BWG – Best of the Early Years (free music)

Posted on February 24, 2009

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So, I realize that my back-catalogue of home recordings is a bit overwhelming, and after talking to a few people I decided to try and make a little best-of to help you find your way through it.  Considering I basically recorded everything I did, everything up to Your Body Is Your Soul is pretty hit-or-miss.

Best of early BWG part 1
Best of early BWG part 2

Here’s the tracklist plus some behind-the-scenes commentary

1. Right Here, Right Now – Autobiography EP

I recorded this at my parents house Feb 07, just before I went on tour with The One AM Radio.  I’d had the melody kicking around in my head for a few days, but lyrics weren’t really coming together, so I would up cribbing an amazing passage from Amy Hempel’s fantastic novella Tumble Home and just fitting it in there.  The blinding optimism of the quoted passage is a touch out of line with the subtle, dark shading of the novella, but that’s probably why it works so well as a short song.  Vocals are a bit rough throughout this comp, since the years of home-recording were in a large part me figuring out how to sing.

2. Silent Hearts – Hangups EP

This is the first of way too many songs about a particular lady who I happened to meet right when I was getting really excited about songwriting.  This song is hugely influenced by Leonard Cohen, both in the simplicity of the structure, and in the rhyme and rhythm and attitude of the lyrics, which I really love.  The reverby ooh & ahh bridge is one of my favorite home-recorded moments, too.  Note the flubby guitar part – this is what happens when you write things that are too hard for yourself to play.  I’d only been playing guitar for a couple years.

3. Sorry Skin – One Day The Distance…

At one point I got sick of my own brain so I tried to write songs from other people’s minds.  This is the only one that really worked out, probably because it was written from/for a very close friend.  She was going through a nasty breakup.  I know this is a favorite among a few friends.  I really like the chord organ on the bridge (which I had to pitch-shift because it’s like 25 c flat) and the teacup sounds at the end.  Ah, experimentalism.  The soprano sax parts are nice too.

4. Existential Terror Song – April Fools EP

One april 1 I sat in my brothers room with a ukulele and tried to write as many songs as possible.  I made it to three, which isn’t that bad.  This one was the hardest to write, and it’s my favorite.  The lyrics, which are basically about not wanting to write lyrics (and feeling that all choices in life are arbitrary and thus the same), are full of lots of fun tricks like the endless repetition of “to say the same things in the same ways,” and the schizophrenic vocals, which sound like a different person every few lines, fit pretty well.

5. Please Don’t Bury Me By The Highway – There are Bones in the Trees

This is the first song I ever wrote completely before trying to record it.  I still really like it.  I wrote it after riding past an enormous graveyard on the Fung Wah from NYC to Boston, and thinking, man, I really don’t want my body to spend eternity reminding passing travelers of their own mortality.  It was part of a long period of thinking a lot about death, right around my 20th birthday.  It was very healing to write.

6. Into The Dark! – One Day the distance…

This was an aborted attempt at a July 07 minute-a-day record, but it started out so good.  I remember thinking as I recorded it that it was totally contrived and false, but then when I went back and listened I was like, hey this is pretty great, especially the first half.  Also dig the flute solo on a cheap, wooden flute I bought at a chintzy far-east novelty shop in Cleveland, and the coin drop percussion solo.  Lyrics are first about summertime, then about being sick of myself, then about not having anything to say in lyrics (this happens a lot during minute a day recording).

7. A Brief History Of Boy Without God Part I: Elementary School – Songs to sit in empty rooms to

This is the beginning of the April 07 Minute A Day record, recorded in the closet of what was my new apartment at the time.  It was my first apartment and I felt a bit bewildered and lost.  The lyrics are all about hating elementary school so much that I tried to stay up all night every night listening to WEEI (sports radio for non-locals) at an impossibly low volume and reading Calvin & Hobbes and Far Side books.  The guitar part for the first half is complicated enough that I completely forgot how to play it shortly after recording.

8. Great American Novel – One Day The Distance…

This song is part of a minute a day effort in Jan 08, and aside from being majorly inspired by my friends shai and shira erlichman, it’s about being really stoked to go on a long duo tour with my close buddy alex morris.  The stolen bagels part is about visiting Shai at clark u and stealing bagels from the school dining hall because he had nothing on his meal plan.  Mine was blueberry, which meant it was basically inedible.  I think I wound up throwing most of it at him.

9. A Little Less Love – There are bones…

This song was written at BC, and like the others from that time, it’s totally miserable and mopey.  Anyone writing the line “I won’t be what I fucking hate” is obviously not in a good place.  I think I was listening to a lot of elliott smith and pedro the lion at the time, which you can probably hear.  Listening carefully to these songs brings back a lot of small moments from my life that I cannibalized for lyrics.

10 Rise Rise Rise – There are bones…

This song was pretty heavily influenced by listening to recordings of a chorus my sister used to be in, called Village Harmony.  They sing a lot of shape-note music, which I absolutely love.  I wanted to make something uplifting, as my natural tendency, especially as of a few years ago, was to be reflective and melancholy.

11. Goodbye 2006 – Autobiography EP

This one starts a bit slow and mopey (same girl as #2), but manages to pick up with a cool key-shifting bridge and some sweet mandolin before shifting into the really fun, fast ending (with the same chords as part 1), which is definitely one of my favorite parts of any song I’ve written.  I really appreciate the overall form and motion of the song, the way sadness gives way to excitement and happiness (I won’t be afraid!), the rising sax lines and drum fills.  I am going to pat myself on the back for this one.

12. The Pity Parade – The Pity Parade

This (along with #13) is the start of the June minute a day record.  I started out being kind of sad, and then started making fun of myself for being sad, and THEN decided to create a fictional scenario where an angel comes down from the sky into my bedroom to tell me to stop being so god damned whiny.  Dig the stationery percussion (scissors, ruler + pen is that thing that sounds like a high-pitched zipper or vinyl scratch) and the drums in the 2nd half which were played seperately, piece by piece.  Also, same chords as wilco’s Via Chicago and like a million other songs.  Ah, pop music.

13. The Angel Descends into Somerville – The Pity Parade

This is where the angel shows up and tells me about how every cell in my body is constantly screaming “I love you!”  Note the “electric” guitar created by turning a recording of acoustic guitar up way too loud.  I did this a lot actually.  I really liked clipped-out recordings.

14. Every Shining Word – There are bones…

This is about that girl again.  This was before we had our differences.  And I mean right before…like maybe five minutes.  Anyway, this is one of the first songs I wrote on the banjo.  I really like the a capella intro and the harmonies at the end, and the generally sweet nature of the song.  It’s almost, almost mind you, a love song.

15. A Brief History Of Boy Without God Part II: High School – Songs to sit in empty rooms to

Here’s part two of me rehashing my past for song lyrics.  All the lyrics here, oblique as they may be, are about my (lonely + nerdy) high school experience.  The vocals are not quite up to the verse melody sadly, but all the multitracking sounds pretty good (and kinda like TV on the Radio) on the chorus.  I also really like the patchwork of guitar parts on the second verse and the trippy drone at the beginning of the third.  On the whole, it’s a bit too long, but hey.
16. Let’s Pretend – I am the place where all lies start

This was definitely brought on by heavy dr. dog listening, and a need to counteract all the brutally noisy stuff that had dominated this record (The May 07 minute a day one) so far.  I needed a little shot of hopefulness (I may be alone/but maybe someday I won’t) and calm.  To be honest, I am pretty impressed I wrote such a coherent songform under the MAD regemin.  But you can see, as usual, by the end I ran out of ideas and wound up deconstructing the song violently and writing lyrics about how I had nothing to say (“let’s pretend that words can really convey a meaning”).  This was one of the only times I deigned to include some jazzy saxophone (my initial forte) in boy without god stuff.  Oh, and you can hear the neighbor kids playing outside at one point.

17. Got Burnt Once But… – I am the place where all lies start

This little piece of upbeat poppiness came way later in the may record.  I hadn’t really mastered the melody when I tried to sing it, so I just threw on lots of tracks and hoped some kind of melody would come through.  More fake electric guitar at the end.  Oh and the lyrics are about that girl again.  I wish I could go back in time and give myself a hug.

18. Once Only, Once Again – One Day the distance…

This is another not quite love song.  I wrote it on a girl’s bedroom, on her guitar, while her roommate watched TV in the other room.  I don’t think she’s ever heard it.  I like the simplicity and sweetness of it.  Also I copped out on the line “all the secret sweet/things we’re dreaming of” which was originally “it’s so beautiful/and so meaningless” but I was afraid she’d hear it on the internet and then figure out it was about her and refuse to see me again.  It’s odd that I thought that was so likely.  P.S. check out the crows cawing outside my window around 1:40!

19. Hotel Shower – One day the distance

This song is pretty dramatic, so it’s a bit of a love it or hate it situation, but it was one of my favorite songs to play live when I was on tour with alex, who came up with a lovely banjo part.  I wrote the lyrics (yes, still the same girl) in a hotel room in fayetteville, LA while on tour with The One AM Radio.

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