Elliott Smith

DVSN’s KNACK FOR THE DRAMATIC
July 8, 2016 11:31 am

These fucking Canadians and all their emotions. They’re taking over. First, it was Drake’s penchant for melancholia that got fogey rap heads in a tizzy, then The Weeknd started paralyzing people’s faces with no remorse. Now we’ve got DVSN, a producer/singer duo of Nineteen85 and Daniel Daley recently signed by OVO, Drake’s mothership label.

All the trails have been blazed for DVSN, and extensively so, at this point. The swirling atmospheres in With Me paired with trappy snares can be traced back to the Frank Ocean Family Tree, while Another One shows a type of pop gloss in production that follows Abel and Aubrey’s footsteps as new explorers of the emotional. So in the modern landscape of R&B, DVSN fits quite seamlessly. Sept. 5th, their debut album (seriously, what is it with sad Canadians and their love for Autumnal months), is indeed a product of this new era; pairing the genre’s obligatory ‘baby making music’ ambiance with a newly intensified sense of mystery and anguish.   

For Daley, his talent in bridging these two unique ideas together is what makes listening to Sept. 5th worthwhile. His tender voice wraps around each of Ninteen85’s intricately arranged pieces on the album. As indicated on “Angela,” he can falsetto his ass over horns, strings and keys, whatever. He’s in his comfort zone regardless. It’s his strongest vocal performance on the album, showing off every high note he’s capable of belting out, as well as heartier moments that show him digging deeper into his belly for the words. He even finds the time to pay homage to the late Elliott Smith by using his refrain from “Angeles.”

In each of these songs, DVSN and Smith are looking for a solution and whether it’s a new city or a new woman is unimportant. The novelty of newness is what they believe will save them. It won’t, but for artists who are as deeply tapped into their feelings as they are, they see a new love as the rescue rope from it all. For “Angeles,” Smith is cynical enough to know that this false hope will never truly actualize anything. DVSN, however, carries the optimism that love- or at least a decent enough fuck- can actually heal everything.

“I could make it better, if I could have sex with you.” That’s literally part of the chorus to the album’s titular track, and the confidence with which he delivers such a line makes the listener believe that Daniel Daley is very confident in what he’s able to do with his penis. Whether it’s genuine delusion or an awareness on Daley’s behalf to document his own ego’s misgivings is up for debate. His ability to convey the desperation is what’s compelling.

So try having sex with Daniel Daley if you can. Maybe things will improve in your life. They probably won’t, though. Because unlike what these Canadian Pioneers of Feel want you to think, sex and love heal nothing.

I’m joking, I’m a virgin. I know nothing about this stuff.

GENIUS OR MADNESS? MENTAL HEALTH IN THE MUSIC SCENE
March 7, 2016 5:57 pm

Do you consider yourself an artist? Have you always leaned towards exploring artful activities that embody your emotions like music, painting, or acting rather than seeking family-pleasing, societally accepted, ordinary life goals like many of those around you? This, like many of us, has probably left you feeling alone and void of any practical solutions to the unclear problem. Well, likely those feeling are valid, as we creative people with unconventional life goals tend to suffer from mental illness seemingly more than those with “realistic goals.” Not to mention the musicians that I find to write the most heart-wrenchingly deep songs both lyrically and musically have the proclivity to feel life’s trials much harder than others, generally speaking. In the same way they feel euphoric joy, they also feel crushing lows, yet have found ways to craft those feelings with particular design.

Sometimes the ups and downs of a touring musician’s lifestyle is a set up for mental disturbance. Imagine playing your heart out to a high-octane room filled with strangers whose goal was to come watch you do what you do best- and have an amazing time doing so- because that’s what is expected of you. Essentially, you go from 0 to 100 and back down to 0 in a couple hours. Imagine that performance several nights a week in a different city every night. If that’s nothing, take into account travel time, costs and methods. There is such a thing called post performance depression where your brain struggles to level out the amount of endorphins it just massively pumped in a second, just to have that moment pass. Then it’s over. In David Bamberg’s words from his autobiography Illusion Show,

“Then you are really alone in that sea of empty seats and the color, light, music and warmth of the applause are just a memory, and, in spite of all the excitement, you know it’s been a lonely life.”

As a local musician, I have experienced this phenomena; the pre show nervousness, the powerful outlet and the praise from an audience, and then … Nothing. It’s a harsh reality even when you don’t tour. I can really see why touring musicians end up either addicted to drugs or going through major mental health crisis. The toll it takes on your body and mind gives you that instant gratification, much like that of a drug. Because, in the moments of performance your life is spectacular and special and not a single bit mundane.

Keep in mind, not all musicians suffer from mental illness or addiction, but a large percentage of us do- more specifically over 60% of us. There are varying reasons for this, but I’m a firm believer that we have to have that manic energy or deep pain to be able to make genuinely soulful and relatable music. If we can’t search the darker part of our psyches, we’re just making bubble gum flavored music.

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Whenever I would tell a teacher or family member what I truly wanted to do with my life, it was mocked in a half sympathetic tone, because those goals were far-fetched. No one actually becomes a famous musician, right? The environment you grow up in and the affect from people around you are large factors to the epidemic of anxiety and pain in artists. I am fortunate to have had a mother who supported me for everything I wanted to do and it made me stronger as both a person and an artist. I, myself, suffer from bouts of depression like many musicians and artists. I know that, from experience, channeling my feelings of anxiety and depression until I’m deep into my music is what makes it so beautiful.

There are so many important people whose lives were taken too early. Amazing musicians such as Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Phil Ochs, Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain and Richard Manuel to just name a few. A majority of these men suffered from addiction and other mental health issues and took to self medicating.

As a community of art and music, we need to recognize the signs. Artistic people are also stubborn people who likely won’t ask for help until it is too late. Most mental illnesses can be managed and while they can feel massively unbearable at times, you will feel better in the morning.

“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and I wish I could go back to 2003 and tell Elliott that before he ended his own life, and I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact I read in an interview that he was at a bar and started talking to a random man who was also contemplating suicide because of his addiction, and Smith simply said ‘Don’t’. But tragically that same demon took Smith’s life far too early.

Unfortunately for most creative people who have ended their lives (or considering to do so) way before they got the chance to become a Cobain or a Winehouse, there is no beautiful legacy to be left, rather a traumatic disaster leaving loved ones to question and to remedy an avoidable pain. Here are a few ways you can reach out for help:

  • Message your closest friend- sometimes just vigorously typing out what you feel can go along way 
  • Talk to the person you are most comfortable with- they’ve been there for you before, they will do it again 
  • Seek therapy- a most helpful, yet often dismissed option. No one is above having someone to talk to  

Though I have studied my fair share of Psychology, I can honestly say the best advice I had ever gotten about self harm as a teenager was “write all of your major problems and stressors down in a letter, put it in an envelope and seal it. Write on the front ‘not my problem’.” I can almost guarantee when you look back on those envelopes years from then, the realization of how far you have come will be as loud as the Nick Drake record playing in your background and you will always have that pride to hold onto.

Mental health is a very important issue that can no longer be ignored. It’s not taboo and the stigmas don’t matter. What matters is you.  So help us beat the invisible Beasts, and know we are rooting for you.

ELLIOTT SMITH HEAVEN ADORES YOU SOUNDTRACK RELEASED
February 5, 2016 11:53 am

I was a youthful thirteen years old when I first heard Elliott Smith for the first time in August of 2002. I had just left the Alaska State Fair with a mix of friends and strangers. We all laid around a room listening to a mix CD, and the first track happened to be Smith’s “Say Yes.”

Though it seems it’s one of his more simple songs, it hit me like a brick to the gut and psyche. Music was forever changed for me that day. I couldn’t get enough of him from “Miss Misery” to “Christian Brothers” and then I stumbled on the whole Figure 8 album which figuratively brought me to my knees in amazement. This man was a fucking genius. At that time little did I know his life was riddled with addiction, mental illness and that this creative genius was a cathartic spew of his deepest pain. So, as nostalgic and beautiful as those memories are it’s also melancholic because a year after I discovered his light at the end of his tunnel, he took his own life.

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The throes of addiction, mental illness coupled with the deep claws of a major label seemed to have thrown Smith over the edge. Fast forward to today, there was a documentary released about his life’s work in his music and genius titled Heaven Adores You. From the Heatmiser days to the latest and greatest album that served almost as his suicide note to the world From a Basement on a Hill. There were some songs on the film that had not been previously released, and also some good oldies that everyone can relate to such as “LA” and “Going Nowhere” from his previously released albums. Today, they released the soundtrack to said documentary and it is fire for anyone deeply involved and even mildly obsessed with his craft – like me.

It is a montage of his work from unreleased songs to rarities and live versions of songs we all know as well as earlier or altered versions.  I think my favorite song off the album is “True Love,” though his version of “Plain Clothes Man,” a song he did with  in his earlier days is a masterpiece as well. Smith has a way of roping you in with his humming melodies, overlapping paper thin vocals and completely enthralling guitar and piano. His guitar style hardly needs any back up, he’s the type of player who has
his own rhythm section within his guitar playing style which makes it more dynamic and full. The kicker is that this man is fully capable and very talented at playing just about any instrument you could imagine and recorded a majority of his work by himself. There are some songs on this album that are strictly instrumental.. which to me is almost a travesty because his vocals make him such an icon, though his distinction lies everywhere.

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There are a few rare songs, like “Don’t Call me Billy”and “I love my room” that are borderline hilarious and not his usual cynical and melancholic style. (Think Sliver by Nirvana.) There are 20 tracks that are rare or pivotal to his life in this soundtrack and you absolutely need to take a listen, even if you have never heard Smith it’s important that you do. The last song I want to talk about on the album is called “True Love.” It has to be the song that blew me away the most. The lyrics ‘I just need a safe place to bleed is this where it’s at?’ in which it seems he’s pleading for the world to leave him to revel in his vices, which in the end took him far too soon. His memory lives on in his heavy hearted musical genius. Take an hour to rip your heart out with the Heaven Adores You soundtrack by the late, great Elliott Smith.

GET WEIRD WITH THE CLAYPOOL LENNON DELIRIUM
January 28, 2016 2:53 am

If you’ve never heard Primus, or their singer Les Claypool’s bass lines, then you’re in luck.  Not only does “Cricket And The Genie” contain one of the better bass lines I’ve heard this year, but it also contains Sean Lennon as a part of the mega two-piece called The Claypool Lennon Delirium.

Lennon surely takes after his father in this collaboration, without a doubt.  The eight minute song starts out with a very eerie bass intro and a vocals that sound like the Beatles have returned.  The bass style is driven with such a delicious tone and complex structure through out the song that you get lost in it.  Lennon’s vocals have their own soft but playful taste to them, summoning his father’s ghost with a throat singing style, similar to Elliott Smith in his harsher elements of delivery.  The keys in this song form an interesting mix of melancholy and downright creepy, creating the stage for a Muselike overall darkness but with the DNA of two of the worlds greatest musicians.  The song obviously features a little bit of a cricket song as well.

This song throws you for a loop. There is a break down around the 3:55 minute mark, almost halfway through the song, that kind of blows my mind. In a Rolling Stone article Claypool stated about Lennon, “His DNA definitely shines through, though it isn’t just his father’s musical sensibilities that he reflects but also his mother’s abstract perspective, which to me, makes for a glorious freak stew.”

Freak stew is probably the best description i’ve heard so far.  Only its the right kind of freak stew, the kind you want to gorge on for weeks on end. For whatever reason the raw and not quite abrasive quality of the song drags you right in with the acquired taste that they sell and they sell it flawlessly.  I heard this song multiple times and I’ve had the swimming melodies and punchy driving bass lines ingrained in my mind for about a week.

Lennon states,

“The Claypool Lennon Delirium will (gently) melt your face with heart-pounding low-frequency oscillations and interdimensional guitar squeals. We look forward to seeing you very soon.”

He is absolutely not lying.  The Beasts here suggest that you get your first, second and third helpings of this freak stew before both members get busy with any other mega projects they might also be involved in. The last lyrics in this song are; “you ought to try it you really ought to try it” and we can assure you we agree. Try the song and make sure to catch them in July at Bonnaroo!

 

In The Ambient Abyss With Mariage Blanc
September 27, 2015 11:39 pm

The first day of fall was the perfect day to put the album No Autobiography by Mariage Blanc on repeat.  The band, from Pittsburgh, P.A. (who is now split between Pennsylvania and Sacramento, California) is the perfect soundtrack for a long drive on a slow Sunday afternoon.

While listening to their song “Silent Nations” I can feel the melancholy overtones pulling me into an abyss of sadness.  The vocals have the similarity of singer-song writer Elliott Smith’s paper thin vocals and guitar picking, with a little more calm in the deliverance reminiscent of Indie pop band Silversun pickups vocal style.

 

It’s no wonder Craig Ismaili included the album in his top 10 for 2015.  The band’s main attributes seem to be nostalgia and melancholy in the rawest form.  Recorded at Tree Lady Studios, the ambient white noise in the background of the track “Nowhere Town” to the finger picking and sliding sounds of the acoustic guitars in “Stay With Me” ultimately reminds me of a Figure 8 (Elliott Smith) and Bon Iver self titled love child.

Eventually when you’re able to pay attention to the lyrics, they melt your heart as well.  Mariage Blanc is easy to listen to and to fall in love with. They feel like a reincarnation of Simon and Garfunkel’s clever and perfectly placed chorus and lyrics that draw you in on the first listen. Who could even renounce the pain felt when you heard “did your heart break down in June?”  I can tell you that it tore straight through my soul and I can only imagine the energy they put into their live show, so if they decide to come to your town, you best be there. You know the beasts will!