I hope Bill Callahan wrote this one to mimic the sound of the summer, because it is eerie how the gentle, fluttering guitars make you feel like it is 8pm in July and the dusk is settling in and the fireflies are-a-hummin’ and all is right with the world. And if that’s not exactly what he meant, we still get the point. This is a happy song about an anniversary -- all should be right with the world. Nicely done, Senor Bill.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I will not pretend to be anything close to a PJ Harvey fanatic, but this one always pulls me in when I hear it. It’s simple and straightforward and a winner.
“On a rooftop in Brooklyn, one in the morning, watching the lights flash in Manhattan,
I see five bridges, the empire state building, and you said something that I've never forgotten.”
Sunday, August 23, 2009
88. “Come On Feel The Illinoise!” Part 1: The World First Columbian Exposition” by Sufjan Stevens (2005)
“Chicago, in fashion, the soft drinks, expansion
From Paris, incentive, like Cream of Wheat invented,
The Ferris Wheel!”
You have love the bridge to the second movement of this song – the part where The Cure’s “Close To Me” is shamelessly aped and yet still sounds remarkably poingnant and beautiful. Actually, you have to love that there are multiple movements to this song at all.
There is something almost perfect about this song: the innocence of the peanuts riff, the kid crying himself to sleep, the fact that he’s urging you to “Come on Feel The Illinoise”, an amusing reminder that this song is part of a concept album about the state of Illinois and a larger reminder that he hopes to do 48 more of these albums (Michigan is already in the books). Most of all, it’s a fairly ambitious song (Surfjan gets a little proggy in here if you listen closely) that could fall on its face if it were not executed so perfectly. But it is.
Monday, August 17, 2009
I don’t reckon that Death Cab is much of a singles band and it’s safe to say that the sum of their best albums is definitely better than the individual parts. Everyone’s got their opinion, but I think the boys peaked out with “Transatlanticism” and their major label debut “Plans”. (Last year’s “Narrow Stairs” was a drag, and makes me worry about where these guys are headed, even if it did have a few good songs).
“I don’t mind the weather. I’ve got scarves and hats and sweaters. I've got long johns and under slacks for blustery days.”
“Blacking Out The Friction” comes from “The Photo Album” (a pretty good name for a Death Cab album, as most of their songs seem to be little snapshot observations from Ben Gibbard’s bespectacled head), the album that got me into these guys in the first place. The best of Death Cab is on full display in this song: crunching and simultaneously chiming guitars mixed with a soft keyboard melody that seems to float through the song and drive it at the same time. There might be better or more relevant Death Cab songs than this one, but I always come back to this one and never get sick of it. Sometimes, the song that introduced you to a band, or the one that really drew you in as a big fan, is the one that is the most timeless to you. For example, everyone – fans and critics alike -- seems to think that “If You’re Feeling Sinister” is the best Belle and Sebastian album and I actually like it least of their first three albums. “The Boy With The Arab Strap” is one of my favorites for the simple reason that it was my introduction to them as a band. I never tire of that album. Ditto for “Blacking Out The Friction”.
There are tons of other Death Cab songs that could easily have been included on here. “Transatlatisicm” is a slow one that really stood out when I saw these guys at The Bowery Ballroom on this tour – it was basically made for a small club like that, with its building crescendos and crashing ending. “The Sound Of Settling” is a great burst of two-minute pop rock goodness. “Expo ‘86” and “Title and Registration” both never fail to remind me of the year they were released, a telltale sign that they got it right. “Marching Band of Manhattan” is a quintessential Death Cab “rock song”. And “Soul Meets Body” is where R.E.M should have gone in 1995 instead of the abomination that was “Monster”.
Word has it that Danger Mouse was cleaning his apartment one day, while listening to The Beatles “White Album” in one room and Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” in the other. And that’s how this incredible mash-up of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Jay-Z’s “What More Can I Say?” came into being.
This song did not have a formal commercial release, but it was circulated all over the place, at a time when Danger Mouse was still making a name for himself as a producer and DJ. “The Grey Album” has since catapulted Danger Mouse into the world of highly sought-after producers, and he went on to produce huge sellers (“Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley) and critically acclaimed records all over the place (“Attack and Release” by The Black Keys, “Demon Days” by Gorillaz).
I’ll admit to not following the drama of this mash-up too closely, but I seem to remember hearing rumors that it was done by Danger Mouse on his own, but effectively commissioned by Jay-Z himself, after he realized that it would be an effective grassroots marketing tool for his music. I choose to believe this since Jigga is not only the best MC of the decade, but also The Industry’s biggest force. The guy knows a hit when he hears it and he’s fine to sacrifice some street cred for some cash or vice versa. I’m not sure that anyone has walked that line so well, since…The Beatles.
Parts of “The Gray Album” don’t work that well as a mash-up, but “What More Can I Say?” is fantastic. If you think you need to check this out, you do.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
(This is a great video, right there -- a faux Pulp tribute, with people dressed as celebrities, singing this song Band Aid style.)
“Sing your song about all the sad imitations that got it so wrong
It's like a later "Tom & Jerry" when the two of them could talk
Like the Stones since the Eighties, like the last days of Southfork.
Like ‘Planet of the Apes’ on TV, the second side of "’Til the Band Comes in’
Like an own-brand box of cornflakes: he's going to let you down, my friend.”
I reckon that Wikipedia’s interpretation of this verse is tremendous:
“The song details the protagonist's belief that his former partner's current relationship is inferior to what she had with him. The latter part of the song is a list of things the narrator likens said relationship to, including The Rolling Stones since the 1980s, the TV series of Planet of the Apes and the second side of 'Til The Band Comes In. The latter is a reference to an album by Scott Walker, who produced the song, which contains several cover versions on its second half. Lyricist Jarvis Cocker has stated that the song was written before he knew that the band would be working with Walker.”
Pulp seemed to have fallen off a little bit after the downer of “This Is Hardcore” in the late 90s. I loved that record, but the follow-up, 2001s “We Love Life” ended up being their swan song and it all made sense, despite it being a strong collection of tunes. In that way, “Bad Cover Version” is a perfect fit for this release and it brings in all of Pulp’s tremendous dramatic swells and Jarvis Cocker’s dry humor and makes a nice little pop song that Meatloaf and George Michael can dig on. (Make sure you watch that video).
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
And now for the adult contemporary portion of our broadcast, we present…Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris! Full disclosure: this song is likely the #1 hit for whatever that Hamptons radio station is -- the one that plays Matthew Sweet and Freedie Johnston over and over again, the one that plays “Beach Music” for 45 year old Hamptonites. Some might call it boring. Maybe so, but you can’t ignore the fact that Emmylou Harris can sing ANYTHING and make it sound nice and Mark Knopfler’s voice and guitar and unique and awesome things that always keep me interested. They made an album together and got some really nice results. “All The Roadrunning” could easily have been included here, but “Beachcombing” has aged very well and captures that 7pm summer feeling very well – the one where pale young men like myself show up at the beach with a sweatshirt, a cooler of beer and a million, “I love the beach!” exclamations.
(Strange you tube clip, I know. The song is there though, so enjoy it.)
“I know you wanna get away,
I know nothing ever stays the same
Jenny, I've been thinking things over
You said, “thinking never got you far.”
The bottle gets you further
So come stand a little closer now”
A week or two after one of our good friends died, we went to see Mojave 3 thinking it’d be good to get out and feel normal again. This was not really the best idea. Mojave 3 is not really the band you see to make you feel good about yourself, though it did yield the awesome “this sounds like Roger Waters!” quote from our friend as Neil Halstead and co launched into one of the quietest songs of the evening. At this same show I found myself next to Halstead in the bathroom and inexplicably asked him what his favorite Nick Drake album was. Nice. (It was “Bryter Layter”).
“Breaking The Ice” follows the Mojave 3 template to a tee, except that it brings a little more rocking into their world, which is much appreciated. I really like all of Mojave 3’s albums and I think they have a bunch of songs that could have been included in this list, but this album was probably the most surprising and refreshing of everything they did, as they broke the mold a little bit, while still maintaining their signature sound. Mojave 3 is not full of frills, they don’t reinvent music in any way, but if you like Halstead’s voice, his songs are all winners.