Summer Music--Qodèxx, Frank Ocean's Blonde, and the Cordovox

I hope you've all been having a beautiful summer, friends!

When I sent out last July's newsletter, which contained a link to a mix of music that I'd put together to honor the halfway point of 2016, the world was just a few weeks away from receiving, basically out of the blue, Frank Ocean's newest album, Blonde. I'd heard for ages about how great his 2012 debut Channel Orange was, but since I'd been in this mode of not chasing down new releases as avidly as I used to, I'd never gotten around to hearing any of his music before. But the chorus of praise and, like, astonishment, over how good Blonde was got to be too much for me to resist, so I ended up downloading it a couple days after it dropped.

Friends, not that the world needs any commentary at all from a basic white lady in her late 30s on how exceptionally good this album it, but it is exceptionally good. It was, without a doubt, my favorite album released in 2016, and it's quickly reaching the status of albums that I never want to not have on my iPhone (the small handful of others in that category include Chris Whitley's Dirt Floor and American Music Club's The Golden Age). Now that it's coming on almost a full year since its release, I'm feeling characteristically nostalgic about the days when I first dove into the sonic world that he created.

It's easy to get distracted by the more outré elements he's working with here--whether that's the extreme processing on some of the vocals or the meandering structure of many of the songs--but to me the album's brilliance actually comes from the plainspokenness of the lyrics. Lines like "I may be younger but I'll look after you" or "stayed up til my phone died" or "I should be payin' y'all, honest to God" read like nothing typed out, but in the context of their respective songs are breathtakingly poignant. The layers upon layers of meaning on this record always remind me of Destroyer's albums like Rubies and Trouble in Dreams, albums whose density require nothing shy of total intellectual commitment, while still being extremely viscerally satisfying, musically. But it's exactly because of the complexity of the framework that Ocean's simple, straightforward lyrics stand out even more, almost like they're hidden in plain sight.

Whenever I listen to this album, I always end up with that pinched, acidic feeling in my throat, like I'm maybe on the verge of just bursting into tears out of nowhere. The generosity and vulnerability of this album make it feel like something sacred. It's so good that I actually have no desire to go back and investigate his back catalog. I finally have a copy of Channel Orange in my iTunes library, and I like it just fine whenever a track might come up on shuffle. But he's surpassed himself so thoroughly with the triumph of Blonde that he's even made his own previous work sound like child's play. I can't believe I've only lived with it for a year. I feel like we're all going to be catching up with this masterpiece for a long, long time.

Table of contents:

  1. What's new on the blog

  2. Music for Qodèxx

  3. "Wichita Lineman": The 2017 Covers Series

  4. Psychic readings & healings

What's new on the blog

This month on Queen of Peaches, I talk a bit about the process of writing and recording the soundtrack to Gene Kannenberg Jr.'s abstract/asemic graphic novella Qodèxx and how spending my childhood making music with my dad helped prep me for it.

"One of the best possible examples that my dad set for me, as a creative person, growing up, was that he collaborated with people. As I’ve talked about before, it’s hard to explain exactly what kind of musician he was. But the one thing he definitely wasn’t was the stereotype of the isolated solo artist, tortured by the melodies in his head that no one else could hear, pushing people away while he perfected his craft. Was he a monomaniacal, controlling, obsessive, perfectionist Virgo? Yes. It was his way or the highway, especially if he felt like you weren’t on his level, professionally. He would damn well tell you how the part should be played, how the song should be sung, how the arrangement should be arranged. But if he respected you as a musician? He actively wanted to collaborate and play together. He was a band guy through and through."

Click here to read the rest.

Music for Qodèxx

Even if abstract/asemic comics aren't your cup of tea, I'd invite you to check out the recorded version of the soundtrack that's now available on Bandcamp!

If the blog post doesn't make it explicit enough, everything on this was played and recorded either in our home or in the D Room at the Superior Street Center for the Arts. Brian wrote all the songs; played acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, and other effects; and recorded and mixed everything. I sang all the vocals, played the drum (yes, drum singular), and collaborated on some of the production and overdubs. It was a total joy to work on, to have the time and space to really drill into the essentials of the music at our leisure, without having to worry that we were on the clock at a studio. We're super proud of this one and are excited to share it with you!

After reflecting so deeply on my dad's musicianship this month, I figured this would be the perfect time to bust out his cover of "Wichita Lineman" (which is the second song in a Glen Campbell medley, after "By the Time I Get to Phoenix").

Click here to stream the song on Bandcamp.

Personnel-wise, I'm fairly certain that this is not actually the version of the Terry Felus Trio that I grew up with. It's my dad on Cordovox, I can tell that much, but I have no idea who the singer or drummer are. Throughout my childhood, the drummer and primary vocalist for the group was Don Graves, and though it might be him on drums, it's definitely not his voice. (For reference, check out Donny's incredible tenor on their version of the great Bee Gees tune "How Deep Is Your Love?" recorded on New Year's Eve, 1982.) Whoever it is, though, does a great, simple but soulful take on it. The thing that really cracks me up here, though, is my dad's immediately identifiable playing style. He would only have been 24 at the time this was recorded, but those jazzy chord stabs and the mini glissandos would remain a consistent part of his instrumental voice for the rest of his life.

And though as the years went on he played the Cordovox less and less, moving on to regular piano/keyboards and even just regular accordion, that sound will always be synonymous with Terry Felus to me. About ten years ago, I was in Boston for a friend's wedding, and the day before the ceremony, I had dinner at a raw food restaurant with another friend in the North End neighborhood of the city, where the rowdy Saint Anthony's Feast street festival was in full swing. As we dodged drunken revelers in the narrow streets, snaking our way through the festivities to get to the restaurant in time for our reservation, we happened to walk past a small stage where someone was actually playing a Cordovox. I hadn't heard one in years at that point, and tears instantly sprang to my eyes. The sound of the thing was so familiar and so specific, and I was so grateful to be reminded of how singularly my dad utilized it in his work for so many of my, and his, formative years. You'll hear it in full flower on "Wichita Lineman" here, in all its perfect, loungy goofiness and beauty.

Although I always hope that when you read my writing it comes off as smooth and confident, truthfully, I dither a lot month to month about what to write about. Sometimes ideas are obvious and the words flow out of my fingers easily, but more often than not, I struggle a lot with even knowing what to write about. "That seems stupid." "No one will care about this." "My opinion is definitely not all that interesting." In times of desperation and self-doubt like this, I often reach for my tarot cards for a little bit of perspective on the matter. I'm by no means a tarot expert, but when I'm really in the weeds about an issue (writing-related or not), a quick three-card reading often helps me cut through my own bullshit. The photo above shows what I pulled for this month's blog post: the Emperor, the Hermit, and Strength. The way I was taught to read by Camelia Elias, I try to avoid esoteric symbolism, cut right to the chase, and read what the pictures are showing me. This spread was clearly telling me that I needed to write about the process of writing and recording the Qodèxx songs. In the three cards, I saw Brian on the left (in charge, ruling the proceedings), me on the right (attempting to pry open the mouth of my own uninhibited animal self), and in the middle, my dad's spirit just straight-up haunting the session. It, of course, took me several more hours to compose, edit, and post the piece, but the heart of the matter was already right there on the table. I love it when witchy business helps me get down to earth and practical.

Take good care of yourselves, friends! There's still so much beauty left to be savored this summer.

With love,