The title track to Juana Molina’s Un Día (released Oct. 7 by Domino) has been ruling my mornings for the last month. It sounds like an amazing collaboration between Tropicalia star Gal Costa and minimalist composer Steve Reich circa “It’s Gonna Rain.” The rhythmic momentum and the “one day” vocal loop are subliminal but relentless, just right for kick-starting your day (aptly titled, indeed). Molina sings over the top of this sublime, throbbing bed with more passion than she’s ever shown before (hence the Gal Costa comparison); previously her vocals were whispery and introverted, albeit beautiful. It’s as if she’s burst out of her shell here (the first track on Un Día), somewhat setting the tone for the rest of the disc, which features more forceful rhythms and more robust singing than were present on the Argentinian vocalist’s last three full-lengths—Segundo, Tres Cosas, and Son—all of which I recommend, by the way.
A lot of artists try to make soft-spoken, electronic-tinged indie rock, and most of their efforts inspire yawns. Juana Molina is among the most interesting practitioners of a style that the Postal Service took to the bank. The eerily gorgeous Un Día is her best collection yet.
The Band’s “Chest Fever” is one of the greatest rock songs ever. I’m not sure of many things, but this thing I’m sure of (forgive the syntactic disaster of that last sentence). It’s rootsy and psychedelic, a rare combination, with Garth Hudson’s swirling, celebratory organ stirring your adrenal juices into a froth and Levon Helm’s drums dropping serious hick-funk science. And those vocals—by Helm, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson—add hearty helpings of gritty soul power.
But what really excites me about “Chest Fever” are the organ/drum/bass bit that runs from 3:01-3:34 and the section where Helm sings, “as my mind unweaves/I feel the freeze down in my knees.” Link these two parts, beef up the percussion to 21st-century specs, and add some shakers and you could have a killer soulful house track on your hands. Any producers out there want to take a crack at it? I will pay you… something.
“Chest Fever” [album version, illustrated with the wrong LP cover, lulz]
“Chest Fever” [live version, with long, amazing, Bach-inspired keyboard intro]
He's a Beast, He's a Dog, He's a Muthafuckin Problem
June 6 at
Lil Wayne - "A Milli"
God that sample is annoying. No wait, now it's stuck in my head. It won't go away. Weezy's flow... he really sounds like he doesn't give a shit about anything. He really will cancel a show if security won't let him carry his gun on stage (his glock is sick). Every rapper boasts, but when Wayne says "Muthafuckah I'm Eeeeewwlll" you actually believe him. This album cut is much better than the mixtape version, without all that extraneous yelling and sample bullshit. This track is infectious; Lil Wayne is a "venereal disease" like he claims. "A Milli" is the best song ever (this week).
December 28 at
Please suspend your reflexive nostalgia for this song. Please don't think of Eddie Grant as a goofy one-hit wonder. Please listen to "Electric Avenue" with open ears, because it's a fucking serious song, and it's a great song, in the truest meaning of the word "great."
"Electric Avenue" flies alongside tracks like "Paper Planes" and "Waters of Nazareth" as an electro-pop innovator, simultaneously of its time and ahead of its time. It is as black and militant as anything by Public Enemy or Peter Tosh. It is an iconic moment that most of the world took for an MTV novelty.
There may have been no traditional "instruments" used in its creation--it's all drum machines, synths, and reverb, and brilliant, spacious production. Grant's punkish "AYE!" that opens the track, ground down by a digital/analog motorcycle rev; the lo-fi keyboard blips that were in vogue in 1983 and still in vogue 24 years later; a group-sung patois chorus wickedly cool and minimalist: These disparate elements add up to a dub-rock banger equally appropriate for your pre-teen roller disco days, a Brazilian favela streetcorner, or a mustachioed hipster DJ at Sing Sing.
And then there's the lyrical content and the video, both of which reveal gritty themes. Eddie Grant is originally from Guyana and grew up in London, home of the original "Electric Avenue," the city's first district to be illuminated by electric lights. The video takes place in a dark beachside ghetto--Grant's homeland? Kingston? Rio? Certainly not the bright lights of London. And there he is, intense and singing from the couch in his living room, which could be anywhere. Counter that image by a pair of faceless motorcycle riders (Daft Punk was taking notes back in '83), cruising through the slums, down to the beach. There they find Grant struggling through the waves, away from "the dark side of town."
Grant is a revolutionary:
Now in the street there is violence
And then there's lots of work to be done
No place to hang out our washin'
And then they can't blame all on the sun
Workin' so hard like a soldier
Can't afford a thing on T.V.
Deep in my heart I abhor ya
Can't get food for the kid
(Name another pop song to use the term "abhor.")
Who is to blame in one country
Never can get to the one
Dealin' in multiplication
And they still can't feed everyone
The video shows the result of multiplication--the children that suddenly populate Grant's empty bar, the children that can't be fed. This is harsh, hardened stuff. Grant gets up from watching Shark Week on the couch and splashes into real life, landing half-dead on the beach, ready to swim out to broadcast to the masses on Electric Avenue. "Rock it in Miami!/Inna Brixton-ah!" he chants on the fadeout. The whole world must hear his song.
The video--weird, impressionist, a la MTV in the early days--is wrapped in a pixalated fog that would make Michel Gondry proud.
"Electric Avenue" is a fucking serious song, a great song, the Best Song Ever (This Week).
I wish there was an exact science behind catchy pop songs, some sort of undeniable formula that would explain why I like certain songs and not others. Of course, the formula would be different from person to person, but if you could figure out your own individual 216-digit number (that of course starts with 3.14) you could unlock the mystery of why certain music appeals to you.
I am trying to figure out why I like this Voxtrot song so much - what it is about this particular song that stands out against not only all of their other songs (which are usually good but not great), but also all the other bands that try to embrace this sound but generally don’t succeed at it. Like Sam mentioned in his Up & Coming posted below, it is impossible to talk about Voxtrot’s music, particularly their 2005 EP Raised By Wolves, without mentioning the Smiths. “The Start of Something” may very well be Voxtrot’s attempt at rewriting “This Charming Man,” but if there was ever a song that could be written again and again in variation without my complaint it might be that one. If there is one aspect of the Smiths’ song that Voxtrot has captured beautifully it is the “charm” of the original. Both are undeniably feel-good songs, walking down the lane with a bit of a strut and a small, sideways smile.
Past this point though, I’m not sure what it is about the song that separates it from all the rest as “great” in my mind. I like sound of the recording, the guitar tone - some technical aspects, sure, but that hardly impacts the overall listenability of the song over the writing and performance. I guess what really matters is that over the last three days of blizzard and typhoon, listening to this song in my car has helped me not want to drive it through a chain link fence and into the reservoir by my house.
October 22 at
Eric already extolled the synth-pop slickness of Mobius Band's set opening for Matthew Dear, and he's totally right: The Brooklyn trio made infectious, intelligent music that was both restrained and eloquent.
They saved the best song off their latest album, Heaven, for the end of the set. As I said in my Up & Coming this week, "Friends Like These" is the jaded inverse of LCD Soundsystem's sentimental "All My Friends." The song's slow-swinging chorus is pretty much the perfect musical tempo, funky and pendulous but rendered with a goofy white-guy bounce that's irresistibe. It's offset by a simple keyboard counter-beat and splashy cymbal work, while layers of stippled digital effects add sonic density to the otherwise bouyant instrumentation and Peter Sax's plain-but-trenchant vocals. It's an immaculately structured pop song that sounds totally original and sort of familiar.
Yeah, it's Monday, but it's never too soon to hear the Best Song Ever (This Week).
Sometimes I Like Things; Dragonforce is One of Those Things
October 5 at
Wow. So far I've posted two things today and both of them were about bands I don' t like. That's lame, I don't wanna be a bratty and bitter cry-baby.
Here's something awesome:
It's so awesome, in fact, it's this week's Best Song Ever!
I'm a sucker for the optimistic fantasy metal (so much so that I even really liked Nelson's "After the Rain" when I was a kid... which I know isn't "metal," but when you're eight it is) and Dragonforce's "My Spirit Will Go On" caters to my strange guilty pleasure perfectly with fast-as-shit guitar solos that go on for minutes, and lyrics that contain all of the following key words and phrases required to make a fantasy metal song successful: Misery, death, demon, sanity, land of a thousand souls, carry on through the rain, memories of the slain, evil, point of no return, payment in blood, death is the destiny, power of the demon, horizon, war, wings of eagles, debauchery, and blade of death.
And check out the chrous:
In winds of torment forever more you will cry for just...
One more time to escape from all this madness
One more time to be set free from all this sadness
And one last time to be the one who understands
My soul and my spirit will go on, for all of eternity
If you can't appreciate this song, either genuinely or ironically, then you're a fool. I dare you to play drums that fast, I dare you to play guitar that fast, and I dare you to grow your hair that long. Dragonforce is the shit.
Best Song Ever (This Week): "Seahorse" by Devendra Banhart
September 28 at
This song, the cornerstone of Devendra Banhart's new Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, has been taking up a large portion of my life. For a couple reasons: 1. I can't stop listening to it at home, especially at night, especially when it's raining, and 2. It's eight minutes long.
But goddam it's the best eight minutes of anything I've heard in forever. Here's what I said in my review in this week's issue:
The album properly begins with "Seahorse," which is the most electric, expansive eight minutes put to tape in years. The song is an epic acoustic/electric wish fulfillment that weaves the pastoral spiritualism of "Astral Weeks" with the shamanic sexuality of "L.A. Woman" and the unbound headiness of "Dark Star." Repeat listens prove it merits more praise than can be given here; the album is worth buying for that song alone.
Yes, it's a fullblown hippie freakout, and it sounds fucking fantastic.
Some songs can be pronounced timeless on arrival; "Seahorse" is one of them. It spans genres and eras; it floats, soars, and roars through a palette of moods, but it retains a cohesive, dramatic uplift through it all. That movement builds a story in the song, one that starts with a twangy barefoot meditation before jogging into a jazzy autumnal pirouette before launching into outer space gospel. Banhart really flexes all the variations of his voice here, sounding more plaintive, more spectral, more potent than ever before. I said it before, and I'm saying it again: Epic. "Seahorse" is the Best Song Ever (This Week).
Best Song Ever (This Week): "Big River" by Johnny Cash
August 31 at
You know what's the worst thing about being smart? Making mistakes with people you love that you can't fix. It sends you into a downward spiral of depression and self-loathing. This is an example of a thought process:
"Aren't I a smart person? Smart people are supposed to solve problems, not create them. Now this person, who I really like, might hate me. And I have no way to repair the damage I've done. All I've got is my brain, and even that fucked up. I have nothing, and now this person might be gone from my life, and it's my fault. Smart people should be able to prevent catastrophe, that's what makes them smart. I am no longer worthy of this person's presence (if I ever was)."
You get the idea, but the thoughts are endless.
When this happens to me, I want to flee to some place seperate from other people. I want to beat myself up, because I figure that's the only way I'll learn. Suffering from self-hatred has it's advantages, and even if you ruined something that could have been really amazing for you, you deserve what you get. Even if it was an innocent mistake. Those are the worst kind, because you lose your innocence instantly. Everything gets complicated.
That's what this song is about. Johnny Cash made more mistakes than any of us, but the difference between him and us is that he knew how to tell people how it feels to fuck up. This song doesn't make me feel any better about what I've done, but at least someone knows how I feel, even if he's dead.
[Ignore any cheer in the song that you might imagine. He doesn't mean it. The instrumentation is too jaunty in this video version, but it's the only full version I could find on Youtube.]
"My Mind Playing Tricks on Me" by Geto Boys
August 17 at
There's never been a song to better portray the dark side of gangsterdom than "My Mind Playing Tricks on Me."
This is one of those hiphop songs that you know EVERY. WORD. BY. HEART--an ensemble piece by three guys that live the life, that know the material they're rapping from experience, that describe it in painful detail. And with a sense of humor--Willie D mistakes "three blind crippled and crazy senior citizens" for his arch-enemies.
There are so many awesome lyrical details and killer points of delivery, especially in Willie D's verse: the way he pronounces the "W" in "sword," for example.
I remember the first time I heard this tune--An older friend from New Jersey was visiting me in Florida, and he played it for me while we were sitting in his grandma's car. I was immediately entranced, and I went out and bought the cassingle (that I still have, miraculously). I never got into NWA or much West Coast gangsta rap, mainly because it felt so cartoonish, caricatured, so far from my South Florida high school existence. Geto Boys certainly made larger than life music, but this track was the most real, honest, and prickly portrayal of G-ism that I'd ever heard. At the time I had just started smoking weed, at which point everyone not in your immediate weed-smoking circle becomes the enemy. Weed-headed paranoia ran rife in my crew of friends; it sounds bad, but that was part of the fun of getting high.
My favorite verse, by Scarface:
Day by day it's more impossible to cope
I feel like I'm the one that's doing dope
Can't keep a steady hand because I'm nervous
Every Sunday morning I'm in service
Praying for forgiveness
And tryna find an exit out the business
I know the Lord is lookin at me
But even still it's hard for me to feel happy
I often drift when I drive
Having fatal thoughts of suicide
BANG and get it over with
Then I'm worry free, but that's nonsense
I gotta little boy to look after
And if I die then my child'll be a bastard
I had a woman down with me
But to me it seemed that she was down to get me
She helped me out in this shit
But to me she was just another bitch
Now she's back with her mother
Now I'm realizing that I love her
Now I'm feeling lonely
My mind's playing tricks on me
That's about as raw and real as hiphop can get--seeking solace at church, getting lost in thought behind the wheel, considering suicide but staying strong for family, missing the lost girlfriend... This was before "emo rap," and this is Scarface, a motherfucking gangsta, but dude's about as troubled as a human can be.
Interestingly, "My Mind Playing Tricks on Me" is an example of the radio edit being a stronger version than the original. A bunch of rhymes are way stronger without the profanity--"I got my hand on a chrome-plated trigger" is more descriptive than "I got my hand on a motherfucking trigger." And in Bushwick's final verse: "It was dark as death on the street" sounds a lot darker than "It was dark as fuck on the street."
But that last line
"...My hands were all bloody from punching on the concrete. Ah man homie! My mind's playing tricks on me..."
Damn! That's hard.
And there's no chorus! It's all about that guitar lick, sampled from Isaac Hayes' "Hung Up on My Baby." That lick, and this song in general, has been sampled and suggested left and right since this song appeared in 1991, most recently by Clipse--direct descendants of Geto Boys--on Hell Hath No Fury.
A five-minute-long hiphop song with no chorus that's totally unforgettable... minimalist, unique, one of the most visceral hiphop songs of all time--and certainly the Best Song Ever (This Week).
Best Song Ever (this week): R. Kelly vs. Broken Social Scene
July 31 at
This may be old news for some of you, but I didn't get the pleasure until yesterday, and boy was I pleased. Someone has masterfully mixed my favorite Broken Social Scene track, "7/4 (Shoreline)," with R. Kelly's "I'm a Flirt," and the product may just be better than the ingredients. Part of the great energy in "Shoreline" is the 7/4 time signature, which makes the song always feel like it's tumbling over itself. Whoever mashed up the two did a great job of splicing the sample so it matches the 4/4 beat in "Flirt" without losing the momentum the original track had. If someone made a whole album that sounded like this combination I think I'd have a new favorite genre of music. That's why this is the Best Song Ever (this week).
I'm pretty sure this song is about three things: a snake making mistake, someone getting mad at bees, and someone having a really cool dad. Any of the following could be possible: Dan Deacon feels like a snake, Dan Deacon gets really pissed at bees that hover, Dan Deacon has a really cool dad. But somehow I really don't think Dan Deacon is writing about himself. I think he's writing from some alternate universe where he could inhabit the bodies of multiple beings at once and direct them in a massive piece of theater that could solve global warming.
"Close to Me" by the Cure VS "The Caterpillar" by the Cure
July 13 at
The thing is, I never really liked the Cure. Or maybe I was turned off by their fans. I guess I thought I couldn't outwardly like them because I'm not into eyeliner, black dyejobs, lipstick on men. I'm not, you know, goth. But I've always thought "Close to Me" is--and I rarely use this word when describing music--amazing. And I've always thought the same thing about "Caterpillar." I fall strangely but whole-heartedly for both songs, so they both get the BSE(TW) treatment today.
There are so many awesome elements at work in "Close to Me": Robert Smith's queasy, breathy vocals; a great horn line (plus a kickass sax-vs-trumpet solo in the middle); that dinky keyboard/percussion accent; that quietly humming organ that swells beneath the whole thing; and most importantly that badass breakbeat that's actually totally funky. It all comes together in a masterful arrangement that will stay with you for days.
Smith warbles about that excruciating, intoxicating moment where the mere proximity of love, just the potential for it, is enough to pop your eyes out of your head. It's an universal human emotion that this song conveys perfectly. I believe Smith would rather long for love than have it--which is an alright outlook, if you think about it.
"Caterpillar" is similar in that poor Robert still refuses to tarnish the object of his desire--this "caterpillar girl"--by actually obtaining it. "You flicker and you're beautiful, you float inside my head"--that's as close as he's gonna get. She changes willfully, habitually, more than a guy can keep up with.
And the song--it's all about that chorus, that beautifully sung chorus and its gorgeous, gospel-ish melody. It's one of the most uplifting, almost spiritual melodies I've ever heard in a pop song. An acoustic guitar strums underneath, a clean conga tap keeps pulse against castanets and keyboard chords. The beginning, too--that weird violin and scratched piano strings. It's the sound of butterflies flocking, or maybe the sound of metamorphosis. The whole thing is another exquisitely arranged gem.
Both of these songs prove that goth got soul and the Cure is quite fucking good, which is why they tie for The Best Songs Ever (This Week).
The Best Song Ever (This Week) is a NOFX Song. Yeah. Seriously. A NOFX song.
July 6 at
And it's called "We Threw Gasoline on the Fire and Now We Have Stumps for Arms and No Eyebrows."
It was originally on the Epitaph comp Punk-O-Rama III, and more recently it was also included on a two-disc collection of NOFX extras called 45 or 46 Songs That Weren't Good Enough to Go on Our Other Records.
I can't find an MP3 or video to link to, so you'll have to hop on Soulseek, Napster, Limewire, or whatever you kids use to steal music, but first let me tell you about what you can expect.
It's just a NOFX song. It's not going to stop global warming (if such a thing even exists), and it's not going to apologize for the Holocaust (if such a thing even happened... Oh come on, I'm kidding!), it's just a really fucking fast and whiny passionate punk rock song from the '90s that's remembering how great things felt before punk rock turned into a business and a trend (by a band who was around for the before and the after).
All it takes for me to appreciate this song is to concentrate on the blistering drumming and the pissed off lyrics. I know it ain't genuis poetry, but at least it's honest.
Remember the good old days
Remember the sound
Remember the sweet mustiness underground No, I don't feel the need for relivin'
Some things are better off dead
The words work so well with the energy of the song. I know NOFX is more of a joke than I’m admitting here. Hell, they'd claim that as quickly as you would, but a) I like them despite that and b) this song is loaded with an urgency that their goofier material never came close to possessing. It's about a dying scene, a dead friend (Tim Yohannan of Maximum Rock N'Roll, I assume), and the fight to never forget the past while still trying to stay relevant to the future. And if any band knows about that battle, it's NOFX. And I think they capture that really well in under three-minutes.
Weird to take a NOFX song that seriously, right? I think so too.
(If you can't find it and want to hear it, e-mail me. I'll send it to you. Just don't tell the authorities.)
Freaking adorable picture of Two Gallants courtesy of Plus One Music Listen to the song here.
I really love writing this column because I am an expert offender at playing a song over and over again to a point most people would call "insane" but I call "love." One time, when I used to sit in the editorial offices, I was listening to Leonard Cohen's "So Long, Marianne," for about an hour and Charles Mudede yelled at me from his next-door cubicle, "ARI SPOOL! I LOVE LEONARD COHEN, BUT THIS IS REALLY TOO MUCH!" I was listening on my headphones, but I guess Charles has really good hearing.
I keep a mental list in my head of the songs that I have been listening to on repeat, and then write them down next to the weeks that are my turn to do the column. I have like three lined up. They are all amazing songs. Trust me, I know. I get excited.
"Seems Like Home to Me" is the opening track off of Two Gallant's new EP, The Scenery of Farewell, and I think it's the strongest track on the record. It starts in this really anthemic way,
"Baby, let your light shine on me/ When I'm lost on the road/ You know you could set me free/You could ease my load/Days get so dark/I can't hardly see/I've been gone so long/Seems like home to me." After that part, some guitar starts in, and then another verse, and then the drums come in, "thump thump thump." And then, at the end, a bunch of other people start singing along in the studio, and at the end the other people clap and a piano rings out one chord. Just listen to it. And then listen to it again, and again, and again.
The song is nearly 12 minutes long, but it flies by—it tricks the time-keeping part of the mind, which is only the first or last reason it's a great song. "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" is the hypnotic centerpiece of the great Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer>, a drawn-out, eventually frantic unravelling of the album's autobiographical character(s) ("let's have some fun/let's tear the shit apart/let's tear the fucking house apart/let's tear our fucking bodies apart"). But beyond it's episodic significance, it's an examination of futility, despair, and nostalgia in the face of mortality ("I find myself searching for old selves/while speeding forward through the plate glass of maturing cells"). The past is a monster, a bitter reminder of things that could've been ("things could be different, but they're not") as well as things that were, both equally taunting and impossible, and as time progresses, it only gets larger and more grotesque ("and in its eyes you see/how completely wrong you can be").
If it's lyrically morbid, it's at least a little musically buoyant. The track builds over metronomic kick drum, flanged bass, and propulsive 16th note guitar picking; keyboard filter sweeps, ambient noises, and muffled growls circle around and descend. At 4:19, background "Oooh oooh ooh"s float up out of nowhere and then repeat for the rest of the track. Over all this, Kevin Barnes sings and whines and then barks. He references Georges Bataille. He sings about failed romance as existential crisis. When the track finally exhausts itself and sputters out at 11:45, it's a profound moment of catharsis.
There was a time, long ago, when MTV actually played videos by unknown or up-and-coming bands. 120 Minutes--the yet-unspoiled music channel's weekly alternative show--was my introduction to Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Primus, Jane's Addiction, and Ned's Atomic Dustbin. It was 1990, pre-driver's liscense, pre-Lollapalooza, and living in suburban South Florida I was thrilled to have a peephole into the weirdo culture I couldn't find at home.
Ned's were British and they had a song called "Kill Your Television" (my sophomore-year high school friend/fellow budding music nerd Davin Swanson and I relished the irony of watching the video on TV). These factors made them patently cool. On top of that, their debut God Fodder was a weird, jammy, catchy, angry, dancy alt-pop masterpiece. They played with two bassists, we learned, one on the upper register and one on the lower, and their singer had just the right degree of angst and longing in his voice. And while we dug the anthemic rebellion of "Kill Your Television," it was Ned's other single, "Happy," that really got me off.
Even as a naive teenager I could relate to the fantasy of perfect modern romance and intimate communication the song raises. I wasn't an angry or dissatisfied kid, at least relatively speaking, but there was something wistful in the song and the video that struck a nerve, an ideal I aspired to without really knowing it.
I'm certainly biased, but I hear this song today and it holds up remarkably well, its perfectly balanced pop dynamic accented with all the right details. Ned's broke up in 1994, after their second album, retiring as underground legends. But like fellow "grebo" favorites Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, they're playing gigs again; the reunited Ned's is set to play Glastonbury this summer. I guess you can go home again, as long as your home is an enormous field in the English countryside.
This YouTube version of "Happy" is viciously edited; the album version is about two minutes longer and has a great vocal breakdown towards the end. Still, the song thrums with terrific adolescent vitality and a complex but catchy chorus, making it the Best Song Ever (This Week).
Sometimes I have a bad day... or bad days... or bad months—hell, all of 2006 was sorta fucked. But one silver lining of having bad days is that I am a pro at knowing how to deal with them. I tell ya, I throw the best fucking pity parties in town. Sometimes they involve friends and cupcakes and the laughably ridiculous movie Vertical Limit, and sometimes invites only get sent out to me, myself, and I.
Those are the worst pity parties. Those are the pity parties that involve listening to songs like Jawbreaker's "Kiss the Bottle," the Hold Steady's "First Night," and Smashing Pumpkins' "Mayonaise" over and over again while guiltily eating ice cream and watching muted re-runs of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on Nick at Night.
The key to a good pity party, though, isn't so much about the songs you choose to wallow in. You can listen to anything slow—anything with weepy strings, dark haunting bass, or heart-torn vocals. The only requirement is that it punches you in the gut many times over. What you have to do to throw yourself a successful pity party is choose the right songs to pull yourself out of it.
I mean, yeah, if you want to you can listen to "Bankrupt on Selling" 800 times, go for it. Whatever gets the job done. But what you can not do, is leave it on that note. You can't let Issac Brock have the last word. You have to win, you have to own the fucking party, you have to blast the Clash's "I'm Not Down" before you go softly into that goodnight.
Trying to pick a favorite Smiths song is pretty much impossible, so the whole (This Week) caveat to our Best Song Ever category is a lifesaver. (This Week) the best Smiths song, and indeed Best Song Ever, is "Paint a Vulgar Picture" from the band's final album, Strangeways, Here We Come.
Musically, it's maybe not the Smiths' most adventurous or groundbreaking song, but it has its moments. The lone hand clap and guitar solo after the first mention of "those ugly new houses" is gorgeous and every bit as evocative of that place/state of mind as are Morrissey's lyrics. The drums—restrained as always with the Smiths—are just right, and Andy Rourke's (underrated) bass is rubbery and agile. Johnny Marr's guitar work is simple and elegant, bright and jangly as always.
Lyrically, though, the song is genius, a bittersweet rumination on the nature of pop stardom/fandom. This song was my first encounter with the concepts of "meta" and lyrical self-reference ("if it fails to recoup well then maybe/you just haven't earned it yet, baby"), and was quite possibly the first time I'd ever heard someone say (let alone sing) the word "sycophantic." There's something great about how Morrissey subtly switches roles from naive fan to knowing pop star to fly on the wall at the "record company party" from one verse to the next. The line, "So in my bedroom in those ugly new houses I danced my legs down to the knees" has to be the most heartbreaking examination of lonely music geekery I've ever heard, expressing the kind of impossible longing that only a fan-club president can really appreciate. "Me and my true love will never meet again" is Moz at his wonderfully maudlin, eternally teenage romantic best.
Best Song Ever (This Week): "Jason's Basement" by the Gossip
May 18 at
"Jason's Basement" is exactly two minutes long in its recorded form off of Movement. I have to post this YouTube video of the song being played in Dublin because it is near impossible to get in touch with people from KRS in order to get permission to post recorded material, and we don't want to get our pants sued. Sorry, dudes!
Anyhow, "Jason't Basement" is arguably the best song the Gossip have recorded yet. Beth Ditto is singing in her best way–-girl is wailing but she's not just screaming, she's still singing. For a song about not being shy on the dance floor, it sure is powerful.
Brace Pain's guitar is super dancy low-end stuff, throwing in the occasional feedback, as he usually does. This song is totally perfect for gettin' your Jimmies out. Fuck, I wanna blast it right now in the office and dance around and get my brain working again and just WORK THAT SHIT OUT, but my officemates probably wouldn't appreciate that.
The Dismemberment Plan's "You Are Invited" is the Best Song Ever (This Week).
What I love the most about this song is the little angry computer noises that appear around the two-minute mark. It sounds like mad robot bugs talking to each other. It continues to get a louder for 25 seconds or so, and then the song—which has so far remained pretty monotone with a repetitive drum machine beat—goes boom! And the drums kick in and it explodes into this great rock song.
Then there are "oooOOoooh"s and this quick melodic guitar riff, and then it settles back down into the repetitive drum beat. It's so catchy and fun to dance to, you know, at my house... when no one is looking.
The Dismemberment Plan's singer, Travis Morrison, also has a really magnetic voice and personality. I interviewed him once for Copper Press magazine. I was probably 19 or 20 years old—it was a long time ago. We talked about cooking and funk music and mix tapes made by fans, and by the end of our chat I sorta wanted to marry him. Sadly, I can't really back his solo album, Travistan. But I do still love the D-Plan.
The band recently reunited for a couple shows in Washington D.C., and if I didn't have work (and an empty bank account), I would've been there. I'm sorry to have missed it. I bet they played this song, and I bet is was incredible.
I couldn't find a proper (and legal) MP3 to post, but I did find this live performance of the song that was taken during their last Seattle show at Graceland in 2003. I was there, and I was singing along with everyone else. I probably even danced.
The sound isn't perfect, but you get the idea. And if you really wanna hear the version from Emergency & I, e-mail me. I'll send it to you.
This is admittedly a rush-job, as I spent most of my blogging time today on this !!! review. But here's the best song ever this week, "D.A.N.C.E" by Justice:
I've posted the video before, but fuck it. This song destroys. You've got the children's choir biting Michael Jackson (there's a joke there, but like I said, rush job), Justice's usual thick beats and digitally-mulched synths, that funky-ass bass line, the '70s radio fade-out—what is not to love?
It's hard to pick a favorite song from Mirah's Advisory Committee, but I've managed to do it. It's the first track, it's called "Cold, Cold Water," and it's the kind of song that, whenever I listen to it, I feel like there's no way the world is a completely shitty place because something this fucking beautiful and perfect manages to exist in it. Dramatic? Yeah, totally. But am I exaggerating? Absolutely not.
The song kills me. The thunderous cymbals in the beginning, followed by the organ. Fuck. The haunting and echoing screaming towards the end makes me shiver. The lyric "I'm so number one that it's a shame, a shame/That you let other numbers in the game" absolutely breaks my heart. And then the explosion of sound immediately after that line? Boom! Wow. And the plucking acoustic guitar standing out from the swirling strings... the big drums... it's the prettiest epic song that has ever existed ever.
And then there's her voice. Describing Mirah's voice with words is impossible—it's pointless and unfair to even try. And now I will proceed to listen to it no fewer than 25 times before being able to physically stop.
The term might be overused, but M. Ward's "Chinese Translation" is truly timeless. Like a few Cat Stevens and--I hate to say it but have to--James Taylor classics, it's got the kind of gentle but insistent melody and narrative lyrics that oughta make it a go-to acoustic strummer at summer camp campfire singalongs or family road trips, easily interpreted by curious tweens and sentimentally cherished by knowing older folks.
Ward's voice is soft and strong, like folded leather. Jim James of My Morning Jacket sings gentle background vocals; steel guitar adds dreamy Polynesian exotica to Ward's acoustic.
As if the song wasn't sweet enough, Portland illustrator/animator Joel Trussell created a beautiful video to go along with it. If you don't know Trussell's work, this is a great introduction; dude's brilliant (and if you haven't seen his badass vid for Jason Forrest's "War Photograher" you really should check it out). He and Ward were meant to go together.
"Chinese Translation" offers a tenderhearted entre into the weekend and is most definitely the best song ever (this week). Enjoy.
"Don't Touch My Bikini" was one of many songs in the mid-’90s that seemed to feature white men talking fast in monotone. Off the album God Don't Make No Junk, the song features Calvin Johnson saying lyrics like "Gettin' cranky/Need a spanky/Got no heater/Extra blankie" while Doug Martsch picks out random words and sings backup. They occasionally match up, giving those lyrics extra weight (like on "Vegans!/That's not funny"). It was also released as a single, which is very hard to find (and yes, I do own it).
The song is happy and catchy, and often features a "boinnng!" sound, especially during the chorus. Other random sound effects are littered about. The song is great for dancing around your living room and being silly to, but since Doug Martsch is one of the best and most inventive guitarists of the past 20 years, the song is also extremely technical and full of strange, catchy lines.
Calvin Johnson is known for being weird, and during this time, Martsch was known for being heartbroken. They came together to have fun, and they achieved it, making this the BEST SONG EVER (This week)!
BONUS MATERIAL! Whatevs provided this link a few days ago, but if you want to see just how weird Calvin Johnson is, (and check out a NEW HALO BENDERS SONG!), go see this video.
(Stream of "Don't Touch My Bikini" was thoughtfully allowed by K Recs.)
It’s kind of a no-brainer in the best song ever department, but my first entry for Best Song Ever (This Week) is the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”. It could be because I’ve been rapturously caught up in the first season DVDs of HBO’s “Big Love”, which uses said song as it’s theme, but really my relationship with the Beach Boys runs way deeper than that. Let’s see:
Episode 1 - I’m seven or eight years old, my mom and dad are divorced, but my mom, my sister, and I still make the occasional trip down to Sacramento to visit my family on my dad’s side. On these trips, our aural input is a steady diet of Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Bryan Adams, and the Beach Boys (I have this suspicion that my mom set her musical tastes just by raiding the “B” section of a record store one day). My mom always liked the poppy surf-and-cars Beach Boys stuff, not the late-period loony Brian Wilson business, so it was mostly greatest hits cassettes, “409”, “Everybody’s Surfin’”, stuff like that. But every once in a while I must’ve heard “In My Room” and “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t It be Nice”, slightly heavier Beach Boys material, because it's all burned into my brain on a pre-conscious level.
Episode 2 – It’s the Puyallup fair, early 90s, and my mom has taken my sister and I to see Mike Love’s “Beach Boys”, a Brian Wilson-free travesty of Hawaiian shirts, “California Girls”, and John “Uncle Jesse” Stamos on drums. I’d like to say that my pre-teen self inherently knew what a sham I was seeing, but I think I was just genuinely excited about seeing someone from the TV.
Episode 3 – I’m 22, just returned from my obligatory post-collegiate backpack around Europe, and working the graveyard donut-frying shift at Top Pot Donuts on Summit. One of my coworkers there is Adam Miller from the Chromatics, and I quickly learn that one of the downsides of working with an aspiring musical genius is suffering through their highly refined record collection. Along with the Fall and Syd Barrett, Miller liked to play Brian Wilson’s “Smile” (this was before it was reissued, if anyone’s tallying cool points). I never went through a revelatory Pet Sounds phase, but I knew about crazy-ass Brian Wilson from an A&E biography in which he wades into the ocean only after getting a note from his psychiatrist saying that it would be ok. Wilson, of the Beach Boys, was afraid of the ocean, you see. Anyway, I had pretty much zero context for “Smile” and just filed it alongside Sid Barret and Mark E Smith as genius music that I just didn’t enjoy while working a deep fryer at 3am.
Which pretty much brings us to this week’s “Big Love” binge. I’m still not the kind of person who rants about Wilson’s musical genius, although I acknowledge it, and I still mostly think of the Beach Boys as childhood car-ride music. But damn if “God Only Knows” isn’t the best song ever. The production is amazing—the echoing horse trots, the ghostly strings and accordion, the vaguely psychedelic breakdown at the 1:05 minute mark, the rising drum rolls of the song’s crescendo, and, of course, those perfect vocal harmonies. Lyrically, it’s both a tentative love song and an existential lament for love and life’s inevitable fade into the unknown. It’s a must for any morbidly anxious romantic, such as myself, and it's the Best Song Ever (This Week).
Refused's "New Noise" really is the best song ever (this week). The biggest "hit" the now defunct Swedish band ever had, "New Noise" is just one track on the unbelievably innovative, bombastic, and ballsy 1998 release The Shape of Punk to Come. The album was way ahead of its time—part jazz, part hardcore, all punk as fuck and chock full of art, ideas, and passion.
"New Noise," is the album's climax—it is the point where the music really starts to boil over. It sounds like a musical science experiment gone awry.
And how can we expect anyone to listen if we are using the same old voice?
We need new noise, new art for the real people
I can't even say enough about it right now. The song is energizing, empowering, and furious as hell. I include it on almost every mix CD I ever make.
If you've never heard "New Noise" before, please please please listen to it right now. There's no better way to start a weekend. And if it scares you in the beginning and you're tempted to turn it off, you absolutely must hang in there until the 3:50 mark, when the band comes close to exploding the entire world with their amplifiers. That, and the "woo" at 1:19 is what makes it the best song ever... this week.
To kick off our new weekly feature "Best Song Ever (This Week)" I'm going with a certified classic most widely known as a staple of 2 a.m. TV ad compilations--the Grass Roots' "Midnight Confessions."
The Grass Roots are an appallingly underrated California garage-folk-blues-rock outfit responsible for a huge number of songs that you recognize and probably don't know; "Midnight Confessions" is their pinnacle. Their 1968 Top 5 hit balanced perfectly between garagey grit, Stax soul, and AM radio pomp. A boogie bassline starts the whole thing off, working intuitively with an eerily stark garage-rocking organ riff. A huge, classy/cheesy horn blast parades the song through the streets, and the vocal duel between keyboardist Warren Entner and guitarist Rob Grill makes for awesome drama. Entner wins out with his unforgettable yawp: "I love you!" Poor guys--only at the witching hour can they tell the world they’re hung up on a married chick.
"Midnight Confessions" comes from an era when corny could coexist besides soulful and rockin’, adding up to the Best Song Ever (This Week).