The world of blogging can be a funny one sometimes. I spend an inordinant amount of time each day surfing the web for albums that are coming out or shows that are coming up in our wonderful city. When I’m not doing that, I’m listening to a record someone submitted, or preparing what I’m going to write about a band (you can probably tell this last item is what I spend the least time on). I also spend a good amount of time e-mailing publicists and managers trying to get interviews or tickets to shows.
You’d be surprised how often I get replies from people enthusiastic to work with us. You may not be so surprised by the amount of people I never hear back from. But often times there is a trade-off. Some people will give you access to something only if you take a look at something else. It’s part of the world we enjoy, so we deal with it. A lot of the time the artist or album is complete crap.
So, when I sent off my request to see The Mountain Goats on April 5th at The Vic, I wasn’t shocked when I didn’t hear anything for a while. When I did get a response, it wasn’t from the person I had contacted. Tyler was helping Andy out for The Mountain Goats tour, and he was more than happy to oblige my request. Fantastic news because I think John Darnielle is a lyrical genius. His line in the song “This Year” (off of the amazing record The Sunset Tree) that goes “Then Kathy came by and we hung out, trading swigs from the bottle all bitter and clean. Locking eyes, holding hands-Twin high maintenance machines,” is one of my favorites of the past ten or so years.
Well, Tyler had seen on our page that we were going down to SxSw, and he wanted me to check out an artist that was also going to be around, Heidi Spencer and the Rare Birds. There was no pressure, no “If you check these guys out you can go to The Mountain Goats, but if you don’t then go fuck yourself.” Nothing like that. But it’s one of those things that’s understood. So with great tentativeness, I turned on Under Streetlight Glow.
To my surprise and great delight, it turns out this record is fantastic! It exists in no particular space or time, which makes it exist in any time or space. It has a classic sensability that I find refreshing in a time where everyone wants to be new and exciting. Heidi Spencer and the Rare Birds have crafted an album that will please all music lovers for it’s simplicity and beauty.
Listening to the record this morning, I found a comparison that I think will work for a lot of people. This is the album that I wish Fiona Apple had made after her five year hiatus. Not to take anything away from Extraordinary Machine, but I’ve always thought she had a great voice for a bluesier type of music.
The mood is set for Under Streetlight Glow right off the bat with “Alibi.” The song starts with the line “No one needs to know” and continues to tell a tale of clandestine rendezvous involving two lovers unsure of themselves and each other, but ready to take on the world in the name of love. It’s set against a musical backdrop reminiscent of 1950’s-60’s pop music, and it’s hard not to imagine this track actually coming off a compilation album sandwiched between The Four Seasons and The Marvalettes.
Another comparison I was making while listening to this record, and I apologize to anyone tired of my using my own musical references to describe my feelings about this album (if you want the bare bones, I dig it and I think you should pick it up when it streets tomorrow), is Mazzy Starr’s “Fade Into You.” I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved that song when I was younger. I bought the cassette for that one song because Q101 wasn’t playing it nearly enough. I would lay in bed listening and drift off to that elegant, ethereal mix of voice and music constantly, to an almost addictive point.
I get that same kind of feeling listening to Under Streetlight Glow. There is something otherworldly about the vocals that makes it impossible to not float away with the songs. This is never more true than the track “Hibernation.” It may not be the best song on the record lyrically, but the breathy lead vocals and the sweet, haunting backing vocal by Jess Hrobar combine to give it a sound that transcends the genre of folk music or pop music and becomes simple and true and beautiful.
This may have something to do with the fact that all these songs were written as companions to Heidi Spencer’s films that she was working on in film school. There’s something about song being able to push a story forward when it is accompanied by images that is amazing to behold. Think of a great scene in a movie, and then take the music away. It’s awful. The “Sunshine of Your Love” scene in Goodfellas…take out that song, and Scorsese can’t do much but just let DeNiro stand there like a putz (kidding Marty, please don’t have me killed). But, without the aid of visuals, music can take us to places in our minds that we would otherwise never know of.
In the just under 40 minutes that Under Streetlight Glow plays, we get transported to a dark, cold Milwaukee where broken hearts are trying to mend and lonely individuals are looking back over their past and trying to move on. Album closer “Whiskey” contains the following lyrics: “I have nowhere to be, Can I come to you please?” A more yearning and desperate cry could not fit this album better.
Under Streetlight Glow comes out tomorrow, March 29th. I recommend you buy a digital copy for your iPod, and CD for your car, and a cassette or vinyl copy for your parents.