30 September 2005

harvey danger - "little round mirrors" (from the little by little lp, available for free download here.)

in brief : the important part is that the band have made it a free download; the more important part is that it's actually really good.

poor harvey danger. "flagpole sitta" remains to this day one of my v. favorite singles of the 90's. what happened, though, is that they were misunderstood, subsumed by the postgrunge movement when their hearts were, quite literally, in seattle. their music was used to soundtrack what the cool kids were up to, while the band itself was probably in the library where silence rules. (after all, "i wanna publish zines and rage against machines," the bridge went.) then they did a great cover of "save it for later" for the 200 cigarettes soundtrack and all seemed to be going well. i hung around for their second album, king james version, and thought "sad sweetheart of the rodeo" was another great single, only this time no one was around to listen.

also hanging around for their second album, guesting on vocals, was ben gibbard of the then-unknown death cab for cutie. harvey danger, i hear, essentially discovered death cab. indeed, harvey danger leader sean nelson was a business partner at barsuk records, which, if you can remember that far back, used to be dcfc's home. asked by mtv about his friends' success, and especially their appearances on the o.c., nelson replied:
Death Cab is practically a character on that show! I sang on the Nada Surf cover of [Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's] 'If You Leave' [featured on the soundtrack and show]. I mean, Harvey Danger were on 'Dawson's Creek' a lot, which was sort of 'The O.C.' of the '90s. Maybe I could do a cameo as someone's grandpa. That would be fun.
if "little round mirrors," the song i've posted today, doesn't do just that, then, seriously, the people at the o.c. need to clean out their freakin' ears.

i've never seen an episode of the o.c., but i get the gist of it. at the end of an episode, there's probably a big, emotional moment where someone broke someone's heart, or someone's just totally into themselves and it's tearing someone else apart. it's a v. good looking agony, and that's what "little round mirrors" is, pain and beauty in equal parts, and it's just immense. it would fit in perfectly on lexicon of love, somewhere near "all of my heart," and that is just about the highest praise i can give to a ballad.

which probably doesn't jive w/ what you remember of harvey danger. little by little is a v. pop album, w/ a broad instrumental palette. there's maybe one song ("cream & bastards rise") that sounds like the band you remember--if you remember them at all. i admit, at this stage, when i saw the words "harvey danger" and "free album," my expectations were about as low as their commercial profile is today. now, i'm outright shocked that they're just giving this thing away. which, they insist in an explanation on their website, they're not:
[I]t’s important that people understand the free download concept isn’t a frivolous act. It’s a key part of our promotional campaign, along with radio and press promotion, live shows, and videos. It’s a bet that the resources of the Internet can make possible a new way for musicians to find their audience – and forge a meaningful artistic career built on support from cooperative, not adversarial, relationships.

We realize that digital files are the primary means by which a huge segment of the population is exposed to new music; we also believe that plenty of music lovers in the world will buy a record once they’ve heard it – whether via radio or computer.

We also believe there’s an inherent qualitative difference at work—not only between MP3s and CDs, but between clicking a mouse and finding a record on the shelves of a good record store. These experiences are not mutually exclusive – they’re interdependent facets of music fandom, and equally important considerations for a band in our position.


Whether or not people will buy something they can get for free is obviously a big question, and there are facts and figures to support both sides of the argument. We think it’s not only possible, but likely. The more fundamental challenge is ensuring people have access to your work to begin with.

This is by no means a manifesto. We don’t pretend to be the first band to spin a variation of the shareware distribution model. We love record labels and record stores. We buy lots of CDs and are committed to supporting independent music. We’re not a bunch of fake Marxists. We’re just trying to be smart capitalists so we can sustain our lives as musicians. This is an experiment. We’ll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, please enjoy the record. Everything else is secondary.
i'm v. interested in seeing how this experiment goes, but, yes, that is secondary, b/c i'm v. interested in the record, which is something i never thought i'd be saying about a new harvey danger album--and something i'd never have had a chance to say w/o this download.

29 September 2005

jimmy webb - "simile" (from the letters lp, out of print.)

in brief : joni mitchell sings harmony. (i want you to listen and, to a casual listener, that'd be it's strongest selling point.)

a pattern is being set: the nighttime, it would seem, is when i get to be self-indulgent and post whatever i want. (only the nighttime, you say?)

in my experience, i find that songs generally fall into three categories: songs i instantly love or i know i will eventually; songs i don't and never will; and songs that captivate me for reasons that go far beyond reason. this last category is roughly equivalent to receiving *** from rolling stone or, better still, a **1/2 movie. the payoff is going to be markedly greater than a *** film or infinitely worse than a ** film. (try it some, if you happen to have digital television, and are prone to restiveness.)

jimmy webb's "simile" falls into this category. i've been grappling w/ it for a long time and i've at long last reaped the rewards of my protracted struggle. it has ... atmosphere--it could be just the chords or the way the melody to the third verse of each stanza doesn't seem to follow what came before. the opening piano lures you in, rippling like the tide does as night changes its colors. i've tried to follow the piano and the melody but just as i near it, like the tide, it pulls away. others might pack up their blanket and head home, but i've tarried down by the surf.

joni mitchell, a good friend of webb's, contributes harmony vocals on the pre-chorus and, in the process, gives a difficult song a much harder shape to trace. the song is about a letter that webb had written to mitchell, a letter that had gotten lost behind her couch for months. webb doesn't give many clues about the contents of the letter, but he declares that the song is its reply. it seems to be about some artistic quandary, about, as the chorus proclaims, likening "things to other things trying to describe other things"; i suppose artists write about these things all the time to each other, or i like to think they do or did. (i hate to sound like a codger, but i don't know too many songwriters nowadays who write pop songs as harmonically complex as mitchell and webb did. but i'd like to.)

perhaps all of this is the reason why webb's career as a singer/songwriter never really took off, especially when there was a james taylor around, w/ his dulcet tones, never upsetting all those folks out there, having kids, buying houses, trying to forget that the 60's happened and their own roles in it. he wrote music that couldn't help but be defined as adult contemporary, but it's nothing like that; the problem for webb in trying to get something like "simile" aired is that it was quite unlike anything else on the radio at the time. it is a song that is chaste w/ its quality, refusing to surrender it quite so easily. thirty years later, it remains quite unlike anything else.

(alas, though, like a fine wine, its price has only gone up since its original release; the lowest price at amazon is $118.)
[per request, i've done away w/ zipping mp3s for now. for the exchange, see the comments for the previous entry.]

we are scientists - "the great escape" (from the with love and squalor lp, available for preorder as an import here.)

i think the britpress bubble has once again burst. after a good year or so run, the bands they've been espousing lately--hard-fi, the rakes, clor, dogs, the magic numbers, the arctic monkeys--have been, bar one great single, busts to my ears.

here's another one, then, and here's their great single. it's all v. much in the franz/bloc party mold w/ a little new york scene to it and a lot of california in the vocals. yes, we are scientists are like the killers and the bravery--patience, patience!--another american band that the brits take a stronger liking to than we do. unlike those bands, though, i think they have a song, in "the great escape," worth listening to. no ska pasts, 80's keyboards or bad haircuts (well ... ) on display here, just good old-fashioned indie disco.

my time is short today--i've got to leave in a minute and i'll be away all day--so i'll let the nme say it. aside from being practical for me, it's a useful exercise for you, the reader, in spotting hyperbole. me, i love the comparisons to other bands and the killer, pardon the pun, final line.
"I've got a great idea!" yelps Keith, who is the singer, midway through. From the evidence of this, that idea was to grow themselves into one of those angular post-punkish bands that youngsters are so fond of nowadays, but make them funkier than Ferdinand, more agitated than Bloc Party, cooler than The Bravery and almost exactly as good with a one-liner as The Futureheads.

Yes, so We Are Scientists sound like a lot of other bands around at the moment; the simple truth is they're way better than most of them. They certainly piss all over Hot Hot Heat, who you might mistake them for if you were wearing era-muffs (although in WAS' world of the strange, you probably already are). 'The Great Escape' is their second single and thumps in on what, weirdly enough, sounds like an art-rock rewrite of 'Mono' by Courtney Love for about five seconds before getting even weirder. Like the drummer (whose name is Michael) playing about seven times faster than anybody else. And the whole thing winding up into this screeching bit of guitar assault so astonishingly high-pitched that it makes domestic animals start humping the nearest Sky box. Yet ultimately we can't ever hope to describe them half as fabulously as these three strange individuals describe themselves: "a three-tusked mastadon; a triple mohawk; a flight from New York to LA with three stopovers".

Get ready to love this lot.
felt - "the world is as soft as lace" (from the splendour of fear lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : "fuck the smiths."

it's getting late and i've gotten tired, so my plan right now is to let stuart murdoch do most of the heavy lifting--but we'll see. anyway, in the liners to dear catastrophe waitress, stu writes:
i can't believe this band ever existed. they're so perfect. fuck the smiths, fuck orange juice, felt. FELT, FELT!! ... larkin, cohen, lawrence and moz. the rest of you boys can leave your quills in your tunics.
lawrence is, well, lawrence, surname unknown (though i've heard hayward), the leader of felt. my guess is that he didn't dig punk all that much, but, like so much about lawrence, that can merely be a guess since little is known about the man, apart from his appreciation of patti smith and television. going w/ the whole antipunk thing, i would be that he'd rate adventure higher than marquee moon, as "the world is as soft as lace"--quoted by stu in "i don't love anyone"--aspires toward the ballads found on the former. lawrence is himself less reedy than verlaine (the singer), and would probably be the english steve wynn (the singer) if it didn't seem like he thought the 60's were bunk too. "primitive painters" w/ liz fraser would be the obvious selection, but posting it would be like posting "come on eileen" to try to get someone into dexys: it's not that it isn't a great song; it's not that it isn't necessarily unrepresentative; it's just something of a terminal point.

"the world is as soft as lace," on the other hand, is an excellent entry point into the world of felt. the guitars on the song aspire from the v. start, ascending upwards, striking the loveliest chord. the listener is hooked from the opening, hoping to hear that gorgeous figure again--but lawrence and felt mk. i co-conspirator maurice deebank are stingy; the message may be that the world is as soft as lace, but no one is allowed too much heaven. the track is not a terminal point, then, but a midpoint, hovering somewhere between heaven and hell, between lace and felt, between bob dylan in nashville and jimmy page in excelsis. "if i knew all about this world," lawrence sings, "do you think i'd stay here? that's absurd / i'd be the brightest star you heard / we'd be the softest lace on earth." that's a lullaby w/ lyrics as troubling as "rockabye baby," but as soothing as the memory of your mother singing its words.

good night.

28 September 2005

bettye lavette - "little sparrow" (from the i've got my own hell to raise lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : she's got a right to be hostile.

something about this "rediscovery" of old soul singers--solomon burke, howard tate, and, now, bettye lavette--bothers me. oh, sure, i should be pleased that, after years in the wilderness, they're being recognized. to a degree, it's territorial on my part, but i also can't shake the feeling of how patronizing it is to the artist. an analogous situation for a punk/indie fan might be if, say, the minutemen were trotted out by john mayer, and you had to listen to him pontificate about how important they are and how, like, nobody listened to them. one would protest--i listened to them!--and yet he would largely be right.

beyond the distate, though, there is, i think, fear: fear that the artist is in it for the wrong reasons and fear that, now that there is an audience, the music will not give that audience an accurate portrayal of the act. disappointment, too, is often a concomitant. take, for instance, much-feted solomon burke records of recent years. one hears that he's going to cover the rolling stones' "i got the blues" or the band's "it makes no difference" as he does on his latest record, and one immediately can hear him singing it, and what a brilliant idea, &c. (see also: johnny cash covering "the mercy seat.") of course, the voice one hears isn't their voice now but the classic voice, and disappointment ensues.

anti, responsible for the burke records, is also the new home of bettye lavette. the ancient fears mount until one remembers that those two are v. different people (though burke, preacher or no, would probably appreciate the distinction bettye makes between "screwing" and "fucking.") bettye can't rest on her laurels, b/c, frankly, they don't amount to much, at least commercially. whereas brother solomon was the king of rock & soul, bettye only had two top 20 r&b hits to her name--indeed, she was overshadowed in her day by, of all things, another woman named bettye (bettye swann). but, now that she's got the spotlight, she won't surrender it w/o a fight. the album title--i've got my own hell to raise--should itself give one warning of bettye's intentions.

her song choices, all written by women, are excitingly idiosyncratic. "little sparrow," the track i've posted, is a dolly parton cover, but not from her fertile, oft-covered 70's era; rather, it is the title track to an album she released in 2001. in dolly's hands, it's a tender, regretful song about a woman wronged at the hands of a former lover. bettye, as might be expected, turns it into an entirely different animal.

bettye describes it in an interview w/ dave hoekstra of the chicago sun-times:
"I first sang 'Little Sparrow' with the [original] arrangement. They thought I was going to sing it like that. When I got to the studio, the guys were playing what they learned on Dolly Parton's rendition. You can't quote me on all things, but I told them there is a difference between f-----g and screwing. I said, 'Don't you see? You all are screwing.' I had never confronted a band that way before in my life. I thought they'd hate me, but they all cracked up.

"I also told the drummer what I've told every drummer for my entire career" -- and here she sang the "Little Sparrow" bass lines -- "boom, boom boom boom -- just watch my butt. I had to act out parts or tell them how I felt. Joe never said to me, 'The band likes this, what do you think?' It was, 'This was the way she was singing -- think of something to go with what she's singing.'"
"little sparrow" becomes a bass-driven beast, no longer a fragile creature who simply wants to know "why he let me love in vain." the menace of the track suggests that it's but a matter of time before the hunter is captured by the game--and before the listener falls prey to ms. lavette's wiles.

27 September 2005

the capris - "there's a moon out tonight" (from there's a moon out tonight: the very best of the capris, available for purchase here.)

in brief : songs my father taught me.

speaking of family members singing ...

no, my father wasn't in the capris, but one of my earliest memories related to music is hearing him sing along to "there's a moon out tonight." when i was a kid, we'd drive up to vermont for ski vacations; to pass the time, my parents had bought some time-life series on ... doo-wop? romantic music? 50's songs (even though "moon" didn't hit the charts until the early 60's)? anyway, my father would sing along to just about every tune. he would always amuse--or flabbergast--by singing a song lyric related to any topic we might bring up. it's the kind of encyclopedic knowledge of pop--both pre-war and post-war--that was not lost on his son, though i must admit that my parents' enjoyment of certain artists stood as massive obstacles to my growing appreciation of said artists. (luckily, both my parents, though more or less of the baby boom generation, had given up on pop when the beatles hit--for my father, before that, w/ elvis.)

nothing ever impeded my enjoyment of doo-wop, happily, my father's enthusiasm for the music only aided my own. i suppose i can understand his kick against modern rock. the world has changed so that one can't imagine five guys, white guys at least, standing on street corners singing and still being considered real street toughs instead of backstreet boys. my father clung to an era when having a mic, instead of a guitar, in one's hand was a measure of masculinity.

for me, what was saddest about 101.1 cbs-fm changing formats from oldies to the "jack" format was the closing of "the doo-wop shop." the station proper was "modernizing," in a sense, adding a lot of 80's music to its playlist while dropping most anything from the 50's, but don k. reed's program was a stalwart to the end, the only place on the commercial dial where one could hear the silhouettes, the five satins, the penguins, the crests, the jive five, the skyliners, the moonglows, the cadillacs, the teenagers, the marcels, the zodiacs, the del vikings, the flamingos, the capris--in other words, the original definite articles.
i'm feeling defensive about my attention span, what w/ admitting that i have less time for albums and replying to allie's comment about the fiery furnaces by saying i've only listened to "sister ray" once. so, keeping in spirit w/ last night's entry, here is a list of my 10 favorite pop (read: non-jazz, non-classical) songs that run over 10 minutes, all of which i love--well, five of which i (merely) love, three of which i really like, and three of which are essential, and on my shortlist of reasons to be cheerful.

10 loleatta holloway, "hit & run" (11:00)
9 funkadelic, "maggot brain" (10:18)
8 king crimson, "starless" (12:16)
7 bob dylan, "brownsville girl" (11:00)
6 television, "marquee moon" (10:40)
5 parliament, "flashlight" (10:45)
4 fela kuti, "zombie" (12:25)
3 isaac hayes, "by the time i get to phoenix" (18:42)
2 can, "yoo doo right" (20:27)
1 dexys midnight runners, "this is what she's like" (12:23)
the fiery furnaces - "we wrote letters every day" (from the rehearsing my choir lp, available for pre-order here.)

in brief : well, i bet your grandmother never made an album.

i wanted to like blueberry boat more than i did. it contained some good things and, going forward, i hoped the band might edit and refine their sound somewhat.

good news: rehearsing my choir is eighteen minutes shorter. and, and, and ...

well, the good news ends there. this, as you might have heard, is the grandmother album. matthew cites jody beth rosen as having said that grandma's voice is "a bit like elaine stritch crossed with a carnival barker." this is almost unbearably accurate, not only in the sound of her voice, but its staginess as well.

there are two questions i asked myself before listening to the record: would i like this album if this were my grandmother? (or would i like this album if grandma had a better voice? could music and melody compensate for vocals? short answers to both were "yes"; long answers to follow.

my paternal grandmother had a v. nice voice--in fact, i still have recordings of her singing to me when i was a baby. (my maternal grandmother has had several strokes; communication is a sore spot for her, and was, i'd argue, before all of that.) records w/ parents (or grandparents) on them don't necessarily have to suck; common's "pop's rap" series comes to mind, as does gloria carter's cameo on jay-z's "december 4th." what these two have in spades is warmth, which, coming from the family i do, appeals to me. i come from a family of storytellers, people who have galvanizing presences. on rehearsing my choir, i sense so little chemistry that the old questions of kinship arise, not about eleanor & matt's relationship to one another, but whether olga sarantos is really their grandmother. it's all v. much like an off-broadway production of someone's life, and olga often sounds like she's receiving her lyrics from a producer over an earpiece, as if this all were breaking news.

if olga were my grandmother, then, yes, i'd appreciate this album, but only b/c i'd be in on the proceedings. i'd know the real stories behind the songs; i'd have v. real memories attached to all of it. since that's not the case, i feel at a remove from what's going on and, to get to the second question, the music infrequently allows me to feel involved. it's not dissimilar to blueberry boat, but it also has a distinct future bible heroes-feel at times and the whole thing--music and concept--reminds me of nothing so much as the 7" ep that came w/ the beach boys' holland. it featured, david leaf writes,
an autobiographical fairy tale, composed and written primarily by brian and narrated by jack rieley. if you are at all interested in brian's personal psychodrama, you should hear the whole thing. titled 'mt. vernon & fairway' (named for the intersection where the love family grew up), it's an allegory for brian's creative life.
and, like rehearsing my choir, it's heavy on synths and keyboards ... and is the reason, along w/ "kokomo," that disc 4 of the boxed set is the one i listen to least.

i post "we wrote letters every day" not b/c it's entirely successful, but there is a moment when the mask drops; tellingly, it is instrumental. "we wrote letters every day," olga intones, "which were later thrown away. and God knows what we wrote, and what they said, but this is probably how they read." the stream of words at long last end, giving away to a rueful piano part that, for me, finally makes olga's past seem palpable. it is, alas, short-lived.

it's refreshing to see a young band flush commercial prospects down the toilet, b/c, really, this isn't exactly the album to expand the base. rehearsing the choir is an album for those who really want to believe. it is, like blueberry boat, an album, which is a form that, unfortunate or not, i have less and less time for (blame websites like this). i have exceedingly less time for albums like rehearsing my choir, if only b/c it, to my mind, squanders a wonderful opportunity. instead of making me feel a part of the family, it too often gave me an obstructed view.

26 September 2005

sonic's rendezvous band - "city slang" (from the "city slang" single, out of print.)

in brief : punk fucking rock. literally.

ok, i've given you a lot of new shit recently, so, indulge me.

first, i don't think i've yet linked to rocklist, which has long been one of my favorite stops on the www.

music fans who don't make lists often look w/, at best, curiosity at music fans who do. "why?" is a loaded question, and i'm only going to supply one answer for now. like so many things in life, we do a particular action b/c we hope someone else will do it in turn, to our benefit. it's the same sort of motive that has buttressed civilization for millennia. i make lists that contain things you might not have heard of b/c i hope someone else will do the same for me--and, oh, how they have. (this same impulse is why so many of us get upset w/ the usual rolling stone list.)

"city slang" is one of those songs (and also a uk label), though i can't recall for the life of me which list it was on. whichever it was, it was incredibly idiosyncratic--always the best kind. "sonic" is fred "sonic" smith. released in '78, the song, naturally, sounds like mc5, though not political--at least that i can make out; there could be euphemisms for all i know. it's probably what iggy had hoped raw power would turn out like, and though "city slang" sounds as if it couldn't have been w/o "search & destroy," it seems to me that it repaid its debt: it's a song iggy v. likely had in mind when he remixed raw power years later.

i often talk about "moments" on this here website, and "city slang" unsurprisingly has one--many, actually, but one especially. it's the piano on the chorus, paired masterfully w/ sonic's stuttering of the title. i don't have a piano nearby, but my guess is that the struck key is almost certainly an "e"; i doubt pianos in the motor city come equipped w/ any other. (if punk had pared the guitar down to two chords, it was much more severe to the piano.) it's severe, triumphant and rare, and that last is not only why i feel compelled to write, but why i feel compelled to share, though w/ the hope that i don't detract from the song's charms by eliminating the chase. if so, you can try and find the eleven minute version, and do keep me informed ...
wolf parade - "same ghost every night" (from the apologies to queen mary lp, available for purchase here; more mp3's courtesy of subpop are available here.)

in brief : it's not dark yet, but it's getting there.

one of the most important things i think an artist can do is ensure that a song's music and its subject matter correspond. in this respect, and in many others, brian eno's another green world is just about the most artistically successful album in the world. it is for this reason that i believe remixes and covers should exist. take, for instance, the pixies cover of jesus & mary chain's "head on." jim reid sings about sparks, while joey sanitago actually generates them; reid sings about flying, frank black gives the impression that he is (which, if you've seen frank, is not mean feat).

of course, when the original artist gets it as right as wolf parade does on "same ghost every day," it obliterates the need for interpretation. i remember, during a trip to great adventure as a v. young child, wondering what happened in the haunted house when the park was closed. do the ghosts and monsters have dinner together? do they go to sleep? w/ "same ghost every day," wolf parade offer an answer: it is a v. lonely place when there's no one around to haunt. it displays the tenderness and bathos of an early tom waits ballad as played by the bad seeds, ca. henry's dream, and it evokes some sympathy for life's devils. wolves howl, witches shriek, but most effective--and affecting--of all is when the keening organ, itself a spectral moan, circulating in the background of the song throughout its duration, is allowed to play unaccompanied as the rest of the track fades away. it is not the sound of someone closing a door; it is the sound of a door being closed on someone. between the two is a world of difference, the difference between life and death itself.
curious as to what my 3500+ favorite songs might be? looking for a way to discredit me the next time i make an unkind pronouncement about your favorite band? want to expose me as a hypocrite for extolling the virtues of bands i don't listen to? have absolutely nothing going on right now and the future looking just as dull? then have a look at the contents of my ipod. look carefully enough and you might just find a simply red song. maybe.

25 September 2005

ramblin' outta the wild west ...

a friend pointed me in the direction of a playlist david byrne is streaming on his website, composed entirely of dylan songs. i admire his selection of "brownsville girl" and his appreciation of new morning (along w/ planet waves, the most underrated album in his canon). in honor of the release of chronicles in paperback, and the airing of no direction home tomorrow night, i decided to make my own. like byrne, i selected 41 tracks, dylan originals and cover versions; unlike byrne, i limited myself to only one version of each song (otherwise, i might just have a list of takes on "girl from the north country" and "it's all over now, baby blue). if you've been putting off dylan, there doesn't seem to be a better time than right now to immerse yourself, and i humbly offer these selections as a starting point, from a former dylan agnostic, swayed by the combined might of "tangled up in blue" and "visions of johanna."

bob dylan, "talkin' new york" 1962
the byrds, "mr. tambourine man" 1965
dion, "baby, i'm in the mood for you" 1965
bob dylan, "boots of spanish leather" 1965
bob dylan, "highway 61 revisited" 1965
bob dylan, "like a rolling stone" 1965
bob dylan, "positively 4th street" 1965
bob dylan, "she belongs to me" 1965
bob dylan, "subterranean homesick blues" 1965
cher, "all i really want to do" 1965
the wonder who?, "don't think twice, it's all right" 1965
bob dylan, "lay lady lay" 1966
bob dylan, "she's your lover now" 1966
bob dylan, "visions of johanna" 1966
elvis presley, "tomorrow is a long time" 1966
them, "it's all over now, baby blue" 1966
the byrds, "my back pages" 1967
joan baez, "love is just a four-letter word" 1968
the band, "tears of rage" 1968
jimi hendrix, "all along the watchtower" 1968
joe cocker, "i shall be released" 1969
fairport convention, "i'll keep it with mine" 1969
the byrds, "this wheel's on fire" 1970
bob dylan, "the man in me" 1970
bob dylan, "sign on the window" 1970
bobby darin, "i'll be your baby tonight" 1971
rod stewart, "mama, you been on my mind" 1972
howard tate, "girl from the north country" 1972
bob dylan, "dirge" 1974
bob dylan, "wedding song" 1974
bob dylan, "idiot wind" 1975
bob dylan, "if you see her, say hello" 1975
bob dylan, "tangled up in blue" 1975
bob dylan, "isis" 1976
bob dylan, "saving grace" 1980
bob dylan, "every grain of sand" 1981
bob dylan, "brownsville girl" 1986
bob dylan, "most of the time" 1989
scott walker, "i threw it all away" 1996
bob dylan, "not dark yet" 1997
bob dylan, "sugar baby" 2001

23 September 2005

hanging on the telephone

dennis brown, "wichita lineman" (from the tracks of life compilation, out of print.)
sammy davis jr., "wichita lineman" (from my name is sammy davis, available for purchase here.)
the dee felice trio, "wichita lineman" (from the in heat lp, out of print.)
electric concept orchestra, "wichita lineman" (from the electric love lp, out of print.)
jimmy webb, "wichita lineman" (from the ten easy pieces lp, available for purchase here.)

all five zipped together in this file.

"wichita lineman was a song i once heard," goes a song title by the klf. me, i've done them forty-odd better. yes, i've recently listened to forty-one or so different versions of jimmy webb's classic, the song most mentioned in capsule reviews when one wants to indicate that webb is a capital-g great songwriter. (when one wants to deride him, that role is filled by "macarthur park"; when one wants to sell out branson, mo, it's "by the time i get to phoenix.")

on more days than not, i think glen campbell's version of "wichita lineman" is my favorite song. it's a song, as i've written before, of crushing sadness, occasionally relieved by daydreams. the most moving part of the song for me, and almost unbearably so, is the closing, w/ its horns and strings. it's the moment the lineman stirs from his fantasy and comes to the stark realization that such reveries can only last for about three minutes, and a day is twenty-four hours long. "and i need you more than want you, and i want you for all time" is the most frequently mentioned aspect of the song, and a beauty it is, but what i find more striking is how the lines prior to it, about needing a vacation and professional duty, in no way act as a proper seque to such a heartfelt declaration. the intuitiveness of mr. webb's writing, his understanding that the human mind v. often lacks thought-to-thought coherence, is uncanny. (i can accept the fact that the song is somewhat stalkerish and creepy, but i don't put much stock in it. i think the lineman's comments don't say so much about an individual woman as they do about some more general lack in his own life.)

the above five aren't necessarily my favorites, though they're all very close to the top. basically, they're the five best that one might have a hard time hearing.

dennis brown's is incredibly languid and gorgeous; i don't know if he knows what a "wichita lineman" is, but he fooled me good.

sammy's is from, i believe, his first motown lp. i've never heard the candyman sing like this, but, damn, he testifies on his uptempo version of the song. check for the wilson pickett-like scream near the end!

dee felice's trio backed up james brown on the gettin' down to it lp; he returned the favor by producing their in heat album. i never thought i'd say this about a cover of "wichita lineman" cover, but it's a lot of fun--kinda vince guaraldi-ish. dig the art tatum-inspired technique near the track's end.

i'd never heard of the electronic concept orchestra before; indeed, if not for this track, it might be hard to prove they existed at all. recorded in 1969, their cover of "wichita lineman" is all moog. one tends to make fun of the way people from that era saw as "futuristic," but i certainly hope this is what the future will sound like: gorgeous and painless. they play the melody and backing track, but throw in other electronic sounds, making it sound as if one were travelling through the wire themselves. the pain is, to some degree, still real, but the song has a womblike capacity for succor and reassurance. this is an absolute must for electronic music fans.

finally, there is webb's version. he went out of his way to avoid covering his hits during his solo period, "galveston" the one notable exception. webb's version is hushed and painful, the emphasis is placed on the morse-code tapping, rendered by webb's piano, one hears between chorus and verse on campbell's version. it is not necessary for one to give pride of place to a songwriter's own interpretation, but, as i hear it, it is justified in webb's case, as this theme--the song as a desperate "s.o.s."--works its way through the v. best versions of the song.

the ten best :
1 glen campbell.
2 jimmy webb.
3 electronic concept orchestra.
4 dennis brown.
5 the meters.
6 ray charles.
7 tony joe white.
8 the dee felice trio.
9 sammy davis jr.
10 johnny cash.
engineers - "song to the siren" (from dream brother : the songs of tim & jeff buckley, available for preorder as an import here.)

in brief : british nu-gazers navigate middle path between liz fraser's scylla and the elder buckley's charybdis.

england's engineers--no "the," it's not 2000 anymore--have been described by your correspondent as nu-gaze, which isn't exactly accurate, but, damn, it's handy. they make incredibly atmospheric and, at times, noisy rock w/ v. limited use of guitar, or, at least, use of guitar in the way mbv, ride, lush, &c. manipulated it. in that way, they're closer to the slowdive/chapterhouse camp. their debut, one of my favorite records of the year, has been making waves in the uk, and, thus, they were drafted for this tribute to the buckleys.

the elephant in the room w/r/t "song to the siren," even more than the spectre of tim himself, is the version by liz fraser and this mortal coil. engineers attempt to forget that version ever existed, a hard thing for them to do since arguably they wouldn't sound as they do if not for the cocteaus. whereas the original cover, so to speak, utilized spaciousness as a musical device, the engineers' cover piles sound on top of sound, the provenance of those sounds indeterminable to these ears. it's neither loud nor aggressive, instead it is insistent, buzzing and droning. the melody, too, strays from fraser's, adhering to the original. the singing is exactly what one would hear on an engineers record: perfectly impeturbable, no stress, no strain, no vibrato. it's not a rough sea, then, that the listener navigates, but, my, it is beguiling.
does anyone else find the conceit behind the commercial for the ipod nano a little disconcerting, particularly given the rise of ipod thefts?

for those who haven't seen it, the commercial involves, essentially, a hand holding the new ipod nano, and another hand that frequently appears from the right side of the screen trying in vain to grab the ipod nano. after repeated attempts, the hand on the left begins to taunt the hand on the right.

robert mcmillan, writing in the the washington post, contends that the ipod is the new air jordans, the ultimate status symbol. if this is so, could one imagine a sneaker commercial w/ a similar concept as the ipod ad? oh, i know, it's playful &c., but it's quite unlike apple not to "get" things--that's microsoft's job, after all. you'd think they'd have learned to be more careful w/ their commercials after that whole eminem thing blew up in their face.
ryan adams & the cardinals - "trains" (from the jacksonville city nights lp, available for preorder here.)

in brief : adams returns to roots, his and rock & roll's.

this, i'm predicting, won't be up long.

you see, ryan adams and i have a past. after giving a negative review to "so alive" a couple of years ago, i received email from an individual claiming to be ryan adams. there could be a cottage industry for such a thing, but i got enough out of the email to be fairly certain that it *was* ryan.

well, ryan, if you're reading this, this is a great record!

he's on a bit of a streak this year, our ryan, what w/ a rather great grateful dead-inspired double album already released, and two more on the way. cold roses remains a record that i forget how much i enjoy. the melodies stick in my head, but until i put the record on, i forget many of its subtleties. jacksonville city nights recalls the whiskeytown days, and reminds me of past adams triumphs like "come pick me up" and "jacksonville skyline."

the problem i had w/ "so alive," and its parent album, was that i had no idea who ryan adams was trying to be. perhaps even he didn't know at the time, but his records since suggests that he's onto something. "trains" makes the best of two major strains in his recordings: the beat is shit-hot rockabilly, stomping ass like johnny burnette; the guitar parts and the vocals at times recall early smiths singles. these are fitting clothes for ryan, aged and comfortable, honest hand-me-downs and not expensive vintage--and yet the seams don't show. it's all v. well knitted together, and at least part of the credit must go to the cardinals. "into the future and out of the past," he sings, as the train keeps a rollin'. one hopes he stays such a course.

22 September 2005

sebastien tellier - "la ritournelle" (from the politics lp, available for purchase as an import here.)

okay, so maybe you didn't like the tatu single. if not, you would probably like this.

sebastien tellier is a friend of the boys in air and often looks like the french rick rubin. i'm not terribly familiar w/ his work, though i did see him a few years ago, as the opening act for the aforementioned air. it left little impression on me; i only gave "la ritournelle" a chance b/c of some stellar reviews.

it opens w/ a piano riff. the player, if one could see him, would likely look v. active, but also v. focused--not like chris martin, though, who tends to either plod or pound. it's like an incredibly pensive bruce hornsby (or what i imagine that would sound like); it's almost jazzy, but it's too scripted.

it is, except for about a minute of singing, purely instrumental. if it scored a scene from a film, this is the kind of scene it'd score. the opening piano and insistent drumming would play as the protagonist walked around an empty, well-lit room at night, not so much walking as pacing. this is the sound of a hammer striking a v. stretched nerve; this is music for a crack up.

as the strings enter, played by the bulgarian symphony orchestra, the protagonist takes to the street, the camera is focused in an extreme close up on his face, a face communicating v. little. it may be raining, but it probably isn't--the main thing is that it's dark. as the strings swell, he turns off the main road, into an alley. (this is city music, btw.) here, he breaks down, falls to his knees maybe, probably knocks over a garbage can and the ensuing clatter frightens a cat.

four minutes in and the vocal finally enters--norman whitfield, eat your heart out--and he brings w/ him an increased bass presence. the scene shifts, in a hard cut, to a crowded area, maybe times square, lots of people, lots of lights. the protagonist pulls himself together. he's bound to do some touristy thing, maybe, like f. scott fitzgerald, go to the top of the empire state building at last, try to put things in perspective by taking the long view. subjective camera shot of new york, w/ new jersey in the offing. a cut to the protagonist's bedroom, where's he's falling asleep, as the light and the music fade.

or something like that. comparisons have been made to "unfinished sympathy," which is totally inaccurate. that song was more than the sum of its parts, but those parts had never been combined in such a way before--indeed, most probably thought that it'd never add up to much. "la ritournelle," on the other hand, is fairly conventional, but no less moving and cinematic for it. one hopes, though, that, if it ever gets used for a film, it fares better than massive attack's opus ...

21 September 2005

tatu - "all about us" (from the dangerous and moving lp, available for preorder here.)

in brief : if you cared the first time around, you'll be surprised to hear that you should still care.

you're thinking: didn't i already sell you? didn't i see you in the cut-out bin last week?

no, no, b/c this is the new album by tatu, described elsewhere on the net as, interestingly enough, the comeback album by tatu. drafted for the comeback is just about the damnedest guest list i've ever seen. sure, one expects to see trevor horn and dave stewart involved in a project like this, but how about sting? and--in the coup of some sort--richard carpenter?

the question lingers: is this worth any of our time? at first glance, it would seem not, for if ever there was a one-hit wonder ... (though i thought the same about shaggy.) for the first thirty-five seconds or so, i didn't think so, the single sounding somewhat like evanescence played by the trans-siberian orchestra--but, then, something rather remarkable happened. it might just be a weakness in my constitution, who knows, but there is this "ahhh ahhh" sung so beautifully in the chorus, in stark contrast to its industrial surroundings, and the whole tone of the single changes for me. it's one of those great fillips that make good pop tunes better and, like the "oh yeah!" in "dancing queen," makes great songs classics.

apart from that "ahhh ahhh," the chorus of "all about us" contains scant more than just those three words. it seems to me that, unlike, say, diddy or pharrell, tatu are better the more self-involved they get. (yes, yes, a loaded statement, and totally meant, but they're not an item and never were. one of them actually just had a kid.)

asked about the credits for "all about us," the girls replied, "a number of people wrote it….but I forget who. ... it was some american songwriters. the song 'all about us.'" their self-involvement and their lack of involvement in the songwriting process, though a lack that never seems to signify when the song itself is playing, calls to mind the myrmidons of melodrama: the shangri-las. the major difference is generational: the shangri-las were there at the birth of the teenager and the death of camelot; tatu perform in an era of the sainted teenager and came of age in a post-soviet russia (both girls were six when yeltsin was elected). the names may have changed, but the song remains the same. you'll cherish this single until you sell it back to the record store.

20 September 2005

when you hear the new strokes single--and you will, but probably not as often as "last nite"--tell me that julian doesn't sound like a bono w/o an edge--that is, the guitarist w/ the hat; bono's never had "edge," though he's fooled a lot of people into thinking so.

the title "juicebox" made me think this would be more 80's-inspired goodness, like the room on fire lp (which i think is vastly underrated). i'm not sure how you would describe the music. quite a statement about a band--emphasis on band--whose highlights have all related to musical moments, e.g. the strange time signature on the original "modern age," the lead-in to "last nite," fab's real fake drums on "hard to explain," the keyb-like guitar tones on "12:51," &c. indeed, the worst part of the single is an annoying peter gunn-ish bassline.

so, back to julian, then. he's clearly foregrounded on "juicebox." in the past, i've compared him to iggy pop, lou reed, and jim morrison (see "touch me" for the genesis of his style!), but bono never entered my mind. listen to the "you're so cold"s on the fade and how it recalls the early bono; listen to the "we've got a city to love"s on the chorus and hear bono at the end of a world tour. "juicebox," i suppose, could well fit in on an early u2 record, if only it had a memorable guitarline. which is to say that it'd be right at home on pop.
dungen - "du är för fin för mig" (from the ta det lugnt lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : like abba never happened ...

when first reading reviews for dungen, my inner churl thought, "ah, sigur rós for people who cried sellout when they stopped singing in hoeplandic and started naming songs again." wrong, per usual: sigur rós never seem to touch the ground, whereas dungen's feet are firmly planted in their native swedish soil. their heads, however, are another question entirely ...

"du är för fin för mig" is two songs in one and therefore displays both sides of the band. the first side--side, and its connotations of a record, being particularly apt here--is highly melodic (they are swedish, after all) and stringkissed; it would fit nicely, "nice" being a watchword, on the second nuggets box, somewhere between timebox's "gone is the sad man" and blossom toes' "when the alarm clock rings."

and though sweden is now the home of abba, cheiron and robyn, the second-half of "du är för fin för mig" reminds one that the earliest ancestors of the swedes were the germans--and, thus, krautrock. in particular, think amon düül, more i than ii, more metal and less motorik. at its best, dungen are like mass in f minor-era electric prunes; at its worst, like an iron butterfly album--or the mars volta.

(note: if pitchfork is to be trusted, dungen's earlier work tends toward the latter. buyer beware.)

19 September 2005

mike skinner / bloc party - "banquet (the streets remix)"

at least, i think that's the right way to credit it. don't know much about this except what i read on nme.com, which says this:
MIKE SKINNER has written a brand new song – which is an apology to JO WHILEY for stealing her microphone years ago.

The track, which has Streets star rapping over Bloc Party's 'Banquet', apologies to the Radio 1 DJ for stealing the mic, which he then went on to record the Number One single 'Dry Your Eyes' with.

He raps: "I did something bad but always vowed to my soul / That if my next record increased the amount of albums I sold / enough for Mike not to end up back out on the dole / I promised I'd promptly send you back what I stole."

He continues: "I don't feel good about it and I don't want to repeat it / But the mic went pride of place on 'A Grand Don't Come For Free'."

The song is currently circulating online. Skinner is currently working on his third album, which is due later this year, or at the start of 2006.
all mea culpas should be this entertaining (and should lift the best bits of bloc party, i.e. not kele's vocals).
the best muzak selection i've ever heard: roxy music's "oh yeah." runners-up: "you bowed down" by roger mcguinn and "you're the best thing" by the style council.
the fall - "blindness" (from the fall heads roll lp, available for preorder here.)

in brief : yes, he's still got it.

the fall have perhaps the most convoluted catalog for a band filed under rock, rivalled only the dead and zappa, but compounded by the fact that so much of their work is import only. the first album of theirs i bought was the beggars singles collection, 458489 a-sides, which, along w/ street life: the best of bryan ferry & roxy music and the best of velvet underground: words and music of lou reed, are the least emblematic compilations of seminal artists i've ever purchased (and which set back by my interest in both by years). for the beginner, it's a daunting band to involve oneself w/, in more ways than one.

take for instance "blindness," which will be released three times in 2005: on the complete peel sessions, interim, and fall heads roll, and that's just officially. fall fans are already saying that the studio version pales to the peel session, but what one learns as they become a fall fan is that the peel sessions are always better, especially when they're not.

having all three versions myself, i disagree: i think that this is the definitive "blindness," but my own personal bias is toward album versions. "blindness," for those of you hearing your first version, is a brute. it's bass and drums and mark e. smith and, mid-song modulation aside, little changes, just as little has changed for the fall in almost thirty years of performing. indeed, look back at 1978 and "repetition," then fast forward to 2005 and "blindness," and, quite remarkably, there is no real perceptible drop in quality (just don't look at the mid-90's). "blindness" is like an edit of can performing "superstition"--instead of twenty minutes, it's only seven-plus--sung by a man who claimed to be damo suzuki but who is, in reality, madder than he and malcol mooney combined.

i was playing it at work and a co-worker asked what it was. it occured to me that, like a favorite tv show, it helps to be au fait w/ the fall, to understand and to be amused by mes's bleating ("blind man!" he shouts and for all the world it sounds like "caramel!") but i think he was curious, as opposed to annoyed like another co-worker, and as he silently weighed my reply, i believe i heard a fall fan being born.

if this describes you, here is my handy crib sheet to the wonderful and frightening world of the fall (bear in mind, though, that no two fall fans' lists will be alike).

grotesque (after the gramme) (1980)
hex enduction hour (1982)
the wonderful and frightening world of the fall (1984)
this nation's saving grace (1985)
extricate (1990)

the fall in: palace of swords reversed (1987)
totally wired: the rough trade anthology (2002)
it's the new thing! the step forward years (2003)
50,000 fall fans can't be wrong (2004)

ten tracks:
"new face in hell"
"the n.w.r.a."
"totally wired"
"the classical"
"marquis cha-cha"
"guest informant"
"bill is dead"
"theme from sparta f.c."

15 September 2005

echo & the bunnymen - "nothing lasts forever" (from the evergreen lp, available for purchase as an import here.)

in brief : a graceful goodbye to something.

it's my birthday and i'll sigh if i want to.

i was reading blender at work today. in it, i read that "nothing lasts forever" is one of his five favorite songs ever, which makes perfect sense. so many of his band's ballads follow this template, though none communicate w/ the simplicity that ian mcculloch displays here in his affectless vocal.

this song is rather britpop--right down to liam on backing vocals (a spot martin later filled at a live show)--and then one remembers it was released in the summer of '97. i tend to view the end of britpop in the light of two dates: 18 august 1997, be here now (the collapse) and 1 september 1997, embrace's "all you good good people" (the last stand). 23 june 1997, however, now seems like a significant date, marking as it does the release of evergreen. "nothing lasts forever" is a farewell to so much, but it does play like an elegy to a particular form of music just as it portends another (whether it's "shadows and pain" is a matter of personal taste), written and performed by a band accustomed to saying goodbye.
i want it now, i want it now
not the promises of what tomorrow brings
i need to live in dreams today
i'm tired of the song that sorrow sings

and i want more than i can get
just trying to, trying to, trying to forget

i'd walk to you, through rings of fire
and never let you know the way i feel
under skin is where i hide
a love that always gets me on my knees

and i want more than i can get
just trying to, trying to, trying to forget

nothing ever lasts forever (x4)

i want it now, i want it now
don't tell me that my ship is coming in
nothing comes, to those who wait
time's running out the door you're running in

so i want more, than i can get
just trying to, trying to, trying to forget


all the shadows and the pain are coming to you (x7)
well, how about some new music, then?

elbow - "forget myself" (from the leaders of the free world lp, available for pre-order here.)

in brief : people will probably always know their coldplay from their elbow, and that's a good thing. post-britpop hopefuls finally make good.

elbow, yeah. not exactly a world-beating band name. in the category of rock bands that double as body parts, it's not quite heart or the slits. they're best-known in these parts, if known at all, for their cover of destiny's child's "independent woman," which became an internet sensation when animated w/ kittens by joel veitch of rathergood.com. as a committed anglophile, i never really given them the time of day, having lumped them in w/ post-britpop hangover bands like travis, turin brakes, starsailor, athlete, &c.

another band that emerged from that same era was coldplay, and w/ "forget myself," elbow come closer to them than to those aforementioned bands. let's be clear: they haven't "gone coldplay," as so many of their peers have, e.g. athlete and snow patrol; what i mean, rather, is that elbow have begun, to my ears, to separate themselves from the pack. (one may say what they will about coldplay, but one thing is certain: no one will mistake them for starsailor any longer.) both coldplay and elbow are emotional bands, to be sure, but the emotions they evoke in the listener are of different types and magnitudes. whereas chris martin, w/ his falsetto and piano, can draw out sniffles and maybe a tear, guy garvey of elbow, instead, impresses w/ the depth of his suffering. i am not quite so moved as taken aback at how cathartic the chorus of "forget myself" is. (which leads me to believe that elbow has, in terms of percentages, a larger male fanbase ... )

usually, when i describe a band as sounding like they're carrying a large weight, vide nickelback, i mean it as a pejorative. not so for this elbow single, b/c, well, it should sound that way. what's so thrilling about the song's chorus is w/ what ease a double-tracked garvey lifts this weight and launches it skyward. this leads to another difference w/ coldplay: for all of their kraftwerk samples and neu! records, one can rarely accuse that band of musical or lyrical heft (ponderousness, yes, but that's something different.) but, of course, the major distinction between the two is their commercial fortunes. "forget myself" is a breakthrough record, but it won't crack the american market. it's not something that many will listen to, but it does prove that they are, in fact, a band worth listening to.

14 September 2005

note to self--and technorati visitors--i simply must find a way to incorporate, w/ the utmost tact and legerdemain, the day's top search into each day's missive. only ingeniously so. (for those of a political bent, you might find my other blog more nutritive. or not.)
the katrina "blame game" is technically over, w/ president bush accepting, yes, the blame for the federal government's response. "and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right," he said, "i take responsibility. i want to know what went right and what went wrong." similarly, kathleen blanco has accepted her share of the blame. "the buck stops here, and as your governor, I take full responsibility," she says. it's almost too neat, the way this has come together, sort of like brownie resignation from fema. mayor ray nagin was on cnn's 'larry king show' tonight. but i don't watch larry king.

the blame will continue unabated, though, until a final report is issued--and beyond, as the case of the 9/11 commission (and the attendant "able danger" would-be scandal) demonstrates.

so, what about the claims from government spokespeople that we shouldn't focus on blaming, we should focus on saving lives? this presupposes that investigation and field action are necessarily overlapping and that one would impair the other. i'd argue that they are, in fact, two separate entities, as separate as the president maintains that katrina relief and the war in iraq are. (and, surely, supporting both of these operations is more taxing on the government than the "blame game" is.) an analogy occurred to me earlier: in a missing persons case, one doesn't simply search for that person; one also tries to find people who might know something or be responsible. it's an imperfect comparison b/c a witness in a missing persons case can help w/ the search, and that wouldn't be the case w/ katrina. but! finding the responsible parties, removing them from their offices, and repairing the damage to communication between government offices would help in future catastrophes.

"impeach bush" is currently the number one search on technorati. a figure that this administration has long, i think, wanted to "impeach," so to speak, is the un's kofi annan. recently, a report from a committee created to sort out the oil-for-food "blame game" cleared kofi annan of any personal wrong-doing. the economist reports that, despite this, senator norm coleman is still calling for annan's head, saying that "the secretary-general should take responsibility for the fraud, administrative bungling and leadership failures" in the report.

now i understand why many on the right don't want a katrina commission. for, even if mr. bush is cleared directly, as he v. likely will be, how will his supporters, like mr. coleman, muster up the hypocrisy needed to turn a blind eye to the president's "leadership failures"?
like matthew, so much of what i'm listening to right now, that is right now and not reissued, is hyperpopular and higher profile than i'd like to post. (i would say that the most popular acts i'd post are the new pornographers and the magnetic fields. that is, bands whose popularity is greatest in the areas of the country that were bluest in the last election, which means no killers, interpol, and, i'd argue, arcade fire, all of whose popularity transcends partisan politics.) i can tell you what's good, in a resuscitation of a feature i called songs to download and sing. i've included links to downloads and streams.

boards of canada, "peacock tail" (and "dayvan cowboy" and "'84 pontiac dream.")
franz ferdinand, "walk away" (and "well that was easy," "what you meant" and "this boy.")
goldfrapp, "time out from the world"
david gray, "nos da cariad" (i'm as surprised as you ... )
paul mccartney, "fine line"
pussycat dolls feat. timbaland, "wait a minute"
rolling stones, "rough justice"
sigur rós, "hoppipolla" (just north of my popularity threshold)
kanye west, "gone" (and "celebration," "we major" and "roses.")
robbie williams, "tripping"

13 September 2005

dion - "your own backyard" (from 70's: from acoustic to the wall of sound, available for purchase here.)

in brief : the greatest song about drugs ever written.

there are days, and today is one of them, when i think that dion is the greatest singer who ever lived.

there are also days--many days, really, as it's the most played song on my ipod--when i absolutely need to hear "your own backyard," the happiest and most hopeful song i've ever heard. "you might find oil wells in your own back yard," he sings. out of context, it may seem preposterous; i know people who dismiss something like it's a wonderful life out-of-hand for its sentimentality, forgetting just how bleak things get for george bailey. dion's like that: most people probably think they know him and his music ("the wanderer," "runaround sue," &c.) better than they do, when the real tragedy, though he'd hardly agree, is that people know so little about that music. as w/ george, dion's happiness is hard-won, his heroin habit having cost him everything "near and dear to me," as the song goes, "namely my children and my wife." it's one of those stories you tell your friends; i used to have my own version. you begin telling your story, making it funnier than it is, a smile refusing to leave your face, as your listeners stare in disbelief. "wait, it gets better," you have to say. it's one of those situations that hindsight has made very funny.

indeed, dion begins the song w/ a laugh, a laugh whose sincerity is never in doubt. his singing on "your own backyard" is impossibly light, a frank denial of gravity; the backing track (acoustic guitar, melodic bass, piano fills), too, seems to know his secret. he casually inserts "woo"s and tosses off the most exquisite melisma. compare this to something like "ruby baby" or "abraham, martin & john" or "daddy rollin'"--hell, compare those songs to one another; that they're sung by the same individual is amazing. they explore different regions of his range, different styles, different settings, and yet they're all identifiably dion. focus not on the lines but the unscripted notes and words that ties those lines together and makes them into a song--it occurs to me that dion is the closest thing that rock & roll has come to a sinatra.

so, what was his secret? ah, on that point, at least, you'd be happier thinking you know him better than you actually you do. mid-song, dion sings, "i got a friend his name is ..." it honestly sounds like he's saying "richie rich," but the story behind this lyric is that, whatever he's singing, the person stands-in for pat robertson. yes, that pat robertson. (you may have noticed that God is mentioned often in the song; it's not a trope: dion is a devout christian.) say what you will about robertson, but he helped dion get off heroin, which led to this song being written in the first place, and, in dion's case, i think it's better to be born again than to fade away. but "your own backyard" isn't a religious hymn--only in the most secular meaning of those words--and the only thing he's trying to convert you to is a belief in hope. what works for him might not work for you, but something will, it's merely a matter of finding it. for me, often, it's this song. a temporary solution, yeah, but until the real thing comes along ...
big star - "lady sweet" (from the in space lp, available for pre-order here.)

in brief : it's new big star.

more than i usually would, i'd urge you to buy this album if you like it. alex chilton, some of you may have heard, lost his home and is now in houston.

in articles about katrina, alex is often referred to as the singer for the box tops, which is perhaps emblematic of his career. what, one might ask, is a big star song? is it the sum of its formal properties? (what, then, is a box tops song? and an alex chilton song?) is alex writing from the heart? or has he put together a set that's to the indie oldies circuit as singing "the letter" is to the mainstream circuit?

another question: what is a posies song? (jon auer and ken stringfellow join alex and jody.) one would normally think that members of a band would hold out on their "side projects"? but what if that side project is the very reason you got into music?

i really can't answer any of these questions, though i think they're interesting to think about. how about a question you're certain to have: what does it sound like? like #1 record, mostly. alex and jody, i think, are more about songcraft at this point than pushing boundaries; and nothing against the posies, but i don't think they've got it in them to help create record city, let alone sister lovers.

last question: is it any good? if i couldn't answer the others, this one i don't want to answer. the album is unspeakable in parts ("love revolution," "do you wanna make it"--you could probably tell by the titles), but alex chilton, perhaps more than any other artist i can think of, and now especially, deserves the right to cash in, if such a thing as possible.

the track i've selected, "lady sweet," in my opinion, rises above the rest of the songs on the album, so much so that you wonder if this was an outtake from an earlier album. the sound is perfect, especially the sighing backing vocals. on this one track at least, i think you'll agree that chris bell, from (one hopes) his privileged place in the cosmos, would be proud.

12 September 2005

if you go to robbiewilliams.com, point your mouse at "reveal your future," then point it at the icon that looks like some sort of odd tool ("inspired")--this is beginning to sound like a video game walk-through. but, yes, do this and you can hear robbie's new single, "tripping." really, it's worth sitting through the flash foofaraw b/c it may, it may be his best single ever.

robbie, history will show, reached his peak of crapulence w/ the swing when you're winning album, on which he duetted w/ nicole kidman, whom he was allegedly shagging, and covered nancy sinatra, whom he wasn't, though he was certain doing something untoward w/ her father's ghost. escapology followed. i thought guy chambers was gone at this point, but a quick check of allmusic shows that this isn't so: it merely sounds that way. the good songs, relative terms, on that album are ponderous ballads about the big things, as slow as they were serious. basically, it sounded like a gary barlow album.

fear not, though. he's returned to the sound that suits him best: uptempo dance numbers, part cheeky, part serious. on "tripping," he's gone a bit broadway: a little west side story, a little "nights on ... " the disparate elements that make up the song threaten to turn into a powderkeg: caribbean drums; keybs from a d.f.a. production; squelchy bass; "beat it" melodrama; skanking; barry gibb falsetto; paul buckmaster strings; a leiber-stoller lilt; cockney rhyming slang; hip-hop slang; an ian dury-inspired rap; bachrachian horns. good things all, from where i stand but it could verily easy come apart. which is why the best news of all is that robbie's found a new songwriting partner in stephen "tin tin (duran duran, lilac time, &c.)" duffy. dollars-to-doughnuts it's duffy who pulls all of this together and turns this gallimaufry into a genuine triumph, a song that soars like robbie's vocal on the chorus. it could only have been more of a conceptual coup if they'd brought in the village people (or neil tennant, for that matter) for backing vocals, "tripping" being a song, so far as i can tell, about a gangster looking for a better life, like a dream sequence in which ronnie kray singing "go west." if robbie was suffering from separation anxiety on escapology, he's clearly gotten out of his system. "tripping" is his best work in years.
the boo radleys - "lazarus (12" version)" (from the find the way out: the anthology lp, available for purchase as an import here.)

in brief : king tubby meets britpoppers in london town. a bassline that would wake the dead (but not radio 1 listeners.)

"britpoppers" isn't quite the term, nor is "shoegazers" or "baggy," though at one time or another they've been all of these things. that they couldn't be pigeonholed may explain what was to follow ...

not too long ago, vh1 had a countdown of the greatest one-hit wonder songs of all time. near the very top of the list--in the top three, if memory serves--were "come on eileen" and "tainted love." it's a shame that dexys and soft cell are remembered in this way (though it is nice to be remembered) but this isn't so surprising for british bands in america. but what must it be like, even w/ an estimable back catalog, but, alas, a top ten hit used on the morning shows that pissed off even the faithful, to be remembered this way in your own home country? such is the fate of the boo radleys.

"lazarus" is from giant steps, their breakthrough, which predated wake up! by two years. the version here is the 12" remix, which is the only way to hear it. "lazarus" begins like some primordial soup, elements enter, cross stereo channels, and whir out in an instant. it's as inconceivable as the opening of "california girls" must have seemed in 1965 or "how soon is now?" in 1985. it is a great gulf that separates this introduction and the song that follows; organization begins w/ the throbbing of a bassline. it is a bassline enough to wake all sleepers--and might've made for a better morning than "wake up, boo!"--and it points the way to an organ trill that crashes into horns and guitars like a wave beating the shore.

like jesus, the radleys could bring "lazarus" to life but they couldn't save their career. in the face of such a body of work, one has to believe that there are greater forces at play, that, by fading into near-obscurity, the boos were fulfilling some prophecy. in time, we may all know better, but for now, i advise you: don't sleep.

09 September 2005

the shortwave set - "is it any wonder?" (from the debt collection lp, available for purchase as an import here.)

in brief: humperdinck '78 + saint etienne '92 + beta band '01 = autumn '05

this is another that goes into my mooted soundtrack, "what london sounds like to me," though "what i imagine london sounds like" may be more apt, since it's another chief failure in my life that, despite my rampant anglophilia, i've never been to england.

the shortwave set is another one of those sampler + band collectives that england produces so often. this, it needs to be said, is not trip-hop--there's no hard contrast between beatz & vocals; they co-exist quite naturally, one element not drawing from, or to, the other. the st. et it reminds me of is the early material, viz. "london belongs to me" or "mario's cafe" in its airiness and even in its title (st. et., remember, asked "who do you think you are?") the beta band influence is from the "late" period, so to speak, "is it any wonder?" sounds like "squares," but not in the i monster way. foxbase beta, then. and since those bands have stopped being what they were (or plain stopped being), the shortwave set's sound--on "is it any wonder?," it's like leaves changing color--is a good, good thing to have, especially as autumn's not so far away.
mark caro writes a great piece in the chicago tribune about critical reception to new rolling stones' albums. yes, it's v. amusing to watch rock critics stress how this really is a great stones album. some will say "it's their best work since ___"; others "this is not just a great stones album, this is a great album period." alan light, in the rolling stone review, seems to combine both strains:
Let's just get this out of the way: A Bigger Bang isn't a good Rolling Stones album considering their age. It isn't a good Rolling Stones album compared to their recent work. No, A Bigger Bang is just a straight-up, damn fine Rolling Stones album, with no qualifiers or apologies necessary for the first time in a few decades.
critics will disown every album since tattoo you, but why caro's piece is really worth reading is b/c he goes into the vaults and dredges up what they said at the initial time of release of those albums (and, really, none of those albums, dirty work notwithstanding, goes below the proverbail three-and-a-half stars level. recently, a big deal has been made over kanye west getting five stars from rolling stone; remember, though, that this is a magazine that gave five stars to mick jagger's goddess in the doorway. one awaits his next solo album just so we can hear them disavow that!)

me, i've heard the album and i've heard it all before. i'll say this, though: "rough justice" is their best single since ... "don't stop" (from forty licks, and, honestly, a really nice song). it's like "mixed emotions" meets the guitar lick from belle & sebastian's "legal man." (someone's been paying attention!) the mix is shit, though, and i blame that on don was (cleaning up your favorite artists since brian wilson!) all of the best stones songs have mick's vocals in the background. i don't want to know that mick is saying "cocks"--and i don't--i want to have to say, "hey! did he just say 'cocks'?" (censored, as you might imagine, on last nights' nfl kickoff show.)

speaking of codgers, the new macca single is--and this isn't critspeak--his best single in years, at least since ... when did "say say say" come out? why is this the case? nigel godrich? no. it's that paul has succumbed to the pressure and decided to reveal to the world that, for all these years, he's lived a double life. he's not dead; he's not the walrus; he's jeff lynne. tell me those keybs and strings aren't straight off a vintage e.l.o. record! it's like "mr. blue sky"--which was like "a day in the life." if you disagree, answer me this: why else would jeff lynne always wear sunglasses and a beard and a bad wig?


08 September 2005

thelma houston - "mixed-up girl" (from the sunshower lp, available for purchase as an import here)

in brief: original of art-soul scorcher later covered by re-re and dusty--really original.

i think i really appreciate jimmy webb b/c he never was a hippie.

oh, sure, it earned him scorn from his peers; jackson browne probably didn't like him much and the eagles likely never wanted to jam--but who gives a shit about that? webb was square enough to dig burt bacharach, but flat-out bizarre enough to write lines like, "hear them singing, all the women of pompeii standing with the nagasaki housewives in doorways." when the two sensibilities came together, it was like the big bang.

except, all too often, many people ignored this big bang--and we're not just talking fundamentalist christians neither.

thelma houston--yes, she of "don't leave me this way" fame, but that's still eight years off--was described by webb as "the most prodigious talent" he had ever encountered. "mixed-up girl" was later covered by both aretha franklin and dusty springfield; it's not often that a singer has bested either one of those singers, let alone both, but thelma does so here, justifying webb's faith in her. it's unspeakably thrilling when the chorus hits, the strings rise, and thelma lets out w/ "why can't i be lonely like that lonely rushin' river?" (which i had originally hoped was "lonely russian river." webb's always been big on geography and, well, pretension--and doesn't the volga look lonely?)

webb, for his part, lets thelma down. let me explain what i mean. thelma houston was a young woman; like i said, "don't leave me this way" is down the road still. thelma houston, in short, isn't making royalties off of "by the time i get to phoenix" and "wichita lineman." "mixed-up girl" is a beautiful art song--but, no matter what folks try to tell you about the great ol' 60's, people weren't buying art songs, even if the instrumentation recalls webb's two biggest hits (but at three times the tempo). "mixed-up girl" isn't pop enough and it's not r&b enough and, well, thelma, i'm sorry, but take solace in knowing that, when you're topping the charts in 1977, webb's latest solo album, el mirage is in the tank.

still, if one takes off the first forty seconds and the last minute or so ... you've got a two-minute song. (still, it worked for the box tops!) and, yes, you'd have a viable hit, but a lesser song. the first forty seconds are a distant cousin to the opening of "california girls," but instead of the gestation of pet sounds, one hears the echoes of a 19th century music box. as for the coda, it's webb's own version of the middle-8 of "don't talk (put your head on my shoulder)." and, yes, for their efforts webb and houston were as scorned by the record-buying public as wilson's opus was, only capital's gimmick ("sloop john b") worked whereas webb's ("jumpin' jack flash") didn't. there are reasons why one frequently tops greatest album ever polls and the other is only available as a japanese import--and they're not all musical.
as i'm sure you've heard, the new boards of canada album has leaked. like, several times already. but if this latest one isn't actually by them, then whomever these kids are, they've got a bright future ahead of them.

i'll state right here: i'm not posting any of it on here. i already got asked to take down one track this week. but you kids are krafty; i'm sure you'll find a way. let me tell you, though, the tracks to look for.

decidedly not "oscar see through red eye" or even "satellite anthem icarus," which are the two most readily available tracks--really, avoid any of the titles that smack of magnetic poetry. both remind me why, like a big silly, i sold my copy of music has a right to children.

there is, however, a brilliant stretch of music that spans the disc space between those aforementioned songs." "peacock tail," in its minimalism, recalls one of my b.o.c. faves, "happy cycling." nothing really happens, but, my, that which does happen ... whichs leads to "dayvan cowboy," whose approach is antithetical to "peacock tail" and is the busiest b.o.c. production i've yet heard. at 2:06, an early 70's guitar riff (!) kicks in--it all begins to sound like pink floyd, only if syd had hung in there and reined waters in. "a moment of clarity" is a brief, sub-minute palate cleanser, merging into--or rather submerging into a boards of canada underwater adventure. if one will allow me to be fanciful for a moment--b/c sometimes, i think, that's the only way to talk about electronic music--it's like deep sea diving and discovering something even far more resplendent than technicolor marine life at one's side (mermaids? atlantis?), and yet that something, no matter how far one swims, remains beyond one's grasp.

"sherbert head" isn't much cop, really, but i needed to say that was to allow for the above rhetorical flourish.

and, again, if these are fakes, every band out there needs to have an imitator; there needs to be a cottage industry of song fraud.

06 September 2005

if things are quiet here over the next couple of days, it will be b/c, as of 11am (est) tomorrow, i'll be hard at work on breaking news, more details available here. i could do w/ the company; the nights get awful lonely, even w/ jon stewart and sean hannity around.

for now, i leave you w/ this cover of amerie's "1 thing" by elbow, whom, at least in the u.s., are best known for their cover of destiny child's "independent woman," which, thanks to animation by joel veitch, became an internet sensation. as for their cover of "1 thing," i know what you're thinking: needs more kittens.
richard hawley - "coles corner" (from the coles corner lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief: morrissey acting his age, retooling his songs for the copa, w/ gordon jenkins as musical director.

do you remember the longpigs? i do. until recently, "she said" by these brit-pop nearly-weres was one of the most-played songs on my ipod. that count was reset as shame set in; i imagine i'll be feeling the same way ten years from now when i still have "lackey" by the others on the portable player du jour.

richard hawley was the guitarist for the longpigs. since, he's been a guitarist for pulp and jarvis cocker's all-around musical companion, the two appearing together on benefit discs and in the widely-misunderstood relaxed muscle project. none of this prepared me for his solo work. admittedly, his first two solo discs should have done the trick, but the shame of my ignorance, shame being a recurring theme in my life, is leavened by the fact that i have much to catch up on.

"coles corner," song and album, is the kind of music that the discerning morrissey fan would hope their man would be making at this point in his career. given the cues of "interlude" and "moon river" and how well-suited his voice has now become for the material, i myself had hoped that he'd trade in the legions of teen fans for supper clubs. "coles corner" is something of a rewrite and refinement of the conceits to, arguably, morrissey's two best-known songs, "how soon is now?" and "there is a light that never goes out." the singer wants to see people and lights, so he goes down to coles corner, and he stands on his own, and he leaves on his own.

notably, there is no crying and dying. he is used to it at this point, as, twenty years on, one would expect morrissey to be used to it. tonight, to quote perhaps morrissey's third best-known, is just like any other night. one wishes morrissey was at a stage in his career where he could, if not write it, then sing such music. (nothing against hawley's voice, though: for reasons that escape me, he is oft-compared to roy orbison though to my ears he's almost a ringer for paul buchanan of the blue nile.) in the world of coles corner, as in the one created by sinatra, crying is done offstage, in the wee small hours, and after a dozen or so drinks.

if coles corner were a sinatra album, w/ its preponderance of strings, it'd have been arranged by gordon jenkins; w/ its dark corners and city lights, the album cover--always an indicator of the mood of a sinatra album--would be a blend of the dark purple of no one cares and the gauzy blue of in the wee small hours. such comparisons aren't merely a parlor game: w/ its classicism and absence of affect--this is not the tindersticks--coles corner is adult-oriented music in the best sense of the word.

05 September 2005

art of fighting - "along the run" (from the second storey lp, available for purchase as an import here.)

"is this emo?" a former co-worker asked me, he being a partisan of the genre if not its name. well, i don't know. certainly the name could fool one into such thinking, but their australian citizenship would seem to discount them.

this was the other song i had intended on posting the other day. i was going to segue into discussing it by saying something like, "now this is the kind of song one has come to expect from bobby wratten, at least as trembling blue stars." i suppose the difference is that art of fighting singer ollie browne seems, relatively speaking, to be taking his loss all too well.

yes, relistening i can understand how someone would hear emo in this--indeed, i can hear dashboard confessional covering it all too easily. what separates "along the run," though, is setting. it's not a song delivered from a stage or on a stool at a bar; rather, one approaches the song through a dim haze, then up the stairs (yes, to the second storey) into an attic. one is either looking at an old photo or out a dusty window onto the distant city. "along the run" calls for the adjective "windswept," and rare is the song that can do this w/o the presence of a string section. the band conjure that wind and control its direction and strength until, at song's close, satisfied to embrace it, surrendering that control.

"along the run" would be, for many other bands, a trump card--to return to the stage metaphor, it'd bring down the curtain. what's most remarkable, then, about art of fighting, and something that tells you a bit about the band and the album, is that they use it to open their album. a tone is set and not easily abandoned.