It's the coldest week of the winter in Chicago, and it's interesting to see how the single-digit temperatures affect everyone's energy.
For my part, I was lying in bed late last night when a voice in my head began interviewing me about my composing and songwriting and the relationship between the processes. I liked my answer enough that I got out of bed to write it down. Here it is:
"They're the same. They come from somewhere else. I'm going to get mystical in a second here, but I'll try to do so in the most prosaic manner possible, as the question is one of functionality. I've found it extremely helpful to place creativity outside the self. You can use terms like 'muse' or 'divine spark' if you like. The point is to absolve yourself of responsibility for the results--because they aren't yours, it's not 'your' talent, it isn't you and it doesn't belong to you. Whatever it is, from time to time it shows you things, and you are called upon to write them down.
"That's when things are going well. When they're not going well, I feel like I'm pulling out my own teeth and trying to sell them to people."
And that is art. One-AM zero-degree thoughts, friends.
Briefly, today, I'd also like to use this platform to formally recommend some music that has come my way in the past week.
The first would be Norwegian trumpet-saxophone duo Streifenjunko, whose album Sval torv is just so quiet and mysterious and beguiling, and is a favorite new addition to the place in my heart reserved for nocturnal post-jazz explorers who cross genre crevasses like climbers on Everest walking across those creepy ladders. Bust out the crampons y'all. (See also: Polar Bear, Brokeback, et al.)
The second is Josephine Foster. File under "spotless vocal delivery." Check out "The Siren's Admonition" from Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You.
The third is The Murphy Beds, who rank in the top two tips I've received in my one short month on Twitter (rivaled only by this immortal video of Harry Partch making rose petal jam). "Bonny George Campbell" is an absolute devastator. I must've listened to it two dozen times today, so naturally at some point I began to wonder what makes it work so well--especially in light of numerous capable but lugubrious and uninviting versions of the same song kicking around the internet.
Here goes: This track is perfectly pitched to feel genuine and meticulous at once. The tempo is easy, not fast, not slow. The string lines are beautifully ornate, but what really makes the difference is the singing--these guys don't possess stunning, world-class vocal instruments, and that makes the tune more powerful, because they sound like regular people who happen to sound great harmonizing together. Look at the pleasantly off-balance voice leading of the baritone line, the strings' dialogue between unison, harmony, and counterpoint.
And listen to THAT THIRD VERSE, which is one of those lapidary quatrains far too perfect to have been composed by any one person. This is an old song; it's been filtered through a lot of minds and hearts, and they've smoothed it around the edges like a river rock in a silent canyon in some lost corner of the Sierras.
It's not so much a situation of "if there were justice in the world, everyone would know this band." Because if there were justice in the world, we wouldn't have ended up with sad, beautiful songs like these to begin with.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues