Tag Archives: The Polyphonic Spree

Elliott Smith

Inspired by the downloadable unreleased track Place Pigalle, posted by i guess i’m floating, let’s have ourselves an Elliott Smith post.

At turns, ES’s music is simple or intricate, lush or desolate, prancing or frantic. Or, as is generally the case with either/or (pun intended) options, both. I love his whole body of work (buy), but I like the whirling and raucous album Figure 8 better than the very compelling album Either/Or, which is considered his best by most music geeks. The above download, however, fits in better as an Either/Or song (or any other album, just not Figure 8).

Short two-part aside about his album titles. 1) Either/Or is from Kierkegaard (1843); a sample K quote that speaks to ES’s mental state: “My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known–no wonder, then, that I return the love.” 2) ES says, of the Figure 8 title, though I think the metaphor extends to his songwriting in general, “I just like the idea of a figure eight, of figure skaters trying to make this self-contained, perfect thing that takes a lot of effort but essentially goes nowhere.”

Excellent use of ES’s music in soundtracks includes the following choice songs (each album is worth owning):

Good Will Hunting ~ Miss Misery (this image of him feeding meters serves as my default)

Thumbsucker ~ Trouble (this Cat Stevens song (made famous in Harold and Maude) is much covered, to good effect here and by Eddie Vedder) (read the bio on this soundtrack; ES died, and Tim Delaughter and The Polyphonic Spree filled in)

The Royal Tenenbaums ~ Needle in the Hay (this song evokes the suicide attempt scene so vividly for me, it’s nearly too much to bear)

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The Polyphonic Spree

The Polyphonic Spree‘s new video Crawl is worth a watch. It’s an intimate look at the band and frontman Tim DeLaughter, who has more charisma in his little finger than [insert lame comparison into this cliché here].

Watching Tim from his Tripping Daisy days (I cannot stress enough that the albums I Am an Elastic Firecracker and Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb are your listening homework if you don’t know them already but are even remotely into the Spree or The Flaming Lips) through The Beginning Stages of… and into worldwide success with the Spree, you can’t help but sense that he consistently does the dangerous work of exposing his soul to the world. That must be necessary to make music so expansive and touching. He always projects genuine elation, but the elation seemingly must be ripped out of (his) pain and (our) apathy to be sustained. I think this makes him one of the hardest working men in music.

At Tripping Daisy and Spree shows, Tim always seems to be standing on the monitors, surrounded by something. Sometimes it’s props like bubbles or plastic bits from a fake snow machine. But sometimes it’s light doing interesting things in concert with the sound, such as a flickering fluorescent bulb or a sunbeam breaking through the dreary clouds during a raucous version of It’s the Sun (both shows in Denton, Texas, at two very different venues).

I find the Spree’s recordings difficult to listen to since I know how bitchin’ they are live. In fact, it’s safe to say I like the Spree best at their margins, out of the studio doin’ their own funky thing. At the end of one show, they allowed the harpist time to perform a full song solo, and it was truly fulfilling in a basic sort of way, like eating bread. The improv moments during shows are some of the most fun bits, like when Tim broke spontaneously into a Tripping Daisy chorus while the rest of the band waited patiently. And their covers are fierce. Grab Nirvana’s Lithium, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB, and Wig in a Box here at Deaf Indie Elephants. You can buy covers of Lithium, Tripping Daisy’s Sonic Bloom, and The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way on the EP Wait. And I always love a little Ride Captain Ride.

Side note about the rockin‘ movie (and soundtrack) Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The Spree’s cover of Wig in a Box appears on a benefit album of the same name, along with other covers (by Bob Mould, The Breeders, Frank Black, Sleater-Kinney, Spoon, Ben Folds, and voice by Stephen Colbert long before I knew who he was) of Hedwig songs such as Rufus Wainwright’s pleasant rendition of The Origin of Love.

Tim does an interview with You Ain’t No Picasso, where he talks about his life philosophy and also a subject dear to my heart, albums: “I love making albums. We are in a world of singles and more people are interested in picking little jewels off the record. But for me as an artist, to have my creative worth and feel worthy, it’s got to be more of a concept. It’s got to work all together as one unit in one listen.” And for me as a listener, I can’t grow love for artists or their bodies of work via singles or mp3s on shuffle. Only albums will do.

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Favorite Albums of 2007

I am so incensed by the exclusion of Into the Wild’s soundtrack from year-end lists, I am creating a 2007 best albums list. Everyone else thinks they’re righting the world’s wrongs, too, but so be it.

stellasplice’s favorite albums of 2007:

Boxer ~ The National
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Music for the Motion Picture Into the Wild ~ Eddie Vedder
Buy and Listen

The Shepherd’s Dog ~ Iron & Wine
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Because of the Times ~ Kings of Leon
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Marry Me ~ St. Vincent
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Glory Hope Mountain ~ The Acorn
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Buckle in the Bible Belt ~ Ha Ha Tonka
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Oh, My Darling ~ Basia Bulat
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Music for the Motion Picture Once ~ Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard
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Rust Belt Blues ~ Oliver Buck
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The Stage Names ~ Okkervil River
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These two were quite good, but I unfairly wanted them to be Wolf Parade and The Shins, respectively, so I never could fall for them wholeheartedly:
Random Spirit Lover ~ Sunset Rubdown
Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? ~ Of Montreal (though it is my fav. Of Montreal disc)

I love the following artists. However good their 2007 discs may have been, they did not measure up to the artists’ previous releases, so they have been relegated to addendum status:
The White Stripes
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
José González
Spoon
The New Pornographers
Beirut (he swallowed up Alaska in Winter, too)
Modest Mouse
The Shins
Elliott Smith
The Polyphonic Spree

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St. Vincent and Basia Bulat

St. Vincent and Basia Bulat play only one gig together. It’s in Cambridge, Mass., on the first of March. These female vocalists/guitarists are as endearing as their music is ingratiating, and it should be a killer show.

St. Vincent is Annie Clark. I first saw her try to steal the stage from Tim DeLaughter as she played lead guitar for The Polyphonic Spree. I went home from that show mesmerized by her sprite-like, amped-up stage presence. She’s also worked with Sufjan Stevens. But now Annie stands, self-composed and ethereally intense, in front of the mic by herself. She’s adorable acoustic, sure, particularly in bed. But when she plugs in her guitar, a fire sparks to life in your chest. See some videos here on her website, but the best is the 15 minute film at Other Music weaving a simple interview with a haunting in-store performance [thanks to Gorilla vs Bear for the tip]. When they zoom in on her, it feels like black and white photography. The cover of Sonny and Cher’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) is NOT to be missed, and it cannot be found on her excellent album, so watch the film.

Sixeyes has had me jazzed for Canadian Basia Bulat‘s U.S. release (coming February 5) for ages. I’ve been collecting the mp3s and viddy-ing the YouTubes, in awe of Snakes and Ladders‘ sweeping, swirling janglyness. Plus, she’s featured in a Volkswagen ad, proving once again that those Germans can nail my particular demographic just as precisely as Kenneth Cole Reaction. Get the album February 5th direct from her label for even cheaper (CD or digital at 15% off) by entering the code basia when you check out. Thanks, Oh My Darling.

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