This Saturday, March 30th at 5pm at Fussy Coffee in New Haven, CT there will be a reception/opening and many of my recent paintings will be hanging and for sale. Come party. Hope to see you.
This Saturday, March 30th at 5pm at Fussy Coffee in New Haven, CT there will be a reception/opening and many of my recent paintings will be hanging and for sale. Come party. Hope to see you.
Here is a list of my favorite songs and albums that came out this year. I am going to forget a lot and I will likely have to update this list a few times after I post it. A good deal of music I love this year was made by people I know, so that makes me happy. At this end of this list, I’ll post links to the music I made myself. Rating art is evil, so this is in no particular order.
MGMT - Little Dark Age
The entire album is very good, but this title track is a standout. Unstoppable goth electro pop. The chorus is dangerous. Fave song of the year, maybe?
Lys Guillorn - Tinctoria
If you found a 45 with this song on it in the $1 bin at the record store and bought it home, you’d crank this tune up and it would become an essential part of your life because this song feels like a little secret Lys wrote just for you. Her band gallops with pure wonky tonk style. Don’t skip it.
Rae Morris - Do It
This is the best pop song of the year. Period. And I am utterly confused as to why it wasn’t a massive, smash, worldwide, mainstream hit, though I admit my understanding of the corporate music machine is limited. I have watched this video 7861 times and I still find it compelling. It expertly captures NYC at its most tolerable.
Jeff Rosenstock - Yr Throat
This album swings hard for the fences and makes contact A LOT. This is the most concise and best track on the album. Hope to see him play this live soon so I can scream like a lunatic.
Robert Julian Fronzo released one of my favorite records of the year (more on that in the album section of this list). BUY IT. Three incredible songs of note here:
Huge Ford https://robertjulianfronzo.bandcamp.com/track/huge-ford
Burn The Whole World Down https://robertjulianfronzo.bandcamp.com/track/burn-the-whole-world-down
Dream Before You Wake Up https://robertjulianfronzo.bandcamp.com/track/dream-before-you-wake-up
Okkervil River - Pulled Up The Ribbon
I was a tiny bit let down by this record as a whole considering Okkervil’s last album “Away” was a brilliant and wonderful accomplishment. That said, there are a few really good tracks on this record and this song crushes and like all of Okkervil River’s best songs, I wish I wrote it, but that tenacious little bugger Will Sheff beat me to it yet again.
Landing - Nod
America’s longest running space rock band delivers yet again. Best bass riff of the fucking year.
Meshell Ndegeocello - Smooth Operator
This cover of Smooth Operator is good.
Childish Gambino - This Is America
Really great and powerful song (that was probably ripped off?) full of subtle details one could go on about for a long while. The music video is a remarkable achievement and one of the best I have ever seen. It should be studied in schools.
Childish Gambino - Saturday
Not quite sure why he hasn’t officially released this track yet. As I understand it, this is the only version that exists. Excellent performance and should have been the party track of the year.
Broncho - All Choked Up
This is the kind of band that deserves the money required to buy an expensive publicist who will pay for them to be famous. (That’s how it works these days, but you already know that, right?). Killer tune. Moar cowbell. Entire album is very good.
Jeff Tweedy - I Know What It’s Like
Really pretty song. The world could use more of them.
Snoprah - Yank Riddim
American Elm - Long Road To Be Free
It is indeed a long road to be free. Thank you, Christopher Bousquet for your great songs. Keep em coming.
Damien Jurado - The Last Great Washington State
Hell of a good piece of folk songwriting.
Haley Heynderickx - Jo
This is one of my most listened to tracks of the year and another contendor for my flat-out fave. I’m listening to it right now. This is everything a song is supposed to be. I’m so grateful to have been introduced to Haley’s music this year, because she is one of our finest young singers/songwriters/guitarists. This song is her best and it is STUNNING. Get the whole record now.
Mini Mansions - Bored To Death
Look into this band asap if you have not. Each of their albums have at least 3 classic tunes on them. Again, get these guys a publicist who plays golf with the right rich asshole.
Frank Critelli - The Ghost In My House
Frank is one of our very best pure folk singers and here’s one of his songs I will love for my whole life.
Phoebe Bridgers - Funeral
This song broke my heart permanently.
Phosphorescent - New Birth In New England
Fun tune. As my brilliant wife observed: “Jimmy Buffett for bearded New England dads.” Guilty as charged.
Marissa Nadler - Blue Vapor
Marissa does this sort of tune better than anybody. I am goth now.
Mona Lisa - Lil Wayne (feat Kendrick Lamar)
Two rappers rapping like it is the last rap they will ever rap.
Paul McCartney - Hand In Hand
Best track on his OK new album.
Mitski’s new album is excellent, sure. But I have trouble listening to the whole thing, simply because these two tracks are too fantastic and I just keep listening to them over and over.
Old Friend https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bs3nMPeglk4
Another strong contender for my favorite song of the year.
Me And My Husband https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU_Dbxciei8
When I tell songwriters “Don’t Be Scared” this is what I am talking about. You have to be fearless to write a song like this. Find a video of her playing this live. She can move mountains.
Tropical Fuck Storm - You Let My Tyres Down
I am not Australian, but my understanding is Gareth Liddiard is considered one of the country’s all-time best songwriters and that makes sense to me. If you know anything about his last band (The Drones) you know he’s the real thing. Wicked tune. Turn it up loud. Really weird album.
Witch Hair - Cracked Pavement
This song contains some of my favorite musical moments of the year. You must listen to this song as loud as possible and then do it again and then listen to the whole album three times and then go see Witch Hair because they are one of the best bands doing it.
Kacey Musgraves - Slow Burn
If only all mainstream music was this melodically dense and thoughtfully arranged. A good song. Groovy chords.
Parquet Courts - Almost Had To Start a Fight/In And Out Patience
Guided By Voices - Space Gun
The best GBV song of the year! Trust the wizard!
Prince - Nothing Compares 2 U
Sinead forever, but I’m so thankful he left us this.
Shall we call this a transitional year for the album format? That’s the most generous way to put it I’d say. These are rather dark times for our old friend the album. I know this because even my own listening habits have drawn me away from putting on an entire record and listening front-to-back. Streaming analytics and sales don’t lie: the album is nearly dead. That said, we can and should keep it alive. It’s a worthwhile medium and I, along with the majority of my friends, still work with this format and it remains inspiring to us and we hope, dear listener, to you too. In 2019, consider spending some time with new albums. Try to not skip tracks. Those may one day be your favorite. Give yourself the gift of bringing new albums into your life regularly. We all grew up doing so and were richly rewarded. That doesn’t have to end just because 21st century life tells us we don’t have time to devote to a work of art that takes more than 17 seconds to consume. You are in charge. Reclaim your time. Turn it up.
More Klementines - Self Titled
Our pals from No Line North, Rivener (yeeeeeah!), and MYTY KONKEROR bring us a free-flowing, two-part space jam essential for long drives and fat joints.
The Right Offs - Fire In a Theater
An extremely compelling, energetic, fantastically written & performed EP by New Haven’s best rock band.
Alison Cotton - All Is Quiet at the Ancient Theatre
A mesmerizing collection of solo work that sounds like a glorious ensemble. Some of the most beautiful music I heard this year. Ethereal.
Robert Julian Fronzo - Fanboy Non-Fiction
I had the good fortune or releasing some music on the Pale Blue Records label this year and thankfully, this is how I learned about Robert. This album is filled with concise songs, gorgeous melodies, and fascinating production. Each time I listened to this record this year was time well spent. In his wisdom, Robert is not on social media. If you listen and love this record, send him an email and tell him so. Songwriters appreciate that sort of thing.
Laura, Laura! - Tangy
What even is this album? A masterwork of originality and dream-thinking.
David Crosby - Here If You Listen
Look, this is some smooth-rock production here. If you can handle the adult contemporary-ness of the way this album sounds, you’ll find some of the most beautiful music Croz has ever made. Impeccable arrangements and melodies. Let yourself enjoy this special record.
Thom Yorke - Suspiria (Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film)
I like this better than the last Radiohead record. A few of the actual songs on this soundtrack are some of the best he’s written in many years. The title track and “Unmade” are both stunning songs.
Tyshawn Sorey - Pillars
A towering, colossal achievement in modern music. A visionary work in composition and improvisation.
Haley Heynderickx - I Need to Start a Garden
Haley Heynderickx - Max García Conover
Both Haley’s debut album and this collaborative EP with Max García Conover are joyful and inspiring. She is a magnificent guitarist, a compelling vocalist, and a thoughtful songwriter. I look forward to falling in love with many more of her songs.
Nadja - Sonnborner
Gorgeous, crushing, brutal, atmospheric metal and ambiance from the legends.
Tiny Ocean - Sometime You’re Right
I can’t get enough of Kierstin Sieser’s songs so this album is so damn satisfying. A solid collection of songs that rewards on repeated listens.
Low - Double Negative
If someone said, “This is going to be the last album ever. The album format has now reached it’s logical conclusion.” I would say, “okay.”
Witch Hair - Out on Love
The first of what I hope is many great albums from one of the best live bands out there.
DJ Jazzy Jeff - M3
I know, right? You’re welcome.
Clint Heidorn - Pasadena
A modern, dusty, spaghetti western, gothic masterwork.
Yo La Tengo - There’s a Riot Going On
It’s pretty good! Perfect dinner party record! That’s a compliment!
Chris Corsano / Bill Orcutt - Brace Up!
The best improvisational drummer and the best improvisational guitarist going completely nuts for 32 minutes straight. What’s not to like?
OK! Thank you for reading. Sincerest apologies to the music I loved, but forgot to add to this list.
I hope you try some of this music and enjoy!
Here’s what I made:
Keep the faith. - pb
This Mercy Choir album called Passagreen was released 10 years ago.
When I recorded it (2007), I was living alone in a basement on Orange Street in New Haven. I was directionless in life. Lots of my relationships exploded/imploded. I was mostly sad, but also quietly enthusiastic about the potential for newness and the unknown. I had been working with a 4 piece Mercy Choir lineup, but that was fizzling out. I decided to write some new songs and make some demos to show potential new bandmates. I smoked 6000 cigarettes a day when I was writing/recording this music onto a big, clunky 8 track. There was no one around to tell me otherwise, so I set up every microphone I owned (all cheap junk) and placed them in random spots around the living room. I made a drum set out of books, coffee tables, and pots & pans. I used a $30 plastic acoustic guitar tuned way down. For some reason, the mics, trash mixers, broken pedals, etc were set up just so that when I tapped something with a drumstick, it sounded like an explosion. When I strummed the guitar, it sounded like a banjo on meth. When I sang, I squawked and moaned like a loon on a gray lake. I don’t know if I was losing my mind, but I’m sure my neighbors thought so.
Some of the music is instrumental nonsense that somehow still seems compelling in its twisted way. Some are songs I still play to this day. I put the recordings away and moved on to other things. No bandmate would find direction from these scattered experiments.
A year later, everything changed. I was in New York. New direction. New love. New opportunity. A few new musician friends asked to hear some of my music. I sent them these demos. They encouraged me to collect the best of the tracks and put them out as an album. I’m glad I did. It was the first music I ever made that was real wild. Full Paul Brain Spatter. Nothing I ever made since sounds anything like Passagreen, but I’ve continued to try to make music with that same reckless abandon. For better or for worse, Passagreen was one of the many new beginnings in my adult life. It’s a beautiful, hideous, hilarious mess that I stand behind to this day.
In the past few years, I've written a couple of ebooks about songwriting. These are prompts and tips and thoughts. One day I plan to compile them into a book. In the meantime, I'd like to share them here: http://twitter.com/pleasewritesong and here: http://www.instagram.com/pleasewriteasong/
Please follow and share with a songwriter you love.
Hi friends. I hope you are all having a nice summer. It's very humid all the time and everything in my house is wet.
I’m very happy to announce my 2nd chapbook “Imperial Pools” will be published by Analog Submission Press (UK) and will be available August 16. Imperial Pools is a long poem/prose/surrealist story/letter about business, love, violence, Chicago, and probably some other stuff! Analog Submission produces very short runs of experimental writing and I’m incredibly thankful they wanted to take on this little book. Only 25 copies made, so plan to grab a copy on August 16, if you wish!
I'll send another email once it's actually available for purchase. I hope you'll consider adding this to your poetry bookshelf.
Here's a sample of what you can find within:
A young cop asked me if he should try LSD. I said why not. He said he
was afraid he’d take it and then discover “it’s all bullshit. Everything is
bullshit. I mean, I carry a gun.”
I bought him a slice of pizza.
His face was full of intricate deformities. Lively bumps and canals in his
skin. His eyes seemed to lean and fall away from his forehead. It would be
so simple to smother him with a pillow. It would be a cinch to beat him to
death with a clarinet. I could replace him with a gadget that opens jars and
cleans windows. He’s my best friend.
Near the Blackwood Theatre in Chicago is where I met my wife Daisy. On
the corner of the street. Now? That corner doesn’t look so nice.
I’ve never been drunk, perhaps that’s why I cry for comfort. Perhaps that’s
why I wait for you, alone and ecstatic. There’s nothing made up here
except for your adventure.
When you showed up at the hospital it seemed excessive. Why now? Why
here? It revealed to me your specialized rage. I wish you’d reveal your
I reach out to you and hiss toward the messy world. You open up your
bloodied arms and we leave together through the emergency exit. We
vanish, glamorous and vague.
The entire book isn't as scary as that one passage. Some of it is funny and maybe even hopeful?
In other news, I've started a new social media account for some of my art. Take a look if you have a moment: http://www.instagram.com/dead_language_art/
I know It's just doodles and stock photos, but I'm doing the best I can with what I have, just like you.
OK, then. Be well. Stay strong. Don't let your meat loaf. Don't let your tuna melt. Be kind and not selfish and bitter, if you can. Thanks for caring. Let me know how you are doing.
The new Mercy Choir EP "More Than Ever" is out now and buyable, downloadable, and streamable on all your favorite music purveyor websites. I recommend bandcamp, because they give the artist the most money, but feel free to ingest it any way you see fit:
This lineup of Mercy Choir (Tim Goselin (guitar), Chris Zollo (keys), Brian Slattery (bass), Bruce Crowder (drums), and Loralee Geil (vocals/percussion) has played many shows together in the past 2 years. We wanted to record a few songs that are just us playing in a room, so we can show people what we've been up to and how we've progressed as a live band. 2 new songs (More Than Ever, Matter of a Fool), 1 new version of a newish song (13th of July), and 1 really old song (Day I Finally Gave You Up).
Scott Amore ((Mark Mulcahy, Butterflies of Love, Famous Problems) threw us in a room and recorded us in a few hrs. That's this EP. I hope you enjoy it.
We'll have a release party tonight at Best Video in Hamden, CT. Hope to see you there.
Additionally, I sat down with Karen Ponzio of the New Haven Independent and talked about the EP, songwriting, the future of Mercy Choir, and a bunch of other stuff.
As always, thanks for paying attention and for the support. Aside from listening, if you wanna help out, please share the album on social media, add the songs to playlists on spotify, and tell everyone how "More Than Ever" is the hottest track of Spring 2018 and probably would have been a hit in the early 90s.
Be well. Stay Strong,
Hello friends. I'm very happy to announce Temporalities, a five-album "digital box set" of solo instrumental music by me, released today by Pale Blue Records.
After my long and (too?) busy year of writing, recording, and performing with Mercy Choir and Rivener, I made this music as a form of self-therapy. Creating this loose, improvisational, abstract music, gave my songwriting and music-business brain a much needed vacation. When this brain-release was complete, I was left with five distinct releases:
Temporalities #1 is music for sequenced synthesizer(s)
Temporalities #2 is music for ring modulated electric guitar
Temporalities #3 is music for piano
Temporalities #4 is music for synthesizer(s) and sampler(s)
Temporalities #5 is music for sine wave synthesizer(s)
Available now on all your favorite digital music streaming/download platforms. Enjoy:
Long time, no talk. I’m writing to let you know about the new Mercy Choir EP “More Than Ever” out 4/6/18 on Twin Lakes Records. You can preorder it and listen to the title track here: https://twinlakesrecords.bandcamp.com/album/more-than-ever
It was recorded at Lyric Hall by Scott Amore (Butterflies of Love, Famous Problems, The Regal Drug, Innerspace Sound Labs). We recorded the music live, with no overdubs, and we r corded the vocals a few weeks later at Mercy Choir Headquarters. We’re really proud of the music and I think it’s a good representation of what we sound like as a band in our current incarnation.
I’m April 6 we will have a release show for the EP that best video in Hamden Connecticut. Our friends little silver will open the show. Here’s more about that event: https://www.facebook.com/events/216097958937040/?ti=icl
In other news, Rivener just played a pretty ripping set at The aforementioned Best Video. We recorded our set and have made it available for pay what you wish download. Have a listen here: https://rivener.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-best-video-performance-space-1-27-18
OK, then. Thanks for listening. More music and information to come.
All the best,
This year I spent some days running full speed towards music and some days running away. Many days it was both. I sure managed to make a lot of it.
I'm certain I'm forgetting about A LOT of new music I loved this year, but nevertheless, here's a list of songs and albums in no particular order. If I remember more, I'll update this post. Scroll to the bottom for a list of the music I had a hand in making. Here's to 2018 being a year of healing. It's possible, I think.
Circuit Des Yeux - Paper Bag
I haven’t heard the entire record yet, but this track is amazing.
JD McPherson - On the Lips
Killer song. A big songwriting leap forward for the young rockabilly fetishist. The rest of the album is occasionally very good too.
Beck - Dear Life
Beck’s occasionally embarrassing attempt to make a modern pop record is salvaged by this pretty piano thing. Dreams is also a legitimate banger. Hail Xenu.
A Savage - What Do I Do
The whole album is really good, but this song is a religion. One of my absolute favorite pieces of music of the year.
Perfume Genius - Just Like love
Perfume Genius - Slip Away
Two of the most gorgeous tracks made by anyone this year.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Resist Much Obey Little
The best track off the newest BJM record. You’re allowed to make as many albums as you want. Anton Newcombe keeps ‘em coming and occasionally strikes black gold.
Slowdive - Don’t Know Why
Slowdive - Sugar For The Pill
Two of the best songs they’ve ever done. I’m so glad to have them back. (The whole album is great, but I haven’t totally digested it yet).
Nine Inch Nails - The Background World
The decimation/fadeout on this track is one of the best musical moments of the year. Insane.
Morrissey - In Your Lap
Morrissey - I Bury The Living
Morrissey - Spent The Day In Bed
These three tracks are exactly like the man himself: beautiful, ridiculous, melodramatic, embarrassing, insightful, romantic, sad, stupid, puzzling.
Quicksand - Illuminant
Sounds exactly like what you’d hope a new, great Quicksand song might sound like. I am 15 again.
King Krule - Dum Surfer
I haven’t even begun to digest this entire record but this song is a masterpiece.
Skeletons on Vacation - Blast Chiller
What a song. Excellent EP released by the great label Pale Blue Records.
Diners - Dear Diane
If you don’t actively search for new music, you might miss a song that you will love for the rest of your life. I’m so glad I still dig deep.
Snoop Dogg - Swivel
This is my favorite hip hop track of 2017. I don’t know what to tell you.
Bjork - Arisen My Senses
The whole album is startlingly good, but I haven’t listened to it much because I keep playing this track over and over.
Famous Problems - Riot Reunion
This is my favorite song of 2017. It swept me up and took me away. It’s so hard to write a song like this. This band is made up of ex-members of The Butterflies of Love and I can’t wait for their full length LP in 2018.
Ariel Pink - Feels Like Heaven
Say what you want about the guy, but he knows how to do stuff like this.
Cough Cool - Tulips
Standout from the killer new album. Love these dudes.
Robert Plant - Bones of Saints
Plant’s solo career is full of overlooked gems. This is the best track on his great new record. Your opinion about him/Led Zeppelin is probably annoying. Just listen to the music.
Chad VanGaalen - Mind Hijacker’s Curse
Kind of funny how it takes all 14 Arcade Fire members to make a song like this and they still usually can’t make it work without embarrassing themselves. Chad plays every instrument on this perfect track.
Queens of the Stone Age - Villains of Circumstance
The new album is mostly a drag, but this is one of the best songs Homme has ever written.
Guided By Voices - Goodbye Note
Guided By Voices - Overloaded
Guided By Voices - Circus Day Holdout
GBV had plenty of bangers this year. No surprise there. Two of these classics were written by someone other than Bob Pollard which is just so cool that they are going through a super-collaborative phase. Long live GBV. August By Cake is a good record. Bob’s 100th, in fact.
Cairo gang - Untouchable
Another classic rock/jangly beauty from one of the most underrated bands in the world.
Elliott Sharp - The Hidden Variable
Great pieces for prepared acoustic guitar. Compelling and really far-out.
Tongue Depressor - Null Set
Duo violin abuse by visionary bassist Zach Rowden and composer Henry Birdsey.
Skullflower - The Spirals of Great Harm
When I think about the horror of this year/this “presidency,” this “culture,” this world in 2017, I think about this album. Brutal, austere, nihilistic, painful.
The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
The Furors - Psychozoic
The Furors are absolute legends in New Haven and in many ways encapsulate what the New Haven music scene is all about: hard working, stubborn, funny, virtuosic, bizarre, self-sufficient, welcoming.
The Magnetic Fields - 50 Song Memoir
The batting average is high on this massive collection by one of our best songwriters. The highs aren’t as high as they are on 69 Love Songs, but the lows aren’t nearly as low. The highlights are BRILLIANT:
They’re Killing Children Over There
Have You Seen It In The Snow
Be True To Your Bar
Ghosts of the Marathon Dancers
Foxx and I
Lee Noble - The Hell of You Come In
Beautiful and mysterious album that should be treasured and revisited monthly for the rest for your life.
Kelly Moran - Bloodroot
Brilliant compositions for prepared piano.
Godflesh - Post Self
As good as anything they’ve ever done. Crushing and unforgiving.
Rostam - Half-Light
Really lovely sounding record with surprising and new production techniques. It’s now obvious what made the last Vampire Weekend record sound so visionary: Rostam. There’s not a whole lot in the way of songs on this record, but the sounds make up for it. Really engaging stuff.
Alan Vega - IT
Seems like everyone slept on this fantastic final statement by Alan Vega. An important record. Thank you, Alan.
Colleen - A flame my love, a frequency
Just gorgeous and austere. Really special and beautiful synthesizer and voice pieces. Fine art.
Bill Orcutt (self-titled)
One of the best solo guitar albums ever made and the finest moment in Bill’s long, beautiful career. Hero.
Mark Lanegan - Gargoyle
It was time for him to make a solid record. Lot’s of great tunes on this album, which is his finest since 2004’s Bubblegum. Godspeed, Lanegan.
Bob Dylan - Triplicate
If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. If you think you know what Bob Dylan should or shouldn’t be doing at this point, please stop. Enjoy the ride. It’s almost over.
Lawrence English - Cruel Optimism
I still don’t know what to make of this album, but it scares me, and it’s really hard to scare me.
David B. Applegate - The apparatus, the apparatus
Magnificent, malfunctioning music by the maestro.
Gunn-Truscinski Duo - Bay Head
Solid as hell guitar/drum explorations.
Ben Frost - Threshold of Faith
Brutal and arresting. Still wrapping my mind around this EP.
Things I made:
The self-titled album by Rivener, my instrumental duo with Michael Kiefer, is out and into the world. We recorded it in Mike’s basement and it’s all improvised. It’s the first time in my 20+ years of making music that something I’ve done has been pressed to vinyl. Thanks Kevin/These Are Not Records and Twin Lakes Records for believing in this music. Mike and I are proud of it. It’s the best stuff we’ve done since we started doing this project a few years ago. It’s definitely not for everybody, but if you are into abstract art of any kind, maybe you’ll enjoy it. As a musician, I think I’m mostly a mediocre drummer first, a hardworking songwriter second, and in a distant third place, a guitar player. So, to put it mildly, it’s surprising to me that people are interested in me making funny noises on this instrument I still barely know. A lot of why I’m able to coax interesting sounds from the guitar on this record has to do with playing with a great friend, improvisor, and drummer like Mike who is encouraging and fun to boogie with. Anyway, buy this record for your collection! And come see us play sometime because we really go nuts and when we hit on something interesting, since it’s improvised, I think we are expressing our true selves in a way that we probably wouldn’t or couldn’t (or shouldn’t?) otherwise. Thanks!
Two release shows coming:
Hello, I've written a sequel to my list of song prompts "Please Write A Song." This one is called "Don't Be Scared" and is not a list of prompts but general tips a songwriter may find useful. Please share with the songwriter in your life and also hug them because songwriters need more hugs than normal people. Download it here.
"The song itself is its introduction to itself." - Robyn Hitchcock
Songs have a few different lives. I like my songs to have at least three. If they’re good, they can have even more. But usually just two or three. Sometimes people want songs to resemble themselves. Both songwriters and song-audiences are guilty of this. “Hey, this live version doesn’t sound anything like the recorded version. That’s not good. I want the song to look like just like I remember it. In my bedroom it looked blue, but now it looks yellow.”
I suppose I can understand that sort of thinking from the standpoint of an audience member. It’s nice to go to a concert and have a song look and sound like what you’re used to. But there’s really no excuse for a songwriter thinking this way. You have to think about the song and how it wants to go and move and live. The creator of the song should want it to go and move and live different lives too. If the song lives the same life for too long, it can die. And no one wants that. Even good songs can die. There are different kinds of deaths a song can die. It can stagnate and start to smell and then nobody wants anything to do with it anymore. It turns into a sandwich you keep taking apart and remaking every day with the exact same ingredients. Eventually, the mayo you keep scraping off and putting back on turns green and it begs for death and you oblige. Even the best ham becomes garbage after a few days.
A song’s first life is when it’s born from your hands with your guitar or piano or whatever instrument. If it’s a good one, it’s pure and sort of solid and just delicious and happy. It can stand up and bark on it’s own and you’re so proud of it. You might even bring it out of the house and show it to your friends before it’s fully formed. What an exciting time for a song. The song loves this time and loves this life and you love it too. But it doesn’t want to stay that way forever. It’s mostly excited because it can see its own future.
The next life comes when the song gets recorded. This is my favorite life for a song because you can give it everything it needs. You can give it things it didn’t even know it wanted. You can repay the song for the wonderful gift it’s given you by existing. You can wrap it up in a beautiful red gown and do its makeup and sit it in an ornate chair. The best part about this life is it lasts forever! Don’t squander this opportunity. You can re-record songs. That’s OK too, but at some point, you should try to get it right. Do things to the song that can never be repeated. That’s what’s so beautiful about this permanent, recorded life. You can create a fantasy world for your song. If your song needs it, you can add an entire orchestra inside of it and on top of it. Now’s your chance. Add a flute or a bongo drum or a Peruvian throat singer. Why would you deny your song the chance to life that life? Because you can’t logistically or financially recreate it in front of a bunch of people? That’s crazy and abusive. You’re forgetting about art. Stop forgetting and get out of art’s way. If you tried to stop a painter from using a certain color, they would flick their brush and shoot paint right in your eye. If someone thinks they know better than you about what your song needs during this part of its life, flick something at them and then when your song is recorded exactly to your liking, climb up on top of a hill and scream about how glad you are to have done it your way.
The third life happens on the road. Or more accurately, in front of an audience. Maybe you play with other people in a band. That’s a great way to make this third life happen. If you play by yourself, it can be tempting to keep your song the way it sounded during its first or second life. Now is the time your song gets to have hobbies and interests of its own. You might find your song likes to be played louder or slower than you expected. Or that it likes to have someone else sing it. Or that it has a whole other new, great section that never even existed in its first or second life! Wow. Again, it might be tempting to try to recreate one of the song’s other lives because of someone’s expectations (yours or the audience’s or your parents’). Don’t do that! The song doesn’t even really belong to you anymore. You made your point during the song’s second (recorded) life. You’ve already climbed the hill and screamed. Now you have to let the song show you what it’s capable of. This life can and should last years and years. Probably even after you're dead. Amazing.
After those three lives, there’s really no limit. The song might be played by someone other than you (there’s another life). You might decide to re-record it and incorporate some of the elements you discovered during its third life. Maybe you want to go back to showing people what it sounded like during its first life (that counts as a whole new life). There are loads of ways a song can have a new life. Some we haven’t even thought of yet.
Songs are better than paintings and poems and sandwiches because songs *are* paintings poems and sandwiches. You can look at, read, destroy, eat, and carry a song. You can bring it around the world with you without anyone knowing you have it. You can land in Jerusalem and when you get off the plane, you can sit down on the tarmac and start singing a song. That’s a whole different life I just thought of.
A song would never ask you to stay the same forever, so don’t ask a song to resemble itself.
It’s only fair.
You can play your song at a fair too. That’s another life.
2016 was a chaotic and confusing year. The first couple of weeks of November were especially chaotic and confusing. That was when Leonard Cohen died and I haven't felt ready to talk about it much nor do any sort of public eulogizing. I still don't really want to. Nevertheless, here's this.
(for Chris R.)
1999. There was a house down the road from my college dorm where several, slightly older friends of mine lived. It was a place to drink too much beer, watch movies, listen to records, and play guitar. One of the inhabitants was an unemployable, manipulative, wannabe songwriter, who happened to be working his way through quitting heroin for the third or fourth time. He was also a voracious record collector who had thousands and thousands of LPs. His room was in the basement. Everything out of his mouth was a romanticised vision of the mundane details in his life. If he saw a pretty girl working at the bank, he'd spend 99 percent of the day obsessing about her. We got along pretty well. I’d come over in between classes. He’d read me third rate Jim Morrisonesque monologues out of his journals while I picked through his records and played whatever looked interesting. I was writing songs at the time, but my songwriting skill set was truly limited. Coming from a small, isolated farm town with a poor education system, the most underground music I was exposed to was maybe Korn? To put it lightly, I did not have the tools I needed to become a singer-songwriter. A vocation I only vaguely understood.
After class one day, I headed to that house down the road. As I made my way down the stairs into the basement, I heard a brittle, patiently strummed acoustic guitar crackling out of the stereo speakers. A monotone voice croaked. The words were both difficult to discern and clear as crystal.
Well, I found a silver needle,
I put it into my arm.
It did some good,
did some harm.
But the nights were cold
and it almost kept me warm,
how come the night is long?
I felt as if I was going to fall over. Not necessarily from the content of the words, but from the sound of the whole thing. It was painfully quiet and isolated and foreign sounding music, but it was also instantly recognizable in its vulnerability. It seemed childlike and amateurish, but also wise and sophisticated. I asked, “What is this?”
“It’s Leonard Cohen. Songs From a Room.”
I’d heard the name before.
“You mean, the guy who wrote that one song on the Jeff Buckley album? He makes music that sounds like this?”
“Yeah, he’s great.”
I picked up the album sleeve and looked at the cover. It looked like it was made with a Xerox machine. Black and white and overexposed and washed out. The font scared me. It looked like a warning. The deadly serious and cold face looking back at me was shocking.
Everything in my life instantly changed. The way I thought about songwriting. The way I understood music was “supposed” to sound. The sort of things you could say in a song. The way you could sing them. Everything.
The song ended with this:
Blood upon my body
and ice upon my soul,
lead on, my son, it’s your world.
And just like that, I became a songwriter.
I introduced this music to my best friend Chris and we both became obsessed. We bought every LP, every poetry book, both novels. We bought bootleg VHS tapes on ebay filled various TV interviews and live performances. We read the unauthorized and authorized biographies. We learned about Leonard’s family and children and childhood friends and ex-lovers. And we always laughed and laughed. Yes, the music and poetry is “dark” but it’s also hilarious. Sometimes painfully dry in its absurd humor. In the case of the poetry and novels, the surrealism, violence, and sex interspersed with the irrepressible romance was too much to take. Sometimes just the mention of a song or poem title would send us into a giggling fit.
Death of a Ladies’ Man
Flowers For Hitler
I Have Not Lingered In European Monasteries
Came So Far For Beauty
A Singer Must Die
Whenever we’d get together, one of us would inevitably show up with a piece of Leonard Cohen ephemera.
“Check it out. This is a laminated magazine advertisement for “Songs Of Love and Hate.” I’m going to hang it by my toilet.”
“Woah. Perfect place for it.”
I have six different editions of the novel The Favourite Game. Chris has the cover of the album New Skin For the Old Ceremony tattooed on his leg. In the masterpiece, stream of consciousness prose poem End Of My Life in Art, Leonard mentions a cocktail he created while in Needles, California: The Red Needle.
“Tequila and cranberry juice, lemon and ice. The full measure.”
Chris and I exclusively drank this cocktail from 2001-2004. At this point, to call Leonard Cohen a cult figure would be accurate, as we had essentially started a cult.
At some point, during those years, we took a trip to Montreal with friends under the guise of a vacation. While the rest of our group spent time in bars and strip clips, Chris and I walked the old part of the city looking for any landmark mentioned in a Leonard Cohen poem or novel. We found his childhood home in Westmount. We chatted with his neighbor. “Ah, yes. Young men come snooping around this neighborhood quite often," he said.
I’d prefer not to spend time rehashing Leonard Cohen’s entire life and career and commenting/critiquing/praising each phase, but I’ve heard and read it all. A massive portion of it is (clearly) indispensable to me. And much of it suffers from frustrating shortcomings (particularly production and collaborative choices in the music he made post-2000).
I will say the significance of Leonard Cohen’s poetry and two novels are as important to me as the music and if you haven’t, I urge you to read every word he’s written. This material ranges from somewhat traditional verse (The Spice-box of Earth) to religious text (Book of Mercy) to avant garde erotica (Beautiful Losers). His writing is dazzling, and I assure you, quite funny. You will laugh and laugh.
I wish more people talked about his singular, faux-flamenco style guitar playing that, according to one of my guitar teachers, is “impossible unless you have more than 5 fingers on your right hand.”
I wish someone would publish an art book of all his drawings and paintings.
I wish I knew everything about his time spent as a Zen monk on Mt. Baldy where he was given the name Jikhan, meaning "silence.”
I wish there was a religion based on Book of Mercy.
I wish some of his ex-band members would write a book and talk about what he was like as a bandleader and a friend.
I wish a camera was rolling when he recorded “Don't Go Home with Your Hard-On” with Phil Spector producing, and Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan singing background vocals.
I wish I knew what it was like to stumble upon Beautiful Losers in a Canadian bookstore in 1966.
“I wish there was a treaty / Between your love and mine.” - “Treaty” (2016)
A funny thing happened in the last 15 years or so. The entire world started to really love Leonard Cohen. The song Hallelujah became an international anthem of beauty and redemption. He went back out on tour and started making albums again. He was always beloved and respected, but now it seemed like the word was truly out: Leonard Cohen is one of the best, if not the best singer-songwriter of all time.
There’s an absurd, knee-jerk reaction some people have when an artist they love becomes a household name. Well, I am guilty of this when it comes to Leonard Cohen. I’ve been known to feel somewhat uncomfortable when I think about large crowds of people loudly singing along to these words that are so private and personal to me. But now that he’s gone, the words are all that’s left. He was so generous to share the work that made me this person I am today, it would be selfish and foolish to want to keep him to myself. I wonder how he helped shape you and your life. I hope he made you laugh.
Make yourself a Red Needle tonight. Don’t forget the recipe:
Tequila and cranberry juice, lemon and ice. The full measure.
The new Mercy Choir album is called “Like a Fountain Stirred” and will be released 01/06/17.
Pre-order the album and listen to the song “Friendly Fire” here: http://bit.ly/2gN8UPr
We're moving our January 27 Mercy Choir & Friends show with Landing and Shula Weinstein to Lyric Hall in New Haven. We plan on playing the album in its entirety. And then we’ll do it again on February 4 at the Oasis Pub in New London, CT. I’m really relieved and excited to share this album with you.
I’ve been working on this for about three years, I think. In fact, *other* Mercy Choir albums have come out during the writing and recording of this one, which makes as much sense to me as it does you. I’ve never worked so long and diligently on an album before and though exhausting, I’ve found the process exciting and gratifying. It’s the most collaborative album I’ve ever made.The cover art is a painting/drawing by an old friend Meg Cowen. The music includes contributions from each member of the current Mercy Choir lineup Loralee Geil, Bruce Crowder, Timothee Goselin Jr, Brian Slattery, and Chris Zollo. Loralee sings lead on two of the songs. It was recorded at the Mercy Choir practice space in New Haven, in my home, in my car, in my shed, and anywhere else I could find some quiet/alone time. I think it sounds like a good representation of the different types of music I’ve made under the Mercy Choir name, but it also sounds nothing like anything else I’ve ever done.
That’s one contradiction. Here are some others: One of the main aspects of the sound I’ve been chasing for this album was a lack of drums. However, there are drums and/or percussion on every song. Hmm. The album is called “Like a Fountain Stirred” but I’ve always referred to it as “Gloria.” So maybe that’s what the album is really called? There’s some kind of narrative thread throughout, but I haven’t been able to make much sense of it. It seems like the story takes place in two different places at once: Santa Fe, NM and Monterey, CA. But I’ve never visited either. None of the songs are autobiographical, but it’s by far the most personal music I’ve ever written.
A few of the songs were recorded, scrapped, then re-recorded several times. A handful of songs were written, recorded, then left off the album. Maybe for another time. Seven songs might not seem like a lot, but it’s the longest album I’ve ever made. Three of the songs are over 7 minutes long.
“Friendly Fire” is the oldest of the bunch, written a few years ago at my kitchen table along with 4 others that have either been released some other way, or will some other time. It sets the tone for the album lyrically and musically and it's one of my favorite songs I've ever written.
“Universal Wannabe” used to be a big rock and roll song, but now It’s more of a bass solo with words. The lyrics remind of a newspaper comic strip. Or a slapstick comedy short film. “Caught In a Dream” and “Once in a While” seem like siblings to me. One is loungey, torch ballad jazz, the other is New Orleans vocal jazz. I think.
Both of the Fountain songs (“Fountain, Get Inside the” and “Fountains, Blue”) are lyrically related but nothing alike. One was recorded mostly improvisationally, the other was meticulously put together like puzzle over the course of about a year. I hope you’d consider listening to this album through headphones, as that’s the way it was recorded and mixed.
However personal, when I listen to this album, the other musicians are the stars. Loralee, Bruce, Tim, Brian, and Chris use broad brushes and paint beautiful, bright yellow, electric stripes over the dark blue of these songs. I recorded a lot of this album myself, but their contributions are crucial. When we play live, they can make quiet parts seem like unnerving chaos, and loud parts seem intimate and controlled. I can’t do that alone.
I’ve found it hard to make and consume art in this new horrific era the country is entering. Escaping into surreal, introspective, and absurd art sometimes feels like a cop-out to me. It’s not. I hope it’s not. I hope you can hear the care that went into making this. I hope it brings you peace in some way.
Pre-order here Digital/CD/Cassette here: http://bit.ly/2gN8UPr
Hi All. Mercy Choir is taking up residence at Never Ending Books in New Haven on the last Friday of the month for the foreseeable future. On the last day of the Wobbling Roof variety shows at Never Ending Books I remember thinking to myself, “I should just do this forever.” So that’s what we’re doing. We’ll call it Mercy Choir and Friends. We’ll play in our various incarnations and have wildly different supporting acts of every conceivable genre. We’ll have musical guests, non-musical guests, experimenters, traditionalists, new friends, and old friends. We’ll play our old stuff and our new stuff and other people’s stuff and stuff that maybe would normally only happen in our rehearsal space. And we’ll do it for and with all the people we love.
In the past year or so, I blinked and Mercy Choir went from a solo act to a six person supergroup of some of the most talented and musically versatile bandmates I’ve ever played with. Just like I always intended, Mercy Choir sounds, looks, and behaves differently at every show. In case you didn’t know, the current lineup is Timothee Goselin Jr, Loralee Geil, Bruce Crowder, Brian Slattery, Chris Zollo, and me. I love these people. That’s a fact.
Enough about us. More importantly, music in CT is better than ever. Every day I hear or see or meet another new band that blows me away. And for some reason, the old-timers (like me) sounds better than ever. We want to share a bill so many of these great artists. And so we will.
Just a taste of what’s ahead: For the first show (7/29) in this Never Ending series, we share the night with Quiet Giant and Swamp Yankee.
The second show (8/26) Lys Guillorn and Sam Carlson join us. And every month we’ll keep it rolling with more and more good music and entertainment and wildness and weirdness.
Incidentally, without Lys Guillorn’s help, advice, and input, and vision with the Wobbling Roof series, I wouldn’t have the guts to try something like this. I suspect you will see her quite a lot at these shows. Hopefully with an instrument in her hands.
Also, I want to give a hat tip to my hero James Velvet. His decade-long residency at Cafe 9 with his band The Mocking Birds was an institution and was 100% in the spirit of love for New Haven and for live music. That’s what we’re aiming for here. So as always, we say, thanks for the inspiration, James.
So, long story short, if you want to see Mercy Choir play (pro tip: you do), you now know where to find us. We’ll be at Never Ending Books on State Street in New Haven on the last Friday of every month, hopefully forever.
Hi, please enjoy these two Mercy Choir songs available for stream/purchase: https://mercychoir.bandcamp.com/album/peggy-sue-scarecrow
These are from the "Sings In the Traditional Rock and Roll Style" sessions from last year, but were left off because they were not in the traditional rock and roll style. Both written when I was twenty something and had nothing to lose (or gain). They feature the dazzling production style of Timothee Goselin Jr.
PAUL BELBUSTI - VOCALS/GUITAR/PERCUSSION/ETC
TIM GOSELIN - BASS/GUITAR/LAP STEEL/ETC
CHRIS ZOLLO - KEYS/ETC
SACHIN RAMABHADRAN - DRUMS/ETC
PRODUCTION BY TIM GOSELIN/MERCY CHOIR
RECORDED/ENGINEERED/MIXED BY SACHIN RAMABHADRAN
MASTERED BY DAN ABATEMARCO
Songwriters Paul Belbusti of Mercy Choir and Lys Guillorn are co-presenting a variety show series in March at Never Ending Books. Lys Guillorn and The Mercy Choir Present Wobbling Roof Revue takes place every Friday in March.
Each Friday in March, multiple bands and performers will present short sets in the intimate performance space at Never Ending Books. The nights will showcase some of the projects in which Belbusti and Guillorn are involved as well as other talent from around Connecticut, many from the New Haven area. A listing of the performers is below.
In 2013, Guillorn and Belbusti collaborated on a three-song EP titled “Trouble.” http://mercychoir.bandcamp.com/album/trouble
The performers are generously donating their time, and the entirety of the suggested door charge will go to the Connecticut Food Bank. The Connecticut Food Bank is the state’s
nonprofit leader in the fight against hunger and the largest provider of charitably donated food. The Connecticut Food Bank partnered with the food industry, food growers, donors and volunteers to provide enough food last year to prepare more than 18 million meals. The Connecticut Food Bank distributes that food through a network of community based programs to more than 300,000 people across six Connecticut counties. For more information, visit www.ctfoodbank.org, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @CTFoodBank.
Never Ending Books is located at 810 State St., New Haven. Admission is a $5 suggested donation at the door, and all ages are welcome.
Paul Belbusti solo http://paulbelbusti.com/
Chris Cavaliere solo http://christophercavaliere.com/
Dangbats / Witch Hair split https://www.facebook.com/WitchHairBand/ https://www.facebook.com/dangbats
Saul Fussiner - Storyteller
Laundry Day https://laundryday.bandcamp.com/releases
Rebecca Scotka - Storyteller
Chris Arnott - Writer, storyteller
Goodnight Blue Moon http://goodnightbluemoon.com/
Lys Guillorn solo http://lysguillorn.bandcamp.com/
La Tunda http://latunda.bandcamp.com/
Oberon Rose http://www.oberonrose.com/
Karen Picone Ponzio - Poet
Brian Robinson from the Tet Offensive https://www.facebook.com/tetoffensive/
George Hakkila https://www.facebook.com/George-Effin-Magic-Hakkila-225731710784182/
Jump Italiano https://www.facebook.com/jumpitaliano/
Adam Matlock http://anhistoricmusic.blogspot.com/
Mercy Choir https://mercychoir.bandcamp.com/
Julia Petitfrere - Writer
Dan Rice - Comedian
Telegram Scam https://www.facebook.com/tlgrmscm/?fref=ts
Anthony Apuzzo - Trivia
Chris Cretella/Zach Rowden duo http://chriscretella.com/
Ken Cormier http://www.kencormier.com/
Lys Guillorn & Her Band http://www.lysguillorn.com/
Violet Harlow - Tarot alchemy
Xavier Serrano https://www.facebook.com/kindredq
Hello. The album is out now.
Listen to an extensive interview: https://soundcloud.com/new-haven-independent/northern-remedy-102015-mercy-choir
Lonesome Noise is premiering/previewing the song "Birdwatcher" from the new album Mercy Choir Sings In The Traditional Rock and Roll Style.
There will be an album release show on that date at Three Sheets in New Haven, CT.
Purchase tickets here: http://www.cafenine.com/event/904997-oneida-new-haven/