Every college student needs a spot on campus. You know the kind I mean; a spot where you can go whenever you need to get out of the dorm, a spot where you can get homework done but you don’t have to, a place that is comforting and safe, and is unquestionably yours (even if others go there too). For some this spot is a special nook in the extremely quiet music library. For others it is at the base of a certain tree on the President’s lawn. For others still it is a spot in a tree on the president’s lawn. For me this spot is The RezQuad Café. I go in most nights between 10 and 11 with my laptop and a pile of work. I order my skim chai latte to stay (it comes in a big mug but for the price of a small) and set up a work station in one of the comfy chairs.
“But what does this have to do with music?” you ask. Everything, I say. Every night, along with my textbooks, notepaper, and laptop, I always bring my little gray notebook because I know that before the end of the night I will learn about some new band or musical phenomenon and I will need some place to write it down. The music in the cafe comes from the iPod of the barista on duty and is consistently excellent. Among those artists overheard at RezQuad Cafe are Iron & Wine, The New Pornographers, The Dodos, Norah Jones, and The Kinks, incidentally all among my favorite bands/artists. Some of my most stimulating music conversations have taken place at RezQuad and some of my strongest friendships at Tufts were forged as a result.
Take, for example, my friend Jon, known just about everywhere on campus as Jon the Hipster, a name that has stuck despite its inaccuracy. Those early days of friend-making are all very hazy and it is difficult to trace when exactly Jon and I went from being friendly to being friends but I do have one very clear memory. It was the first night we had ever done work together in RezQuad. I had already been working there for a few hours when Jon came down from his dorm (he lives a few floors above in Miller Hall) in his fuzzy robe and ordered a hot chocolate. Maybe it was that first night or one of the many that followed in which we started talking about music. Honestly I think music was intrinsically part of our friendship from the beginning. One night I brought up The Black Keys, my favorite blues rock duo, and Jon said enthusiastically of their newest album”‘Brothers’ is really good!” But upon further probing I discovered he didn’t know any of the earlier albums. So I set about making him a mix of a some of my favorite black keys songs. In return, Jon began compiling a list of artists he thought I should know: “You don’t know Coheed and Cambria?!” Pretty soon he had compiled a wonderful mix CD for me.
My favorite artist on the CD is without question Mumford and Sons. In fact, I don’t know how I’ve missed the band up until this point considering that all of their upcoming shows in the US are completely sold out. iTunes labels the London based quartet as “alternative” but their music is so deeply steeped in country, bluegrass, and folk I’m not sure that label is really accurate. Jon included two of their songs on his mix, Little Lion Man and The Cave. The first is a tremendous pleasure to listen to. The lead singer, Marcus Mumford has a raw voice, rough, but in a very different way than The Tallest Man On Earth. The instrumentation is banjo and guitar heavy, fast paced and exciting with a thumping beat. Somehow they manage to pull off such instrumentation without sounding like a hoedown. All four members sing on the chorus, and like their contemporaries Fleet Foxes, their music seems to hearken back to the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Unlike Fleet Foxes, their harmonies are simpler and their sound is less polished giving the group a sense of emotional intimacy and urgency that is extremely appealing. Not that I don’t love Fleet Foxes; I am eagerly awaiting their sophomore album which seems to be experiencing interminable delays. The Cave is an equally enjoyable song. I especially like the lyrics:
The harvest left no food for you to eat / You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see / But I have seen the same /I know the shame in your defeat
I should mention that when I first listened to these two songs I liked them but I didn’t immediately love the band. It wasn’t until I found out about their most recent collaboration that I started taking them really seriously. It turns out the group just released an EP in the UK that came out of a tour and collaboration with Laura Marling and the Dharohar Project in India. This was a pleasant surprise for me because Laura Marling is among my top five favorite musicians. Like Mumford & Sons, she comes out of London’s indie-folk scene. She has a very distinctive voice, a fantastic accent, and lyrics that are simultaneously quirky, spunky, and deep. The Dharohar Project is a traditional rajasthani folk collective. The result of the collaboration is a stunning set of four songs that are unfortunately only available from iTunes UK. You can hear two of the songs at nymag.com (my favorite source for all things New York and all things pop/indie culture). Both are reworked versions of songs already recorded by Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling. The blend of English voices, singing in a traditionally American folk style, with rajasthani music weaved throughout is truly unexpected and honestly glorious. Mumford & Sons made a short documentary about the collaboration which you should watch here.
Jon now has a show on WMFO called Adventure Time with Jon and Alex. I would say tune in but their spot is on Monday at 6 am. Instead I recommend that you listen to their playlists here. Thanks to Jon I have discovered a band that I am extremely excited about. Thanks to RezQuad cafe I have a fantastic friend and tomorrow night around 11 o’clock I’ll get a text saying “RezQuad?” I’ll walk in with a bag full of books and he’ll be siting there waiting for me.