There’s a sort of quiet desperation that permeates the music of Timothy Bracken and yields songs that are pitch perfect for restless nights. The West Virginian manages to conjure a lot of feeling out of just a couple instruments—namely keyboards, acoustic guitars and drums—to create a collection of sleepy-eyed slacker anthems. “Overflowing” is dreamy, multi-tracked bliss meted out in small installments. Braken’s voice is similar to Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, especially on “You Saw Me In The Light,” a twilit dreamscape with skittery beats and reverbed vocals. Baseball fans will love the allegory of “Dugout,” where Bracken warily navigates a doomed relationship, saying, “Guess I better put on my helmet before you throw a knuckleball at my head.” Love ain’t easy, but it makes for a good song. If Bracken needs to strike out to keep these gems coming, well, batter up.
“Dugout” – Timothy Bracken
The tradition of protest music has a long, rich tradition in America. From nascent beginnings in the early twentieth century and the labor movement to the great civil rights protest songs of the ’60s to the ’70s anti-Vietnam singer-songwriters to today, it’s an integral part of the story of rock ‘n’ roll. Whenever some perceived injustice becomes large enough, you know there’s going to be performers involved to lead the rallying cry.
“Don’t you know they’re talkin’ bout a revolution/ It sounds like a whisper.” Well, not quite a whisper, Tracy Chapman. Sure, Chapman wasn’t writing this about the #OccupyWallStreet movement or the subsequent protests when “Talkin Bout A Revolution” was released back in ’88. But that song and her words ring more true now then they have in a long time.
Now this isn’t going to be some partisan treatise on the pros and cons of the movement—we’ll save that for the wonky policy blogs. However, as the Occupy protests continue on into their fifth week, they have begun to draw in disparate segments from all across the pop culture spectrum. We’ve had conservative bloggers investigating/instigating in the fray, Gossip Girl alums hoisting cardboard signs and familiar Hollywood faces of varying loveliness. Oh, and Giraldo Rivera. More importantly, we’ve had a couple of good, old fashioned protest-music moments. And no, we don’t mean that guy with the acoustic doing Pete Seeger covers, though that guy is pretty cool.
It’s unknown what inspired Jeff Mangum of dormant folk group Neutral Milk Hotel to perform for the protesters on Wall Street. The notoriously retiring frontman has been making public appearances with increasing frequency in the past couple of months, playing sold out shows in east coast locales with tickets selling at near unaffordable prices. So, while you might not have been able to catch the reclusive Mangum in a solo set at some tiny club, if you were in downtown Manhattan on October 4th and happened to be a fan of collegiate indie rock, then you were in for a real treat. The best part? The tech savvy protests streamed the entire impromptu event as it happened on livestream, turning a cool moment into a viral thing.
“Of course I support [Occupy Wall Street],” Mangum said after his performance. “This is just something small that I can do.” Aw, what a guy!
These days, the Apples in Stereo, Of Montreal and Jeff “Neutral Milk Hotel” Mangum, when regarded out of context, seem to have little in common beyond their status as indie-rock cult heroes. But a decade and a half ago, they were sonic and spiritual kin as part of the Elephant 6 collective. The Apples in Stereo’s debut, the 1993 EP Tidal Wave, was the first release from the E6 camp, which was founded by Mangum along with members of the Apples and Olivia Tremor Control. At various points, E6 HQ has been located in Denver, CO, Ruston, LA, and Athens, GA, but from the beginning it was an offbeat cabal of underground artists besotted with ‘60s psych-pop, filtering it through their own eccentric sensibilities in classic DIY fashion.
Flagship band Olivia Tremor Control disbanded in 1999, but they popped up again at 2005’s All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, and now they’re set to make a full-fledged comeback, reminding the world of the E6 heyday’s glory in the process. OTC co-founder Bill Doss recalls that the band began under the name Flying Machine, which he swiftly changed to Synthetic Flying Machine upon discovering that the former was the name of James Taylor’s pre-stardom band. “Of course somebody in the ‘60s had a band called the Flying Machine,” he says wryly. Doss started the band Mangum and Will Cullen Hart, with Eric Harris and John Fernandes joining in 1995, after Mangum’s departure. “Jeff decided to focus on doing Neutral Milk Hotel stuff,” recalls Fernandes, “so I joined to play bass. Eventually I started playing other things like violin and clarinet in the band as well.”