Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stuff I've been listening to

It's the end of fall semester, which means burying myself in a pile of books and holing up until I emerge with two literature reviews and a pile of graded papers for my undergrads. While my go-to technique for dealing with the workload in the past has been to sit in front of a computer screen for 48-hours, injecting coffee into my veins and lamenting my poor time management skills, this year I've taken up the musical strategy. This involves picking at least five CDs and having them on non-stop in the background until you stop hearing the lyrics and start doing some work.

In other words, it involves inordinate amounts of time spent making playlists and the self-deception that this process is actually important for my work. Major players in this year's ongoing war between productivity and my sanity include:

Old Man Luedecke
Old Man Ludecke is the stage name of Chris Luedecke, a definitively not-old singer-songwriter and banjo player from Nova Scotia. His albums Hinterland and Proof of Love fit squarely in the Canadian branch of the folk-revivalist movement that includes performers like Gillian Welch and everyone who showed up on the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. I'm a sucker for the banjo, and a sucker for the Maritimes, but even if I wasn't, Old Man Luedecke would be worth a listen. Check out a video of his song The Rear Guard here.

Old Crow Medicine Show
In keeping with the first recommendation (I really do have a thing for banjo and bands with 'old' in the name, ok?), Old Crow Medicine Show is another folk revival band based out of Nashville. Their songs -- which combine an old-timey sound with an excellent sense of the modern and absurd -- have been rotating on and off my playlists since 2007, but I haven't ben able to get enough of them lately. Their video for Wagon Wheel comes with healthy doses of irony, Americana, and a Dylan-penned chorus.

The Tallest Man on Earth
The Tallest Man on Earth (Sweden's Kristian Matsson) sounds like an early Dylan who decided to abandon the politics in favour of breezy, melodic tunes and cracklingly sharp lyrics. Like almost everyone I listen to on a regular basis, he clearly spent a lot of time taking inspiration from the American South, and, like a lot of folks coming from the outside, seems to have an ear for what exactly it is that makes that music so compelling. Matsson spent the last few years opening for Bon Iver and Jon Vanderslice, so if that's the kind of thing that floats your boat, check out one of my favourite of his tracks, A Field of Birds.

And lest you think I only listen to men who sound like they learned everything they know on the front porch of their grandfather's Kentucky homestead, never fear: I listen to women who sound that way too.

The Be Good Tanyas
The Be Good Tanyas have been my go-to band for times good and bad since my last year of high school, and I haven't gotten tired of them yet. Their song Light Enough to Travel was the soundtrack (along with Basia Bulat's The Pilgriming Vine) to one of the happiest and most important periods of my life. Frazey Ford's unique warble on The Littlest Birds has been my constant companion on roadtrips towards and away from friends and lovers, and Human Thing is still one of my favourite music videos of all time. But its Ootischenia, with its vaguely feminist lyrics (so tear the pages from the family Bible/it came down upon the women for survival) and its earthy, messy rhythms and harmonies that is the soundtrack to my paper-writing at 4:00 am on a Thursday night. If that hasn't convinced you, I don't know what will.

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