Just like Meredith and her continuing journeys, may I continue to use this tumblr to chronicle LA adventure?
Just like Meredith and her continuing journeys, may I continue to use this tumblr to chronicle LA adventure?
Kanye tweet needlework sampler
/ andreabustin.com /
I have not met Andrea Bustin, but I imagine her to be the type of person who you expect to be quiet and shy until you get to know her and discover an encyclopedic brain and a killer sense of humor. Then you think she’s that quiet person with the encyclopedic brain and killer sense of humor, until you really get to know her and discover, on top of everything else, a probing sensitivity and deep wisdom. Usually that’s the type of friend you want to keep around for a long time. Bustin may be nothing like the person I’ve described, but her debut album, Disappoint the Elements, is that type of album.
Disappoint the Elements
On first listen, it’s an album of pleasant, often sleepy, down- and mid-tempo bluegrass and folk tunes. Since it is pleasant, though—exceptionally pleasant—you spin it a few extra times. Maybe you play it softly in the background during a gathering of friends. Then, out of nowhere, like that quiet person muttering an unexpected joke under her breath, the album spits a couple of its feistier lines at you, like this one from “Spend My Time”:
If my wailing wall comes down
You can take my prayers to town
Or mail them off to China
There’s plenty of wall there
Where did that come from? You listen more closely:
You got me thinkin’ it’s alright to spend my time with you
Fair enough. So you sit down with headphones and spend some time with the album and its lyrics.
They’re killer. Bustin’s greatest strength as a lyricist is her sense of humor. She uses wit like Kathleen Edwards uses wit, dressing up her sentiments in clever turns of phrase that often have a sharp edge to them—I’m not sure I’d want to be on the receiving end of some of those lyrics. She’s also not afraid to make references, again like Edwards, in a way that draws lines; you’re either clever enough (or good enough with Google) to get them, or you’re not. I’m still trying to figure out all the baseball jokes (oh man, I hope they’re baseball jokes and not football jokes) in “Child Please”, and I felt a thrill when it dawned on me who “Rosa” was about, or who “Poulenc” and “Tarrega” are.
Unlike Edwards, however, Bustin’s wit invites you in, because she’s getting at something deeper. “Child Please” turns the experience of following a down-on-its-luck sports team into a commentary on hope. Even the more barbed lines on the album are more than simple one-liners. “Clutch” alternates moments of biting suspicion with moments of trust and surrender, seeming to imply the difficulty of commitment.
The musicianship is top-notch, though never flashy. Andrea, who teaches at the Old Town School of Folk Music, has a guitar style that reminds me of Dave Rawlings and Sean Watkins, both workhorse guitarists whose ease of playing belies their skill. Her band, including husband Devin Bustin, is tight yet loose, leaving plenty of room to breathe. They wear their influences on their sleeves but mix them up well, and much of the album falls somewhere between the easy listening of Union Station and the experimentalism of Punch Brothers—except ‘Standing By the Wall’, which kind of sounds like Nickel Creek covering Beck.
The most striking element of Andrea’s style is her classical training, which came from spending her teenage years in Belarus. “Poulenc” and “Tarrega” both beautifully blend European guitar music with American folk. Her fusion is gentle, though: she’s not forcing a connection between the two cultures, but discovering one that’s already there.
Today’s track delivers all the essential Andrea Bustin elements in one song. Named after the Spanish guitarist who composed the prelude that makes up the song’s bridge, “Tarrega” delivers its doubtful, self-deprecating lyrics at lullaby pace. In the chorus, the see-saw rhythm of the guitar matches the lyrics’ uncertainty:
And I know what I need
I don’t know what I need
But the real beauty comes during the calm of the instrumental prelude which follows the chorus, issuing a hush to the troubled internal monologue and taking the listener somewhere peaceful and new. Bustin understands that that’s what music does, and sometimes it takes two continents to do it. To hear her effortlessly shift from one continent to the other and back again is a beautiful thing.
So download “Tarrega” and spend three and a half minutes with Andrea Bustin. Then, if you like it, buy the album. Pretty soon you’ll have a new friend.
More on Steve: http://whatslagglikes.wordpress.com
My review of Andrea Bustin’s record over at IndieMonday
One half of Tiger Waves is a friend of mine from college. I had no idea Reid was still making music; even better that it’s completely awesome.
Reid = Boss.
Tiger Waves - Fireworks
This duo - Reid Comstock and James Marshall - emailed me about their long-distance collaboration project that has birthed what they deem “cosmic surf-rock.” They add that they’re “sort of a bizarre combination of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys and anything from the Elephant 6 collective” which, duh, are as irresistable as influences to me as honey to a fly. I love the segue into “Ghost” on this set of new demos, so if you listen there let it ride.
Recently, one of my favorite bands, tUnE-yArDs, the solo project of Merrill Garbus, has been getting a deserved and increased amount of media attention because of the ridiculously amazing and sonically innovative album, w h o k i l l. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised that a fair amount of mainstream music journalists are recognizing the album’s feminism, even Pitchfork (see other articles/reviews from The Guardian, The Village Voice, and cokemachineglow). w h o k i l l broadly deals with sex, violence, slut-shaming, self-loathing, prejudice, privilege, and more sex, all from a singularly and loud female perspective. But even with all the good feminist press about this album, I cannot help but think how little feminist press Joanna Newsom received for Have One on Me, one of the most feminist albums I have ever heard outside of the riot-grrrl movement.
According to Youngest Son’s sole songwriter and performer, Steve Slagg, he and visual artist Blade Barringer are basically married. “We work together and live together” says Slagg, “so I see him all the time. Blade’s feedback is hugely important. He’ll be like, ‘Hey I don’t think this thing you’re doing in the piano is interesting enough, do something more interesting.’” To put it another way, if Youngest Son were a newspaper, Steve would be the entire writing staff and Blade, the Editor-In-Chief. And, as if created to fit snugly into my limited metaphoric talents, the pairs latest offering, Pigshit and Glowing resembles a newspaper in more ways than one. The music is part EP, part blog, part music-industry-rule-shattering experiment. While the delivery itself is quite simple – the EP is released track-by-track on Youngest Son’s website along with a blog post providing insight into the songs inspiration or content – it touches on something much deeper and more complex. The concept behind Pigshit and Glowing reaches way down to the core of what makes Slagg such a compelling voice: he’s a stripped-bare storyteller who just happens to be a musician.
Listening to the EP and reading the accompanying posts is like climbing into Mr. Slagg’s brain, popping quarters into old-timey vignette-movie viewers and watching him wrestle. He wrestles with death. He wrestles with faith. He wrestles to find self-definition in a world that values labels more than the people it applies them to and he does it to a soundtrack that is far from boring. Steve Slagg writes intelligent pop music. He writes songs with geology jokes. He writes musical theater. He writes long, wordy, syllable-bingeing character studies and sparse, pretty ballads. All the while never loosing sight of his main goal: tell a good story.
Although his melodies are pretty and his piano accompaniment interesting, his lyrics are by far his greatest asset. They’re conversational and raw, at times confessional, at times self-reflecting and always focused. When Steve confesses that “songwriting helps [him] obsess in a focused way,” it’s clear how intentional he is about his language. He gravitates towards words that are conversational and (though perhaps unintentionally) pay homage to one of his influences, Steven Sondheim. “I remember seeing Sunday in the Park with George my freshman year of college and I was like ‘what?! Music can do THIS?!’ His lyrics are so rich and poetic and there’s so much going on but you can catch them all the first time… I definitely strive for that sort’ve thing.” Strive and succeed, say we. Slagg’s casual verbiage manages to communicate his stories upon first listen, yet posses treasures of meaning and emotion only accessible after further inspection.
Craters Of The Moon
Craters Of The Moon’s bouncy piano accompaniment gives the impression of something much lighter than the lyrics themselves reveal. At first, it’s a traveling song about a son (Steve) and his father on a typical father-and-son road-trip. They fight about the air conditioning, they fight about the radio, Slagg admits he’s “horny, lost and self-efacing,” you know, typical teenage stuff. The carefully selected language lets you sink deeper and deeper into his perspective as he hints at some looming sadness. Eventually Slagg (and by extension, you) embark on another road-trip years later only to find himself alone after the death of his father. “It’s a grief song” explains Slagg, “That was in my phase where I was writing all grief songs. It was the year my dad died, the year my close friend and my cousin both died (inspiring Untitled Memory Song). It just became this thing that I obsessed over.”
At the end of this painful year, Steve took a job as an Audio/Visual Tech at an isolated summer camp in Wisconsin where he spent his days locked in cabins playing out of tune pianos and writing grief songs. Still, it wasn’t until a full year later that Slagg was able to pen what would become Craters and another year to meticulously fuss over the lyrics until he counted it complete. With lines like, “now I drive west of Portland, Oregon / and there are things we just beat up until they’re gone / like how you went home to heaven without me / and now I’m driving in a car that is empty” it’s clear that Slagg wants you to connect emotionally to the music. “If there’s one thing I wanted this EP to do it’s to cause people to interact with the songs in a way they wouldn’t otherwise do” he concludes. So please, listen to the songs, read the blog and send Youngest Son a note because if the music affects you in any way, Steve would really love to chat.
Yougest Son has a: