Tag Archives: My Morning Jacket

Hot Routes: Super Hot Edition

1 Feb

The Super Bowl

By this point, virtually all of the possible Super Bowl story lines have been developed, examined, and mirthlessly driven into the ground by the army of media correspondents assigned to the game.  So we’ll keep the game analysis short and get right to the more important, and likely more enjoyable, part of Super Bowl week at Dan Swanky’s – the music.

 

 

Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers

The Pick:  Ravens (+3.5)

On paper, the 49ers look like the better team, and they look like they could be capable of winning this game by at least a touchdown.  The problem for San Francisco is that this postseason for the Ravens has been all about factors that aren’t easily reflected on paper.  Baltimore has bought in completely to every motivational opportunity thrown their way – the retirement of emotional leader Ray Lewis, rampant doubts about the reliability of Joe Flacco, internal upheaval amongst the coaching staff, oddsmakers making them huge underdogs over the last two games – and they now seem scarily calm in the run-up before the Big Game.  Nothing can faze them, and I feel much more confident backing their experience than I do a rookie QB and a team filled with first-time Super Bowl competitors.

The Album:  Regions of Light and Sound of God by Jim James

This year’s Super Bowl is going down in New Orleans, and for somewhat understandable reasons, I’ve always associated the Big Easy with rocker/soul man/weirdo savant/life guru Jim James.  The most obvious reasons for the connection between the two have been elucidated by James himself – he’s publicly professed a love for the deep musical legacies of New Orleans, and elements of the city’s particular flavors of jazz, funk, and soul can be heard both in My Morning Jacket (James’ main band) and his solo outings.

Beyond that, there’s also a sense of eerie and utterly compelling mysticism hovering within my impression of both the city and the musician.  James’ music has the ability to conjure up images of spooky, humid and swampy lands where strangely wondrous things are happening in the shadows; those descriptors could certainly underlie a heavily romanticized version of New Orleans that may or may not still exist.

James new solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, is an excellent introduction to his unique and atmospheric blend of the aforementioned jazz, funk, and soul touches.  Whereas My Morning Jacket often derives a lot of its power from James’ virtuosic electric guitar lines, Regions finds focal points with swelling strings, strutting bass lines, and smoky brass notes.  The latter comes primarily in the form of a saxophone that appears several times throughout the record, and which sounds steeped in the kind of spooky, New Orleans mysticism mentioned previously.  A Voodoo Sax, if you will.

Jim James and his musical leanings are filled with seemingly contradictory themes, and Regions reflects that.  As a white, shaggy-haired frontman of a rock band, James wouldn’t be expected to be taking musical cues from the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Al Green.  But there he is all over Regions, finding the sweet spots between delicate hymns of praise and funky sexual grooves that those soul legends pioneered.  James knows how to mix a worshipful respect of the divine with a deep-felt need to get down, and he does it with a comfortableness few other artists today have.

There is a darkness in the heart of rock and roll, and many of the great artists over time have been able to ride the dark edge of the music that has its roots all the way back in the swampy, Crossroads-bred blues of Robert Johnson.  Sometimes, it seems, an artist needs to dance with the devil a little bit to get some true feeling in their work.  Jim James seems to know this better than anyone, and his music reaches another level because of it.  In the slow-burning opener “State of the Art,” he sings ‘I know you need the dark / Just as much as the Sun’;  it’s a point that’s driven home through the howls and spectral falsettos he unleashes throughout the album from that point on.

At the conclusion of the record, it is due to the strength and assuredness of James’ artistic vision that the listener has a clear-eyed idea of what the artist is really about at this point in time.  As can be seen with the album title, James is an openly spiritual person – he’s not aligned with a dogmatic religion like Christianity, but he has a deep sense and respect for the divine and for how it relates to everyday life.  This laid-back spiritualism is most definitely not a new thing in the music world, but the great thing about James and his music is that he cuts his sensitive positivity with an understanding and appreciation for the dark and haunted parts of the world.  He believes and celebrates in the beauty of the world around him, and he doesn’t discriminate between the peaceful and the occasionally dangerous.

Doing It Live: Swanky Summer

19 Apr

Now that the first weekend of Coachella has come and gone amid a smokey haze of holograms and light shows, the 2012 music festival season has officially gotten started.  Stretching throughout the summer, the festival scene has been around for decades, but U.S. fests experienced a surge in popularity several years ago that took things to a whole different level.  While there have been several one-and-done fests that have failed to make an impact, a few well-planned and organized festivals have built up loyal followings in their respective regions and have even expanded to draw music/party lovers from all over the world.  Coachella, Sasquatch!, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Outside Lands are spread out over the country and have become destination dates that fans circle on their calendars months in advance.

Even though they are beloved by many, the festival scene is obviously not for everyone.  It’s easy to find vocal critics of pretty much every fest out there, and these skeptics do make some legitimate points.  So, before you jump into a major festival for the first time, you should know some things.

Yes – there will be tons of hipsters (although that term has become far too ambiguous and now gets thrown around haphazardly by people who should try harder, but for lack of time and space we’ll go with it for right now), there will be anxiety-inducing crowd sizes, there will be people on drugs doing things like rolling around on the grass looking at light shows or jumping up and down while hugging and looking at light shows, there will be people spending the entire festival on their smartphones taking and posting Instagram pics, there will be said pics all over your social network feeds the following week consisting mainly of vintage palm trees/city skylines/sunsets/pretty lights/Ray-Bans, there will be beautiful girls in bikinis followed around by huffing dudes wearing tattoos for shirts, there will be $10 beers and only $10 beers in the beer gardens.

There will be all of this, but there will also be amazing artists doing potentially once-in-a-lifetime kinds of things in surreal environments.  If you find the right acts at the right venues it will be an incredible experience in your musical life that you’ll hold on to for a long, long time.  So, if you feel like some amazing musical experiences are worth a little griminess, exhaustion, and lack of personal space – then summer is your time to shine.  And here at DS, we don’t want you going into this Swanky Summer without a little preview on what’s in store.

Coachella Weekend Two [April 20 – April 22]

– We’re still sneezing out glitter and desert dust from last weekend, so it seems a bit strange that everyone out there will be doing it again in a few short days.  It will be interesting to see how the festival organizers and the acts approach this new second weekend – a lot of the excitement with Coachella comes from the unexpected, either in regards to what set list your favorite bands will play, what special effects they’ll bust out, or what surprise guests will emerge mid-set.  A perfect example is the Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg show.  The Tupac hologram loses its HOLY SHIT feel when you know its coming, and so do the appearances by Eminem, 50 Cent, etc.  Will they just do the same show all over again and pretend the first one didn’t happen?  Will the guests even show up again?  Will the artists lose some of their fire from the first week?  This will be an interesting experiment, and hopefully it won’t have disappointing results.

– Parents of young daughters going to Weekend Two and any future Coachellas: Stay away from the Sahara Tent.  Stay far, far away.  You won’t sleep for weeks afterwards.

– M83 was great the first weekend, and should not be missed this time around either.  Their music is perfect for the dreamy, ethereal, outdoor feel of the Coachella side tents, and they played a passionate set.

– SBTRKT was also great, and played a much more high-tempo set than was expected from their somewhat muted (but great) recent album.  Don’t miss the dance party.

– Swedish House Mafia and Radiohead showed the great potential behind the Event-level spectacle of the Main Stage – definitely not to be missed.

Sasquatch! [May 25 – May 28]

–  There’s a special place in my heart for this festival for two reasons.  One, its located at The Gorge Amphitheater, which  is the most beautiful venue in the country.  Two, this was the first music festival I ever attended, way back when it was two nights and I had no idea what I was doing.  And it was awesome.

– Being located in the great Pacific Northwest, the weather can be a bit more unpredictable (read: cold) than some other festivals, so come prepared with blankets or cuddle buddies.  Even with the sketchy weather, though, it is again a beautiful place to spend a weekend, and if you have any kind of chance to catch a set on the main stage while the sun is setting, then you better take it.

– Pretty Lights definitely stands out on the lineup, especially because they aren’t part of the main group of artists making the typical festival rounds this year.  Pretty Lights’ main stage set on opening night will be amazing, with their grooves echoing out in the night over the Columbia River.  Find somebody to dance with/hold you.

– The northern locale of Sasquatch lends to its general atmosphere being more laid-back than some of the other major festivals, and that will be a welcome thing when Days 3 and 4 come around.  The quirky vibe of the fest is reflected in the huge variety of acts playing this year.  Definitely worth the trip.

 

Bonnaroo [June 7 – June 10]

– Although started roughly around the same time as Coachella in 2002, Bonnaroo has always felt like the O.G. show that started the recent festival revival.  It’s maintained a mystic feel to it – to someone all the way out on the west coast, the swampy Tennessee locale seemed like a mysterious place where revelers danced about to lawless jam bands.

– There have been some amazing images and scenes from Bonnaroo over the years, which have added to its mystique.  The first thing that comes to mind with the festival is My Morning Jacket’s 2004 set, in which the mighty rockers played through a storm and cemented their status in live show legend.

– For the 2012 lineup, there are definitely some interesting choices that stand out as different from the other fests.  The Beach Boys could be great or could be disappointing, but it will be awesomely weird either way to see them in the Bonnaroo setting.  It’s good to see The Cave Singers get some love here too, and their brand of folksy, rough-hewn jams would seem to fit in perfectly out in the Tennessee woods.  And on the whole other side of the music spectrum, Ludacris and The Roots look primed to bring the the beats.

– Final word of warning to any Bonnaroo attendees planning on checking out Skrillex this year – his ‘special guest’ at Coachella last year was Korn.  So….

Lollapalooza [August 3 – August 5]

– Out of all the other big U.S. fests going on this summer, Lollapalooza seems to have the most big ‘name’ bands in their lineup.  The acts going on underneath the headliners go pretty deep as well – maybe because this fest locale is the closest of them all to the musical hub of NYC?

– The festival is set right in downtown Chicago, which offers up a distinctly different atmosphere than the more rural venues like Bonnaroo and Coachella.  This doesn’t mean there won’t still be ample ways to get sweaty and dirty, if that happens to be your thing.

– Regardless of the reason, amazing bands like Washed Out, War On Drugs, Tame Impala, Bear In Heaven, Star Slinger, Toro Y Moi, Little Dragon and Macklemore give Lolla an incredibly strong undercard.

– Black Sabbath is taking the stage in Chicago this year, and it is probably smart to temper expectations for an old Ozzy rockfest.  But if they can still bust out a 12 minute long “War Pigs” then it’s definitely worth a watch.  Get a glimpse of the pit, circa 1970.

Outside Lands [August 10 – August 12]

– Outside Lands is similar to Lollapalooza, in that it’s set within the big city – in this case San Francisco.  In the right place at the right time though, Golden Gate Park can feel like a world away from any city, which gives this fest a distinct mix of urban and outdoor flavors.

– The festival is bringing in some classic rock flavor this year, with Jack White’s vintage shredding, Metallica’s thunder, and Neil Young’s bluesy riffing.  And if all that gets too loud for your tastes, Stevie will be there to gently soothe your soul.

– Outside Lands has a bit smaller profile than the other fests on this list, but it’s been able to thrive by keeping things a bit simpler and more local.  It has a distinct SF feel, which is a good thing.

– I’ve spent some time at Outside Lands before, but unfortunately it was the year that Black Eyed Peas stumbled into the headlining spot.  It was disquieting to see that many people at one time go wild for the Peas and led to some soul-searching – but I have faith in the festival that they won’t go down that frightful road again.

Personal Christmas Soundtrack

25 Dec

The Song

Xmas Curtain by My Morning Jacket

 

A holiday offering from My Morning Jacket?  Well, it’s not entirely clear what the titular Christmas curtain is all about.  But “Xmas Curtain” is a Christmas song in my book, if only so that I can have an excuse every year to spike the standard holiday song rotation with a little flavor from the Jacket.  If you’re going to do Christmas with MMJ, then you’re going to do it on their terms, and “Xmas Curtain” is a tuneful example.  The song is a big, rambling mixture of big drums, bubbling guitar hooks, slide guitar, and oh yeah, steel drums.  The singular talent of Jim James and the rest of the band pull all of these seemingly disparate elements together into a satisfying song that sounds totally unique, in the way that only a reggae-tinged country-rock jam session can.  And those steel drums?  Not superfluous at all.  Like Lebowski’s rug, they tie everything together, and sound pretty fucking cool.

The Activity

You’re at a family party on Christmas Eve, and Uncle Jimbo, your ponytailed uncle who works on the road crew for Dave Matthews, has just polished off his eighth whiskey of the night.  He just went outside to “check on the dog” and came back in high as a kite and carrying his favorite acoustic guitar.  He proceeds to kick off his Tom’s, sit down next to the Christmas tree, and unleash a jam session that doesn’t have a predetermined set list, or ending point.  The holiday spirits (and grass) seem to have gotten the creative juices flowing for Uncle Jimbo, and he’s putting out some catchy riffs on Christmas classics, with a peaceful grin spread wide across his bearded face.  At some point, a couple of the other uncles finish their beverages and saunter over, sitting down around Jimbo in a rough circle.  One of them begins to drum his thighs in a jerky rhythm, and another adds an angelic backing voice to Jimbo’s croon.  You’ve probably gone out to ‘check on the dog’ as well while everyone’s attention was on Jimbo, and when you return you sit and enjoy a rendition of “Santa’s Coming to Town, Man”.  The fire’s going, the nog is flowing, and all is good as Jimbo starts up “Xmas Curtain.”