I’ve typed more words about the Foghorns on this here Blog of Wax than any other band, and this post will certainly add to the digital pile. Their contribution to Ball of Wax 39 is called “If You Can’t Get Lucky Please Get Up,” a nearly eight minute song unlike any other I’ve heard in the almost decade Levi’s been sailing this proverbial ship. The premise, tone, and content of “If You Can’t Get Lucky Please Get Up” are bound to get people worked up. The song tracks a protagonist, presumably a young Bart Cameron, through a pair of frightening encounters with urban predators in pre-Bloombergian New York City. And the song makes very clear that the protagonist is white and both predators are males of color. There’s a lyric in the first third of the song that goes “He says ‘white bitch / gimme that watch'” and “‘if you make me ask you again / you ain’t never getting up.'” Hoo-boy, let’s get into this. Continue reading
“Slim Skeleton” is the third song Colin Ernst has contributed to Ball of Wax in as many volumes. As with his previous contributions, Ernst steeps “Slim Skeleton” in a mix of absurd humor and Kurt Weill-esque cabaret music. The result is pretty distinct, evoking both Frank Zappa and music from the Muppet Show (though, really, what’s the difference between the two? That the Muppet band had the good taste not to write songs in 11/16? BURN!). Anyhoo, it’s an expressive, cartoonish piece that opens with Ernst talking in a grumpy Muppet voice, a truncated line from Hamlet, some ambient noise and a slide whistle before the song even really starts. Once “Slim Skeleton” kicks off, you get a bouncy circus groove contrasted with a first-person testimonial from a skeleton (the aforementioned Slim) about the existential injustice of being dead. While Ernst sings, “how cruel that one can / just disappear, no dignity,” the music sounds like something from a children’s TV show from a bygone era. There’s a Halloween novelty song ending that adds a nice twist to “Slim Skeleton,” showcasing, once again, Ernst as one of Ball of Wax‘s most idiosyncratic songwriters.
Tucker Theodore is another brand new addition to the Ball of Wax fold (although he did previously appear on Volume 21 as a member of the dear, departed These Creatures). Tucker was referred to me by the same Friend of BoW who sent Joseph Allen Beltram my way, and despite their stark differences, the two artists seem to me like two sides of the same coin. The core elements of both of their contributions to this volume are the same – acoustic guitar, a man’s voice, some slide guitar – but the differences between the two provide a perfect illustration of how much you can do with so little. From songwriting to production to performance, “Thoughts and Chain” couldn’t be more different from “Meditation in D.” Where Beltram’s tune provides blurred edges to soothe and warm while its constant strumming propels you forward, “Thoughts and Chain” gives us hard corners and open spaces. The minimally picked acoustic guitar, later replaced by sludgy electric, distorted vocals and blown-out drums; the song draws you in, puts you on edge, and then smacks you upside the head. In the best possible way, of course.
Tucker’s band Nightlife will be another act at the Ball of Wax 39 show who’s not technically on the CD. Whereas Shannon Jae splintered off from Spit Shine and will be performing solo, Tucker Theodore has fleshed out his solo project with some collaborators, and will likely be delivering quite a ruckus to Conor Byrne next Saturday.
We have a couple of artists performing at the Ball of Wax 39 show on March 7th under names that don’t actually appear on the CD. One of these is Shannon Jae, whose spine-tingling voice is the centerpiece of this particular tune, written and recorded in Nashville with the short-lived group Spit Shine. “Oh My Love,” despite the low-fi recording, comes across as a rich, stirringly performed folk song, all full-throated harmonies and guitars and fiddles and banjos and love and loss. This is one of those songs that once you’ve heard it seems always to have existed – is it possible one person wrote it, or did it just emerge fully formed into the world while no one was looking? Okay, now I’m getting all weird and hippie-dippy; you can see what this song has done to me. Suffice it to say, Nashville’s loss is most certainly Seattle’s gain; Shannon’s achingly beautiful songs and voice are a welcome addition to the local scene, and I can’t wait to see her kick off the show next Saturday night!
Doby Watson is an artist I’ve known about for a decade or so, from back when he used to go by the name Boo Hiss and release music on Tract Records (like this and a split EP with the mighty, departed Grumpy Bear – Tyler and Latney foreva!) [Not to mention his appearance way back on Ball of Wax 3, which we’ll be digging up from the archives soon. -ed]. While seemingly a bedroom indie folk-ish artist, he hustled with Boo Hiss and got his name out there a bit. I saw Doby on tour while I was living in Austin (at Beerland I think) and may have even reviewed something of his on some long gone website/blog or another. Until Levi sent me over this track from Ball of Wax 39, though, I’d pretty much lost track of Doby Watston. I’m happy to hear that he’s still making music and has developed a bunch since his days of lo fi releases on homemade CDR labels (which is what hip kids in the ’00s did before they decided to do lo fi homemade cassette releases again).
“Pick Up” is really straight ahead country music, the kind I might normally tune out for its strict orthodoxy (I’m a yankee with more occidental tastes, sorry country dudes). But the sparse arrangement and Doby’s strong, clear voice pulled me in, which is a good thing because the opening line is a killer. If you’re going to write a sad love song in a traditionalist county music style, do yourself a favor and start it with lyrics as good as “I don’t often place / my hand on your thigh / but you know when I do / that I’m about to lie.” “Pickup” is a really strong, really compelling song. Not normally my bag, but like Robert Ellis’ best stuff, I can totally get on board with contemporary country ballads done this well.
Cleveland’s (soon to be Seattle’s) Joseph Allen Beltram has quickly become a BoW regular. He first joined us with a swoony love tune on Volume 35, and “Meditation in D” marks his third contribution since then. This is an older, unreleased track, featuring Beltram’s now-familiar rich baritone and densely strummed acoustic guitar, backed by the estimable instrumental rock outfit The Six Parts Seven (who played a similar role behind one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Richard Buckner, on a tour that I regret missing to this very day). Lots of reverb and syncopation, an ocean of D, a little slide guitar . . . that’s a whole lot of musical sweet spots for me. I hope the full album that spawned this tune sees the light of day some time soon.
Port Townsend’s Coast is another new band to Ball of Wax, and another band so new to the world that they didn’t have a name when they first sent me their music. Singer-songwriter (I think?) Spencer Johnson is accompanied by three members of the roots rock outfit Cold Comfort (including, full disclosure, Dekker Deen, who also plays drums in my own band) on this breezy pop track, tastefully produced and arranged, with hooks to spare. Coast is an appropriate name for this project, both geographically and musically: We Seattleites like to think we live on the West Coast, but PT is a heck of a lot closer. The music itself (evocative somehow of that other state that takes up most of this coast) seems to coast along smoothly under its own power; just click the play button and let it do its thing, and then try to get it out of your head.
I think Coast is making their live debut – certainly their Seattle debut – at the Bow 39 show on March 7th. I’m looking forward to seeing their sparkling tunes roughed up a little bit in the live setting.
Our old friend Jon Rooney takes a bit of a left turn with this newest Virgin of the Birds track, which fits very nicely in the electro-chill section of Volume 39 in which we find ourselves. Not unlike the Harvey Girls track Jon just reviewed, “In the ’90s” has a hazy, languid feel, although instead of the sadness that seeps through that track, we have pure, unadulterated nostalgia (which is maybe a form of sadness? discuss). There is something about the decade in which one entered one’s twenties that has an undeniable pull on a person. Since Jon and I share that decade, this track speaks to me without the need of translation, though for some of you it might be the ’70s, or the ’00s, or even the very teens we currently occupy. That decade can feel like a place, which is what Jon turns it into here, a place we wander in search of lost loves, friends, and name-brand outer garments. “In the ’90s,” he sings, “you were gold.” Weren’t we all?
The Harvey Girls, who first contributed to Ball of Wax with volume 38, are back for volume 39 with “The Long Haul,” which also closes their 2014 full length release, Complicated Lady. “The Long Haul” has a mellow, spacey vibe, with vocals layered on top of a fluffy bed of electric piano, bubbling bass and occasional bursts of percussion, wah-wah electric guitar and synth-y bleeps. Despite the Stereolab-ish feel of the instrumentation, the song strikes me as a dramatic ballad, a torch song in an anachronistic setting. Vocalist Melissa Rodenbeek sings this like a lonely cabaret burner, injecting otherwise straight-ahead chill out music with a sultry sadness. Over the course of almost five minutes, “The Long Haul” seems content to mostly drift and sway through a repeating three chord sequence rather than shift gears or built to any sort of climax. More meditation than pop song, “The Long Haul” offers an interesting change up to volume 39.
Ball of Wax 39 contains songs from a bunch of new artists – some of them so new that they didn’t have band names when they initially submitted their songs. One of those artists, Taylor Delph, contacted me out of the blue with a few tracks he’d recorded and wasn’t sure what to do with – which is exactly why I started this whole thing in the first place, so thank you Taylor – and I believe only named his project Lost Wisdom just before I needed that info for the physical CDs.
On “Who’s from Aleppo Again?,” Delph takes one simple chord progression and milks it for all it’s worth (one of my favorite approaches), adding and subtracting layers, building complexity, weaving melodies and harmonies and mysterious lyrics into a blissful three-minute chillout. This is the kind of track that John Cusack could cue up in his record store and say “I’m about to sell five copies of Ball of Wax 39.” Heads would start nodding, wallets would open, and the coffers of Ball of Wax would be $13.75 richer (after the store takes its cut). I don’t know if this blog post will have the same effect, but I’m open to it. (Click here to buy BoW 39!)
Lost Wisdom is unfortunately not playing the BoW 39 release show on March 7th, but hopefully Taylor will be out there playing live soon.