Category Archives: shameless fangirling

Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter: A short introduction

[Description: Black and white image of musicians Jesse Sykes and Phil Wandscher.] (Image courtesy of jessesykes.com)

So, as probably evidenced by the existence of this tag on my Tumblr, I am a huge fan of the alt-country band Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter. I have seen them perform live several times (five or six, by now? I’ve stopped keeping track, truth be told); I’ve also met Jesse several times, and she seems like a pretty awesome lady who also makes amazing music (that sound you’re hearing would be my fangirlish squeal; my friend and occasional concert buddy Amy can attest to the intensity of my squeeage).

The band’s current lineup consists of Jesse Sykes (lead vocals/guitar), Phil Wandscher (guitar/vocals), Bill Herzog (bass/vocals), and Eric Eagle (drums/vocals). Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, the Sweet Hereafter’s musical style is distinguished by layers of eerie (yet catchy!) melody ensconced in drifting wisps of sound that seems — at least from a metaphorical standpoint —  akin in some ways to the layer of misty fog that is a near-constant in the Pacific Northwest.

From a less metaphorical standpoint, however, the music of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter is country — or, more accurately, alt-country — for people who wish that country music was less poppy. If you’ve ever wanted to hear more late ’60s- early ’70s psychedelia influence in alt-country music, you will probably find something to appreciate in this band’s oeuvre. Or perhaps you’re one of those folks who would listen to more acid-rock/psychedelic material, but you tend to enjoy great musicianship and vocal skills in addition to seemingly endless guitar solos. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter are a perfectly down-tempo combo of psychedelic rock, alt-country (complete with nicely utilized slide guitars), and atmospheric chill-out music. To some, this may appear to be (or sound like) an odd formula, but in the hands of these talented musicians, it is a successful one; they consistently manage to merge the otherworldly and dream-like with the down-home, and the results are usually spectacular.

Okay, onto the actual music! The selection of their stuff available on YouTube is decent (many of the songs I wanted to include here were not on YouTube); accordingly, I’ve limited the songs posted here to high-quality live performances and audio-only tracks. Lyrics for most of these songs are available at Always On the Run.

From Reckless Burning (2002):

The title track:

Lonely Still:

Doralee  (solo performance circa 2009, for French webzine Le Cargo):

From Oh, My Girl (2004):

Title track:

The Dreaming Dead (which you may have heard on HBO’s True Blood):

Grow a New Heart (Note: It’s hard for me to pick a favorite of theirs, but this one is consistently near the top of the list!):

From Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul (2007):

LLL (live at the No Depression Festival, 2009):

The Air is Thin (official video):

Spectral Beings:

Station Grey (live in Amsterdam, 2008):

From the Gentleness of Nothing EP (2007):

Be it Me or Be it None (also for Le Cargo sessions):

Gentleness of Nothing (peculiar pleasure):

And one non-album track, “The Sinking Belle” with BORIS and Sunn0))):

The band’s latest album, Marble Son, is currently out in Europe and France, and is due to be released on July 26 in North America. One of the tracks from the forthcoming release, entitled “Ceiling’s High,” is below:

If you’d like some mp3s to download instead of waiting for all of these YouTube videos to load, the band’s now-former label, Barsuk, has a couple of songs available for free, as does the live music website Daytrotter.com; their official website also has a few songs available for streaming (click “Listen” on the menu at left).

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Things That Make My Life Easier: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

[Image description: Four bottles of perfume in front of and resting upon some books; the bottles are labeled “Australian Copperhead,” “Banded Sea Snake,” “Cottonmouth,” and “Asp Viper,” respectively. Image courtesy of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.]

Today, I am taking a page from amandaw’s awesome series “Things That Make My Life Easier” and have chosen to spotlight the fantastically scented goodness of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. As a person with chronic pain, I have found that certain things having to do with the five senses that take my mind off of my pain — even for a few minutes — makes dealing with pain and fatigue much, much easier. While I am unsure of the scientific veracity of perfume oils and their use in general life-improvement for folks with pain issues (in my case, fibromyalgia, which for me usually causes intense muscle pain and moderate to severe fatigue), I have personally benefited from wearing the complex and often surprising essential oil blends in which the Lab specializes. While smelling nice certainly won’t bring my physical pain down from, say, an 8 to a 1 (on a scale of 1 to 10), many of these blends have helped me to relax, focus on a different sort of physical sensation that is not abjectly, horrendously painful, and generally be more comfortable as I go about my day.

Besides a “General Catalogue” consisting of hundreds of scents—all inspired by a diverse mix of people (comic-book heroes and heroines; H.P. Lovecraft), places (the “Wanderlust” line, which offers scents inspired by famous locales) and things (love [image on page is NSFW], myth and fairy tales, classic art, religion and spirituality, and Alice in Wonderland, to name just a few)—BPAL also offers Limited Edition blends. Currently, they are offering their annual Fall/Halloween scents; if you’ve ever wanted to smell like an apple orchard, fall leaves and smoke, or Halloween candy, one (or more) of these oils may be for you.

It is next-to-impossible for me to pick favorite blends, as mine seem to change by the day. There are a few that I consistently utilize, however: Blood Kiss is a bizarrely dark blend of vanilla, clove and cherry that I’ve been wearing for years (I’m on my third bottle of the stuff). Absinthe is effervescent, minty and (obviously) boozy. When I want to smell sort of like a head shop sans the moldy undertone, a couple drops of Sin do the trick. Aquatic scents seem to be my most-used “category,” with the salty, swampy Bayou being the one that I reach for most often, tied with the Limited Edition Sturgeon Moon (the latter is no longer available, unfortunately). The smoky, slightly citrusy goodness of Carnaval Diabolique (part of a sprawling LE series of the same name) makes for a great late summer/early fall scent, as does the sharp, lavender-tinged Casanova.

Of course, the very fact that I wear essential oil perfumes brings up another issue — how to be sensitive and accommodating to fellow PWDs who may have scent sensitivities, allergies, or who may have otherwise painful reactions to scented stimuli. When I’m planning to be out and about, I tend to wear a drop or two at most, usually applied with a q-tip, and allow ample time for the oil to dry before I leave the house; this is not a perfect solution, but I am still figuring out how to balance the benefits that I personally get from wearing these amazingly-crafted oils with the needs of other PWDs whom I may encounter in public.

[Originally posted at FWD.]

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In which Roxy Music provides a much-needed Lesson For Us All

[Image description: A raven-haired man wearing a black velvet suit and white shirt leans against a wall.]

First: LOOK AT THIS STYLISH MAN, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS BRIAN FERRY. He is SO STYLISH. I wish I could be half as stylish as he is. I have a black velvet blazer hiding in my closet, which I have been known to break out when I, too, wish to be stylish in the way that only a rocker from the 1970s can be, but have not yet found a pair of velvet pants to complete the look.

Second: While writing some of this, I realized that it might be helpful to have some actual examples of precisely what I mean when I say that Roxy Music is an amazing band, so here is an entirely separate post in which I share some of my favorite songs of theirs.

My favorite bit of music trivia ever is Roxy Music-related**: band member Brian Eno did not know how to play the keyboard before he joined Roxy Music. For reasons as to why this is completely amazing, look no further than Wikipedia’s page on Eno. He has gone on to have a lengthy, influential and successful music career even though he once joined a band, as its keyboard player, without knowing how to play that instrument.

I love Roxy Music and Brian Ferry not just for the music, but because they remind me that I can have an impact with my own work that, though it will most definitely not appeal to everyone, may have some sort of impact on someone. I am an indescribably crappy guitar player (mostly because fibromyalgia-related hand and arm pain prevent me from banging out anything other than a few chords). I am not a great singer. I will never be Ani DiFranco. I will never be Patti Smith, nor PJ Harvey, nor Tori Amos, nor Alanis Morissette, nor Beth Ditto, nor Me’shell Ndegeocello. These people are all talented, I am a fan of each of them, and their success is well-deserved; however, I will probably never approach that level of success, as the work I do is not in the getting-up-onstage-and-singing-in-front-of-people field.

Hell, I have a blog. Which I write on, and which I take extremely seriously. I write and draw a lot of stuff on various topics — most of this work has not been published (yet), or shown to other people (yet), and almost none of it has been the center of controversy or much attention (barring my work on that one thing).

If I may be philosophical and mildly tedious for a minute: Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry’s work remind(s) me is that there is a whole lot of good in just being whatever you are and, simultaneously, not knowing what you are doing all of the time (like Brian Eno and the whole not-knowing-how-to-play-the-keyboard-thing), and that it is okay to be “okay” at something as long as you love it. You do not have to be the greatest and most original band/singer ever to make an impact.

And, paradoxically, that is part of what makes Roxy Music such a great band.

Your weirdness, your originality, and your style do not have to be constantly calculated down to the very millisecond, or planned out in infintesimal detail, or boasted about on Twitter every ten seconds. There is room for those things to just develop and grow by themselves, if you let them. I think many segments of the entertainment industry–and, unfortunately, a lot of “creative” types–tend to forget this. Of course, part of that is how the “business” works, but for those of us who aren’t in the industry (but who are still in the age of Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook wall updates with instantly-emailed notifications), this can be difficult to remember.

But, it is worth remembering.

**[That is, other than the rumor that Tori Amos has $100,000 worth of “hand insurance” in case her hands are ever irrevocably injured. I am sure there is a source for this somewhere on the internet, but I haven’t quite found it yet. If any Tori fans have a citation for said factoid that proves or disproves this rumor, please feel free to leave it in the comments so that I can continue being lazy in regards to internet research.]

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Monday music post, “final exams!11” edition

Hello readers! You may have noticed that I have not updated in a week or so. This is because I have been busy with final exams and such. But I have a lot of cool posts planned for when I am FINISHED with finals, so please bear with me.

Anyway, here are some songs that I have been enjoying as of late. If you have songs that you would like to share, you may leave YouTube links in comments (lyrics are also good!). Or just talk about stuff you’ve been listening to lately, or concerts you’ve seen, or albums you’ve (re)discovered. Whatever — it’s up to you.

First up, here is a suitably intense version of Tori Amos’s “Blood Roses” from 1999 or so (lyrics here):

Next, we have “Here Lies Love” (lyrics; vid is audio-only) by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim with Florence Welch, from the recent concept album of the same name, which is SO AWESOME and you should track down a copy (especially if you like disco, concept albums, and/or female singers):

Finally, an oldie-but-goodie, “Ocean” by the Velvet Underground (lyrics; vid is audio-only):

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Why Roxy Music is awesome (as is Bryan Ferry)

This is part one of a two-part post on Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry, and why they are fabulous. The songs here are some of my favorites, and this post is intended to give readers/listeners a little preview as to this band’s total awesomeness. Take it away, random YouTube users!

“In Every Dream Home a Heartache” from For Your Pleasure (1972): This, unequivocally, is the song that made me a Roxy fan. There are so many layers here — like a delicious sandwich, if you will pardon the metaphor — and, more importantly, you do not have to know jack shit about music, songwriting, or composition to realize this. The lyrics, I think, essentially predicted suburbia’s dead end and/or souless McMansion-white-picket-fence-with-traditonal-heterosexual-marriage-big-SUV-and-2.5-children before those things even existed as specific Western cultural artifacts. I am sure that there is some sort of Technocultural Studies dissertation that could be written about this song (perhaps with a snappy, oh-so-postmodern title to go along with it?), but my relentless fannish devotion (among other things) prevents me from even considering taking on such a project.

“Mother of Pearl” from Stranded (1973): While it’s not my favorite Roxy song, it is a classic, and a good introduction to the band’s overall style.

“The Thrill of it All” from Country Life (1974): Ignore the retrogradely sexist cover art — and also dig the weirdness of that command coming from someone who has a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies (namely me). Country Life is my favorite Roxy album other than For Your Pleasure, and admitting this probably counts as blasphemy in some circles (as it was the group’s first album after Brian Eno left). But admit it, I must, because the album is so freaking good. And one verse (somewhat indirectly) alludes to a rather famous Dorothy Parker poem, so what’s not to love?

“Casanova” from Country Life (1974): This is my favorite Roxy song of all time. I can’t quite put into words how fantastic it is in every way possible; thus, I urge you to listen. The lyrics are brilliant; anyone who’s been graphically catcalled by gross dudes or unskillfully hit on by some creepy, drunken fraternity trust-fundie asshat at a bar will be able to relate. I would like to think that this is Bryan Ferry’s message to other dudes in which he says, “Guys, stop acting like such monkeys and/or thinking you’re totally suave, because you are actually the opposite of suave,” but my interpretation could be way off.

“Same Old Scene” from Flesh + Blood (1980): It’s from the ’80s! Otherwise known as that decade where some mostly drugged-out rich people made a lot of terrible music, and which is mostly invoked when hipsters want to be nostalgic for crap that they were too young to remember as crap! But please, do not worry, because “Same Old Scene” is an example of something good that came from that decade.

And if, after all of that, you need evidence that Bryan Ferry’s “still got it,” look no further than his many Bob Dylan covers, including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (performance is in the first two minutes or so of the clip, and the rest consists of him talking about his album of Dylan covers, which is also interesting):

Better than the original, I think (again, blasphemy in certain circles). But then again, I am one of those weirdos who really likes his cover of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” (link goes to an absolutely incredible short film of Ferry’s version that must be seen to be believed), mostly because that cover is so bizarre that it ends up being wildly entertaining.

That concludes part one of my Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry post; part two will be posted soon.

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