Morning Music: Red House Painters

Down Colorful Hill - Red House PaintersToday we move back to San Francisco from New York with Red House Painters. They were a longer-lived band than American Music Club and Codeine, and generally less “slit your wrists” music. That’s especially true in their later years (they stayed together for over a decade). But their first album, Down Colorful Hill — wow. It contains just six songs, with an average length of over seven minutes. And the most upbeat they get is “Lord Kill the Pain.”

My favorite song on the album is “Japanese to English.” It seems to tell a simple enough story. The singer is on a beach on an island off Japan with an older woman (I assume) he’s met. They are intimate, but they don’t speak the other’s verbal language. And it is a lament about this. Of course, one doesn’t need to take it literally. It is generally very difficult to find a shared language in romantic relationships.

I know for me that in relationships, the more I’ve needed to say, the less I was capable of it. When I was younger, I felt very much like Aimee Mann, “Anything I could have said, I felt somehow that you already knew.” When I got older, it became, “Anything I could have said wouldn’t begin to get at what I feel.” And that is with having grown in the ability to express myself. I suspect most people are like that: the better you get at expressing yourself, the more ineffable what you wish to express becomes.

If you like this music at all, you might check out some of the later Red House Painters albums. They get more traditionally folk rock. Check out, Summer Dress off Ocean Beach. But first, here is “Japanese to English”:

26 thoughts on “Morning Music: Red House Painters

  1. *quickly puts on some Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam to cheer herself up after that*
    Just kidding!

    I liked the music but the singing was a distraction to be honest.

    • The vocals are very slickly produced, it sounds a little different from the sparser recording of the instruments.

      I don’t mind them so much as you. To me it sounds a lot like Beck’s “depressed” albums (although in those he slickly produced the instrumentals to match.) I wouldn’t be surprised if Beck was influenced by these guys, he stole from basically everyone he could. (With love and respect, natch.)

      And, to wit, you know it, you love it, the relationship song so grim I know several people who scream “turn it off!” even though they like Beck:

      • I am so glad I avoid Beck then. He just never seems to be my cup of tea. Especially since I don’t like tea.

        Back to my usual forms of terrible music *puts “Let it Go” on infinite repeat*.

      • I often listen to lyrics but generally find little meaning in the songs. And damn it, I promised myself I would wait until you finished responding to comment!

        I need to get off the computer already!

        • Yeah, this is it. I think this this one I will be caught up.

          As for lyrics: I really need to study them. Unless it is something like “Ode to Billie Joe,” I rarely hear lyrics until the 3rd or 4th time listening to a song.

            • Yes, I do that too. But I find it takes me three listens to anything to really hear it completely. It’s amazing the obscure lyrics you find on the internet. Almost any bad that has played almost anywhere.

              • So what was your band’s name again? I ask merely for the purpose of looking up your old songs to marvel at your brilliance in songwriting and not to snicker gleefully at them at all.

                • I am grateful (You have no idea!) that none of our work is online. But I still like our band’s name, “Otherwise Nice Guys.”

                    • For a long while, I was working on a kids’ book, “Finish First: Stories of Successful Nice Guys and Gals.” Unfortunately, nice guys mostly aren’t successful. And the people who are known for being nice (Milton Hershey, Paul Newman) turned out not to be so nice when you dug deep. Then there is this myth that women all want to date jerks and nice guys get left out in the cold. In my experience, most “sensitive” nice guys are not nearly as nice as they think they are. (I’ve thought about opening up a school.) “Otherwise Nice Guys” was meant to be a joke that “other than the music” we were nice guys. But I’m not fond of the “nice guys” trope. And for young men out there: what attracts both sexes is confidence. Yes, this is why so many people refer to me as Frank “Don Juan” Moraes.

                    • I like this video where the guy gets his just due. It’s also an excellent version of the song:

                    • Well that is because you are what they consider to be a bad boy. Even though you are not at all a jerk (clueless to the point of sometimes perhaps) but a guy who has an aura of danger about him since you were involved in the drug subculture along with being a musician. So the Nice Guys (TM) and PUAers probably would think you get all the ladies when you are just as insecure as the next person around a woman you find attractive even if you can hide it better.

                      Now they happen to be right about you getting all the ladies which is why you plan on moving to the remotest area of the world….

                    • It is true that I can play on that “I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe” act. But I was perfectly able to attract women before I was “dangerous.” And any “sex appeal” I have now is really all based on the fact that I don’t really care what people think. I’m far more comfortable being me than I ever have been. I don’t go in for the “I’ve been around” act. But then, I’ve sworn off romantic relationships. Not that I won’t completely go back on that. But I like friends. Lovers require even more time rats — much less chickens!

                    • Um sure! that is totally why any woman would find you sexy. No other reason at all.

                      But you bring up the point as to why I am still single and probably always will be-people expect you do things like date, get to know the person and so on before you get married. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

                      I always wanted to just go “okay, you there! You are the husband now so I can get my obligatory marriage and divorce over with!” Or as I said on Twitter-I could use a trophy husband who stays home and raises the chickens.

                    • Now you’re sounding much older than you are. Even I can imagine finding someone fascinating for a couple of weeks. It’s the after being married. Although I’ll admit, I was a much better match with my first wife. I do not go “out.” The only kind of going out I can imagine enjoying is the Merle Haggard kind of “Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” kind.

                    • That is the other thing-everyone is all “you have to go out!” What, outdoors?
                      Yuck! Wait, to where other humans are at? Isn’t that what work was for? Home is where my books are, they need love and attention.

                    • Matt Yglesias wrote a great article about how outside sucks. How people are always saying, “Let’s eat lunch outside.” Inside is better.

                    • Since my favorite weather conditions involve it raining heavily, being super windy and extremely cold, outside is a bad idea.

                    • No. Scare still. I’m usually cold, so if I’m outside, I don’t want any damned wind!

              • One of my favorite bands is R.E.M., because the lyrics are gibberish. And then they broke up, and most of the members signed onto The Baseball Project, whose lyrics are crystal clear. And I can’t decide which band I like better.

                But I will always have a warm place in my heart for early R.E.M., and lyrics like “narble gnunfus schwarber twonk,” or whatever they were.

                • Yeah, I was quite into REM up through Life’s Rich Pageant. It’s not that they got bad after that. I just became so focused on school, that I didn’t do much of anything else.

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