Daniel Bachman

Daniel Bachman

I’ve written at length about Daniel Bachman before, but I’d like to mark the release of his new album Orange Co. Serenade by sharing a slightly different impression of his playing, along with a sample track off the new record.

I’m sure you’ve heard people who are confronted with an adorable baby or puppy say something to the effect of “Oh my god, [he/she/it] is so cute I just want to eat [him/her/it] right up!” Everyone knows they’re not cannibals or puppy eaters — it’s just an expression that spills out as a result of overflowing enthusiasm. (Then again, cuteness has been shown to activate the part of our brains that regulates aggression…) You hear similar language in book reviews. Prose is “gobbled up” when it’s particularly enjoyable. Some things are so good you just want them to be a part of you — to be absorbed, so you can go about your daily life with the elevated level of joy you felt when you first encountered them.

There’s a close cousin to this type of enthusiasm, and it’s another book review mainstay — “I just want to crawl inside it.” When a writer builds an especially vivid and inviting fictional universe, the words pull you in, and before you know it, you’re wishing you could cross the page’s divide and join the world the characters get to inhabit. (It happens in movies too — you might remember that a number of movie-goers were swept up in a wave of depression after seeing James Cameron’s Avatar because they couldn’t cope with the fact that the idyllic Pandora wasn’t a real planet they could emigrate to.)

That — minus the delusional depression bit — is how I feel when I listen to Daniel Bachman play the guitar.

His compositions feel like worlds unto themselves — places you could visit, if only a few metaphysical rules could be bent. That feeling of being simultaneously transported and enveloped is partially related to time. You often see him lumped in with a genre called “American primitive,” and there’s no denying that his style harkens back to something, whether it’s to a specific moment in the evolution of American music, or simply to an era in which hearing music meant making it yourself in a parlor or on a porch at the end of a long day. There’s also the matter of place. When you listen to Orange Co. Serenade and allow yourself to drift off, you might find yourself staring out across a calm, expansive ravine (“We Would Be Building”), or walking slowly through a thick forest that’s as infinite as it is claustrophobic (“Coming Home”). Always wild. Rural. No cars or conversations, save the ones you can have with the natural world.

But Bachman doesn’t just take you back, or take you away — he takes you with him. The book review comparison is most apt here, I think, because there’s a linear quality to the whole exercise that’s just like reading a story. Compositions like “And Now I Am Born To Die” build one note at a time — the expository bedrock of an open-tuned drone sets the stage for variations that unfold like plot points, leading toward a ending you can’t predict but know exists because the rest of the pages have been written and bound and are right there in your hands. Even the songs of his I’ve heard time and time again keep me on the edge of my seat, waiting for familiar, trail-marking phrases or full chordal changes that promise to shift the color of the landscape entirely. And then there are the crescendos, where the clarity of single notes gives way to the climactic frenzy of violent strumming and overlapping interests, as in “Blue Mass.” If there is such a thing as pure songwriting, Bachman’s found it.

I had the chance to see him perform at Steady Sounds two Saturdays ago — my third time seeing him at the store — as part of an event that included a reading by Amanda Petrusich from her new book Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records (more on that soon). Bachman played his three songs in between short DJ sets by illustrious 78 collector Christopher King, who was spinning what I believe to be the oldest (and definitely the spookiest) recorded music I’ve ever heard played via its original format. Obscure violin melodies and singing that, thanks to King’s talents as an archivist and sound engineer, have far outlived the lifespan their creators could have hoped for. I think time stopped for a few hours there. So often I find myself wishing the clock would slow down so I could get more done and be everywhere at once, yet there I was, in this unlikely chronological vacuum, and the experience was profoundly peaceful. (Remember when Jodie Foster starts traveling through the wormhole in Contact, and the ride is frightfully bumpy — “I’M O-O-O-O-K TO G-G-G-O!” — until the improvised apparatus holding her in place rattles loose and she’s able to float through space and time in total tranquility? It was like that, only I didn’t reconnect with any dead relatives or have to appear before a congressional inquiry when I got back.)

The best part? I can crawl back into that alternate, timeless universe anytime I want. All I have to do is press play on one of Bachman’s songs. I highly recommend you press play on “Coming Home” below and see where it takes you.

Daniel Bachman — “Coming Home” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Landlady

Landlady

Landlady broke my Spotify classification system.

I have a bunch of Spotify playlists, but one has become absolutely indispensable since I started adding to it — my hastily named That’s My Jam playlist. It’s where I drag the songs I get most excited about and want to hear over and over (well, the upbeat ones — I have a separate sad sack playlist I’m too embarrassed to share the name of). Sometimes a song jumps out at me and has to go on TMJ right away, other times I’ll decide that I like a new album and will add one of its tracks so I’ll have a lasting tether back to it. “Lasting” is the operative word there, because I would be crushed if I lost this playlist. Whenever I have trouble logging into my Spotify account, a deep-seated, panicky feeling rushes in. (I really need to back up this list somewhere, but you’re talking to the same person who puts off doing laundry until he’s wearing bathing suits for underwear, so who knows when that’ll actually happen.)

I recently started another list called Favorite Whole Albums, for releases that seem are particularly suited for front-to-back listening. Usually they’re cohesive in some meaningful way, like how Beck’s Morning Phase feels like a single idea played out over multiple tracks, or how Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city tells a story that builds from beginning to end, with interludes that need to be played in the correct order.

When I step back and look at those last two paragraphs all typed out, it’s painfully clear how helpless trying to categorize and catalog your listening really is. It’s like trying to bottle up wind with a napkin, or something — just plain insufficient when you zoom out and consider the massive musical universe and all it has to offer. Taxonomy can feel insufficient in micro sense too, as Landlady just taught me.

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Lightfields

One more Commonwealth of Notions Presents memory from last Friday — Lightfields covering Archers of Loaf’s “Web In Front,” with a vocal assist from festival organizer and Clair Morgan bassist Shannon Cleary.

This was fun.

Archers of Loaf — “Web In Front” [Spotify/iTunes]

Lightfields — “Junior” [Bandcamp]

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Clair Morgan

Clair Morgan

Music is full of little miracles that are easy to overlook. One of the most fundamental is the fractured nature of performing as part of a band.

When you’re at your favorite venue, hearing familiar songs come out of a few, huge speakers, it’s easy to process it all as one thing, and to forget that the parts of that whole are the result of individual human beings putting into motion an unfathomable number of neural pathways and muscle groups in just the right order, at just the right time. It’s what makes being in a band so frustrating and so rewarding. When you get up on stage to perform with other people, you’re on a tightrope together, and the gravitational pull of chaos never abates. The universe does not want to be as ordered as you’re forcing it to be when you play a song.

After spending a few days thinking about why I so enjoyed seeing Clair Morgan at Strange Matter on Friday night, I’ve decided it has something to do with the remarkable way they walked that tightrope, and the daring way the band’s frontman and namesake (“Clair Morgan is and is not a band,” as the t-shirt I bought at the show explains) courts chaos, making the walk all the more thrilling.

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Spoon

Spoon

Y’all see this?

If not, the long and the short of it is that if you agree to buy a vinyl copy of Spoon’s soon-to-be-released (8/5, to be exact) They Want My Soul album from a participating, locally-owned store, you get to take home a 10-inch record with three of the album’s songs on it. They’re calling it Vinyl Gratification. The offer went into effect this Tuesday, and I’m not sure how many each store got, but you can click here to find a participating location — they may still have copies of the above-pictured 10-inch.

I got mine at BK Music on Tuesday, and I was pleased to find that the two They Want My Soul tracks I’d heard and fallen madly for — “The Rent I Pay” and “Do You” — were both on it, but I’m even more pleased by the Vinyl Gratification idea in general. Offering perks for pre-ordering albums isn’t new, but this initiative has a wonderfully collaborative feel to it. Just read the open letter Spoon frontman Britt Daniel wrote to introduce the promotion. There’s a palpable sincerity there, and an understanding that correcting the imbalance that currently exists between the amount of music people consume and the amount of money that music-makers make will involve bringing all the stakeholders together. The fix, as it almost always does, requires us to work together.

The majority of bands obviously can’t afford to offer free 10-inch records when you pre-order their albums (pressing an LP to vinyl is an expensive undertaking to begin with), but part of the reason I love what Spoon’s doing is that the idea has a bit of the same spirit that Jack White’s recent efforts have had. I haven’t said much about Lazaretto — I’m pretty sure it’s falling into the same “I like it so much that I have no desire to write about it” category that Modern Vampires of the City occupied last year — but I will say that the ultra LP created a genuine moment.

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#wrircon4

Commonwealth-of-Notions-2014

Good ideas can’t be contained. They expand to fit people’s appreciation of them, and Shannon Cleary’s notion that Richmond’s music scene deserves a weekend of celebration and acknowledgment is a great example. We’re nearing the fourth edition of the WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions Presents festival, and Cleary has outdone himself yet again, putting together a winning lineup of bands that will showcase the depth and breadth of Richmond’s musical talent over the course of four gloriously noisy days.

With the start of the festivities set for this Thursday, I asked Cleary a few questions about what goes into planning for the event and how this year’s festivities are shaping up.

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Sleepwalkers

Sleepwalkers

Almost exactly two years ago, when writing about Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, I coined a term (sounds so much better than “made up a word,” doesn’t it?) that I’m still waiting for popular culture to whisk away. It’s confrenzus — the consensus frenzy that results from a book, movie or album that is so clearly worthy of acclaim that everywhere you look, someone is heaping praise on it.

There’s a confrenzus brewing, and it’s about to bubble over at the Broadberry. Tonight is the release show for Greenwood Shade — the new album from Richmond-based band Sleepwalkers — and I can’t resist joining the chorus in saying that tonight’s event (which also features Black Girls and Dead Professional) is well worth your time.

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