clever pseudonyms

Jacob do Bandolim is portuguese for "Mandolin Jacob." Jacob do Bandolim played a mean mandolin. He was also an aficionado of well-tailored shirts and tiny mustaches. This beautiful song exemplifies both his technical virtuosity and his restraint, ably creating a graceful melody without ostentation. Can you dig it?

Jacob do Bandolim - Simplicidade


very sweet, like gentle rain

I have a lot of Brazilian music on my iTunes (see last week's post) so I might continue on the theme for a couple of weeks. The first Brazilian musician I really became aware of was Astrud Gilberto, whose version of "Girl From Ipanema" marked the high point of many otherwise unbearable nights spent bussing tables in high school. She doesnt have the most compelling voice in the world, but there's something sexy about her weary, effortless delivery. Unfortunately, listening to a full album of her sometimes chintzy, samba-influenced lite-jazz can get a little grating. Enter RJD2 to give her smoky vocals the treatment they deserve. This beautiful remix is piano and drum driven, and sets Astrud lower in the mix to let her complement the production, rather than overpower it. Today's download is track #38(!) from RJD2's somewhat obscure mixtape "Your Face or Your Kneecaps," and predates his inferior remix of the same song from Verve Records' recent "Remixed" series... as if anyone cares.

RJD2/Astrud Gilberto - Rain


the universal language

School has been seriously kicking my ass and will continue to. I'll be back at full capacity in a couple of weeks but until then I doubt I'll manage more than a couple of short posts. Today's song is fitting considering my current condition: spending way too much time crouched over my computer, drinking all kinds of caffeine and listening to instrumental music that doesn't distract me with the urge to sing along. Hurtmold are a (mostly) instrumental rock band from Brazil. They clearly have listened to their share of Tortoise and Fugazi records, but I don't know much about them beyond that because everything I've found is written in their native Portuguese. Today's song is the title track off their second LP, Mestro, and I think it does a good job of illustrating their strengths. They stay away from the soft-loud dynamics that a hundred post-rock bands have done to death since Mogwai, preferring to experiment with jazzy rhythms and interesting instrumentation including horns, woodwinds, and a vibraphone. If you like it, I strongly urge you to check out the rest of Mestro - it's one of my favorite post-rock albums.

Hurtmold - Mestro


plucking up a perfectly good song

I consider Sufjan Stevens one of the premier singer/songwriters of the past few years. His music is simultaneously humble but adventurous, familiar but idiosyncratic, accessible but incredibly dense, orchestral but rarely over-the-top. This version of "Chicago" comes from his performance last year on Morning Becomes Eclectic. Removing the orchestral flourishes of the album version, he strips the song to a skeleton of fingerpicked acoustic guitar, fragile vocals, and a little bit of trumpet. It sounds more vulnerable without the myriad layers of instrumentation, but it almost seems to do a better job of conveying the song's nostalgic emotions than it's polished predecessor. I bet there's a simple folk song at the heart of all of his elaborate pop epics.

Sufjan Stevens - Chicago (acoustic on Morning Becomes Eclectic)


what having babies will do

For those who don't know me well, it's time for full disclosure (literally, not the kickass Fugazi song). When it comes to underground music, I have a terrible case of DC-philia. I have yet to determine whether its due to my completely valid idolatry of Ian MacKaye, my geographical proximity, or the disproportionate amount of sheer innovative awesome the DC scene has produced. Likely its a healthy mix of all three.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, today's song is not by a DC artist per se, but someone long involved, if peripherally, in the scene. Ben Davis made a name for himself in bands like Sleepytime Trio and Milemarker, who played screamo before it was co-opted by mall punks and made "accessible" with least-common denominator pop-punk guitar hooks and lyrics that conjure up all the 7th-grade love letters I never sent. I'm looking at you, Hawthorne Heights. From the Sleepytime Trio's humble beginnings at JMU in Harrisonburg, Davis' bands made a name for themselves locally and far beyond.

Davis eventually grew up, toured solo for a year, made a baby, and in 2000 released a gem of an LP called The Hushed Patterns of Relief on Arlington's own Lovitt Records, for whom I have loads of respect. His solo work eschews the cathartic intensity of his hardcore past, yet still sounds like the product of a full, collaborative band with hints of Pinback and Elliott Smith among others. "What Drifting Will Do" lives up to its name with it's coasting Middle Eastern-esque melody and psychedelic guitar work. I'm going to avoid dirty three-letter words and say that emotional doesn't necessarily mean pathetic. Here's proof.

Ben Davis - What Drifting Will Do


the weather is sweet

Ah, t-shirt weather. It has finally summoned me from the funk of closed windows and biking with gloves on and smelly old sweaters. Let's hope it sticks around for good this time. A dear friend called today's song "the feel-good song of the decade." For me it's hard to say because there have been a lot of pleasant songs in the past 10 years. Also, I don't speak French. This guy could be rapping about feline AIDS, SARS or global warming for all I know. In my ignorance, however, it seems to be the perfect mix of hip-hop beats and calypso melodies for this beautiful day. French rapping is so damn pretty too.

MC Solaar - Bling Bling