Train *not* in Vain
The good people over at Pop With a Shotgun have posted re the Believer's 2006 music issue CD—still available at stores, still required listening!—and it's a great introduction to the music.
The standout is undoubtedly Calexico's "Throwing Daggers," an impromptu rehearsal number recorded on live two-track in Tucson. Dominated end to end by a damp, slapping drum part, it starts so low you can't hear it, with lyrics so obscure-mundane you don't listen. Still it goes on, grows from a mumbled crap-scrap to a substantial piece of something, and then, stunningly, transformingly, at the very moment of the song's natural, inherent climax, comes the freight train that, according to the annotation, runs by the recording venue: Calexico knew it was coming, but not at that moment. The train whistles in, whines up, wails, shrieks, roars fearsomely past. Things go quiet again, damp slap and mumble, the thing fades. Pause. Whew.
The low-fi atmospherics, the loose, casual feel of many of the songs here open the door to such happy aural coincidences. "[E]ach reflects, in real time, the circumstance of its creation," CD compilers Matt Derby and Brandon Stosuy write in their intro. Think of the stray sounds on countless Guided by Voices songs, or the ones rising like landmarks on your favorite concert bootleg. A specific example comes to mind: The cars audible on the Goo Goo Dolls' "Two Days in February," each little rush of wind accenting—authenticating?—the stylish breakup lyrics.
To my knowledge, no recording was made of the Believer event this past Wednesday—alas! It would have been wonderful to capture (for next year's CD?) Gretta Cohn's transcendent solo piece for electric cello (and last-inning xylophone)—the notes cresting above the occasional traffic on Van Brunt and Hamilton, or interlocking with the birdsong that they seemed to elicit. The effect was at once serene and riveting, meshing not just with the ambient noise but the lovely garden setting and the history of the day itself (which had begun with absurdly violent thunderstorms). The event was on the verge of being canceled about a dozen times; a measure into Gretta's music, and I knew we had made the right decision.