Sense & Antisense

Sense & AntisenseSense & Antisense by Palomar
One of the artists I mentioned in my last post about Absolutely Kosher records was Palomar. They released a beautiful, amazing album called All Things, Forests on AK partner label Misra a few years ago, and that and Palomar III have been in heavy heavy rotation for me since I discovered them. They are, as of this writing, sitting at #13 on my top artists list, with 483 logged plays, and if you restrict that to the last year, they rise to #1. In a year where I mostly listened to podcasts at work and in my car, where I started working from home and needed my headphones much less often to drown out the noise, they are the band I have consistently continued to listen to. Early this year, they released Sense & Antisense.

It must have been a quiet release, since it took me months to find out, and clearly something has gone pear shaped with their presence on Amazon, since you won’t find it with the other Palomar records, and frankly, their web presence is dismal and infrequently updated, so I don’t have much color for you; there is a record, it’s pretty good, but it has a different feel than the other records and I don’t know why.

Palomar records in the past have been driving and upbeat1, even if the lyrical content is a little less positive than the tempo suggests, but here on Sense, things have gotten slower and more contemplative. Sure the second song on the record, “Infinitte Variation”, is a song that could have been on 2007’s All Things…, but it’s wrapped in slower tunes dripping with piano melodies, doing a lot of the heavy lifting that would have been done by clean guitar tones on earlier records.

In me, the record evokes a sort of melancholy, wistful, maybe even pleasant. Is there such a thing as taking comfort in the idea that the world is imperfect? Maybe the lyrics don’t back me up on that. For some reason Palomar isn’t a band that I listen to analytically. It’s about the music, and the very straightforward timbre of Rachel Warren’s voice, which is the antithesis of the terribly overwrought vocal performances of most women who get credit for having a voice.

I’m going to stop here, because it’s starting to sound like I don’t know whether I like the record, and that’s absolutely false. It’s a great record. It’s the kind of record I’d put on and listen to end-to-end, in a dark room, on a summer night, with the windows open. I would listen to it on a long drive, by myself. It’s the kind of thing I would put on if I were sitting down to write something that had been cooking in my mind for a while. It’s good. But it’s good in an intimate way.

1 You see the word twee sometimes in Palomar reviews. This is maybe true of Palomar II and one or two songs on Palomar III: Revenge of Palomar, but I think anyone who said that about All Things, Forests (Pitchfork called them “twee as fuck” for daring to rock out) may just be sexist.

Himalayan Bear – Hard Times

Hard TimesThis is the last record released by Absolutely kosher. That probably doesn’t mean much to most of you, but it’s sort of sad and devastating, and it doesn’t make me feel any better to report that it was released 9 months ago, and I just heard the news this week.

I started playing the guitar in High School, but my first band formed a little before that, while I was a student at Campbell Middle School. I don’t even remember everyone who was nominally in it. None of us played instruments, we just sort of threw for them. Initially, I was going to be the drummer, but my parents said no instantly, and my mother helpfully suggested I learn to play the guitar instead. I went back to school and we reshuffled instruments, and now I was going to play rhythm guitar. Then the school year ended and so did the band. Maybe we never even picked a name.

Over the summer before high school, jesus christ that was 18 years ago now, the only member of that initial band I stayed in touch with did start to take guitar lessons, and on some summer afternoon, he started to show me what he had learned. It was a sort of composite arrangement of two different guitar parts for the Collective Soul song “Shine”. (I’ll play it for you some time).

A year later I got a guitar of my very own, and not long after that we made up a whole band for ourselves, called The Lagomorphs, written with a pound sign, £agomorphs, and while we never managed to get a rhythm section together, it was the most important part of my adolescence. I learned to write html to maintain out angelfire (and later geocities) page, and if not for that, I wouldn’t be a software engineer now. I picked up most of the bands I listened to from my bandmate Rick, who deejayed at the most prominent local college radio station, and of course, I learned to play the guitar. Nearly all the skill I have on the instrument came from those first frantic two years, and then when college came I decided that I’d had enough of the silly songs about godzilla we were playing, and I quit the band. I had a brief and terrible period of songwriting (that coincided with my brief and terrible period of short fiction writing), and then basically stopped playing music at all.

But around the time I was giving up music altogether, Rick and his new girlfriend had started to record some songs, and as part of that project, shopped them around a little, including to Absolutely Kosher. They drove down to Berkeley to give them the demo, and came home with an album called The Meadowlands by a band called The Wrens, and my God, what a thing that was.

After that, or really, after a few cd samplers came in the mail, I was off to the races. Many of my favorite releases of the 2000’s came out on the Absolutely Kosher imprint. I have one and only one playlist on my phone and ipod. It’s called Good Stuff and probably one song in five is from an AK record (mostly Jim Yoshii Pile Up and Bottom of the Hudson). There was a year when I bought everything they released. When they merged with Misra I discovered Palomar. They released a Mountain Goats record. They were the best thing going.

And this record, Hard Times by Himalayan Bear (Ryan Beattie, also of AK band Frog Eyes), is the last. The label is scaling back from new music to managing the catalog, and even though I had drifted away in the last couple of years (as podcasts took over for music in my daily listening), it’s a terrible feeling.

The record is good, by the way. It’s evocative and melancholy, the arrangements are interesting and the sound is unique. Worth checking out if you don’t need your music upbeat and dancy.

Goodbye, Absolutely Kosher.

Lay of the Last Survivor

I’ve reviewed not one but two Okkervil River albums here, and at least one version of Beowulf, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, but I think my favorite song released in 2011 was “Lay of the Last Survivor”, off of I Am Very Far. I am 99.9% sure that it’s telling the story of the passage of the same name from Beowulf, or at least part of the story… or really more a vignette from the point of view of the people involved.

Anyway, pending some mooted and sinister legislation, you can find it here:

“Lay of the Last Survivor” | Okkervil River | I Am Very Far”

My favorite song of 2011

Farewell, Vox

Vox is shutting its doors on September 30th, so I have imported all of my Vox reviews onto this wordpress installation. So far everything looks good, but if you see any obvious errors, let me know.

I liked Vox.

Anyway, here’s Cee Lo’s new song, “Fuck You!” It is delightful.

Songs for the week ending February 6th

1. Ozma | “Battlescars” | Rock and Roll Part III

Of all the shooting stars I knew
I never felt at ease with anyone but you


2. The National | “Slow Show” | Boxer

Looking for somewhere to stand and stay
I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away
Can’t I get a minute of not being nervous
And not thinking ’bout my dick


3. The Court and Spark | “Rooster Mountain” | Bless You
Listen at

I’d like to call big mama
Trade a pistol for some grain
Up on Rooster Mountain
We’re all sopping wet with rain


4. Great Lake Swimmers | “Your Rocky Spine” | Ongiara

I traced my finger along your trails
Your body was the map
I was lost in there
Floating over your rocky spine
The glaciers made you and now you’re mine


5. Hefner | “The Greedy Ugly People” | We Love The City
Listen at

I had her on the carpet twisting and squirming about
Trying to guess what she needs
Trying to guess what the fuss was about