Our favorite things this week include Bedouine's new album, the podcast exploring a song's creation, and "NWA Powerrr."
I used to be a regular Song Exploder listener, but politics elbowed a few podcasts out of my feed and Song Exploder was one. Since coverage of the impeachment depresses me, I’ve revisited some old listening loves and am back on board. Song Exploder is a nerdy deep dive into one song as host Hrishikesh Hirway interviews musicians and their producers, then edits himself out of the episodes so that they sound like musicians explaining the stories behind their songs directly to the listeners. The show follows a song through demos and tracking sessions, usually to illustrate how intuitive the process of making music is. Often a partially broken instrument produces some idiosyncratic sound that makes all the difference.
A recent episode with Ezra Koenig discussing “Harmony Hall” reveals that there is as much in a Vampire Weekend as you always suspected. The problem of deciding between two approaches to the piano part was solved with the producer asked, How about both? Multiple producers helped Koenig find his way through multiple problems, and one verse spawned the next, and the language in the chorus helped shape what followed it. Lyrics then inspired musical choices, some serious and some cheeky. The episode confirmed much of what you thought might be true about Vampire Weekend for better or worse.
One of the charms of the show is that it doesn’t always put the musician in the best light. A recent, belated discussion of Semisonic’s “Closing Time” has as a through line singer Dan Wilson’s exhaustion as he worked on the song while dealing with his underweight, premature daughter in a nearby hospital’s NICU. That weariness comes out in his worn voice when he sings, and his soloed vocal is ragged, desperate and on the edge of out of control. It doesn’t present Wilson as a particularly good singer, but that performance was clearly what the song needed, and like much of Song Exploder, it’s a reminder that art is all about how well the pieces fit together and not how perfect each piece is on its own. (Alex Rawls)
It’s been over seven months since Bedouine—the one-woman project of Azniv Korkeijan—released her sophomore album Bird Songs of a Killjoy, but I’m still gushing over every track. Bedouine sounds like no other folk artist right now. The album pulls off beautifully rich production without upstaging Bedouine’s intimate, singing-on-the-back-porch songwriting.
I find it hard to listen to contemporary folk without thinking of Joni Mitchell. But with Bedouine, it’s inevitable. While she doesn’t attempt to imitate Mitchell's earth-shaking vocal range, the phrasing she invokes is a clearly indebted to her. I see the two ladies as kindred L.A. spirits. “Echo Park”, a heartfelt, ambivalent ode to her gentrified L.A. neighborhood, might well be Korkeijan’s personalized spin-off from Mitchell's Laurel Canyon.
But unlike Mitchell, Bedouine’s art is one of stitching together moments of a singular emotional affect, rather than the development of long story arcs. She conjures up memories of the physical places she holds dear, like Kentucky in “Under the Night.” She renders emotional locales as deeply as she does physical ones. On “Sunshine Sometimes,” she yearns to rekindle an old relationship. “Bird” is unapologetically, emotionally bare, Korkejian’s delicate vocals wrought with longing.
Although temperate, there are unexpected surprises peppered in. Korkejian, who also edits music for film soundtracks, showcases her production chops on “Dizzy,” as the song deconstructs itself into a long jazzy overture. Bird Songs glides its wings through a dream drenched in nostalgia, yearning to be many places and times at once, perhaps longing for the nomadic existence that Korkejian’s stage name speaks to. (Devorah Levy-Pearlman)
When he’s not doing Smashing Pumpkins, what is Billy Corgan up to? These days, NWA Powerrr. Corgan bought the fabled but largely shelved NWA professional wrestling brand in 2017, and last fall he launched Powerrr, its flagship show, on YouTube, where new episodes drop on Tuesdays. The show is the antidote to anyone turned off by the WWE’s over the top-ness because it self-consciously returns to the 1980s when weekly wrestling programs looked small and kinda cheap, shot in television studios in front of a few hundred people on bleachers. The show commits to its concept with theme music by Dokken, bumper music written on period-appropriate synthesizers, and production values that are deliberately low rent. They point to professional wrestling’s sideshow origins at a time when Fox fits ads for the WWE’s Smackdown into its biggest football games.
Because NWA Powerrr is contained in a studio with an interview station just yards from the ring, the show moves fluidly from story-building segments to matches, my favorite involving heel Aron Stevens, in storyline a bad actor who has become a bad martial arts practitioner under the tutelage of the least likely star in professional wrestling in 2020, The Question Mark, a dumpy guy in a cheap mask who shouts “Ka-Ra-TAY” before executing moves that have nothing to do with karate. They’re genuinely funny, unlike most of what passes for comedy at the WWE, and they give the show some tonal balance that the best wrestling shows today—NXT and AEW Dynamite—lack.
Historically, the NWA was an alliance of regional territories that shared some talent, and the current incarnation has augmented its tight roster led by excellent heel champion Nick Aldis with appearances from the sixtysomethings tag team the Rock and Roll Express, the veteranly veteran Scott “Big Poppa Pump” Steiner, and long-time journeymen James Storm and Colt Cabana. The quality of the in-ring work is the show’s weakest element so far, but it’s good enough, and the show is more fun than any other professional wrestling show on TV right now. (Rawls)