COURTNEY YASMINEH at the FINE LINE, MPLS, 23 NOV 04 and "SUFI LINE"

Local (as in Minnetonka-grown, Wayzata-living, lake-dwelling local) songwriter Courtney Yasmineh wrestles with two driving forces through her album “Sufi Line”: a colorful, brash personality, and an incredible backing band. Courtney grew up at WCC, and we met when she stopped in a few weeks ago to put up some posters for her CD release show. After the meeting, I wore a Sufi Line temporary tatoo on the inside of my wrist for a week; she must have made an impression on me. She speaks her thoughts unapologetically, in person and in music. There’s a playful but deep sensual presence, coupled with a complex spiritual history, and her voice tiptoes the line between being moving and discomforting, finally falling on the side of motion.

On and off, I’ve listened to “Sufi Line” for about a month. The geograpy of the album and of the show last Tuesday reinforce each other with similar themes and execution. When stretching outside of the self lyrically, exploring smoky gospel territory musically, Courtney is unstoppable. Slow-burners like “Nehemiah” and “Survival Time” find songwriter and band meshing over rich writing and playing, unified in a singular, distinctive aesthetic voice. At other times, in poppier and lyrically more self-absorbed moments, only the backing band saves Yasmineh from being a very average singer/songwriter – the kind found in coffeeshops everywhere at 8 on Saturday nights. The balance tips towards the former, and I count myself a Courtney fan, but I hope next time she’ll boil 1/4 of her material off, for a more concentrated mix.

Having mentioned the “boiling” process I see that it’s a maxim I’d stress for everybody; those who live it usually make the greatest art. I try to apply it to myself constantly.

Watching the band at Courtney’s CD release show was plain fun – Jeff on keys (from local heroes Honeydogs) plafully changing tent-revivalist chords into avant-garde explosions, drums comfortably rock-steady and textured like the devil, and guitar playing that reminded me of JV‘s Scott Solter and the new Wilco guy (Nels Klien). To hear these guys bleed the songs out in the luxurious tube tone of vintage amps and keys was a downtown, late-night, bar-closing blessing.

In the middle of her set, the band took a break and Courtney played one of her old tunes, a rambling “autobiographical” ballad about her tortured marriage to Bob Dylan in 1978. I caught myself thinking “This song is for Courtney what “Was I In Bon Jovi For A Second?” is to me”; beyond fact-or-fiction, how much of our past is imagined? And how much does it matter?

Fall and Winter Months

The next few weeks are going to be pretty intense.  They will include (in chronological order) these things:  resigning from my job, getting a visit from Jaimie Tucci, hanging out with Matt Wisecarver, going on a cruise, and packing up and heading back to Nebraska for real.  Musically, this means a couple different things (I am sure I could ramble on about this n’ that, but musical topics are what this blog is about…).  First, there will be a definite reunion between Jaimie and me.  Hopefully also between Annie, Jaimie and me.  Even better would be Annie, Jaimie, Eric and me.  All together playing music on keyboards, guitars, basses, cellos, and such.  The absolute best combo would also include Howie, but he told me he’s got a lot more snow-shoveling to do before he’s allowed to come back to Nebraska for good, whatever THAT means. 

And, I have a new goal when it comes to music.  I mean, relatively new, since this summer sometime I guess.  I used to want to make it big, or at least make it big enough to be able to have music as a low-paying job that I could live on, but now I have a better idea that involves a lot less stress about “the biz.”  Talking about “making it” in music sucks.  Side note, I know, but worrying about things like money and exposure and image and selling yourself is an awful but usually necessary thing to worry about when it comes to “making it.”  I digress, but my new goal in music is to make the most beautiful music possible.  “Duh,” you might be thinking, but I’m not talking about catchiness and sing-along-ability or anything like that, although of course if those things are included, that’s fine.  But I want the main goal to create a wonderful sound, and I want the sound to be so wonderful that if no one ever heard us play besides ourselves, we wouldn’t care because we’d be so into what we were doing, it would be more than good enough for us.  It may seem obvious, like “of course that’s what it’s all about,” but we’ve gotten so far away from that, it’s too bad.  I apologize if this overlaps with my first blog too much, but it was something on my mind.

Sick bro!

TRAVELLING MUSIC

Here’s a list of the music I listened to in the car over Thanksgiving weekend. Better than trying to think up an arbitrary top-10 list, it gives you a snapshot of some of the things I’m tuned in to. Identifiable trends: Minneapolis bands, jazz, New York-scene rock, hip-hop.

MPLS->Crete
Heiruspecs “A Tiger Dancing”
John Coltrane “Giant Steps”
John Vanderslice – mix
Bright Eyes “LIFTED or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground”
JV All*stars “Distance”
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
Olympic Hopefuls “The Fuses Refuse to Burn”
The Roots “Things Fall Apart”

Crete->MPLS
Dredg “el Cielo”
A Is Jump “My Ice-Fingered Ghost”
Buddy Holly – mix of early songs
Interpol “Turn on the Bright Lights”
Joel Raney “Celebrate the Season” (WCC’s Xmas Cantata – I am the orchestra drummer)
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
The Who “Who’s Next”
The Walkmen “Bows and Arrows”

TAPESTRY on LAKE ST, "SHOEBOB'S KICKOFF" – DOWNTOWN WAYZATA MN, 13 NOV 04

Tapestry is WCC‘s band; I’m a more-or-less official member singing, strumming, and playing percussion as needed. We played a big gig on a Saturday night a couple weeks ago in downtown Wayzata to kick off IOCP‘s fundraising drive for their work to house homeless people. Shoebob is the catalyst of it all; http://www.bobssleepout.com.

Sitting in on drums for a full set on just a week’s notice was a struggle in terms of getting caught up on material, but an absolute joy also. There are not enough drums in our lives, certainly not in mine. We moved away from our Sunday morning music, covering things like “I’m a Believer,” “Mustang Sally,” “Your Momma Don’t Dance…,” and a Dixie Chicks song I clicked off at punk-rock tempo. Tapestry uses an electronic drum set, which is new to me. It makes a really professional sound when you play steady, but has some idosyncracies about the hi-hat pedal and lackes the feel of a real kit. Not that I would complain about rocking the beats for about 2000 people in downtown Wayzata (even KARE 11 news, the local NBC affiliate, was there). After the set Shoebob spoke, along with our Rep Jim Ramstad (proudly, one of the Shays Handful) and Corey Koskie of the Twins.

After the gig came the actual sleepout – an act of solidarity with our area’s homeless people as well as a fundraiser for IOCP. Six HS students from WCC’s youth group joined me, as well as several families, for a chilly night out in tents and sleeping bags in front of the church. IOCP estimated over 600 people were sleeping out in different places around town as part of the effort. There is something spiritually purifying about going through a physical trial like that – a cleansing – whether one has an emotional experience or not. That the time has been given to a cause, and that it has not been easy to endure, makes it meaningful.

Official Changes: "The Dimly Lit Room," Beach-Puppy, Site Design

Shacker’s The Dimly Lit Room has been released this morning by Mr. Furious Records. 13 songs are up for downloading on the M U S I C page, and you can read all about The Dimly Lit Room on its album page and in the Mr. Furious [blog].

Mr. Furious Records continues to evolve. We’re proud to add Beach-Puppy to our roster of artists, and Beach-Puppy’s first release – the five-song Creepy Eepy – is up for release in December.

The mrfuriousrecords.com site has been through a minor, but significant, redesign. We think the new look is a little slicker, a little deeper, and better accomodates the content on the longer pages. One new page is up; the audio mastering page, with a call for like-minded DIY indie musicians looking for quality mastering at a punk-rock price. Interested parties; contact howie ( mastering (at) mrfuriousrecords.com ).

We are working on: stickers & buttons, album art & lyrics, shows, the MFR store – plus Sally Ride, Bike, and more new music.

BAY WINDOW REFLECTIONS from the DIMLY LIT ROOM

When I left Nebraska for Ghana, West Africa in October 03 I knew Cory and Jaimie were going to keep playing music while I was gone. That thought was a little discomforting, but still good – Shacker was becoming, and has become, a decentralized band. Cory and James played some great shows without me. Going further in that direction, by the end of “The Dimly Lit Room” I could play my favorite Shacker songs by myself (and still do) – but I’ve skipped ahead.

After three months of seperate paths, I came home on New Year’s Eve and heard about Annie. Unsure at first, after I heard what she was doing with her cello I jumped on board. And not long after, we started practicing for the Powerless III show at Duffy’s in Lincoln (the Powerless shows are starcityscene.com‘s localized version of MTV Unplugged). Rehearsals for the show were a blast, and the show itself went off so well we decided to make a good recording of our work before returning to being a rock band after 5 months off.

I can see the reflections of the room’s few candles in the living room bay window, smell the drizzly February night mix with the familiarity of my house, and remember looking around the circle at three friends, over a clutter of mics and cable, while I played the same old guitar I’d first learned with. We had a great time, taping all the songs one after another in one night; we were transported. And hearing the record brings that all back; “The Dimly Lit Room” is like having Shacker sit down in your living room to just sing and play. It’s reason number fifty-four Shacker is one of the top five things that have ever happened to me.

Beach-Puppy

Just today, CDs containing both the Pro-Tools files and the songs of Beach-Puppy were sent to H-Murder in Minnesota.  He’s going to mix them, kiss them, dip them, dine them, and possibly even make a sweaty movie on them.  Yikes!

Am I right?

But what does this mean for you, loyal Mr. Furious visitors?  It means that you get to put your weird little i-tunes and/ or winamp-loving fingers all over FIVE NEW SONGS by Beach-Puppy, which is just ridiculous!  The name of the EP is the Creepy Eepy (EP).  If you want to be a Miles Standish (the first person who writes Mr. Furious and guesses who Miles Standish was gets a blog-prop in my next blog) about the whole thing, you can call it the Creepy Eepy EP.  But Creepy Eepy sounds better.  I think.  It all started when Beach-Puppy decided that he wanted to start drifting towards softer, more subtle acoustic music while still keeping a very short, sweet and simple pop-ness about the whole thing.  Beach-Puppy adores melody, tight little chord progressions, and catchy choruses.  All I can really tell you for now is that they are short little ditties that are some of Beach-Puppy’s most sweet efforts yet.  They include the crackling of an old classical guitar that he BP used to record.  And Beach-Puppy hopes you like them.  The track listing is as follows:

1. Rose-Colored Glasses
2. Nature Versus Nurture
3. There’s Something To Be Said
4. Save Your Breath
5. Taking A Break

There you go- and even at this point in time H-Murder hasn’t heard but maybe one of these songs, so it’ll be a treat for everyone! 

Until Later,
Beach Puppy Spokesperson,
Cory Alan

MARCUS BORG at WAYZATA COMMUNITY CHURCH, WAYZATA MN, 6 NOV 04

The work of Dr. Marcus Borg is characterized by its “academic and pastoral sensibility” in the words of John Ross, words I echo. His latest book, “The Heart of Christianity,” spells out the dissonance between two Christian paradigms, the earlier and emerging in Borg’s terms. The scholar and teacher visited WCC for a United Theological Seminary fundraiser Saturday night, dinner and a lecture afterwards, and I was fortunate to attend both. Offering tremendous insight, criticism, and possibilities for building bridges, ultimately Borg’s prophetic voice calls mainline Christians into the vocation of articulating the “emerging” Christian worldview.

From my front-row seat in our sanctuary, Aegis lit and standing over him, Marcus Borg looked like a professor whose class you’d love, all red socks, corduroy pants, and the top button of his denim shirt unbuttoned and half-hid behind the knot of a tie. Soft-spoken and gently witty, only once did Borg’s passion for his vision break through, revealing conviction that is only found in the white in-between spaces of his book. Like many, Borg grew up in the “earlier” Christian paradigm; once transcended, feelings for it are hard to conceal, and he does so better than most. Later, in the Q&A time, he offered his reasoned opinion that we are currently seeing the high-water mark of Christian fundamentalism; an affirmative antidote to the post-electoral disillusionment I, we, have been under.

Over the course of the evening, my suspicions were raised more than once that the special invitation extended to me included a subtext of persuading me towards UTS sooner rather than later. A bit awkward, that.

The process of reading and understanding Borg’s work is reinforcing for me the importance of Christian artistry, the aesthetics of Scripture and Gospel that have been an increasingly living part of my spiritual praxis. Approaching, reading, hearing, and responding to God’s Word as art – even the phrase “God’s Word” is a poetic claim within our emerging paradigm, not a factual one. Musically, this helps illustrate the false bifurcation between “Christian” (actually meaning fundamentalist, evangelical Christian) and “secular” artists. At times I deliberately translate, record, and express my experience of the Sacred in music; also deeper than consciousness, I write as a Sacred-seeking and Holiness-experiencing person. I practice within Christian tradition, and most often find my experiences within it as well. Give it the label you will, but I feel closer to Deftones than to Michael W. Smith.

Remnants of milk that is neither positive or negative

First of all, I would like to say that quite possibly the coolest band ever is a band out of Athens, GA called Neutral Milk Hotel.  The singer/songwriter, Jeff Mangum, writes the most surreal lyrics about people sticking forks into other people’s shoulders, people with white roses for eyes, and playing pianos filled with flames.  I have their two most popular full-length albums, On Avery Island and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and although On Avery Island is brilliant, I think that In the Aeroplane… Is probably one of the best records I have ever heard.  If you get anything out of this ramble of a post, it’s that you should GO BUY THAT RECORD.  Its brilliance has to do with Mangum’s ability to take open and power chords and create these completely unique, beautiful melodies with his vocals.  When I listen to the record, the moment of “God, I wish I had written this song; it seems so obvious” happens quite often, but the truth is that while these songs seem to have been destined to be written, Mangum is the only one who could have pulled it off properly.  There are accordians, fuzzed out classical acoustic guitars, harmonicas, horn ensembles, all of which add greatly to the basic wonder of the record.  The most striking part about the record though, is Mangum’s vocals.  He’s got one of the most unique, eerie voices I’ve ever heard and writes some of the most honest, disturbing lyrics evern written.  He also apparently has his shit together- if you go to www.pitchforkmedia.com and check out his interview from 2002, he offers some of the most insightful perspectives on life that I’ve heard in a while.  I’d cut and paste it, but hey, this is www.mrfuriousrecords.com, I mean, come on!  Am I right?

The person who turned me on to NMH is someone who sort of haunts the past of Mr. Furious, namely, Josh Oberndorfer.  Josh is a friend of mine from way back and Josh and I both became friends with Howie during Freshman year.  We had plans to start a band and get our stuff together musically, and it worked out perfectly, in a way- Josh and I both played guitar and Howie was a drummer, and we were able to find a bassist in fellow Doane Tiger Matthew Wisecarver.  Matt, from Omaha, now works as an engineer at a recording studio in LA, the birthplace of fear and everything caloric.  So we started this band, The Remnants, and it turned out to be the weirdest, rockinest mix of people ever.  Josh and Matt and I were all heavy partiers, and Matt would often have a friend pour beer in his mouth while he was playing a show.  Howie, with a smile, would nod his head as if to say, “I think Matt is secretly from Oklahoma.”  We were also a weird party band in a way, but the irony is that when we did record songs, they were recorded acoustically and filled with delightful flaws that make them the songs they are today.  To paraphase The Streets, in 500 years they’ll play The Remnants in museums.