All posts by lfurman

Mark Kozelek teams up with Petra Haden and wistfully drifts through decades of memories and deep-rooted friendships on Joey Always Smiled

Photo courtesy of Caldo Verde Records

Joey Always Smiled, Mark Kozelek’s spiritual follow-up to his compellingly mellow self-titled release last year, finds the singer-songwriter reminiscing about formative adolescent memories and contrasting them with his more recent activities. Like listening to a folk rock radio station, the narratives Kozelek includes on this album, announced way back in February, span the 70s, 80s, 90s and today during the collab’s hour-plus runtime, as he deciphers which people and events most shaped the journey to his present self. Continue reading Mark Kozelek teams up with Petra Haden and wistfully drifts through decades of memories and deep-rooted friendships on Joey Always Smiled

Morrissey covers 12 songs from the 60s and 70s to craft a very 2019 album

Photo from morrisseyofficial.com

In music and film, there’s a certain sweet spot of nostalgia for the middle of the latter half of the 20th century, probably because so many people alive today have lived through it. Hollywood often loads its period pieces of that time, like Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice or Starsky and Hutch, with classic songs like “Afternoon Delight,” “Close to You” or “Stayin’ Alive.” But on California Son, Morrissey’s new cover album of 60s and 70s songs, he digs deeper than radio hits to repurpose for his own narrative use, choosing songs that have ties to our own historical moment. Continue reading Morrissey covers 12 songs from the 60s and 70s to craft a very 2019 album

On his latest offering, Groove Denied, Stephen Malkmus dives headfirst into the electronic rock vibes of yesteryear while never entirely shaking his indie rock roots

Photo from Matador Records

Stephen Malkmus’ signature brand of abstract and non sequitur lyrics can most often be found floating over the instrumentals of Pavement and his own band, The Jicks. Raucous guitars and bombastic drums match his frenetic singing and shrieking crescendos, shirking any notions of predictability.

But on Groove Denied, his long awaited stab at electronic music, Malkmus allows synthesizers, drum machines and loops to bubble to the surface. Over a well-paced 33 minute runtime, Malkmus explores the different eras of electronic music and plugs his own charisma into the digital landscape. Continue reading On his latest offering, Groove Denied, Stephen Malkmus dives headfirst into the electronic rock vibes of yesteryear while never entirely shaking his indie rock roots

Mark Kozelek’s societal frustrations boil over on Sun Kil Moon’s ‘I Also Want to Die in New Orleans,’ his latest musical journal entry

Photo from Caldo Verde Records

For the better half of the past decade, singer Mark Kozelek has refined a style of songwriting that marries folksy guitar-swirled instrumentation with poetic, often painful lyricism.

After releasing two sharply personal records last year, a self-titled under his own name and This Is My Dinner with his band Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek emerges for the first time in 2019 to meditate on his blessings and concerns throughout Sun Kil Moon’s tenth and most politically-charged album I Also Want to Die in New Orleans. Continue reading Mark Kozelek’s societal frustrations boil over on Sun Kil Moon’s ‘I Also Want to Die in New Orleans,’ his latest musical journal entry

Amplified Observations: Birds and musicians share purposes in the world

Link: http://www.thepostathens.com/article/2017/03/birds-and-musicians

When a bird sings during the dawn chorus or later in the sunlight, the tones and phrasing emerging from its beak repeat in a hypnotic and often moving way.

Nature granted male birds the ability to create beautifully pure-tone sounds to attract mates and assert personal territory. Some female birds, like the mockingbird, can also sing for the same purposes of courting and defense.

But to most humans, the singing of birds sounds more like a form of emotional expression, a joyous hymn from a sparrow or the reflective lamentations of a robin. This common, even subconscious, interpretation paints birds as nature’s purveyor of art and song, an idea embraced in a similar manner to the role of the artist or musician in society.

Whether in John Lennon’s somber “Blackbird” or Bob Marley’s elated “Three Little Birds,” songwriters have incorporated birds as not only a symbol for freedom but also instinctual expression. With their effortless flight and carefree songs and chirps, birds embody the life for which artists strive, one full of creation untethered by the tedium of constraint. Among recent relevant works, Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” idealizes and supports this image of escape and autonomy.

For the artists, music or any other form of creation can feel like a natural impulse than a choice. Birds have no choice but to sing for their life’s fulfillment, artists have no choice but to create in the same passionate and legacy-building way. And both musical expressions — merely sound arranged over time — possess a deeper, abstract meaning about the capabilities of absorbing life’s strange gifts of song and practically inexplicable aesthetics.

Had I not mentioned birds sing for mating and territory, their songs might seem wholly spontaneous. But in either humans or birds, nothing comes from true spontaneity and is always devised deep in the neural firings in the mind before being brought forth into existence.

Although, in songs of all human and non-human languages, biological or sensical meaning is not necessary, only reaction and emotion. What matters more than words are deeper feelings of melancholy, joy, loneliness or alienation.

On Mount Eerie’s new album A Crow Looked At Me, which deals with the death of artist Phil Elverum’s wife, the words hold great impact in their obvious catharsis of death as a reality. But the true sadness of the album comes from listening to Elverum’s inflection of melancholy and thinly-masked despair.

Like the namesake crow, the songs with titles like “Real Death,” “Raven” and “Crow” deliver a reproduction of the power of earthly suffering, reaching from the same rawness of black metal music. And despite the modern references and exploration of social constructs, A Crow Looked At Me is appropriately named as a crow or nightingale could encapsulate the music’s message perched on a willow branch, lamenting in solitude and pain.

Of course, bird songs can also carry the essence of more hopeful music, such as Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” or The Shins’ “New Slang.” Only their compositions are interspersed with more noticeable silences, less structure and little temporal rush.

But perhaps the most important art and music deal not with content but with the act of loss and discomfort. Cheerful songs only act to distract while requiems heal. And although birds might not sing specifically for the dead, the right sounds from a black-feathered avian might give an unmistakable impression.

Like a bird’s haunting lament, the songs like Phil Elverum presents on A Crow Looked at Me or, for that matter, Sufjan Stevens sings on Carrie & Lowell regarding lost love and worn-out territory feel just as much a part of nature expressing itself as anything in the forest.

Songbirds fly among us and experience the same reality as humans. They are simply less aware than us but often more truthful. With attention, one might find the full spectrum of terrestrial emotion from the throats of both the robin’s beak and the broken heart.

Amplified Observations: ‘Every Breath You Take’ encapsulated the good and sinister of love and loss

Link: http://www.thepostathens.com/article/2017/03/every-breath-you-take

The Police released no singles that matched the popularity and longevity of 1983’s “Every Breath You Take.” It marked a high-water mark in the group’s career, despite the circumstances surrounding it.

Accompanied by a solid b-side, “Murder by Numbers,” and a clean and ageless music video, the band’s four-minute signature song creates a tender atmosphere that dives straight through the chest and into a place of deep vulnerability reserved only for inner-monologues.

Sting’s ambiguous and heartfelt lyrics find safe haven behind Andy Summer’s steadily uncertain strumming, two components the song that would earn the band two Grammy awards and an endless flow of royalties.

But for all the acclaim placed on “Every Breath You Take,” the song’s meaning — or rather multiple meanings — is not typical of a record with such a level of popularity. Unlike the generally straightforward contemporary pop songs by artists like Adele or Ed Sheeran, Sting’s relaxed composition suggests multiple interpretations with a narrator who is either exceedingly devoted or exceedingly obsessive. And the only way to discern among the two possibilities is by the recipient of the song’s message.

Each time the “Every Breath You Take” plays on a classic rock radio station or in the background of a restaurant, without fail someone comments on the creepy, stalkerish undertones within Sting’s lyrics. In interviewers, Sting himself has called the song “sinister” and “ugly,” despite initially intending to write a love song.

However, this question is the entire draw. The narrator reaches into a gray area of love and loss that only makes itself known within the level of the subjective psyche. Is it worth trying to hold this together, is it no longer love but jealousy, and when is it time to let go?

Sting wrote the track in the Caribbean between a divorce with his ex-wife and a blooming relationship with his future wife. Writing in the same space that Bob Dylan did for 1975’s Blood On the Tracks, Sting inhabited a strange limbo of emotional loss and newfound affection. Knowing this position, it is difficult to decipher which person the song is more directed toward.

Perhaps the residue of the former relationship lingers in the narrator’s mind, stalking him with curiosity. But it’s also possible that the narrator simply wants to give his new lover the attention that he feels she deserves, giving notice to her every move out of pure affection.

The lyrics simultaneously contrast endearing love with what we mistake for love after it has left.

Additionally, the song might also apply to the sort of relationship between a government and its citizens. The government loves its citizens so much that it needs to monitor their every breath and every move, which adds to the “sinister” aspect of surveillance whether by authority or a former partner.

With the syntax of such simple statements, Sting manages to leave enough ambiguity in the song to keep people wondering about its real meaning, which is undoubtedly in human nature to do.

If anything, “Every Breath You Take” exemplifies that great works of art can arise during times shrouded with domestic unraveling general tension. It shows that, if harnessed correctly, energy from the lowest point can lead to success and recognition.

Certain truths and revelations can only be expressed by those engulfed by them, and the expression in “Every Breath You Take” is not one from a commonly explored space, but one that manages to encompass the full spectrum of loving and loathing.

Volunteers in Ambridge assemble bicycles for foster children nearing independence

Photo by Emily Matthews

Link: http://www.timesonline.com/timestoday/volunteers-in-ambridge-assemble-bicycles-for-foster-children-nearing-independence/article_090fc6ce-68c4-11e7-9c4c-2f50feecb659.html

By Luke Furman for The Beaver County Times

AMBRIDGE — More than a dozen student volunteers grabbed the handlebars Friday morning and worked to assemble 50 bicycles for foster children about to reach self-independence.

The students, who belong to a University of Pittsburgh PittServes program called Jumpstart, broke into small teams at Allison Park Church in Ambridge with a stack of cardboard Huffy boxes scattered throughout the large room.

The nonprofit Together We Rise, which helps to improve the lives of children in foster care, donated the bikes to the church for one of its annual Serve Day outreach programs, but the charity left some manual assembly required.

Bethany Jarmul, who handles public relations for Allison Park Church, said it had never before held a bicycle assembly outreach program.

“Children are the future, and it’s important for us to have programs and give back to our communities,” Jarmul said. “Foster-care children usually can’t afford a car after emancipation and don’t have means of transportation.”

The church takes part in the annual Serve Day, formerly known as Servolution, with hundreds of other congregations nationwide. While talking about the meaning of the outreach project, Thomas Manning, director of Allison Park Church’s Ambridge campus, paraphrased part of Matthew 20:28 that reads, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

“In the past, we’ve given backpacks to children, paid for customers’ ice cream at an ice cream shop, brought people groceries and served people breakfast at a bus stop,” Manning said. “We’re happy PittServes students came to partner with us.”

PittServe’s Jumpstart discovered Allison Park Church’s Serve Day project from a grant application by the Network of Hope and decided to take part, said Christine Chua, a student executive of Jumpstart.

Network of Hope functions as a nonprofit connected to Allison Park Church’s main campus, Ambridge campus, Deer Lakes campus and its soon-to-be-opened Butler campus.

Julie Mikus, who serves as director for the decades-old entity, said this year’s Serve Day consists of more than 30 outreach projects, which range from lot beautification in Homewood to working on a garden that feeds local refugees in Troy Hill.

“The vision of Serve Day is to communicate the love of God in a real and tangible way and to reach those who are hurting or lost,” Mikus said.

Mikus estimated that 1,000 volunteers would turn out for the projects over the weekend, and the Pitt students in Jumpstart ranked among the first of them, beginning their work at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

“We usually work with kids in low-income areas,” Chau said. “We can only do service projects on Friday because we work with preschoolers from Monday to Thursday for kindergarten preparedness.”

However, not everyone in Jumpstart volunteers on the basis of being an education major. Several volunteers major in the sciences and other nonpedagogical studies.

“A lot of it is helping people from low-income areas,” said Sid Dash, who studies biology at Pitt.

The project presented many of the student volunteers with their first opportunity to assemble a bike straight from the box. Unlike home assembly, instruction manuals proved a must, at least for the first one.

“It’s my first time assembling a whole bike, but not the first time putting on a wheel,” Pitt student Robert Brown-Gartei said.

“We haven’t really had experience with assembling bikes, but we are happy to learn,” Chau said.

The bicycles came in two styles: a white street bicycle with sea-foam-green accented tires and a black mountain bike with streaks of an intense forest green.

Manning said he expected the bikes to be completed and donated to a local foster home on Saturday.