Thursday, March 24, 2011

Music to write to: Andrew Bird, The Decemberists & Afriki Djigui Theatri

Montreaux Jazz Fest
Montreaux Jazz Fest/D. Venton
Santa Cruz is a wet, windy, stormy place this week. This prevents me and my fellow SciComrades from venturing outside while we're on Spring Break. Surely this isn't legal. So, as the rhythm of the rain pounds on my roof persistently, I’d like to offer rhythms of a different nature: A listing of my favorite music and artists to listen to while writing. Please submit your own favorites in the comments.

The best artist I’ve found to write along to is hands down, violin bows up, Andrew Bird. His music is beautiful, looping and lyrical. Something about his dual continuity and innovation help me gather momentum -- particularly if I’m having trouble getting started.

See him solo and live and you can watch as he builds multi-track songs, one element at a time. He records violin-plucking for the beat, whistle-melodies for motifs, and begins to sing. All the while your eyebrows gradually migrate to the outside edges of your forehead. The man has talent.

Catch a live show, if you possibly can, or watch a great example here (if you only watch one of the videos in this post, pick this):

When I’m working for several hours, I often have Andrew Bird on a continual loop in my iTunes. Below, the YouTube Andrew Bird playlist. Particularly addictive tracks include “Thank God it’s Fatal,” “Operation,” “Sythian Empire” and “Mitosis.”

I am also a Decemberists fan, devoted and devout. During the month of February I listened to their new album, The King is Dead a lot. The band (featured in a recent Talk of the Town, “No. 1”) has an ability to make every genre they turn their instruments irresistible. They also have a fantastic vocabulary, employing words such as “palanquin,” “odalisque,” and “roustabout.”

If you are a Decemberists neo-phyte, and unafraid of the idea of good country music, give the opening track of their latest album a try:

And if you’re willing to go for the serious honey-tonk:

Otherwise, an easier entry point might be The Crane Wife (loosely based on a Japanese fairy tale) or The Hazards of Love (a total rock opera, a la Deep Purple). These folks are also *just fantastic* live.

There is also something great about listening to music sung in a language I can’t (or can just barely) understand. My favorite breed of this is music from French-speaking Africa. I’ve poked around the International section of iTunes’ radio offerings and have settled on Afriki Djigui Theatri (also available here). I even like the commercials. I understand just enough of the French to stay amused, without growing annoyed at the advertising.

But I don’t want this post to be one glowing review after another. So let me say that, contrary to their name, Muse is lousy to write to. And while they put on a great light show (see below) I also think they’re pretty lousy live.

Muse in Lyon, France/D. Venton
Just to insert one more complaint, this non-stop rain makes me wish all the more that I was in Austin, Texas listening to music at South by Southwest. This wish might be an impossibility -- among other obstacles, the festival ended four days ago -- but that makes the longing only more acute. A great listing of SXSW music to pay attention is here on NPR's music pages.

Now that I’ve compiled my list, and have offered you more links than you can comfortably process, I wonder what White, Zinsser, and Blundell would say about my habit of scribbling with tunes in the background. I’ll look into it and get back to you. Meanwhile, send me what you write to either below or at danielle.venton[at]

No comments:

Post a Comment