Andrew Bird dropped by the David Letterman show Tuesday night to strum his guitar and whistle his way through this track off Noble Beast. Mehan Jayasuriya says of the song: “‘Fitz & Dizzyspells’ skews closer to the Armchair Apocrypha model [of Andrew Bird albums], favoring layered (though mostly acoustic) guitar lines and propulsive drums, though there’s a brief pizzicato coda at the one minute mark.
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Swedish indie darling Loney Dear released his latest record, Dear John, this week on Polyvinyl. Look for the PopMatters review early next week. His US tour kicks off this evening in Northhampton, MA (tour dates below). Check out the new single and video, “Airport Surroundings”.
Airport Surroundings [MP3]
01/29 Northampton, MA Iron Horse
01/30 Boston, MA The Orpheum*
01/31 Brooklyn, NY Sound Fix In-Store 4pm
01/31 Brooklyn, NY Union Hall
02/02 Richmond, VA The National*
02/03 Washington, DC The 930 Club*
02/04 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse*
02/06 Orlando, FL The Plaza*
02/07 New Orleans, LA House of Blues*
02/09 Baton Rouge, LA Spanish Moon
02/10 Houston, TX Rudyard’s British Pub
02/11 Denton, TX Hailey’s
02/12 Austin, TX The Paramount Theater*
02/13 Albuquerque, NM The El Rey*
02/14 Tucson, AZ The Rialto*
02/15 San Diego, CA Soma San Diego*
02/17 Visalia, CA Howie and Son’s Pizza
02/18 Los Angeles, CA The Orpheum*
02/19 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore*
02/20 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore*
02/21 Portland, OR Roseland*
02/23 Seattle, WA The Moore*
02/24 Boise, ID The Knitting Factory*
02/25 Murray, UT The Murray*
02/26 Denver, CO The Ogden*
02/27 Omaha, NE Slowdown*
03/01 Chicago, IL Schubas
03/18 - 03/21 Austin, TX SXSW
* = w/ Andrew Bird
Willie Nelson is teaming up with one of my favorite bands, Asleep at the Wheel, for an album of western swing tunes, Willie and the Wheel, due out next Tuesday on Bismeaux Records. Western swing typically gets tagged as a form of country music, but it really stands on its own, more like a “hillbilly jazz” or “country swing jazz”. Asleep at the Wheel has been at the forefront of keeping this genre—essentially pioneered by the late, great Bob Wills—alive and vital since the 1970s. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Willie Nelson’s deep, eclectic catalogue will find this pairing to be nearly ideal. I’ve always said that Willie Nelson is as fine a jazz singer as he is a country singer, in the way he plays and improvises melody and frequently sings off the beat, bringing unexpected rhythms and textures into his tunes. Here’s the first song off Willie and the Wheel, “Hesitation Blues” and a video with Nelson and Ray Benson discussing the project.
Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel
Hesitation Blues [MP3]
Buy at Amazon MP3 Store
Feb 11 - TV: Good Morning America
Feb 11 - Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank NJ
Feb 12 - FM Kirby Center, Wilkes Barre PA
Feb 13 - American Music Theatre, Lancaster PA
Feb 14 - Stanley Performing Arts Center, Utica NY
Feb 15 - Palace Theatre, Albany NY
Feb 16 - TV: Late Night w/David Letterman
Feb 17 - Civic Center, Roanoake VA
Feb 18 - Bob Martin Agricultural, Williamston NC
Feb 19 - Holmes Center, Boone NC
Feb 20 - Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham NC
Feb 21 - Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro NC
In the comments to my post about complex TV, McChris pointed me to this essay by Jason Mittel, “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television.” Mittel provides an interesting survey of narrative in TV over the past few decades, even if his account tends toward the telelogical—despite an evenhanded tone, the emphasis seems to be on how TV is necessarily becoming more complex and viewers more sophisticated. I’m not convinced that TV is necessarily evolving toward the good or has any role in improving audiences. TV has done a good job of improving its own reputation, however, as Mittel points out. But the fact that audiences are now expected to be engaged with the form as well as the content of shows, as Mittel amply demonstrates, is simply a change, a way for shows to introduce novelty—not a move to a higher level of aesthetic appreciation. Viewers may need to invest more time in shows and engage with them in a more interactive way, but these developments are not necessarily positive (or negative). That one can spend an entire Saturday watching episode after episode of Mad Men testifies to how compellingly crafted the show is, but it also might leave one empty and exhausted, frustrated with oneself over all the other activities you neglected. (I use “one” as though I’m not talking about myself.)
Toward the end of the essay, Mittel focuses on shows that call attention to their own production:
The viewers of such complex comedies as Seinfeld and Arrested Development not only focus on the diegetic world offered by the sitcoms but also revel in the creative mechanics involved in the producers’ abilities to pull off such complex plot structures, a mode of viewing Sconce labels as “metareflexive” but that warrants more detailed consideration. This set of pleasures suggests an influential concept offered by Neil Harris in his account of P. T. Barnum: Harris suggests that Barnum’s mechanical stunts and hoaxes invited spectators to embrace an “operational aesthetic” in which the pleasure was less about “what will happen?” and more concerning “how did he do that?”20 In watching Seinfeld we expect that each character’s petty goals will be thwarted in a farcical unraveling, but we watch to see how the writers will pull off the narrative mechanics required to bring together the four plotlines into a calibrated comedic Rube Goldberg narrative machine.
He adds that such shows “convert many viewers to amateur narratologists, noting usage and violations of conventions, chronicling chronologies, and highlighting both inconsistencies and continuities across episodes.” It seems that Mittel has in mind scripted shows exclusively, but I feel the spur to amateur narratology most of all when I watch the reality game show Survivor, the script for which must be found after the fact in the editing room. Examining scenes in terms of how contestants are shaped into characters and given story arcs and conflicts can often be as suspenseful as the action depicted in the show, since careful attention to the narrative structuring can clue attentive viewers in on who will ultimately win. In a sense, that is where the action is in each episode, in the editors’ choices. And rather than merely marvel at how they are woven together, as one would with a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, viewers instead have the opportunity to try to calculate out the ultimate purpose of those choices and deduce the denouement that would make them necessary. Referencing scripted shows, Mittel coins the term “narrative special effects”: “moments push the operational aesthetic to the foreground, calling attention to the constructed nature of the narration and asking us to marvel at how the writers pulled it off.” All of Survivor is one long narrative special effect, except writers aren’t involved.
Since the contestants can’t be judged for their performances, and there are no writers, viewers have only the editors to second-guess. Editors become the auteurs, just as DJs have become in the pop-music world. Like the Bush administration, the show’s editors make “reality,” very usefully directing our attention to the means by which this is accomplished. The ability to see how “truth” is being manipulated in its presentation on TV has never been more important. So perhaps all the complexity on TV serves a laudable political function after all.
Talk about an interesting backstory… Timothy Showalter the fellow who is Strand of Oaks was an an Indiana Mennonite before becoming a Pennsylvania Hebrew Dayschool teacher. He drives a bus too. Hey, we all gotta make a living in this brutal economy. Especially someone like Showalter, whose house burned down right after a relationship broke up. That’s a serious double whammy. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that Strand of Oak’s music isn’t the perkiest sounding stuff on the planet. Still, all that drama lends Showalter a certain degree of gravity when confronting life’s unpleasantries in music. “End in Flames” is the lead-off song from his album Leave Ruin that released this week on La Société Expéditionnaire.
Strand of Oaks
End in Flames [MP3]