Sunday, December 27, 2009

One Fast Move or I'm Gone : Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar

Reason no. 65 why Christmas was great this year.

Anyway, after streaming this album from the NPR website, I have my very own copy and am quite pleased with it. First off, I guess you have to be cool with a few things if you're going to like this album.

01. Jack Kerouac
02. Ben Gibbard's vocals
03. Cowboy folk

Still with me? Good. Obviously Gibbard is a Kerouac fan-- most of Narrow Stairs was written at Big Sur. He teamed up with Sun Volt's Jay Farrar and the pair decided to put music to text from Keruoac's poem "Sea" and his book Big Sur. After finding out that Kerouac was cool with folk music and not just exclusively into jazz, they put together this lovely album. According to Farrar, most of the songs were written in about 5 days and only received minor tweaks in the true fashion of Mr. Teletype himself.

Farrar and Gibbard really infuse the album with the right kind of spirit. One of the best parts of this project is the purity of the instrumentation. Many of the songs flirt with sparsity-- guitar and piano, plus the occasional well-placed slide guitar, harmonica, or organ. There's a slight ruggedness, a natural air to the album, and that's really what I've been chasing lately. Most days I am fairly confident I could live in a world without synth. This is an album of unpretentious campfire songs. It's beautiful like a California landscape, as it should be.

A few notables made contributions to the liner notes. Patti Smith wrote "It seems like [Kerouac]'s always been in the air-- in the curve of a steering wheel, the circling mandala, the rim of a bottle and the tip of a tongue." That line made me think about something else great about this album. Gibbard and Farrar let Kerouac's text breathe because they don't bury it under flashy instrumentation or their own musical egos. Kerouac is the big point here. They seem to know that.

Stand out tracks include "These Roads Don't Move" (Poetic and pretty), "California Zephyr," "Final Horrors" (dark and intriguing) and of course, "One Fast Move or I'm Gone" (easily the best song, Kerouac-brand wistfulness and maybe aversion to commitment).

* This album actually accompanies a documentary on the book Big Sur. Though, I'd say that the former has somewhat overtaken the latter at this point.

On a barely related note, I got to thinking about how much I like music and other things stripped down and somehow got to the idea that I'm taking a break from all social media-- no Twitter, no Wave etc. for a little while. It's nice.


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