There’s so much fraud in the world—MonaVie juice, “i-Dosing,” Michele Bachmann—that when I come across purity now I almost don’t recognize it. In that vein, I’d hesitated to listen to Mount Wittenberg Orca, the online-only collaboration by Bjork and Dirty Projectors with a lovely cover photo. I was afraid it’d be forced. It isn’t. Rather, it’s one of the most unaffected, honest things I’ve come across all year.
Or is it? As my correspondent Dean Tisthammer points out, the mountain pictured on the album cover is clearly not Mount Wittenberg in Point Reyes National Seashore. You can view the real Mount Wittenberg here. This might just be a slight misunderstanding, I thought. Surely, they’re referencing some other Mount Wittenberg? But alas, the explanation from Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth:
Amber from Dirty Projectors was walking along a ridge on Mount Wittenberg, north of San Francisco. She was looking out at the ocean and saw a little family of whales, as you sometimes do in April on the Northern California coast. I wrote some songs about it and sent them to Björk, who agreed to sing the part of the mom whale. The songs became Mount Wittenberg Orca.
So the album’s called Mount Wittenberg Orca after the Point Reyes mountain, but with an imposter mountain on the cover? No love for the real Mount Wittenberg? Just what the bejeezus mountain is pictured?
Dean, a huge Dirty Projectors fan who hikes often in the area, says it’s Black Mountain, near Point Reyes. A Google Maps search confirms it—the photo was evidently shot just off Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, east of Point Reyes Station. Which seems to indicate that Longstreth & Co. googled “Mount Wittenberg” for a cover photo, didn’t come up with anything (we barely did either), and settled for some other mountain in Point Reyes, assuming it’d glide past the eagle eyes of nature-hiking Dirty Projectors fans.
Kudos to Dean for the tip.
Fake representations of mountains aside, the album is short and sweet—those enamored with Medulla‘s vocal-heavy arrangements will especially be smitten. You can download it on a sliding-scale donation basis here. All proceeds benefit the National Geographic Society’s ocean initiatives, too.
“When they first started playing, I couldn’t tell if it was the wackest shit ever or the most punk rock thing I’d ever seen.”
I gotta ride with my friend Josh on this one, who did eventually determine the latter. From Seattle, Heatwarmer set up in the cavernous room of Matrix in Petaluma and, before they’d played a note of their “songs,” noodled for 10 minutes or so in the most fantastically addictive way. “I hope this is their set,” I told Shane, hopelessly. “It sounds like the Wired Guitar God Parodies,” he replied, acutely.
Though the noodling was not their set, it was close. Galaxie 500 meets Mr. Bungle meets Raymond Scott meets Phish meets Quasi meets a slowly accumulating cadre of won-over appreciation on the faces of everyone at Matrix. At one point I zoned out on the keyboard player, who wore some kind of medallion around his neck, pondering how he’d memorized all the augmented chords and dexterous runs, when I realized that the electric clarinetist was unreeling the same in unison.
Grappling with an initial sense of confusion, springboarding either into “good” or “bad,” makes the final result that much more concrete. It’s why I don’t recreationally listen to much pop radio, and why Heatwarmer was, in a mentally interactive way, so positively and weirdly thrilling. Check them out here.
Though billed as “Bug Music for Juniors,” both the seven-year-old child and the fifty-something-year-old man on either side of me at the Raven Theater smiled and bounced their heads last night as Don Byron launched into “Siberian Sleighride.”
The youngster was thrilled that the cartoons were back up on the movie projector screen in the form of Meatless Flyday, a wacky 1944 Warner Bros. cartoon, and the man was thrilled at hearing one of Raymond Scott’s bounciest compositions revived by Scott’s greatest acolytes.
Holding court on a demonstrative jazz concert, meant mostly for kids, Byron spent equal time explaining chords, syncopation, and why musicians write on piano as he did playing the part-klezmer, part-swing, part-avant-garde jazz that’s his trademark. Watching the New York clarinetist explain jazz to kids, however, was a performance in itself.
“So you can kinda hear it, right?” Byron asked the kids, after playing select passages from both Raymond Scott and John Kirby. “Raymond Scott’s all wild, but John Kirby’s more elegant. He’s like, chillin’ at the club, drinkin’ Cristal. More slick, smooth, and cool. He’s like P. Diddy—you know, the way P. Diddy would hang—draped in nice clothes, clean clothes.”
One by one, Byron introduced the instruments in his sextet, conducting the proceedings like a game show announcer and ending with a drum solo that turned into an off-the-cuff version of “Shaft.” During “Powerhouse,” Scott’s most famous tune, a toddler danced in front of the stage, and Byron played off of its vocal noises during the breaks.
Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry cartoons screened in the background, as did old film reels of jazz bands; Byron also spoke at length about the Cotton Club and Duke Ellington, whose “The Mooch” opened up eventually into a free-for-all blowing session—and into the Byron that fans of records like his excellent Ivey-Divey are used to.
After a few solos during “The Mooch,” and after applauding for each one, the seven-year-old next to me turned and said, “We’ve already clapped, like, four times for this song!”
“Do you know why?” I asked.
“Because they’re not reading from music. They’re making it up as they go along.”
“You mean they don’t know what they’re playing? Why do they do that?”
I was stumped. “Because,” I told him. “It’s jazz.”
I walked into Amoeba a full hour before Vampire Weekend’s scheduled set on Friday night, only to see the first two aisles in front of the stage already filled with diehards waiting for their chance to watch, up close and personal, one of the suavest new bands of 2008.
The indie rock cognoscenti have been burbling about Vampire Weekend for months now, with descriptors like “Ivy-League Death Pop Woven With African Filament”—I mean, how can you resist?—and yet for Friday night’s hugely high-school-aged audience (ponytails, braces, and zits in abundance), it was all about the here and now. The band’s debut album, Vampire Weekend, just released, the 18+ show the night before at Popscene an unattainable dream, and twittering throng waiting anxiously between Amoeba’s Gospel and Rockabilly sections.
The rest of the store filled fast, with unknowing customers humorously caught off-guard by the commotion, and then, the big moment: in casual Harvard fashion, the band ambled out onto the stage and started their set with the first song from their album, a catchy two-minute blast called “Mansard Roof,” nailing all the high vocals, syncopated rhythms, and jaunty melodies.
After the second song, “Campus,” singer / guitarist Ezra Koenig acknowledged San Francisco—“It’s one of our very favorite cities, and we don’t just say that everywhere,” he commented, adding wryly, “Sometimes it’s very obvious that it’s not our favorite city.”
Vampire Weekend’s songs are what people call deceptively simple—both “Mansard Roof” and “Campus,” for example, rely on just a basic major scale for a riff—but the band kneads enough bizarre influences into the dough that listening to them is like deciphering a Rosetta Stone of music, from Sting to Sister Carol to Schubert to a healthy dose of Paul Simon’s Graceland. Live, the band rocks harder sans the string quartet on record, and, dispensing with collegiate reticence, Koenig passionately emphasized lines like “do you want to fuck?” from the South African-flavored “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” In the aisles, the kids ate it up.
After “I Stand Corrected,” “A-Punk,” and “Oxford Comma,” it was all over, truncating their already-short album (it’s a refreshing 34 minutes long) into just a six-song set. For a tiny short while, the innocence of pop music and the excitement of a great new band with oodles of potential lay bare in front of a crowd of fervent admirers, and on a cold, drizzling night in San Francisco, well, it’s hard to ask for more.