music (2007-11)

Just Run with It

Band of Horses hits its stride

Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham still goes his own way

Beyond, beyond goes Brooklyn-based Asobi Seksu, perfectly beyond

by Holly Haworth

When Band of Horses started out about three years ago, it was more like a band of colts. Shaky on their legs and unsure of their strength, the two original members, guitarist/vocalist Ben Bridwell and guitarist Mat Brooke, set out across Seattle's soggy pastures, which tend to stay well-saturated with the steady flow of new bands. Following the demise of his and Brooke's old band, Carissa's Weird, Bridwell suddenly grew a wild hair to start writing his own songs and lyrics for the first time in his life. After recording a few demos and playing a "handful" of shows with Sam Beam of Iron & Wine, Bridwell's Band of Horses was signed to Sub Pop records less than a year after its formation.

"I decided to start writing some songs, and then, God, next thing you know we got signed to Sub Pop. It was... it was pretty exciting," says Bridwell, his words as exhilarated and breathy as they'd be had he just stepped off a roller-coaster. Everything he relates is in this tone, and it's no wonder why.

The band's first album, Everything All the Time , was one of the most refreshing of last year, promptly met with enthusiastic acclaim among a broad audience. Relentlessly reverbed guitars and thrashing drums make for lush soundscapes, exuberantly adorned with keys, all taken to transcendence by Bridwell's massively layered, yet clear-as-a-bell, vocals.

However, it's more than just straight-ahead, full-blown energy. There's a delicate push and pull, some of the tracks outstanding in their subtlety and suggestiveness ("Part One," "I Go to the Barn Because I Like The"), and some of them glorious in their build-ups and releases ("The Funeral," "The Great Salt Lake"). Each of the 10 tracks is fully engaging, both aurally and lyrically. Phil Ek's vibrant production (often compared to that of My Morning Jacket) was surprising, not least of all to Bridwell who, it seems, went into the project somewhat self-effacingly.

"I wasn't the most confident lyric writer, for sure. I wasn't the most confident singer. I was also never a guitar player, so it's a bit like pulling teeth to get me to play it right. It was a lot of recording demos and correcting them to where I could finally at least not cringe when I heard them," he says.

"I felt like the way I recorded before the album was with a lot of delays and a lot reverbs, kind of like more shoegazer-sounding kind of stuff. I really thought that it would sound really washed out and... less clear. I never imagined that it would sound so... so... I don't know... crisp. It's a lot of smoke and mirrors and all the sudden they cut a piece of wax and it sounds amazing! It really exceeded all my expectations," he gushes.

The album prompted a year of heavy touring--Bridwell can't quite remember if it was 150 or 250 gigs--throughout the United States, Europe and Australia and, perhaps most importantly, a move back to Bridwell's original home in South Carolina, along with drummer Creighton Barrett and guitarist/bassist Rob Hampton. "It took me 10 years to get back home [from Seattle]," he says.

From a creative perspective, the move could make all the difference in Band of Horses' next album. "I guess being closer to my family and around a lot of my old friends, it's not as lonely as Seattle was--or I'm not as lonely as I was in Seattle," Bridwell says. "The songs I've been writing since I've been down here just don't sound as desperate or sad. I'm just happier down here, and it has come through in the music, I guess."

Granted, one of the greatest virtues of Everything All the Time is the desperation in Bridwell's delivery, which is magically transformed into a shimmering kind of energy. Still, one gets the sense that even if the desperation subsides, the shimmering part will still burn bright.

As Bridwell talks from the yard of his Mount Pleasant home (trying to get a "damn signal, out here in the country"), it's easy to tell he's stoked--about everything. His girlfriend is moving down today, and the rest of the band has just come in this week to start rehearsing. They've also picked up Matt Gentling, formerly of Archers of Loaf, and Robin Peringer, formerly of Modest Mouse, for the tour, and Bridwell says it's his favorite Horses lineup so far.

There's one more thing he's geared up about. "Will you put in the piece that I say hi to my mom? She lives in Knoxville. My cousins live there, my aunt and uncle, and my grandma, so I'd like to say hi to them. It's so cool to live closer to my family after being so far away for like 10 years. I mean it's so cool to actually play a show in their town."

What: Band of Horses w/ Cary Ann Hearst and the Gun Street Girls and Arizona

Under Our Skin

by Brad Case

Back in 1975, when Lindsey Buckingham was asked who his most significant musical influence was, more than a few eyebrows were raised by the answer. "Brian Wilson was someone whose struggle I related to," Buckingham recalls. "It's difficult when you're out there trying to blaze new territory and you have a group of people who are not on the same page."

Born to an era when lead guitarists were searing rock technicians named Clapton, Paige and Blackmore, the more musically demure Buckingham never fit in. He even opted to play bass in his first band, Fritz, because he couldn't relate to the prototype. How ironic it must have seemed during pop music's tectonic mid-'70s cultural shift that the Bay Area picker would later prove instrumental in catapulting Fleetwood Mac to the top of the charts.  

But Buckingham never fancied himself a revolutionary, just an artist wanting his voice to be heard. Even during Mac's gravy days, Buckingham fought hard to not turn the band into a corporate machine. "Success is a double-edged sword," he said at the time. "You're under tremendous pressure to sell as much and as often as possible, to become an assembly line... but artists need to take their time to breathe in and out, to take risks though it may not always be good for business."  

One such risk came in the form of Fleetwood Mac's 1978 double-album Tusk . After two flawless commercial successes, Buckingham convinced the group to take some "creative chances." The public's response was less than stellar, and Buckingham took the hit.

"On the heels of Rumours [which sold 19 million copies the year before], the pressure was great to come up with something like Rumours II ," Buckingham explains. "I remember hearing that when Tusk was played for the first time at the Warner Brothers weekly staff meeting, everyone saw their Christmas bonuses flying out the window."

Despite the fact that the album sold only four million copies worldwide, Buckingham asserts, "I was very proud of the album, and not disappointed by its commercial performance. What I was disappointed in, what I didn't expect, was the band's reaction to it after the fact." (After the album's release, Fleetwood Mac's label, music industry critics, and Buckingham's fellow band members chided the guitarist for Tusk 's commercial failure.)

The experience left the maverick musician alienated, and for his next creative endeavor he retreated to his comfort zone, the studio.   In 1981 Buckingham released his first solo record, Law and Order .   Though only a mild commercial success, spawning one top 40 single ("Trouble"), the record received critical raves, a trend that was repeated 11 years later with his second solo effort, Out of the Cradle . "I always intended for more solo work to come out but then the Fleetwood Mac projects would come up, and a lot of my material would become band material," Buckingham says.

The 2006 release of Under the Skin completes Buckingham's 25-years-in-the-making solo trilogy. The record is introspective and melodic, delivering some of his finest work without threatening to eclipse any of it. But his pedigree is still evident: Mac fans will recognize Buckingham's unique falsetto, multi-part harmonies and folk-infused Travis-picking guitar style, all served up with the crystal clear production that helped make the band a legend. Even Fleetwood Mac founders Mick Fleetwood and John McVie cameo up the rhythm section on a few cuts. The only thing lacking is a showstopper, the edgy up-tempo rocker, the obvious hit. It's almost as if it was intended.

"I think one of the things that happened over a period of time on stage for Fleetwood Mac, there were certain songs that started as ensemble pieces such as 'Big Love' or 'Go Insane'," Buckingham says. "The impact that those songs were having got me thinking about trying to approach the music from a very pared-down place, sort of an extended idea of someone sitting in their living room playing acoustic guitar, leaving the drums out, leaving the lead guitar out and keeping the production values. And basically keeping the musical approach intimate as well."

This month Buckingham embarks on a 28-city tour to promote Under the Skin . Like the album, the show will be more subdued than his 1992 Out of the Cradle tour, which featured what critics called his "guitar army"--a full rockestra fronted by a guitar quintet. "That was a way denser piece of work. It had drums and bass and percussion and a lot of different things," Buckingham says. "Right now what I'm doing is pretty much the opposite of that and, of course, the album itself is way different. It starts a little bit light, and then at the end of the show we just kind of cut loose and obviously we're doing some Fleetwood Mac material. It all seems to hang together."

At 57, it seems as if Buckingham has either made peace with or embraced the fact that his two musical careers, when compared, reveal him to be somewhat of an enigma. Even his biographer, David Wild, labels the artist "an enduring, intriguing mystery [whose] series of wildly eclectic and consistently acclaimed albums have topped more critics' annual Top Ten lists than sales charts...."  

Does Buckingham care? "What do I have to prove?" he muses. "I'm not sure. I just know there's a fire within me that wants to be felt by other people."

Who: Lindsey Buckingham

Awakening... Yes!

by Kevin Crowe

I just achieved total spiritual enlightenment, and all I got was this CD, full of fuzzbox and sparkling dreampop.

1 Corinthians xiii. 12: For now we see through a glass, darkly.

The lyrics on Asobi Seksu's latest release, Citrus , are constantly reaching for the ineffable, for a taste of the divine, and more often than not, frontwoman Yuki reaches high enough to take audiences along the path of the spiritual.

This isn't philosophy or logic. No value judgments are made. There aren't any long-lasting beatific moments. No sermonizing, either. Epiphanies are dull. Meaning is contrived. These are songs about the moment. Just be there, indulging in the shimmer of primo shoegaze, an introspective tour through the mind. At times, we just need to come to a standstill, taking everything in, remembering nothing. Eyes glaze and the mind wanders, because something about the music feels more important when we're there, in the middle of it all.

Polyglot verse and a pounding rhythmic drive take the song "New Years" to angelic heights, while James Hanna's fuzzy guitarwork keeps everything grounded, never allowing Yuki's voice to soar too far out. Rough translation: When you feel small,/ Remember and look/ Softly open those eyes/ Nostalgic, the two of us could be seen ... Candy says ----

When Yuki sings, she alternates between Japanese and English, giving each song a mystical edge, a sense that each unfamiliar word is loaded with truth. Even though half of what she sings is lost on most audiences, it doesn't matter, because the ineffability pushes the music towards unexpected emotions.

"That's how my brain works," Yuki says. "It's a natural way for me to express myself.... After I got over my initial shyness about it, I realized it was a great thing. I think it adds a great texture and flow to our music."

Maybe it's beyond comprehension, when Yuki sings in Japanese. Yet comprehension was never the point. This is pure emotion, evoking images of beauty as powerful as any of the great arias written in Italian or German. The language is no longer what's most important. Just listen to the beautiful dreamscape, where meaning is immaterial.

"It works," Yuki adds, "especially when I'm singing about nonsensical things." Nothing is lost in translation. Even the name Asobi Seksu, which roughly translates to "playful sex," conjures images of the blissful and the divine, that weird orgasmic drive that's always with us. Of course, it's never uncomplicated.

Awakening , instructs an old Buddhist sutra. Awakening ... Yes!

Yuki and Hanna first met in college nearly six years ago. Yuki, who had been classically trained on the piano, was fairly green when it came to working with a band. "We start off with a melodic idea," she says of the songwriting process, "sometimes instrumental. First comes structure, then lyrics."

Then comes performance, which is an entirely different beast. "In front of the microphone is the scariest thing in the world," Yuki goes on. "It was always easier for me to hide behind the piano. I became a different person when I was playing."

She was born in Tokyo, right before her family packed up and moved to Okinawa. At two years old, Yuki's family headed to Los Angeles, where her parents opened a math tutorial center. Her classical training began in the first grade, and Yuki proved to have a good melodic ear, as she began to craft her own songs on the piano. Today, it's more of the same, just with thick walls of distorted guitar and, with the addition of drummer Mitch Spivak, a heavy, pulsing backbone, guided by Haji's bass guitar. Like Yuki, Haji is billed without a surname. It's all part of that mystical aesthetic.

"We've got lots of half-songs," she says. "We're never home, always touring." In July, Asobi Seksu will make its first appearance in Japan. Will the music translate the same as it does on this side of the Pacific? "I have no idea," Yuki says, not interested in hazarding a guess.

Today , she sings, the sun is coming out/ Because I like you .

This will mark Asobi Seksu's third trip to Knoxville. After their first gig at the Pilot Light, Yuki remembers arriving at a party in Fort Sanders, where some creepy guy tried to lure her into a make-out session. "The second time was better," she says. Give up remembrance. Move on to what's next: When you're in the strawberry fields/ Just listen, you'll still hear them/ They'll call out loudly/ They shout, "Don't forget about me."

Who: Asobi Seksu and The Impossible Shapes