Monthly Archives: April 2011

Fleet Foxes Take Control On Helplessness Blues

Mismatched glassy eyeballs stare out at us over a collage of pale orange and forest green haberdashery. A tiny propeller plane nose-dives into a jagged mountain range, hunters armed with high-powered rifles poke out from behind the hills, and an anthropomorphic black cat curls around a set of concentric orbs. There’s a hand offering up rubies and emeralds as if worthless chunk of rock, as Van Gogh looks off into the distance, the lines of his face saturated with worry and turmoil. Crowning this amalgam of bizarre fragments, white capital lettering against a thin black horizontal stripe reads: Fleet Foxes. Anchoring these images, in identical typeface, is the title of their sophomore LP: Helplessness Blues.

Under the umbrella of Sub Pop Records, Fleet Foxes’ 2008 self-titled debut sold over a quarter million copies, so it’s no surprise the tandem is back together for Helplessness Blues. Sub Pop, after adding Seattle neophytes The Head and The Heart to their catalog of stalwarts that includes The Shins and Blitzen Trapper, arguably touts the tightest, most distinctive bands in the Pacific Northwest. Now that’s sayin’ something!

Opening track “Montezuma” features guitarist Skyler Skjelset’s tender finger picking, as hirsute singer Robin Pecknold strips away the illusions of social status to reveal a cyclical truth: “in dearth or in excess / both the slave and the empress / will return to the dirt, I guess / naked as when they came.” Pecknold carols in contemplative reflection: “oh man what I used to be / oh man oh my oh me.”

The snare drum rim clicks of drummer Josh Tillman kick off “Bedouin Dress,” with squeaky violins ushering an uneasy, eerie vibe. On “Sim Sala Bim,” Pecknold whispers that new beginnings sometimes demand surreptitious escapes: “lighting a match on the suitcase’s latch in the fading of night.” As the song builds, mandolin and tambourine shower lyrics depicting the mysteries of love: “what makes me love you despite the reservations? / what do I see in your eyes / besides my reflection hanging high?”

On title track “Helplessness Blues,” Pecknold searches for meaning in labor and life. Aching to shed the alienation of unique individuality for the simple, populist spirituality of agrarian toil, he echoes with ravenous longing for a bucolic countryside, : “If I had an orchard, I’d work ’till I’m raw!” Amidst melting, golden harmonies, Pecknold sings of pristine, fundamental beauty in this tremendously naturalistic tune.

Throughout the LP, Feet Foxes usher a sense of rustic placidity through eclectic instrumentation and soothing vocals.

Sunday Rewind: Itchycoo Park

Everyone has his Itchycoo Park. It’s that spot where you pick up a good vibe just by breathing deeply. Anxieties fade into the white noise of rustling leaves, nuanced hues intensify, and it all gets so clear. Mine is Indian Rock in North Berkeley: 51,400 square feet of volcanic outcroppings facing a bay view panorama that spans from Downtown Oakland to the San Quentin State Penitentiary, with San Francisco’s skyline and the Golden Gate nestled in between. And it’s precisely this favor of spiritual rejuvenation that Small Faces channel on their 1967 psychedelic pop single “Itchycoo Park.”

Co-written and produced by Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, “Itchycoo Park” scored the East London invaders a top-20 U.S. hit. The track begins with a simple acoustic guitar augmented by psychedelic effects and a whirling Hammond organ. Immediately, we transcend distress and disappointment, as Mariott’s flanging vocal transports us to his modern day Eden: “Over bridge of sighs / To rest my eyes in shades of green / Under dreaming spires / To Itchycoo Park, that’s where I’ve been.”

Riffs shoot from behind the vocals as the track builds irresistible momentum In a Blues derived call and response section, Small Faces have us reaching for the heavens and crying in ecstasy: “What will we touch there?  / We’ll touch the sky  / But why the tears then? / I’ll tell you why.” These questions give way to a chorus overwhelmed by natural aesthetic perfection, as the band exclaims in exultant harmony: “It’s all too beautiful / It’s all too beau-tee-fuhhh-awllll!

-HJH-

Super-8 Seattle

A short film by Riley Ziesig. Music by Jared Hauser.

New York, New York – Ryan Adams Cover

So last night I was at rehearsal for the Seattle-based band I’ve been playing in, The Last Great Love (stream their music here, follow them on Twitter here, become a Facebook fan here). I got into a conversation with Brooke, one of our other guitarists, on our favorite songwriters. We both agreed that Ryan Adams is simply the greatest. In honor of his amazing work, here’s a cover of his song “New York, New York” from the brilliant album Gold. These are some of my favorite lyrics of all time, check them out here.

-JH-

Tomorrow’s Yesterday

Wait, you mean the Tomorrow’s Yesterday, as in the last song off Reel Karma’s first EP?! Is this some kind of a belated April Fool’s thing? I mean, what’s next, Love Me Too? Your Ways?? RILEY’S THEME?!?!

Oh hey! Didn’t see you there! I mean, err, I wasn’t talking to myself in the mirror, that was someone else…they’re gone now. But hey! And the rumors are true! Today’s post is a bit of a blast from the past. Come to think of it, I could have written this off as a new tune – I mean, who ever listened to it back then anyways? The answer is Kate I, and today’s post is dedicated to her, as well as all the other “way back when” fans. Check out the lyrics, and go listen to Eve of Destruction to hear my main influence on this cut!

-JH-