Inspiration Music

Odetta Hartman: Old Rockhounds Never Die

Odetta Hartman: Old Rockhounds Never Die CoverI knew nothing about Odetta Hartman when I downloaded this record from Spotify.

I saw the cover, a blend of a middle-American roadside attraction and 60s-era cult leader style—just my sort of thing. I listened to a few brief samples of the music–seemed interesting–and brought it with me.

I can’t believe what I found.

Hartman’s sound is immediately confounding. You’ll be reminded of contemporaries like Sylvan Esso and Shovels and Rope.

There are deeper influences, too. There’s a lot of Alan Lomax-era blues influences going on. More than once I found myself thinking of Leadbelly.

Hartman’s song, “Widow’s Peak,” haunts like a Leadbelly or Robert Johnson song. In the song, Hartman tells the story of waiting for a lover to come home from sea, expecting death instead of a safe arrival.

She sings, “I pray for you on the widow’s peak/I hold steadfast to my tired belief/That the wind won’t rip you overboard/Still I scan for your body on the shore.” The image of the body on the shore sits heavy as strings come in underneath the track, evocative of a Danny Elfman score, framing the scene with a kind of fairytale grotesqueness that is simply disturbing.

This kind of attention to detail in the production of these songs by producer/collaborator Jack Inslee is what makes this the kind of record that isn’t an exercise in nostalgia revivalism.

This kind of attention to detail in the production of these songs by producer/collaborator Jack Inslee is what makes this the kind of record that isn’t an exercise in nostalgia revivalism.

In one sense, Old Rockhounds Never Die will remind the listener of Sylvan Esso, with Odetta Hartman’s vocals similar to Amelia Meath and Jack Inslee’s sample-heavy production style similar to Nick Sanborn.

In another sense, the instrumentation on the album also conjures contemporaries like Shovels and Rope, with a clear understanding of American roots music present in very track.

However, I feel like the clearer line to draw here is with Sudan Archives. Hartman shares much with Sudan Archives’ Brittney Parks. Parks is a fiddle player, Hartman a violin player. Both artists use samples to build a world to songs that are lyrically spare. Both are drawing from folk music traditions.

This is especially pronounced on “Spit,” a song that feels ripped straight from Sudan Archives’ catalog. On the song, Hartman tells the story of someone walking straight up to her and spitting in her face. You get the sense that it is a lover, because her response, ““And if I run to you, you shove me away/
So I gotta run from you, find another to take my place.”

On so many of these songs, the lyrics are mere fragments. There are no “full story” tracks. Instead, Hartman sets listeners within a scene.

It’s in this sense that Inslee’s use of field recordings is so skilled. The gunshot and police siren samples put the listener on the run with the protagonist of the song, “Misery.” On “Cowboy Song,” Inslee samples a train whistle to put the listener on the train with the protagonist. The bird sound samples on “The Ocean” put you at the oceanside.

But on a song like “The Ocean,” there’s a transformation into something else, when a synthetic bass sound drops, there’s a Blade Runner-quality to the soundscape, taking the listener beyond the familiar setting at the shore to some place else.

The mystery present in Old Rockhounds Never Die is that it is an experience. It’s a mysterious, familiar, and hard-to-categorize experience, which is spare in detail, but cinematic in its vision.

Inspiration Music

Dirty Projectors: Lamp Lit Prose

Dirty Projectors: Lamp Lit ProseI love collage. There’s something magical about disparate elements coming together to make something new. It’s fresh. It’s modern. It feels cool.

Hip hop music, especially sample-based hip hop music, is probably the most accessible and familiar medium to use the concept of collage. But hip hop producers aren’t the only ones using these concepts. Pavement was a collage-oriented band, taking bits and scraps of songs and putting them together into something totally fresh. Granted this seemed to Pavement’s own bits and scraps of songs, but they were bits and scraps nonetheless.

Pavement’s songs had complexity. They felt like they were written in movements and those movements didn’t always fit together perfectly. Sure, there were songs like “Range Life,” which were straight ahead, but there were also songs like “Major Leagues,” which felt completely disjointed, with little guitar parts that would extend a hook past the place where it would naturally end. I liked that. I still look for that kind of thing in music.

The Dirty Projectors are a kind of band that make this kind of music, too. In fact, just finding the words to commend their new album, Lamp Lit Prose, escape me. I could go with a “wide” description here and say that this is a jubilant record, which, from the arrangements, would seem clear to the listener.

The album’s first eight tracks are almost all upbeat. These are fun songs: there is a song about a date (“Blue Bird”) and a song about a zombie hunter (“Zombie Conquerer”). Heck, the record starts with horns on the first track.

I wanna feel everything
Sweetness of youth and old age’s sting
Open my eyes wide and unblinking
I wanna feel everything
– (I Wanna) Feel It All

Lamp Lit Prose is a complex record, too, featuring elements of 80s R&B (“I Feel Energy”), a lullaby (“Blue Bird”), insane 60s folk style guitar picking (“That’s a Lifestyle,”), and a Chicago-style horn section (“Right Now”). But still, that wouldn’t tell the whole story of this record.

I think that the best illustration of the life that I’ve found on this record comes in the juxtaposition of the lyrics on the album’s first track, “Right Now,” and the album’s last track, “(I Wanna) Feel It All.”

On “Right Now,” the Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth uses the chant “right now” to show his urgency for the moment. The urgency of the song carries with the album’s tracks—nary a moment is wasted. The whole thing feels new, fresh, fun, original and urgent.

But why? The answer lies in the lyrics to the last track, “(I Wanna) Feel It All.” When Longstreth sings “I wanna feel everything, Sweetness of youth and old age’s sting, Open my eyes wide and unblinking, I wanna feel everything,” you get a sense of Lonstreth’s impending urgency. Life is moving quickly. There isn’t time to waste.

I like that this point isn’t explored ad nauseum. Instead there’s the fanciful stuff—the track about the date, the zombie killer. You get a real sense that this is music that isn’t being performed by design, but that is being explored in collaboration with a whole host of ideas on display. The collage is varied in form and lives unto its present moment.

Note: The original cover image has been modified.

Hunger Pangs Inspiration Sugar Crash

Against Perfectionism No. 2

Hunger Pangs is a short form podcast for the listeners of the Sugar Crash Podcast! It’s a few minutes of motivation for your week!

In this episode, we continue our series against perfectionism. In the second episode, we look at two ways that perfectionists can process outcomes–goals and expectations.

Music by Rocco (License)