vienna teng

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Off topic, does anyone have an “entry song” into “Hazards of Love”? You know, a song you can listen to and it gets you excited to hear the rest? Excluding the Rake’s Song, that is. I listened to the first three tracks and it was like, snoozeville, so either I am way off base or I just haven’t found the way into it. Any suggestions? (Confession: I kind of hate albums where the whole thing is one story. Excluding “The Wall.” But even that gets on my nerves sometimes.)

Aaaand, back to topic in five, four three ….

The ladies are rocking my socks off these last few months, with some really great stuff. It’s so much fun to look at my playlist and realize that it’s all women singing/writing/playing (yes, guys are great too, that’s not the point). Let’s recap, for those people who have been hiding under a rock for awhile.

01. Lisa Hannigan — Sea Sew. Have I said enough about this album? I THINK I HAVE.

Lisa Hannigan — Venn Diagram

02. Camera Obscura — My Maudlin Career. This one is classic C.O. and very fun to listen to. It starts off with such a great track, “French Navy,” where Traceyanne Campbell laments the fleeting nature of love and its unholdability.

Camera Obscura — French Navy

03. Vienna Teng — Inland Territory. Her voice is so beautiful that she sneaks all kinds of social issues into her songs and you don’t even notice until you’re singing along.

Vienna Teng — No Gringo

04. Bat For Lashes — Two Suns. Spacy, nutty, gorgeous: it’s all still there in the fabulous mix that is Natasha Khan.

Bat For Lashes — Travelling Woman

05. Neko Case — Middle Cyclone. The usual mix of the unusual: startling violent images, mysterious lyric play, being stalked by a cyclone. You know; same old same old.

Neko Case — Polar Nettles

06. Jenn Grant — Echoes. Understated and beautiful folk with jazzy undertones; the lyrics almost remind me of Bjork sometimes :D but the music does not sound anything like Her Icelandiness.

Go forth and listen!

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Harmony

When I was listening to last week’s podcast of “This American Life,” I was privileged to hear to a beautiful talk by Anne Lamott; she spoke of her love for Jesus Christ, and the people around her, and music. She told a story of a man in her church who was dying of AIDS. He came to the meeting but he was so weak he could not stand to sing when everyone else was standing. A woman in the same congregation who had always been sort of standoffish to him was watching him sing and she got up and went over to him and lifted him so he could sing as well. Here is what Lamott said:

… and they sang, and it pierced me. I can’t imagine anything else but music that could have brought about this alchemy. How is it that you have a chord here, and then another chord there, and then your heart breaks open? I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s that music is about as physical as it gets. Your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound a breath. We’re walking temples of noise. And when you add the human heart to this mix, it somehow lets us meet on a bridge we couldn’t get to any other way.

In these times of chaos and this year of dissonance, I am comforted by simple musical harmony. The following are not religious songs, just songs in harmony. And if you choose to listen — friend, I’ll meet you on the bridge.

01. Mady Mesplé & Danielle Millet — The Flower Duet (from the opera “Lakmé,” written by Léo Delibes in 1881)
02. October Project — Bury My Lovely (acoustic)
03. The Cox Family — I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)
04. Peter & the Wolf — Silent Movies
05. The Mountain Goats & Kaki King — Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle
06. Ben Kweller — Wait (Beatles Cover)
07. Vienna Teng — Between
08. Paul Simon — Under African Skies
09. Tom McRae — Ghost Of A Shark
10. Alice In Chains — Heaven Beside You

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20-16

I’m going to change the blog’s focus for a little while. Partly to avoid Good Hodgkins syndrome and partly because if something is the best of 2006, it deserves a little more time than three paragraphs, and partly because I’m a writer, and I need to write about different stuff sometimes. So instead of having a wide, enormous focus like I’ve had since June (and will have again), I’m going to focus the rest of the year on the … best of the year. Hopefully it will turn out all right.

I literally spent weeks agonizing over my best of 2006 list. Is this normal? Doubtful. But I hate making lists; that is, I prefer to look at other peoples’ lists and yell, “What? Where’s so-and-so! Loser!” So now you get to yell at my list. I got my top three all right; then I had to keep going, and rearranging, and relistening … well. I actually have a top 20 now. So today we’re going to look at numbers twenty through sixteen in my list. You can click on the album for a buy link, and there will be a sample mp3 in the blue square. Keep in mind, I firmly believe that you could not go amiss buying these albums (or at least picking through them on iTunes if you’re not an album buyer).



20.
Scott H. Biram
Graveyard Shift
Bloodshot Records
Long Fingernail

In spite of some of the skeevier elements of this album, the rest of it remains impossible not to listen to. Biram’s growly lyrics conjure up those old religious days of hellfire and brimstone, when Jesus was a narrow-eyed disciplinarian, leaning over you to make sure you did your lessons right. If you did — salvation! If not, well … Biram’s there to console you.

The strongest songs on the album are at the beginning and end of the album: the middle descends into good-old-boyness and songs about trucks; too country for me. But everything starts off with a bang: “Been Down Too Long” is a great opener, with a perfect summary of Biram’s aesthetic: Well, all I want in this creation / is a good-lovin’ woman and a long vacation. “Only Jesus” is the impetus for the paragraph above, and “Long Fingernail” brings up the Devil to torment a man with a broken heart. All in all, if you ever need someone to scream with you someday, there is no one better than Biram.



19.
Nouvelle Vague
Bande A Part
The Perfect Kiss Records
Sweet & Tender Hooligan (live)

All I ever hear about this album is how it’s not as good as the first one. Lucky me, then — I never heard the first one. Also, I’m so fond of this idea that they can put out five more albums and I’ll buy into them all. How is it that a French band gets the idea to take “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and add bossa nova to it, and then sing it so sweetly that it’s even creepier than the original? With bells and running footsteps and that heartbeat of a bass? How did that happen? It’s not a fluke, people; it’s artistry.

The strength of the covers are also the band’s weakness — if you don’t like the songs they picked, you’re not going to like the cover either. For instance, I can’t stand “Pride (In the name of love)” so a cover is so uninteresting. But if you do like the songs, the covers aren’t just given minimal makeover. “Heart of Glass” is stripped of that annoying original voice (heh! sacrilege!) and made danceable; “Human Fly” becomes punk bossa nova. Sure, maybe this is the “same old schtick” as the first album, but who else is doing this, and doing it so well? Come on now.



18.
A Hawk and A Hacksaw
The Way the Wind Blows
The Leaf Label
Song for Joseph

In this paragraph will be my only mention of “Gulag Orkestar.” I was a big fan of it, and then I got hold of “The Way the Wind Blows.” And I realized two things — the two albums are inextricable, but since I could only pick one, “The Way” is better. When you put them side-by-side (and I did — I told you I agonized about this list), Condon sounds like an insipid shadow of Fanfare Ciocarlia. His album is put together better, in that faux-concert format, but musically, A Hawk has him beat hands-down.

Which doesn’t really work anyway, because Condon plays trumpet on “The Way,” so like I said, inextricable. This is a great album, period. It has a joyful, festival feel to it, and it’s obviously a labor of love by expert musicians. My only complaint is that it sometimes makes you feel like you’re in a restaurant and some dude is playing accordion over in the corner and it just … goes on … forever. I often have to listen to the album in two sittings because I guess there’s only so much Balkan orchestra a girl can stand.




17.
Ray LaMontagne
Till the Sun Turns Black
RCA Records
Three More Days

Ray LaMontagne’s best asset is his genuinely soulful sound. Everything he sings sounds like he’s cutting out a little chunk of his heart and handing it to you. Even in the “guy-with-guitar” genre, which is super-soulful, LaMontagne manages to ratchet it up a bit. He’s got a great backing band, with piano and violin just a perfect complement. Everything works together very well.

What keeps him out of the top ten is that all the songs are really really really similar. They tend to run into one another until it’s all one big long song — a format I’m not fond of. Even “Thick As A Brick” changed up its style once in awhile. And there’s almost nothing left of the desperate howling that charged up “Trouble” or “Burn.” It’s like he’s playing a whole album underwater. Nevertheless, tracks like “Empty” or “Three More Days,” even played underwater, still blow away the competition.



16.
Vienna Teng
Dreaming Through the Noise
Zoe Records
Blue Caravan

I have such a soft spot for Teng. She’s young and sometimes silly, and I don’t even know if she counts as indie, but she’s such a great songwriter and singer and piano player. She’s beautiful and talented and if you don’t like her, you’re just a sad sad person. “Dreaming” is an excellent release. I’ve also heard the this-is-not-as-good-as- [insert-album-name-here] criticism from devoted listeners, but I can’t understand why.

It’s the same type of material she’s released before — “1 bd/1 ba” is about finding an apartment and “I Don’t Feel So Well” is apparently about grammar. Everything is semi-autobiographical, and as listeners followed Teng through her early twenties, now they can follow her into the stretching period that goes with growing up. Teng thinks, probably harder than any of us did, about turning 40, about having children, about hurricanes and gay marriage and how much to give to your spouse without losing yourself. Standout tracks: “City Hall,” “Whatever You Want,” “Recessional.”

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You know how you wake up and it’s one of those days? It’s too early because the kids haven’t adjusted to daylight savings. Your neck hurts and you feel a headache coming on. You take a shower and notice just exactly how dirty the shower door is. There’s nothing to eat for breakfast; you have to put on Sesame Street instead of being able to watch Veronica Mars. And it’s only 7 am. Bleah. Here’s some music.

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

1. Robin McKelle РBei Mir Bist Du Sch̦n
2. Nelly Furtado – Maneater (siik remix); from Siik.org
3. Vienna Teng – Cannonball (Damien Rice)
4. Bettie Serveert – Lover I Don’t Have To Love (Bright Eyes)
5. Michael Penn – Walter Reed

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Vienna Teng at Club Suede, Park City, Utah

On August 2nd, my brother-in-law A. and I were privileged to see Vienna Teng perform in Park City. She opened for Duncan Sheik (who we did not stay to see, as the drive was very long), noting that it was only her second time in Utah. She looked very lovely, very thin; she was wearing a pretty tank top and strappy sandals, and her hair was tinted orange over the black. I’m a girl, I notice these things. I took some photos but I’m not including them — for some reason my camera hates taking photos in the dark with the flash off. I think it believes that it’s in my best interests to turn on the flash. (This is the best photo I could google that looks like her — she doesn’t look like any photos on google. Odd.)

She played mostly things from her newest album, “Dreaming Through the Noise.” I haven’t heard anything on that album — the only familiar song she played was “Harbor” — and yet, she was enthralling. I never looked at my watch, or fidgeted, or wondered if maybe we should go sit down in the back, because her whole set was interesting enough to keep the whole club watching and applauding (except the loud, drunk people in the next room who were having a birthday party).

The songs themselves were definitely keepers. They were as varied as could be: the sarcastic nasty thrill of “Whatever You Want” (a song about her boss); the eastern-inspired “Blue Caravan”; the contrast between “Now Three” (for all the folks out there with little kids, she said) and “Recessional” (for all the bitter singles). Vienna’s fingers just flew over the keyboard; she barely even looked at them.

Of course the most fun song was the last; her two fabulous accompanists (cello and violin) did a sort of interpretive dance to “City Hall,” while we all clapped along like we weren’t living in a state that passed an anti-gay-rights bill. Sigh.

Vienna still has half a tour left, and I heartily encourage you to see her. She puts on a great show, and the music speaks for itself. And maybe one of you can get a better picture than I did.

Vienna Teng: Site | Myspace | Label (Rounder)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]
Vienna Teng – Harbor
Vienna Teng – Hope On Fire

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