Posts Tagged ‘Halloween’

There’s something about Mirel Wagner’s music that scares the hell out of me.  I don’t say that lightly, because I don’t scare easily.  Sure, there was a brief period where my house creeped me out before the unexplained noises suddenly went away, but as far as books, TV, and music go, I’m not bothered by much.  Unless someone gets beyond the obvious, external trappings of horror and really puts a finger on a different way of thinking. Then things get scary.

Wagner’s music goes to dark places and doesn’t flinch. It even exhibits a playful streak when its narrators describe the very bad things they’ve done or have had done to them.  Imagine Nick Cave but without the bombast or theatrics, Mark Lanegan without the ferryman’s rasp, or acoustic death blues taken to their logical extreme.  Plenty of people might write a murder ballad, but few would go on to imagine what might happen if the narrator never got rid of the body.

Wagner’s songs often feature just her on acoustic guitar with very few, if any, embellishments.  Taken in one full listen, Wagner’s albums can have just a touch of sameness, and some songs don’t reach the same heights/depths as others.  Taken in bits and pieces, though, which may be all some listeners can do given the subject matter, this is often harrowing stuff.

Right now, I’m most struck by the two songs below: “No Death” (from her self-titled debut) and “1, 2, 3, 4” (from her newest, When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day).  It’s Halloween mix-making time, and one of those will definitely be a centerpiece this year.  But also getting a lot of play are “Oak Tree” (told in the voice of someone buried at the base of the tree) and “Red” (about a demonic dance partner).  I’m sure as time goes on, repeated listens to both albums will reveal other songs that insinuate themselves just as well, like dark moonlit vines snaking their way into your skull.

Mirel Wagner, “No Death”


Mirel Wagner, “1, 2, 3, 4”


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A great one in the murder ballad tradition.  Off of 1998’s Hell Among the Yearlings album, “Caleb Meyer”  finds Welch and Rawlings tearing it up in a way that’s become more and more rare for them.  Don’t get me wrong, you’ll hear few complaints from me about their slower, more stately work. 2001’s Time (The Revelator), characterized by long, hypnotic songs, keeps creeping up the list of my favorite albums ever (in the Top 3 as of now).  It’s easily my favorite album of the 2000’s.

To see Welch and Rawlings live is to see a fine-tuned show marked by true chemistry. There’ s the genuinely funny banter, and the sympathetic playing that finds Welch laying down a rock-solid foundation while Rawlings goes off on his patented lickety-split runs (on the flip side, much of Rawlings’s playing is also in service of Welch’s melodies).  They have a lot of great songs, and a lot of fan favorites.  Few of them, though, whip the crowd into a fervor like this one.  Maybe it’s the pace.  Maybe it’s the harmonies.  Maybe it’s the death and the ghosts.  Most likely, it’s all of them coming together in one of Welch and Rawlings’s most inspired songs.

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I don’t know much about Delta Rae yet.  I’ve heard three songs — liked two, didn’t like one.  From those three, I also haven’t decided if this North Carolina-rooted band is rock, country, Americana, or some most-likely-lucrative sweet spot in between.  But I’m definitely willing to give more of a listen to a band that’s willing to let its singers just rear their heads back and wail.  This video’s been making the Internet rounds for a while (and getting a VH1 bump, from the looks of things), and I’m digging the whole witchcraft angle.  Plus this song’s got some serious gumption.

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I’m a big Laura Veirs fan, but this song isn’t very typical of her stuff.  Still, it’s a fun one.  Pretty sure this isn’t an official video (it doesn’t show up on her page).  Have no idea what movie these clips are from, but it looks like some Mystery Science Theatre-grade craziness.

For something a bit more sombre, here’s “Shadow Blues”:

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Falling behind, so a little bit of catchup today.  A full day rebuilding a flooded basement room have me too tired for words (which is probably a good thing, any readers so far are saying).  So a couple of quickies to get caught back up before I get back on my verbose horse on Monday.
My Morning Jacket with “Holdin’ On to Black Metal”:

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Portland, Oregon’s Blitzen Trapper have had their hands in a lot of styles over the years. There’s been some straight-ahead rock, some country, and even some prog rock leanings.  I’ve enjoyed them the most when they’ve settled into an easy-going acoustic rock/country hybrid.

It’s a little unclear whether the narrator of “Black River Killler” kills because he likes it or because he can’t help himself, but it seems like he can’t go a day without putting someone in the grave.  I like the chorus of “Oh when, oh when / Will the spirit come a-callin’ for my soul to send / Oh when, oh when / Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?” because it makes there seem like there’s at least some struggle going on within the killer.  Any hopes for redemption, or even an end to his violence, seem futile, but it at least gives the killer some small amount of depth.

“Furr” is about a man who hears the sounds of wolves, goes to join the pack, and then turns into a wolf himself.  Then love pulls him back into humanity’s fold, although he still fulls the pull of his pack.  And you know what? It’s almost Halloween. Let’s go one further and say we’re talking a full-blown lycanthrope here.

“The Man Who Would Speak True” has a nice folkloric edge. If you’re familiar with the story of Thomas the Rhymer, Thomas is cursed to tell only the truth.  It gets him in some spots of trouble, because people might say they want the truth, but they rarely do.  In the case of “The Man Who Would Speak True,” however, chaos and death follow in the wake of this man who “had no tongue, it had been replaced / By a green and a growing flower which grew / And I knew if I ever spoke, I would speak true.”

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I wish I could tell you more about Laura Marling. I mean, the biographical information is out there: she’s 22 now, but learned guitar at an early age and at the age of 16 moved to London to become part of the nu-folk movement there.  She was a member of Noah and the Whale.  She’s released three albums: 2008’s Alas, I Cannot Swim, 2010’s I Speak Because I Can, and 2011’s A Creature I Don’t Know.

All of that kind of information is out there, but it seems unfair to peg Laura Marling in any way, even if it’s the act of tying her down to her own biography. If you’ve heard her three records, you know that her talent is developing at a rapid rate, almost at a rate too fast to track.  She’s always been good, but she’s really been coming into her own (especially on A Creature I Don’t Know), finding a way to blend the delicacy and darkness, the fragility and the power in her music.  She’s not messing around on the guitar, either.  The more I listen, the more impressed I become.

For the Halloweeny aspect, here’s her video for “Ghosts” (the leadoff track to Alas, I Cannot Swim):

And “Night Terrors” from the same album:

And to give you a sense of where she is these days, “All My Rage ” (just click away the ad to actually be able to see the video).  For argument’s sake, we’ll say this is a Halloween video, too, since the song mentions the Devil and it’s full of creepy dolls).

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