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!


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.


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!


Sunday Rewind: Jonathan Edwards’ Self Titled

Unblemished sapphire skies overhead, the path down Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave, once a bastion of student activism, now hosts dual American Apparel storefronts, a burrito franchise owned by McDonalds, and that musky, sharp bouquet of urine roasting on the curbside.

Sure, students still march around campus clenching placards and waving signs, but they’re just baby bureaucrats vying for student assembly positions. Hoping to recapture that classic dissent vibe, I’m off to Amoeba Records. Just past a slew of dog problems and some merchants peddling Schwarzenegger mouse pads, is the best vinyl a buck can buy – only ninety cents with student discount!

With a mint copy of Gordon Lightfoot’s Old Dan’s Records already in hand, I’m struck by a mustachioed man with straight shoulder length hair, dressed entirely in black. Leaning against a decaying doorframe, he’s looking mighty stoned as he peers at me through the open passageway. Left hand slack at his side, his right hand is parallel to the rustic hardwood floorboards, thumb extended as he invites me to take a closer look. Light pours into the room from a tiny corroder to his left. On the right, the image is bounded by a thick maroon stripe inscribed with the name “Jonathan Edwards” in small capitals.

After breaking into the 60’s folk scene in Boston, troubadour Jonathan Edwards released this self-titled debut LP on Capricorn Records in ’71. The album begins with five pleasant – albeit derivative- tunes mirroring the early recordings of Poco and The Flying Burrito Brothers. But its not until crossover blues-folk ditty “Shanty,” those two and a half magical minutes hugging the spindle, that we leap at the turntable for a repeat listen. Leading with peeling harmonica and suave, jazzy piano, we’re transported to that same mildewed bungalow of album cover notoriety. Blues harp bleeding and blaring, Edwards turns to pipes and pals in escaping the turbulence of Vietnam and the politics of Dick Nixon: “Well there ain’t nothin’ to do / and there’s always room for more / fill it, light it, shut up / and close the door / cuz we gonna lay around the shanty, mama / and put a good buzz on.” With no commitments or obligations, the luxury of boundless leisure “every night and day, if I can help it mama,” lets us kick back and smell the roses: “Pass it to me slow / We’ll take time out to smile a little / Before we let it go.”

Side two commences with “Sunshine (Go Away Today),” Edwards’ greatest commercial success with over a million plus in sales. If you’ll humor the folklore, “Sunshine” wasn’t even supposed to make it on the album, but got tapped to “fill the hole” after an engineer mistakenly recorded over the master of a different track during eleventh hour recording sessions.

A few too many days hangin’ round the shanty, eh? Maybe that’s how we got penicillin too. Quick, jittery guitar lines and a peppy vocal melody clash with dispirited lyrics, as Edwards bemoans in consternation:  Sunshine go away today / I don’t feel much like dancing / Some man’s gone, he’s tried to run my life.” Wary of draft board goons and that military industrial complex Ike warned us about, Edwards stretches out the last word of each line, reaching back for a time when he greeted each new sun with enthusiasm and excitement. Exposing America’s Might Makes Right ethos, Edwards childes: “He says in love and war all is fair / But he’s got cards he ain’t showing.”


In an explosion of exuberance and rebellion, Edwards hammers out freedom, asserting a bold independence: “But he can’t even run his own life / I’ll be damned if he’ll run minnnne / Sunnnn shinnnne!” But today’s Sunday, so lets take some sage wisdom to heart: “lay around the shanty, mama… and put a good buzz on.”