[guest post] 2009 In Review, Vol. 6 - David Shane Smith

As I’ve done for the past two years on PHW, I’ve asked a handful of the artists I’ve blogged about over the last 12 months to reminisce, musically, on 2009. I asked a mix of my favorite local artists, as well as several more nationally recognizable acts, with the hope of having a diverse assortment of reflections on the music that mattered to the artists that mattered to me. In the coming 2 or 3 weeks there will be a series of “guest” posts from some names you may recognize, if you were paying attention this year…

I stumbled upon the music of David Shane Smith at an open-mic night 2 or 3 summers ago in Brooklyn. I’m sure open-mics in Brooklyn are better than in most places, but they can still be pretty rough. Smith took the stage at around 2 A.M. after hours of established local acts pushing their upcoming shows, the occasional promising newbie, and a lot of painful mediocrity. Dressed in a plain v-neck white tee and ratty jeans, this lanky kid hovered over a room full of (drunk) aspiring musicians (and a friend of one of them, me) and silenced them. He played two stark, absolutely magnetic songs that I never did get the names of, and though they were played alone on acoustic guitar, to call them folk songs would be deceiving. He said a quiet “thanks’ and was gone. Just like that. The next day I looked him up on myspace and listened again, emailed him, and have been sharing his music with you ever since. He’s made a bunch of homemade “albums”, three that I actually have burned copies of - Love Songs, Wintertower, and Angry Earth.

I finally got a chance to talk to him a few months later after a show of his at the same place, Bar 4 in Park Slope, and learned he was soon moving out to L.A. 2009’s Cloud Pleaser was recorded after the transplant, and it’s his best, most fully-realized album yet. I’ve written about him so many times over the past few years that I kind of feel like a broken record describing his music. But it can’t be ignored - Smith is at his best writing bleak yet evocative songs about environmental corrosion, urban degeneracy, and human indifference. He mixes folk, electronica, ambient, and, to a lesser degree, hip-hop, to create a truly original sound. Cloud Pleaser might not be for all of you, but the ones who it is will discover a unique artist with songs well worth hearing.

DSS passed along the following (mostly) non-musical top ten list summing up his 2009. Listen up:

10. The Rite of Spring

All the music I listen to is probably not released in 2009. I'm not trying to avoid current music but in 2009 I think I might have listened to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring a hundred times.
I'm not sure why. I'm going to have my Tarot this afternoon and I'm going to ask the medium about it and see what she thinks.

9. Psycle

This is a free synthesizer program that I found online that mimics analog synthesizers. I haven't been able to stop playing with it since I found it! I might be a little unhealthily addicted to it in fact. I think I might also be unhealthily addicted to some other things but I will leave that alone for now.

8. Marijuana

The weed in California is plentiful and cheap. It varies in quality when you buy it from friends. I haven't actually smoked any in about a week but I might have a contact high right now from just being in Los Angeles.

7. Barack Obama

This guy seemed to come out of nowhere with a few interesting hits that could potentially stay in the cultural lexicon for sometime. Things like "Hope" and "Change" are catchy and rhythmic. Real club anthem potential.

6. Keith Niles

He's a poet. Probably one of the best writers I've met in a long time. He was hosting a poetry open mic at a dive bar in Echo Park which has since disbanded. I wonder if he will get mad if he notices that I wrote about him here. I think he might hate me. We've had some arguments. I still like his writing. Google him!

5. Songwriting

Songwriting is frustrating but can be fulfilling in the end. I hear all this talk about how "everything's been done" so I'm just doing it all again. I've found that I enjoy inventing a character from my past and telling people that he/she wrote the song I am about to play. I also invent progeny and attribute the song to them.

4. Cultural Pastiche

I am fan of the mash-up as much as anyone, but I love it when it presents itself through cultural traits. For example at work the other night I was treated to the music of a young Muslim of Arab descent from Texas. It was straight up radio country fit for American Idol and based on Muslim poetry sung through a thick Texan accent. He started doing some Green Day and I wanted to throw my shoe at him.

3. Being friendly.

This is a crazy new thing I've found! How many years have I spent brooding in the back of bars scribbling on napkins or chewing my fingers? How long have I passed up simple, positive, life affirming social interaction in exchange for earbud headphones and caffeine overkill? I can tell that its not going to last too much longer because it gets a little repetitive, but people aren't all that bad when you actually talk to them.

2. Bigotry

It makes me laugh. Say what you want about ignorant racial or sexist slurs, but I just can't stop.

1. Reading.

Here are some books I read this year that stroked my brain stem.
Frederic Jameson - Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Marshal Mcluhan - Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
Roberto Bolano - The Savage Detectives

Thanks James, for this platform on which to share my thoughts. Happy New Year!


David Shane Smith - Beauty Force from Gato Blanko on Vimeo.

MP3 :: Brand New
(from Cloud Pleaser. Buy here)

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