Friday, March 30, 2012

Burning the Rulebook: The Who's "Live at Leeds"

In 1986 or so, the very first CD I ever bought was It's Hard by The Who. For quite awhile, it was the only album by The Who I owned, which astounded the more devoted fans I met. In retrospect, it is probably not the strongest entry in The Who's overall canon, but the incredible Eminence Front buoyed the rest of the album and kept it regular rotation on my high school playlist.  In truth, the song is little more than a groovy jam with some lyrics and a minimal bridge.  Considering the incredible songwriting talents that Townshend had developed by this point in his career, close scrutiny makes it seem a little vapid.  As is often the case, however, The Who as a group sell it through impassioned performances and incredible musicianship.

A decade or so later, I was playing in a band called Fletcher. My bandmates were fans of The Who and had a much deeper understanding of their back catalog than I. Under their influence, I backed into the albums that defined The Who in their prime. The drummer suggested that I check out Live at Leeds,  but back then, with the exception of Zappa's releases, I considered live rock albums as ancillary entries to a band’s studio output.  The Who’s approach to staying relevant at the 60s drew to a close, however, revolved around their live persona. The Beatles may have defined themselves by burrowing deeper into the studio, but The Who is remembered as being a top live rock act – perhaps the best there ever was.

Because it’s such a compelling document of them in 1970, Live at Leeds an essential recording for understanding what The Who was really about. Classic tunes like Substitute and I’m a Boy are injected with a kinetic energy that is nothing short of transcendental, which renders the studio versions of these songs comparatively sterile and limp. The version of My Generation featured on Live at Leeds effectively ends after about two minutes, after which Townshend navigates the band through a thunderous fifteen minute exploration of material from throughout their catalog. Although this performance seems very spontaneous, under Townshend’s intuitive leadership the band remains tight and focused, avoiding the loose noodling that epitomizes most jams.

Every member of the band is at the top of their game on Live at Leeds, but I think paying respect to Keith Moon’s drumming is in order.  He’s another example of a musician whose style could not be learned in an academic setting, but must have been cultivated in experience.  Its amazing that with such an impulsive approach, he doesn't rush more than he does.  Of course, my immature prejudice against 60s music embarrassingly constrained my view of the band's important history to the short period with Kenney Jones as drummer, so Moon really blew my mind when I started to understand his idiosyncratic technique.  In he end, Live at Leeds ended up being more than an exception to my weird rulebook - it demolished several chapters and provided a whole new perspective on what is now one of my favorite bands.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless"and B-Rate Horrors

The primary agenda of Horror Remix is to take stereotypically clichéd B-rate horror movies and edit them down to just the kills and pertinent dialogue, but it also often features music and video mashups. I have discovered several great bands through Horror Remix shows, not the least of which is M83.  A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a Halloween party that also doubled as a private screening. It was here that I first took notice of My Bloody Valentine when the Best Man commented on the similarities in their sound to Mew, one of many bands that openly cite them as an influence. 

When I finally picked up Loveless a few years later in 2009, however, I just couldn’t get it to click. The vocals seemed too buried and out-of-balance to hold my attention. Still, Loveless held some fascination with me because ever since then, the album has been caught in a loose, elliptical orbit in my player, showing up once every few months.

Recently, I came across a review that reframed the overall statement and subsequent influence of Loveless in my mind. So, on a pleasant afternoon during spring break, the Little One and I went for a walk on a trail behind our apartment and I decided to again try to give it a focused listen, this time on headphones

Considering the context for Loveless is imperative. It came out in 1991 when I was a freshman at UNT. In the summer of that year, I had a job at the Hasting’s in Barton Creek mall. Nirvana would not break for a few more years, but there was a feeling that the sound of the 90s was yet to be defined.  During this gig, I was opening my ears to Public Enemy’s complex sampling approach and the possibility that Nine Inch Nails was more than just a dance band.  Generally, though, I was still predisposed to the technical and conceptual prowess of progressive rock.  I was certainly not in a place where I could decode My Bloody Valentine's innovations.

In retrospect, there wasn't anything else that sounded like Loveless.  It represents an entirely different concept of balance than I would have accepted back then.  Despite the overall “loudness” of the album, the voice’s placement in its opaque wall of sound is actually quite fragile. The vocals are immediately perceptible, but the details of timbre paradoxically blend in with, and are swallowed up by, the surrounding environment. Like a fish swimming under the icy surface of a frozen lake, they are intentionally submerged in a unique, delicate world just below the surface.

Headset listening is often a disorienting experience. Wearing Loveless as a halo of distortion as I walked a trail devoid of human presence jarringly inverted the ratio of sound to silence. The album’s impenetrable guitar sheen gave me the sensation that I was beset from all sides. As the trees choked out the sky, I began to feel a slightly paranoid (and protective of the Little One) about whatever clichéd B-rate horror movie monster might be lurking in the bushes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March Roundup: Your Cat Needs Prozac

Photo Credit: Kate Wurtzel
Up until recently, I have had reason to believe my cat Mork is immortal. At sixteen years old, he is still incredibly spry and holds his own against his canine brother, who is well over forty pounds bigger and decade his junior. One of Mork’s more annoying quirks is that he has always been a bit vocal, especially at night. In the past, I’ve just administered aquatic therapy (aka, the squirt bottle) and after a couple of days he gets the hint. Recently, though, it’s been bad – really bad. He’s been wailing from 2-4 in the morning, and even dumping full glasses of water on him has done little to change his attitude.

If it was just me I would simply be annoyed. With the Little One on board, however, the situation is simply unacceptable, so I took Mork to the vet to see if there was a physical cause for this behavior. Several hundred (painful) dollars later, we out that he is incredibly healthy for a cat his age, he’s just going senile. While this paints a pretty pathetic picture, the lowdown is still lost hours of sleep and added hours of frustration. The veterinarian is sympathetic to our problem, however, and seems to understand that we want to do what we can for old Mork the Immortal as long as it is effective and sustainable. So my cat is on Prozac now. No kidding,

On to the roundup:

Carl OrffCarmina Burana: Listening to this one for perspective on the band arrangement I’m teaching the kiddies. In spite of the liturgical immensity of this piece, the lyrics to this work center disturbingly on the secular topics of envy and lust for power.

Yamantaka // Stereo Titan - YT//ST: This group stands on the precipice of doing something genuinely novel, but still approachable. YT//ST has the dubious honor, however, of containing the first track that the Little One has ever consistently objected to.

The Who - Live at Leeds: If you've only heard the studio versions of their pre-1970 hits, you are missing out. Live at Leeds is one of the few live rock albums that I accept as a classic.

Hello = Fire: Dean Fertita is one of the "other" Raconteurs, and after spending several years on my list as an expensive import, his solo project finally came up under $10. Its middle-of-the-road “Sloanishness” was, unfortunately, a little disappointing as a whole.

John Coltrane - Giant Steps: Although you don't have to be a jazz expert to like Giant Steps, being acquainted with jazz theory certainly deepens the experience. I couldn't do what he does, but I can definitely appreciate (and be amazed) by it.

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless: After a two-year holding pattern, album is finally starting to click for me. Hailed as an influential classic by a host of 90s guitar bands, Loveless is indeed something different entirely than anything else that was happening at the time.

Stereolab - Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night: Bright, sunny, 60s style bubblegum pop crossbred with European lounge psudeo-jazz noodles. As a whole, the album is a bit overlong, but it certainly never grates.

Rush - 2112: On the merits of the title track alone, easily one of Rush's best works. Part of me did not want to move on to Farewell to Kings, but in the interest of time, I chose not to linger.

Rush - A Farewell to Kings: Rush opened up their sonic palate on this album and fully embraced the prog-rock paradigm. Keyboards played a more prominent role, and Peart's drumset expanded to include a variety of orchestral percussion.

Field Music - Plumb: For me, Field Music is the new Jellyfish. Plumb is an amazingly deep example of the work that still needs to be done in the power pop genre.

Dungen - Ta det lungt: I stumbled across this album several years ago at the same time I discovered Mew. I had good luck that year.

The White Stripes - Elephant: I've never really gone wrong with a White Stripes album, but Elephant is my favorite. Jack White writes consistently killer tunes and unapologetically delivers them, grit and all.

Frank Zappa - Waka Jawaka: This is one of Zappa's largely instrumental releases from the mid-70s. If you get Zappa’s distinctive stream-of-consciousness approach to melody, you'll love this album.

And one last album that is not represented on the playlist:

Beardfish - Mammoth: Unfortunately, this album exemplifies what I find tiresome about so much contemporary progressive rock. Even though it has funny time signatures and instrumental noodling, there doesn't seem to be much to hold on to.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Coltrane's "Giant Steps:" Spontaneously Laying it Down

I’m on Spring Break this week, but by a lot of people’s standards, I usually don’t do a whole lot. Obviously, the days of sticking to Velcro walls in Padre Island are long over (a story with its own soundtrack that may one day be worth recounting). These days, I usually find the “staycation” just as cathartic. It feels good to wake up to no alarm, drink coffee, and decide what I am going to do based on whatever I feel like doing.

This year is a little more complicated, however, because I also get to play “Mr. Mom” with the Little One. This in no way a complaint - during the school year, I often drop her off in the morning and don’t get to spend much quality time with her until bedtime. I am grateful for the opportunity to hang with her all day. Now we “hit the town” together, but taking into account naptime, feeding, and general mood swings, I have to plan my “spontaneity” a little bit more carefully than in the past.

This afternoon, I spontaneously decided to cook one of my absolute favorite paleo dishes for lunch: yam and sausage hash. My vegan/vegetarian wife is a little apprehensive about the meat in this dish, so when I’m cooking just for me, it’s kind of a special treat. The Little One and I took a trip to Whole Foods for the ingredients to this easy recipe:

-Grate 2 yams (food processor makes this quick)

-Brown 1 lb sausage

-Put it all in a skillet with some coconut oil and cinnamon

-Cook it all up

-Mack it down

When we got back, the Little One played happily with a variety of sound-making apparatus, I filled the house with the smell of cinnamon and sweet potatoes, and we listened to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.

She, of course, is an old expert in jazz by now. The very first album she ever heard in open air was Kind of Blue. As great as that album is, Giant Steps is another beast entirely. I’m a decent improviser, but if you asked me to play over any of the songs in Giant Steps, I would humbly decline. I know just enough to know that there is no way that I could fake my way through these amazing songs. The studies that I have engaged in, however, have provided me enough of an ear for what “sounds right” to really appreciate Coltrane’s incredible mastery over both his instrument and his contributions to jazz theory.

Giant Steps represents the pinnacle of harmonic complexity in "traditional" jazz. The main melody its title track is catchy and simple, but it skips across a set of chord progressions that are fiendishly complex. Hold on tight:

When improvising, a jazz musician has to spontaneously juggle a complex musical vocabulary based on jazz tradition and the harmonic potentials offered by the song. After thousands of hours of practice, the best improvisers cultivate an awareness of these potentials, intuitively setting up and targeting the notes that sound good in any given key. This is an incredibly difficult skill set to master, even on a relatively standard song form in a common key.

Coltrane devised a logic for a distinctive flavor of harmonic complexity, successfully crafted it into a working song, and proved that it worked by improvising over it with unparalleled fervor. Giant Steps changes keys virtually every measure, each with its own set of tendencies and potentials. Professionals and college professors have, at the very least, a healthy respect for playing an effective solo over its changes.

Coltrane continued to explore the potential in his harmonic approach throughout Giant Steps, sometimes in entirely different settings. On the unbelievably beautiful ballad Naima, Coltrane explores the saxophone’s unique timbral potential. From the very first note to the very last, Coltrane’s saxophone cries on Naima. This version below is much more aggressive at times than the studio recording, but it also shows the incredible range of sounds that Coltrane had in his toolbox at the time, not to mention his astounding rhythm section.

The master plan while Coltrane was laying it down this afternoon was to eat, strap the Little One to my chest, and go for a walk on a local hiking trail. Before the album finished, however, and before I finished my lunch, the Little One had fallen asleep. She spontaneously became the one laying it down, so to speak. So much for plans – perhaps a rerun of original series Star Trek is in order.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan: Killing the Buddha With Noise

For a fan of both Japanese culture and prog rock, Yamatanka//Sonic Titan seems to be a dream come true. From behind Noh-inspired stage makeup and elaborate stage sets, they emit a compelling contemporary experimental rock sound that has a noticeable Japanese flavor. But conceptually, they are far more complicated than merely being a Japanese band. In actuality, Yamatanka//Sonic Titan’s members are a collective of Asian-Canadian musicians whose constructed image is not just Japanese, but an open challenge their own pan-Asian authenticity. This heavy-handed ideology could easily ring hollow if the band didn’t deliver musically, but ultimately Yamantaka//Sonic Titan’s alchemic genre-jumping crystallizes into a distinctive statement.

Despite being comprised of a pastiche of styles, their debut YT//ST maintains a respectable coherency. The album opens like the soundtrack to a rainy anime film, recalling rolling credits from Ghost in the Shell and Akira. Although this attention to atmosphere persists throughout, YT//ST''s overall palate is much broader than pentatonic and open 5th soundscapes. Yamatanka//Sonic Titan also subverts the meditative qualities of their Buddhist upbringing with noise, sometimes resulting in an intensity comparable to Battles, Tool’s deeper cuts, or, at times, perhaps even the assaulting noise rock of the Boredoms. YT//ST mostly unfolds between these extremes, however, creating a challenging riff-injected shoegaze dream-pop reminiscent of Mew and early Radiohead with just a sprinkle of proggish organ pyrotechnics for good measure.

Yamatanka//Sonic Titan’s explicit mission statement is to incorporate and reinterpret cultural material from groups whose traditions have been pushed aside by modernity. It may seem that the day for stage makeup has passed, but like Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, YT//ST stands on its own while the band’s performance art enhances, rather than replaces, their music. The stage presence and meditative drones that Yamantaka//Sonic Titan employ might be met with confusion out of context, but have a deeper meaning when couched from within their overall concept.

On YT//ST, the band’s members explore the authenticity of their own Asian descent in a contemporary Western framework, and in the process create an intriguing debut that delivers on multiple levels.  From a certain point of view, music has an inherent responsibility to challenge the listener with social issues. Yamantaka//Sonic Titan don’t try to speak for these groups in the rather blunt way that U2, Midnight Oil, or other politicized bands might.  Instead, they mine their own hybridized identities as resources for inspiration, attempting to synthesize something both novel and meaningful.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Year in Rush Part 2: Evolution of the Suite

The artistic success of Fly by Night bought Rush some degree of notoriety, earning them touring collaborations with big name 70s acts like Kiss and Blue Oyster Cult. They also earned the expectation of a distinctive and challenging follow-up. Their third album, Caress of Steel, was a particularly ambitious effort, and reveals the band navigating extreme tensions. Influenced by the commercial success of their touring partners, the album features three short-form songs.  Judging by their placement at the beginning of the album, these tracks were most likely intended for the masses as "singles."

Alternatively, the band's increasing interest in progressive rock generated two long, multi-movement suites. Long-form songs are necessarily formed of multiple musical ideas, and the best ones seamlessly flow from one to another. At this point, Rush had arguably not quite mastered the compositional nuance to feature suites so prominently. For example, the side-spanning six-movement epic Fountain of Lamneth shows its seams.  It seems more like a collection of ideas than a single composition.  However, it also contains some of the most amazing performances and poignant moments on Caress of Steel. Rush’s more emotive side emerges on Movement III: No One at the Bridge when the lyrics and music converge on a particularly despondent moment in the storyline.

The Fountain Of Lamneth by Rush on Grooveshark

As adventurous as Caress of Steel was, it is probably most infamous for nearly sinking Rush's career before it really started. It did not go over well commercially, but I don’t think that it is a bad album by any means. It is probably fairly judged as one of the less cohesive entries in Rush’s catalog, and was definitely a necessary experiment in the band’s development.

The band was under record company pressure to produce a major hit or lose their backing, so 2112 was a particularly bold statement for Rush. The album opened with whooshing synthesizers, announcing a side-long, seven movement suite - a decidedly uncommercial move!   Although the Fountain of Lamneth was its equal in terms of length, the compositional strengths of 2112 made it far more coherent and masterful than its predecessor.

Movement I: Overture was a key component to this cohesion (and another manifestation of the influence of The Who - Tommy, anyone?),  It included and expanded on themes that arise throughout the long-form composition, tying them together into a truly incredible self-contained instrumental journey that also happens to introduce the listener to the entire long-form piece. The 2112 Overture also seemed to be where Rush realized the power hidden in their instrumental voice.

There are also several short-form songs after 2112, and they are all vast improvements on Caress of Steel’s “singles.” They are, admittedly, difficult to take in after 2112. Listening back to the album after quite awhile, I forgot about a couple of them. One that I did remember, however, was the song Tears, which has a mellotron-drenched texture that is unique in Rush’s catalog.

Tears by Rush on Grooveshark

2112 was released in 1976, a mere two years after their debut, and Rush’s progress in this short time was nothing short of staggering. The band's momentum during this time generated a desire to explore and innovate that would continue throughout their career. Most fans will agree that 2112 marks the beginning of Rush’s “Golden Age.” The issue that is a matter of some debate is - when did their “Golden Age” end?

The previous post in this series is here.
The next post in this series is here.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Field Music's "Plumb:" It's Bigger on the Inside

Towards the end of February, most teachers are looking forward to Spring Break. For me, however, the time leading up to the break was bittersweet and tempered with anxiety. The week before the break, my middle school band competed in the UIL Concert and Sightreading contest. For a superior rating, the students have to exhibit that inexplicable confluence of instinct, feeling, detail, and tradition that we sometimes bundle within the catchall term “musicality.”

I have the sometimes daunting task of teaching students to access their musicality. It can be taught superficially through description and imitation, but ultimately, it is cultivated in an inner awareness through practice and reflection. Some argue that there are levels of musicality are the result of talent and instinct, and therefore just can't be taught. I don't fully ascribe to this theory, but some musicians do seem to have a natural ease that is perplexing. One such case is David and Peter Brewis, the creative core of the band Field Music. On their newest release Plumb, they push their musicality even further than on their 2011 favorite Measure, perhaps with no limit in sight.

Field Music’s sound bears an undeniable resemblance to XTC, a band that I usually backhandedly describe as “clever.” Field Music is far, far beyond being merely clever. Like that classic 90s band Jellyfish, the Brewis Brothers have incredible chops and a distinctive musical concept, but these qualities are always employed in service to the song. At times, their musicianship rivals that of 70s prog stalwarts like Gentle Giant and Happy the Man, but their distinctively English emphasis on accessible melody allows them to avoid holding the listener at arm’s length. For lack of a better term, Plumb could be conveniently described as "prog-pop."

Plumb is a bit short, but it’s like the TARDIS – it’s bigger on the inside. It seems mathematically impossible that fifteen two to three minute songs should fit into its half-hour running time, but not a moment is wasted. Although Plumb’s stream-of-consciousness exploration of power pop is certainly nonstandard, it is certainly not non-sequitur or random. There is a connection and flow to its vast array of ideas. The experience is a bit like listening to the second side of The Beatles' Abbey Road, when several succinct tracks miraculously cohere into a singular statement. My only complaint is that using the single track (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing as the closing song sort of lacks a feeling of finality. Still, if I ever wrote a song half as successful as this one, I would be pleased to put it anywhere.

The kind of musicianship found on Plumb probably can’t be taught. It’s far too creative to be learned in an academic setting. It can, however, be learned through experimentation and reflection after a certain musical foundation is established. These basic concepts could take many forms, but once in place a musician can potentially bootstrap themselves into unique and idiosyncratic musical expressions. I would be beyond proud to find out that one of my students had the initiative to eventually find a creative outlet like Field Music.

They will, however, have to make it through contest first.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Snapshot of Fort Worth 2005: Benson and the Stripes

 In 2005 my Then-Girlfriend-Now-Wife got a job at a museum in Fort Worth. I was still teaching in Krum and working on my master’s at UNT, so long story short, I spent a lot of time burning up the highway between Denton and the apartment she was renting close to the museum. Naturally, with increased time spent in the car, there was a specific soundtrack that I now associate with this commute and the life that surrounded it. What is interesting in retrospect is that, although I knew of no connection between these two artists at the time, their paths would soon artistically cross.

If you saw my previous post, you’d know that I am a Brendan Benson O.G.  I picked up his first album on a whim when it came out in the late 90s, but it had been quite a while since I had heard anything from him when The Alternative to Love came out that spring (by the way, a new one from Benson comes out this year!). As a fan, I was very pleased with its polish, and it seemed that Benson’s already amazing songwriting skills were evolving. It was in rotation for a pretty significant chunk of time, so listening back to this album brings back pleasant episodes of afternoons and early evenings at the museum district in Fort Worth.  As with all of Benson's work, The Alternative to Love is a gem from beginning to end, but this one tugs at me a bit.

Her apartment was very close to the arts district, and subsequently, the downtown Fort Worth area. After work, we would often go out and frequent the restaurants in the area, in particular the Fox and Hound. This faux-pub chain had dartboards and the polished wood aesthetic that we found appealing at the time. Also, they had huge, multi-screen displays cranking out videos. Brendan Benson didn't have the big media backing to warrant that kind of airplay, but I sincerely thought that The Alternative to Love had the potential to break him into a wider audience. 

Around the same time, however, I got into The White Stripes. I had been hearing their name whispered in the shadows for a couple of years, and after doing a little research, Elephant ended up being my entry point. Jack White’s obvious talent and charisma quickly won me over (and allowed me to overlook Meg White’s lurching sense of time). Elephant ended up being a favorite that year, and one that, in retrospect, was unwittingly mainstream. I did not realize just how visible the White Stripes were until I saw this video thrown up on the Fox and Hound video wall one night.

Benson’s neo-romantic pop brings back memories of the days in Fort Worth, but The White Stripes conjure up the nights. After dinner, her apartment, though quite accessible to the downtown area, was also incredibly accessible to crazy beings from the afterlife. It was as haunted as I’ve ever seen, and at night it came alive, so to speak. It had cold spots, creaky hard wood floors, bizarre sounds, and other phenomena that just made you want to jump out the window. I don’t know how she slept there.

Later in 2005, my Aiki Brother walked into the dojo one day and announced that Jack White and Brendan Benson were collaborating on a project. We now call that project the Raconteurs, an album with its own story.

As an epilog, this was also during the time that I was working as a TA for UNT. One morning, the professor was running uncharacteristically late and we were instructed to stall. We were able to keep everyone in their seat thanks to a new, young little thing called YouTube. I threw up the video for The Hardest Button to Button and then followed it up with this little gem.

I still think I deserved a bonus for staying in the lines on that one.  After all, the class was titled "Popular Music and American Culture."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Steven Wilson's "Grace for Drowning" in the Real World

The death of the record store is a tragic loss for the music fan as a site for cultural exchange, especially as we become increasingly specialized in our listening tastes. I was fortunate to pick up Grace for Drowning at the closeout sale of a local record store. When I brought it to the counter, the clerk's face lit up.  I stuttered through a conversation about Steven Wilson's genius that I never thought I would have with a living, breathing being, distracted by the knowledge that encounters like this are irreplaceable in the virtual realms.

Like the clerk, I am astonished by the amazing breadth of Wilson's work, but his sprawling output is somewhat challenging to my listening categories. I was introduced to Wilson through his prog band Porcupine Tree, so historically I have viewed everything else he has done as a side project. In truth, Porcupine Tree is a relatively small component of Wilson’s oeuvre. Nevertheless, whatever he touches seems immediately essential to understanding his overall concept.

In recent years, however, Wilson has taken a further step – cultivating a solo career. Cut free from the confines of collaboration or expectation, Grace for Drowning spills free of the boundaries set by a singular project. Its broad, orchestral palate pits choirs against grunts and orchestras against post-industrial studio manipulations, and its dissonance overlaps harmonically advanced metal with jazz fusion. On a Porcupine Tree album, these extremes might be cause for alarm, but within the context of a solo album, they reveal the breadth of Wilson’s imagination.

Wilson is probably one of the only progressive rock artists out there that is able to avoid cliché and nostalgia in major doses, but whose work is identifiably in the genre. It’s true that there are many progressive rock bands out there that are infatuated with the sound of their predecessors, but not as many capture the ideology of exploration that lies at the roots of the prog tree. Steven Wilson, however, gets it, and although he shows hints of his influences to those that are in the know, overall is work is distinctively moody and intellectual.

When I gave Grace for Drowning its first serious listen a couple of weeks after picking it up, I was on my annual trip to San Antonio to attend the Texas Music Educator’s Association convention. TMEA is usually a conflicting combination of inspiration and frustration for me, and despite being surrounded by like-minded people and networking opportunities, it can sometimes be a lonely experience.

The album's gently self-flagellating melancholy empowered my introverted mood. With Grace for Drowning on headphones, I meandered out of the showroom floor onto the Riverwalk on that overcast February afternoon and, while I ate lunch and watched the bustling crowd, I took that time to appreciate the movement of pigeons begging for food and boats full of people lazily floating down the canals. Perhaps a good number of them were feeling isolated and aloof in the crowd as well, but I doubt that any sought out the odd comfort of Wilson’s resigned loneliness.