Archive for the 'Music' Category

Transported Through Sound: Cornelius

JANUARY OF 2005 WAS A STRANGE time. It was abnormally warm and sunny in Seattle that month, but nevertheless I felt awash in a kind of loneliness. I had just gotten back stateside from South Korea; in stuttered, jetlagged dreams I saw the streets and friends I’d left behind. Moreover, my girlfriend was on the other side of the ocean. I spent a lot of time cruising the streets on my skateboard, kept company by my headphones.

It was in this period that I discovered (rather behind the curve) the work of Cornelius, aka Keigo Oyamada. A Japanese musician who uses a mash up of sampled beats and instrumentals along with his own organic riffs, Cornelius creates waves of sound that are at once lush, enlightening and playful. The first track I heard of his was a beautiful remix of “When I left You,” by the Avalanches; the song took me on a 5 minute and 38 second flight through the most poignant memories of my time in Seoul, and then dropped me through the clouds, leaving me in love.

Most music that we listen to has the ability to connect us to a place and time – usually to where we first listened to it, or to that time when we first really heard it. But Cornelius’ music thrusts you into a nebula of emotions and memories, magically and without effort; Oyamada’s occasional vocals gently reverberate within you, and your thoughts are swept off into the distance.

Cornelius plays in Chicago tonight at the Metro. More info at The Chicago Reader

Photo: translation, by puja. seattle.


Tomorrow begins the first leg of my West Coast journey – thus, I may not be posting for a few days. In lieu of writing, I thought I’d share this music video from artist RJD2. The dancer/choreographer in the video is Bill Shannon, and the crutches aren’t simply an act. From what I can gather, Shannon was born with a sort of hip disease that necessitates the crutches, and his motion is a beautiful example of using what you are given and creating art.

Enjoy, and happy travels!

5 Songs for Running Away

As I looked out the library window this afternoon, listening to music and staring gloomily into the endless blizzard that is Wisconsin, I suddenly felt inspired to make a Top 5 list – songs for running away, the soundtrack to wanderlust, tunes for traveling on:

1. Small Sins – “All will be fine”

Picture this: it’s five in the morning, the alarm is buzzing to tell you to go shower and put on a tie, while rays of early orange sunlight are peeking through the blinds. Standing in nothing but a pit-stained v-neck undershirt holding a mug of black coffee, you decide today is that day – you’re not going back to work. You’re leaving town, the state, maybe the country…throw on a hoodie and grab the flip flops, it’s time for a journey.

“All will be fine” is this early morning, on-the-road anthem – the softness of the steady beat steps up your heart’s rhythm and gets you swaying your head, while rocky riffs encourage air guitar. Singer Thomas D’arcy tells you to “change your lover, move to New York,” and comforts with a sweetly melancholy voice reinforcing that “all will be fine.”

2. Ratatat – “Nostrand”

You’re on the freeway now with the windows down, and the sun rises as this track fades in with the rhythm of rolling wheels. The bass line is heavy – you feel like driving slow for a minute and taking in the view – but then the guitars just start shreddin’ ROUGH! A neon soundscape unfolds in a blur with epic intertwining electric guitar melodies, as technotronic tones signal in the background. You wish you had longer locks for dramatic headbanging. The song makes the pedal feel a bit heavier as the tires gobble up the pavement towards your undecided oblivion.

3. Le Tigre – “My Metrocard”

Let’s imagine you’ve ditched the car in the Amtrak parking lot (it’s better for the environment anyway), ’cause this is train riding music. Le Tigre’s ladies shout over this frenetic track the virtues of their New York City subway card, and don’t know what stop they’ll get off at: “My My Metrocard / Think I’ll go a little / But then I go far/ NEXT STOP / Atlantic Avenue / NEXT STOP…”

4. Trans Am – “Run with Me”

The lead singer actually starts out this song huffing and puffing over a furiously pumping kick beat and zipping synth riffs; it’s no time to stop now. Wherever you are, this track will make you want to sprint – which is good, cause that’s the idea here. You’ve got to catch that bus or that plane, you’ve got to hustle towards the destination. This track shoots up adrenaline for the journey while evoking the energy of movement and the whiplash transformation from static to dynamic.

5. Walkmen – “Good for you is good for me”

You sink your toes into the sand and sip a beer as the sun sets in your new time zone. But it’s not a marker of the end of your journey – it’s a fresh page. Streaks of purple and pink against the halcyon blue are the burning fireworks of dusk, and this is the song of their finale. Guitars reverberate in melodic dischord as the colors blur into starry black, and you feel drained of cares. Singer Hamilton Leithauser half slurs, half yells: “And the sun was shinin’ / never so invitin’,” and you know exactly what he means.

Happy travels!

(Edited: 04/12/2007)

Translated audio

The last couple mornings I’ve been tuning into Six Degrees Radio, a two-hour weekly webcast that focuses on sounds from all over the world. This week, they’re celebrating their 100th episode with a set of cover songs:

Tracks include versions of Abba in Hindi, “YMCA” in Cantonese, “Rappers Delight” in German, a bluegrass rendition of AC/DC, a disco-fied Led Zep cover, a special set of rare funk and soul covers of classic rock tunes, a first listen to our upcoming Six Degrees covers compilation, Backspin […]

This set is definitely worth a listen – there’s some more chill tunes than the ones above; one of my favorites is the ‘Hey Jude’ cover by the Overton Berry Trio. Music to just set your head back on the couch and stare at the cieling, dreaming of some place warmer.

For all you lovers out there

I came across this dreamy audio piece by Maxine Rose Schur on Salon’s “Wanderlust.” It’s a luring and vivid portrait of bohemian romance in Paris, and it is narrarated beautifully:

In this reading of her essay, “Passionate and Penniless in Paris,” Maxine Rose Schur remembers a long-ago couple, fearless and fanciful, camping out under the quivering nights of a time-distant Paris.

So whether you’re having a lonely night or sipping coffee on a slow morning with your sugar, I advise you close your eyes, and travel back to the City of Light.

The Dharma of Kenny Garrett

It was a cold, blustery Seattle eve, but the night looked hopeful as my dad and I had tickets to go see Kenny Garrett – a renowned alto saxophonist whose recent album, “Beyond the Wall,” has been Grammy nominated. Though I’ll admit, beyond reading the brief description on the venue website, my actual experience with Garrett’s sound was nil.

After a burger and beer at a joint nearby, my pops and I scooted over to Jazz Alley, a huge venue that is magically (true to its name) tucked away in a rather inconspicuous downtown alleyway. We take a seat in a cozy booth on the first floor, not 20 feet from the stage. Our waitress is a spectacularly interesting and kind person – a Boston native who did photography for the Thelonious Monk Institute – and with her guidance we decide to split a 750 mL bottle of a dark Belgian abbey ale brewed by a company that contributes to the Institute.

Following an hour or so of personal, insightful conversation with my dad – which is rare as we often digress into our frustrations with the sorry state of our nation – the lights dim, and the quartet takes the stage.

The opening is explosive, with Garrett testing the very limits of his range, the drummer pounding out his soul as his face shows agony and ecstasy, the pianist slamming the keys with graceful ferocity, and the bassist strumming like a contented schoolchild who knows he’s done it this time. The audience is entranced – a man jumps up and dances spaztically at the corner table, while others sit motionless in awe of the energy that spills out from instruments and speakers. All I can do is grin like an idiot, amazed beyond words at the enthusiasm of these master musicians. Pausing as he listens to the other band members’ solos, Garrett taps the back of his instrument with his thumb, reading the notes like a code, waiting for the perfect moment to unleash again.

Throughout the rest of the set, Garrett shows his softer side, finessing the alto with the tiniest puffs of breath, creating music that is both beautiful and crushing. His improv style at times feels mad, but every piece lays on top of a subtle structure. At one moment I found myself so enticed by the sound I wanted to hold it somehow – on CD, mp3, whatever – but looking into the eye of the sax I knew that there would never be a set like this, never a moment like this, nothing besides the memory that I could truly carry with me. It was a moment of Satori. And right then, all I could see was Kenny Garrett, blowin’ away.

After all was said and done, I was lucky enough to shake the sweaty palm of drummer Jamire Williams and thank bassist Nat Reeves. I saw Kenny, but was careful not to interrupt him as he spoke (in impressive Japanese) to a group of Japanese men. Garrett has apparently put a lot of his soul into Asia, as evident through his music, which evokes folk songs from both Korea and Japan, and incorporates traditional Tibetan Buddhist chants.


My dad and I rode home, both feeling awe-struck, through the new winter landscape that had settled around Puget Sound. Though it was 10 at night, kids were out sledding on neighborhood hills, taking full advantage of the six inches (and rising) of fluffy powder. Getting out of the car, there was the unique silence that only comes when snow has freshly fallen. I inhaled and took in the moment slowly, knowing that it would soon be gone.

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