Author Archives: Jorge Farah

About Jorge Farah

I am the opposite of Prince.

Seasons and the City: María Pien’s “Malinalli”


This is a well-worn cliché, but to me, New York City sounds like a tenor saxophone. Whether this is an abstraction derived from the cacophony of traffic noise that fills its bustling streets, or just years of internalized media depictions, or my own experiences as a purveyor of live jazz, Mingus Mondays etched permanently into my brain and thus forever associated with the contours of Lower Manhattan– I’m not sure. But New York City sounds like a tenor sax. Barranquilla also has a sound: it’s a faint vallenato, playing in the distance from some neighbor’s kitchen window. Buenos Aires? God, it’s been so many things over the decade I’ve lived here. These days, though– these days it’s the music of María Pien.

I found María Pien by perusing the “free” tag on Bandcamp. This is how I’ve found a surprising amount of great music, further disproving the myth that the only people interested in giving their music away for free are generic, interchangeable electronic “acts” (usually one dude with a laptop and some cursory knowledge of Ableton) or equally generic and interchangeable Flatbush punk bands. María’s first album, La Vuelta Manzana, was offered as a free download on the aforementioned service and became an instant favorite; a lovingly hand-crafted collection of whimsical summersongs and rain-soaked ballads– even a disconcertingly anachronistic tango– all zestfully performed by an artist who (at least sounds like she) is having the time of her life. The clear highlight for me was the track “Fantasía en G Para un Pueblo al Sur del Mapa“, a sheer masterpiece in folk-pop craftsmanship taking the form of a love letter/compassionate plea to a beautiful city that too often behaves like a petulant child, and whose considerable charms can be easy to take for granted. I raved about the track to everyone who’d listen, played it on a podcast, and included it in the mix I made for the Summer Mixtape Blog Ring over at In Pursuit of Expression. It’s just a stunner of a track.

One of the drawbacks of downloading free music from Bandcamp it’s that it’s never really free– you know the adage about free lunches. Like many services that purport to be free on the age of social media, its true cost is in the value of data aggregation. By downloading the free content, you agree to be quantified and put on a spreadsheet for further peddling and who knows what else. True, it’s a minor nuisance– a tour announcement here, an obnoxious PR e-mail there– but there’s something I miss about being able to sample some music and politely excuse myself from any further contact with minimal hassle. Sometimes, however, it pays off to not click that inconspicuous “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of every one of these automated e-mail templates. Like when María Pien sent an e-mail announcing the follow-up to La Vuelta Manzana, which was already written, recorded, mixed and available for instant streaming. Like a surprise gift from an old friend.

The name of María Pien’s second album is Malinalli. It is, at first glance, a more modest album than its predecessor: fewer songs, shorter length, sparser sound with more conservative arrangements. But what Malinalli truly is is a subtly magnificent album, more cohesive and self-assured than La Vuelta Manzana, and a huge leap forward for Pien. It is an exercise in songcraft, made up almost entirely of classical guitar-based ballads, and aside from its exuberant opening and closing tracks, an altogether more laid-back affair. Doffing the intricate architecture of her debut, letting the songs stand on their own as minimally adorned compositions, reveals an emotional depth to Pien’s register that her previous work only hinted at. And while there are plenty of moments that match the doe-eyed playfulness of her debut– the nursery-rhyme syncopation in “El Muerto en la Heladera”, the delightfully unfurling title track, the Luis Buñuel fever dream that is “El Sapo”– it’s the unguarded moments of unabashed melancholy where this album shines brightest. The melodic elegance of songs like “Madera y Mano” and “Una Palabra” (posted above), as well as the impassioned sincerity in Pien’s delivery, make these songs the clear highlights of the album.

“Una palabra bastó para traerte hasta aquí”, María Pien sings in the aforementioned track. One word was enough to bring you here, as if the distance between us was but a story. As if your presence was the springtime. There’s a song on La Vuelta Manzana titled “Spring Inside“, a lovely Joni Mitchell throwback arranging disparate strands of memories into a vivid portrait of a fast-fading spring. María Pien is very interested in seasons, in memories and in spaces; her songs exist in the convergence of the three. There’s an unspoken stillness to even our most uproariously joyous moments, a quiet understanding of the significance of these moments, that runs like a lace between the people who share in it. It flies off of us like specks of mercury, onto the streets and buildings and people that surround us. We mark these things permanently with the ghost of our revelry, and the passage of time colors them a melancholy hue. A song like “Una Palabra” taps into this emotional space expertly, complementing a stately classical guitar chord progression with a tasteful bed of strings, the song resolving like a memory slowly fading in the horizon.

María Pien ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to finance the special-edition physical release of Malinalli. Good timing and dumb luck resulted in my contribution being the one that pushed her past her goal, and my donor reward was that she’d record a cover of any song of my choosing. I suggested Tom Waits’s Blood Money ballad, “All the World is Green”, and María delivered a stunning version. Check it out below.

Everyist Blogcast: Barranquilla Dreaming (with guest Jorge Bedoya)


Hi! Happy New Year! Yes, it’s pretty much mid-February already, but we haven’t seen each other in so long. What’s going on? You look good. Let us dedicate 2015 to becoming a less-terrible version of ourselves.

I spent the last few months traversing the American continent, spending an inordinate amount of time in airports and finding new and exciting ways to get drunk. My travels took me to many adventures, several of which I will post about in upcoming weeks! No, I really will. Promise.

The tail-end of my trip was spent in my hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia, where I stop by every year to recharge and brace myself for the inevitably devastating shock of daily life after weeks of international hedonism (… yeah, okay, that might be overstating a bit, shh). As has become a tradition, I sat down with one of my very best and oldest friends (oldest as in time spent together, not as in age– although he is getting up there), Mr. Jorge Bedoya.

Mr. Bedoya and I spent a good hour-and-change talking about the perils of Barranquilla hipsterdom, the drastically different levels of energy between his two Golden Retrievers, the wickedness of penguins, and the similarities between our hometown and the city of New Orleans. As per usual, this conversation took place over several glasses of whiskey, so our palaver gets progressively more slurred and less coherent.

Last time around, he gave me a list of songs to feature. This time we collaborated on the song selection, picking three songs each. Here’s the playlist:

The Color Fred- “If I Surrender”
Orange Gold Red- “Wayward”
The Cars- “Just What I Needed”
Archers of Loaf- “Harnessed in Slums”
Babyshambles- “Penguins”
Diana Krall- “I’m Not in Love”

You can listen to this conversation– and the accompanying tunes, which are nothing to scoff at– by clicking the embedded player below.

download link

Oh, and psst! As mentioned, this episode features a song by Orange Gold Red. If you dig it as much as we did, be sure to hit up their Soundcloud here.
Also, this is the penguin gif we reference. Isn’t it adorable? It’s totally adorable.

Everyist Blogcast: The Return of the Rease (with guest Rease Kirchner)

Here’s a picture of me and Rease from all the way back in 2011, when we went to see LCD Soundsystem at a nightclub in Palermo. This photo is pretty blurry, and we’re getting ruthlessly photobombed by the nose-picking stranger behind us. Rease and I have a lot of photos together, but somehow they’re all varying degrees of terrible. You could probably make that into some metaphor for our friendship, but I’m not gonna.

Rease joins me on the podcast for the second time, making her the first-ever returning guest! (Well, not exactly; I recorded a second podcast with my friend Aly, but for reasons we discuss in the first few minutes of this pod, it turned out near-unlistenable and is due for a re-recording. Sorry Aly!). This episode is also remarkable in that it was recorded live from Miami, right next to the ocean. Because clearly podcasting and the ocean go hand-in-hand.

We discuss our trip to Miami, our visit to Santa’s Enchanted Forest, Rease’s ranking of male creepiness, and other such minutiae. Somehow we also find the time to play some music! Here’s the playlist to this episode:

Tilly and the Wall-
“Heavy Mood”
María Pien- “El Sapo”
LCD Soundsystem- “Get Innocuous”
The Smashing Pumpkins- “Mayonaise”
Sufjan Stevens- “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day?
(Well You Deserved It)”
Bomb the Music Industry!- “Struggler”

Hear me and Rease shoot the shit next to the beach by clicking the embedded player below:

Download link:

A Sort of Synesthesia: Sean Eldon’s “¡Pulmones!”


The “Rock Lobster” experiment got me thinking about the shape of songs, and how I perceive them. Applying the Paulstretch effect to the legendary B52s track, we revealed a wealth of shades and dimensions that were hidden away in the compact, compressed nature of the song. In its ungodly mutated form, it became a malformed, nearly unrecognizable, profoundly disturbing thing. But, compositionally, its basic structure was intact: the chord changes were still discernible, the verses and choruses (does that song really have a chorus?) were holding firm, exactly where they needed to be, albeit stretched out beyond recognition. And yet the song didn’t really feel like a song anymore. It was stretched out beyond the limits of our natural human ability to comprehend patterns and understand a “song” as such.

For a long time I thought exclusively in terms of structure– what part goes where, you know, the engineering of pop music. But in recent years I’ve started approaching songs more like three-dimensional objects, with physical properties like texture and color and weight. I don’t claim to have synesthesia, but I find that approaching songs in that way is helpful when trying to articulate what I like or dislike about a piece of music, and why.

I’ve been listening to Boston musician Sean Eldon’s new EP, ¡Pulmones!. It’s a good album to reference when talking about this because it’s made up of five very brief, very oddly-shaped tracks. And though some of the songs conform to a (slightly askew version of) compositional standards of pop music, there’s still this strange slant to it; melodies twist and turns in directions I can’t exactly explain, and often don’t exactly make sense until they resolve in the final line of the final chorus. This results in a somewhat disconcerting effect where you only really start enjoying the song on your second listen, as much of your first is spent trying to make sense of the journey you’re being taken on. In my experience, this is a trait of many truly memorable songs; they burrow into your brain after an initial period of stunned confusion.

It’s not just that the songwriting is adventurous. Pulmones is also one of the most peculiar-sounding albums I’ve heard, spilling with colors and textures that sound simultaneously serendipitous and deliberate; a collection of sounds that feel like they would go so completely wrong together in a more traditional configuration, but through either dumb luck or meticulous design fell perfectly into place here. The brittle crunch of discordant guitars atop the stuttering, propulsive drum sound and a bass that rumbles way down deep, pushing frequencies upward. All of this heightens (and in turn is heightened by) Sean Eldon’s voice, a soulful and strange timbre in of itself, double-tracked to otherworldliness, spitting out fragmented lines of alliteration and scattered imagery. The whole thing sounds like you’ve accidentally stumbled upon some secret radio frequency transmitting messages from another dimension, and you’re frozen in the terrible knowledge that if you shift your dial even slightly in either direction it’ll be lost forever.

It’s noisy, and it’s messy, but it’s not an abrasive, overcooked mess. This may contribute to the overall strangeness of its sound– while some of the compositions and performances are quite aggressive, the sound is remarkably dynamic. There’s room noise in these tracks– none of that hyper-compressed nonsense– so the songs are allowed some space to breathe. The sound of the album could be attributed to the unusual way it was recorded: the electric instruments were recorded direct, then played through individual amps arranged in a “live band” configuration in the studio. It was all then played back simultaneously, with Sean Eldon playing the drums at the center of it all. So the album is, essentially, a live album. Except it’s made up of mostly pre-recorded tracks. It’s pretty ingenious.

This here is probably the quietest track in an otherwise-pretty-chaotic album, but I feel it’s a good one to illustrate what I’ve been talking about. Listen to “Look Out! For Outlook!” by clicking on the embedded player below, and be sure to check out the rest of the album (as well as many others well worth your time) on Sean Eldon’s bandcamp page.

Happy Halloween! Here’s a Terrifying Slowed-Down Hour-Long Version of “Rock Lobster”!


Looking to get into the spirit of All Hallows’ Eve? Need some background music for your House of Horrors? Here’s the New Wave remix absolutely nobody knew they needed!

I like to take songs and tinker with them on audio editing software. I’m not Isosine, but I do get a kick out of hearing a familiar tune twisted into different shape– anything from simple stereo-widening, to changing the pitch on Big Star albums and making them sound like they’re being performed by Alvin & the Chipmunks. Last night, I took the B-52s classic “Rock Lobster”– a track that was already weird enough to begin with– and applied a Paulstretch effect. You’ve probably heard the Paulstretch a few times– it’s the audio engineers’ current go-to for making things sound spooky and ethereal. It’s also been making the rounds somewhat recently, with those “Justin Bieber Slowed Down 800% Sounds Like Sigur Rös!” clickbait things.

My understanding of it is that Paulstretch doesn’t exactly slow down the song, but chops it up into small pieces, then wraps those small pieces up with a shitload of reverb and smart tail measurement/envelope. This allows for the length of the song to be increased considerably, keeping the pitch intact. It also means, for example, that a simple snare hit is stretched out across several seconds, which makes it sound like a giant wave crashing down on the rest of the instruments. The vocals sound like barely comprehensible gibberish in an echo chamber. Guitars, keyboards and other instruments dissolve into a wave of harmonics and swirly, splashy sounds. You run just about any song through Paulstretch and the end result will likely be a soothing, lush ambient track.

“Rock Lobster”, though, reveals something far more sinister. The songs signature surf-rock riff becomes ominous and menacing, Fred Schneider’s sprechgesang become the ramblings of a mad man, or a cult leader. The first couple minutes are normal enough, but by the time we hear the Farfisa organ creeping in– or its malformed, stretched-out version– it becomes something much more unsettling, bringing you deeper into the world of madness of this song. By the time you’ve reached Kate Pierson’s guttural animal noises, it sounds like a fairly accurate aural representation of hell– shrieking, howling, deranged, dissonant; the frenzied wails of things that should have stayed dead.

It’s also an hour long. Give it a shot.
Happy Halloween, folks!

Download link.

It Would Be Nice to Live Without a Head: A Mixtape


A few months ago I participated in one of those dopey mixtape exchanges, where a group of strangers (or almost-strangers) craft “mixtapes” (more accurately, playlists) and send them to each other anonymously. It’s a silly timewaste, but one that can sometimes result in a few decent discoveries, whether it be of a worthwhile new artist or the inexplicable, unquantifiable alchemy that sometimes results from grouping a specific set of songs in a specific order.  When it came time to make my mixtape, I decided against the standard format, opting instead to craft a running playlist where the songs blended into each other, and the transitions were as much part of the listening experience as the songs themselves. I also decided that I should include pieces of dialogue from movies, peppered throughout the 1-hour running time to provide dramatic brushstrokes. At the time, I thought I was doing it kind of haphazardly, without really giving much thought to any specific order or internal logic. However, as time has gone on and I’ve found myself listening back to this set of songs (because yes, I am the kind of self-absorbed asshole who continually listens back to his own handiwork), something else has revealed itself to me. Something that may have been on the back of my mind as I was putting this monstrosity together.

I’ve written here before about my uneasy relationship with sleep, and how I’ve suffered through sleep paralysis and sundry disorders over the years. I’ve also written about how my dreams often fluctuate between placid, beautiful, happy images of the things and people I love,  to incredibly violent and disturbing imagery and scenarios. Sleep has become an experience I can never quite predict, and I can never quite guarantee, and something I don’t do often enough. My dreams aren’t an abstract representation of my brain working out all of my problems. They’re more like absurd, horrifying David Lynch pastiches which my brain puts together with the sole purpose of freaking me out. A bizarre smattering of Catholic imagery, pop culture references and the most random cast of characters from my life. I try to write them down immediately upon awakening, since I believe they’re mostly worth salvaging. Sometimes, when I’m with my girlfriend, I’ll be too embarrassed to get up at the break of dawn to write down on my notebook, so I’ll simply narrate the premise of the dream out loud to ensure it’s copied in my muscle-memory and I am able to preserve it. As if saying “going bowling with Bono and my grandfather” out loud is any less weird than getting up and writing on a journal.

Anyway, it became clear to me that this playlist is an attempt at approximating that kind of feeling. The sometimes-terrifying, sometimes sadly-sweet absurdity of the short films my brain puts together for my amusement. Check it out below. Movie sound bites were taken from Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), Ramis’s Groundhog Day (1993), Korine’s Trash Humpers (2009) and July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005).

Charles Mingus- “Haitian Fight Song”
Man Man- “Pink Wonton”
Floratone- “The Bloom is On”
Jesu- “Silver”
Crooked Fingers- “Boy With (100) Hands”
Bohren & der Club of Gore- “Im Rauch”
Diarrhea Planet- “Ugliest Son”
The Antlers- “Bear”
Arbouretum- “Coming Out of the Fog”
Red House Painters- “Have You Forgotten” (Electric version)
The Staves- “White Winter Trees” (live)

Download link:

Everyist Blogcast: Teenage Lobotomy (with guest Risha from Read Me Anything)

then and now- risha

Looking back on my entries in this blog, and other blogs I’ve had in the past, I’ve noticed that a lot of energy is spent on figuring out exactly what songs mean to me, and why they ended up being part of my personal canon. Were they simply forced into my life by virtue of their overwhelming ubiquity, or did I personally pick them and place them there? I also find myself examining my earliest writing, and being equal parts amused and horrified by the ways in which I’ve chosen to document my existence in this big old rock. Music and memories. This is what we’re discussing in this new installment the sporadically-updated podcast portion of the site. Joining me this time around is my friend Rishita Nandagiri.

Risha and I met through a website called Twenty-Something Bloggers, which is a blogging community that my friend Rease convinced me to join several years ago (and proceeded to completely abandon shortly thereafter). 20SB, as the name implies, is a group of bloggers uniting under the shared experience of the itching uncertainty of our 20s, as well as a near-pathological need to document every little thing in the form of a blog post. Like every online community made up of semi-anonymous strangers, there’s good and there’s bad. At its best, it’s a vibrant community of like-minded, creative individuals sharing ideas and gently nudging each other towards some kind of path. At its worst, it can feel like a bunch of needy sycophants trying to make themselves famous, toppling over each other in a mad scramble to be the one voice that cuts through the fog and becomes The Next Big Thing. It can be both things, and can lead to some interesting connections, which makes it more than worth the time spent in its forums and (now woefully neglected) chatroom.

Risha has a fantastic blog named You Can Read Me Anything, and also hosts a podcast of her own, The Quietude. She’s also one of the brightest people I know. I invited her to have a conversation with me about music and memories, and was thrilled when she accepted. As per usual, I tasked her with putting together a playlist of songs to share. Risha and I are in similar places in life: entering our late 20s and not quite certain of what exactly we’re doing, tracing steps back in the sand behind us. As such, she picked six songs from +/- ten years ago, to test out whether they still held up to scrutiny or if they were simply a proximity infatuation.

Here are the songs Risha selected:

Placebo- “English Summer Rain”
The Arcade Fire- “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)”
Ratatat- “Seventeen Years”
Camera Obscura- “Teenager”
Modest Mouse- “Float On”
Wolfman feat. Pete Doherty- “For Lovers”

Click the embedded player below to listen to our conversation. Do it.

Download link:

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