best bet, but make sure you throw on Music for the Masses to hear “The Things You Said”.
Why would you want to write off big bands that influenced the small bands that you like? Wouldn’t you rather be informed. Wouldn’t you rather do your best and sit through a Lyle Lovett record, or a Jackson Browne record and understand where the people you like are coming from? Its not as hard as it sounds, I promise you won’t get hurt. If you like bad Alt-Country, why not try and sit through a George Jones collection and understand the roots of the things you’ve come to appreciate/hold over other peoples head.
I push a lot of bad music on Kait. She has been a real sport about it though.