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Bouncing back

May 14th, 2010 5 comments

I will hardly reveal myself as the music blogosphere’s slightly less ugly version of Dr Phil when I observe that people recover from the end of serious relationships in very different ways. In this series of songs about love we have looked at various themes, including splitting up. Here we look at how protagonists in ten songs have bounced back, or not, from the death of a liaison.

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Skeeter Davis – Gonna Get Along Without You Now (1964).mp3

Well, it’s easier to bounce back when our ex was a bit of a bounder. Look at the ex of Skeeter (or Teresa Brewer or Viola Wills or lately She & Him): one minute he proposes marriage, the next he’s running around “with every girl in town”, masking his two-timing ways by telling everybody that he and Skeeter are just friends. Who needs that? Not Skeeter (or Teresa or Viola or She). “I got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now.” And the philosophical lack of concern is followed by the triumphant zinger: “Thought I’d find somebody who is twice as cute , ’cause I didn’t like you anyhow.” Bouncebackability score: 10/10

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Ben Folds – Landed (Strings version) (2005).mp3
Ben got out of the clutches of a controlling woman (as he tells it anyway). He and the ex moved to the West Coast, and separated from their old social circle. She seems have bullied Ben: “She liked to push me and talk me back down till I believed I was the crazy one. And in a way I guess I was.” She controlled access to him, so when people phoned, she’d not convey the message. Now he has walked out — “down comes the reign of the telephone tsar” — and it’s okay to call him. He’s ready to resume his old life, if that is possible: “And if you wrote me off, I’d understand it. ’Cause I’ve been on some other planet. So come pick me up, I’ve landed” — from that “other planet” and from the West Coast. Bouncebackability score: 9/10

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Kris Kristofferson – From The Bottle To The Bottom (1969).mp3
Sometimes there is no bounce-back. Whatever solace there can be derived emanates from those friends in low places: Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels. So it is here. Being asked whether he is happy apparently is bitter a joke. Or at least, “happy” is a concept that needs to be clearly defined before the question is posed. “It seems that since I’ve seen you last I done forgot the meaning of the word. If happiness is empty rooms and drinkin’ in the afternoon, well, I suppose I’m happy as a clam. But if it’s got a thing to do with smilin’ or forgettin’ you, well, I don’t guess that I could say I am.” Happy, that is. Freedom, eh? Living the dream? Not so much: “There’s no one here to carry on if I stay out the whole night long, or give a tinker’s damn if I don’t call. I’m livin’ like I wanted to, and doin’ things I wanna do, and nothin’ means a thing to me at all.” So we might think that Kris is not doing well. In fact, he’s doing worse.

How’s this for being down: “Did you ever see a down and outer waking up alone without a blanket on to keep him from the dew, when the water from the weeds has soaked the paper he’s been puttin’ in his shoes to keep the ground from comin’ through, and his future feels as empty as the pocket in his pants because he’s never seen a single dream come true? That’s the way that I’ve been feelin’ since the day I started falling from the bottle to the bottom, stool by stool.” He’s lost that bouncing feeling… Bouncebackability score: 1/10

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Rilo Kiley – The Execution Of All Things (2002).mp3
There’s no post break-up messing around here: the now defunct relationship must be snuffed out. The split was humiliating to her, as we learn in the first verse, and her business now is to get over that. “Oh god, come quickly, the execution of all things. Let’s start with the bears and the air and mountains, rivers, and streams. Then we’ll murder what matters to you and move on to your neighbours and kids. Crush all hopes of happiness with disease ’cause of what you did.” So pretty much a scorched earth policy. And that comes laced with a bit of vengeful anticipation: “And lastly, you’re all alone with nothing left but sleep. But sleep never comes to you; it’s just the guilt and forever wakefulness of the weak.” Bouncebackability score: 7/10

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Damien Rice – The Blower’s Daughter (2002).mp3
Here’s a guy not about to bounce back from what might be a broken relationship, unrequited love, unstated love, impossible love. Pretty much a love that has fucked over somebody to whom things tend to come fairly easy. He’s still obsessed: “I can’t take my eyes off of you”. Lisa Hannigan, giving voice the titular blower’s daughter, tries to calm him, pointing out that she didn’t say she loathes him, as he apparently thinks she does. Upshot is that much as he feels like hating her, he doesn’t. So he won’t keep his mind off her, “till I find somebody new”. So there’s hope for the bounce-back yet from whatever love our friend is suffering. Bouncebackability score: 3/10

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Marit Larsen – Only A Fool (2006).mp3
Marit’s boyfriend (or perhaps husband; a ring changed hands and unspecified vows were made) betrayed her, and now she has dumped the chump. Our Norwegian songbird has “been changing after what you put me through; there is just no way that I’ll be coming home to you”. She thinks she’d be a bit of an idiot to do so, as she notes with admirable forthrightness in the chorus: “Only a fool would do this again. Only a fool would let you back in. There is no you left to embrace, there is no word would make it feel safe.” Her naive trust was broken, and that must have hurt. But she’s in a better place than her apparently pleading ex: “It feels good here, better than you know. Isn’t it only fair that you try and let it go?”
Bouncebackability score: 10/10

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Mazzy Starr – Halah (1990).mp3
Sometimes you need closure before bouncing back. Hope Sandoval, Mazzy Starr’s singer, is still looking for that. Instead, there is a lot of confusion. “It’s like I told you, I’m over you somehow.” Well, that is good. But what’s this? “Before I close the door I need to hear you say goodbye.” Ah, not so much over it then. “Baby won’t you change your mind?” And that awful obstacle to closure and bounce-back: hope. The ex owes Sandoval an explanation which she won’t receive. So there won’t be closure any time soon. Bouncebackability score: 2/10

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Ricky Peterson – Livin’ It Up (1990).mp3
The song has featured in the songs about love series before, in Bill LaBounty’s original version (though that link is dead. The song is on this mix). Here jazz singer Ricky Peterson is giving vocals to the anthem for the false bounce-back. Our friend admits that he had gone through a tough time since the break-up. He even put a service on the phone. And whatever that is, it sounds like the action of a man in a deep funk. But he’s out of that, he informs us (and, more to the point, her). He scraped his heart up off the floor! Oh, and he’s having a majestic time now. Living it up, he is, “right from the women to the wine. Livin’ out all those fantasies I never did get to, crazy things I never got to do”. Now that’s bouncing back like kangaroo on methamphetamine. But all’s not as it seems. “Every now and then I must confess, I’m not up to all this happiness. Sometimes I wonder if the place I’m at is where I do belong.” So what’s missing from making this great life complete? Well, all this livin’ it up from women to wine involving crazy fantasies…” it don’t seem like living without you”. Bouncebackability score: 6/10

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Tom Waits – Innocent When You Dream (78) (1987).mp3
Oh curse you, wicked self-recrimination. Tom and his girl had something beautiful: “I made a golden promise that we would never part. I gave my love a locket.” Tell me more, tell me more, did you get very far? Evidently not. “And then I broke her heart.” So instead of running through a pollen paradise straight out of a shampoo commercial, Tom now observes that “the bats are in the belfry, the dew is on the moor”. But when he sleeps, he resuscitates the happy memories. “The fields are soft and green”, but “it’s memories that I’m stealing”. The song title will have alerted the reader of Waits’ punchline: “But you’re innocent when you dream.” Tom isn’t about to forgive himself for what he has done, is he? Bouncebackability score: 2/10

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Rainbow – Since You’ve Been Gone (1979).mp3
Head East – Since You’ve Been Gone (1978).mp3

Written by Russ Ballard, we have two proxies expressing his thoughts (Cherie & Marie Currie’s version must wait for a couple of months to feature in a different context). Our jilted lover can take a lot of punishment, including poison letters and telegrams that just go to show she doesn’t give a damn. And the cause for that readiness to be reconciled? Well, see, “these four walls are closing in” and recurring dreams cause our anti-hero to fall out of his bed at night, possibly as a result of reading her letter at night “beneath the back street light” (is he stalking her?). His mental well-being is on the edge. “Since you been gone, I’m outta my head, can’t take it.” Witchcraft may be involved: “Could I be wrong, but since you been gone, you cast the spell — so break it.” Oooohwaowaow ohwaowoawoh indeed. Bouncebackability score: 1/10

More Songs About Love (happy, unhappy, ending etc)

This is Splitsville

February 16th, 2010 3 comments

Much as there are songs about the sweetness of being in love, as we saw last week, the shards of a broken relationship glisten on the corridors of popular music. This lot of ten songs has a fair share of numbers dealing with break-ups and divorce; happily not an action I am contemplating.

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P.P. Arnold – Letter To Bill (1968).mp3
Poor Bill. This morning he left his happy home for the office in good spirits, but when he returns he will not embraced by a loving P.P. She is gone, having left him an enigmatic letter announcing her departure that morning. It will be of scant comfort to poor Bill to learn that “it’s not that I don’t love you” and that “I’m not leaving you for anything you’ve done” (ah, the old “it’s not you. Nooooo! It’s me” chestnut). Bill probably will not feel comforted by her reassurance that she still remembers “the good times”, certainly not if he hadn’t realised there actually had been bad times. Thoughtfully she left housekeeping instruction (“tell the milkman to drop down on the order”), and observe her counsel concerning neighbourhood gossip. But most of all, Bill will be dismayed by her admission of having written the letter hurriedly under pressure of the train timetable. She couldn’t even bother to write a proper letter? Ouch.

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Kool & the Gang – Too Hot (1979).mp3
Kids, don’t get married too young. Mr and Mrs Kool were 17 when they fell in love, “high school sweethearts, love was so brandnew”. So they got married and things were fine. Until they drifted out of love. Now, with all the anger and recrimination, the climate is one of excessive heat, as the song title alerts us. Kool (yeah, I know, it’s really J.T. singing) doesn’t quite understand how or why everything changed. Apparently, they failed “to stop and feel the [unspecified] need”. Oh, but it hurts. “So long ago, you were my love. Feeling the pain!” The excellent guitar solo won’t palliate the distress. Kool continues to assure us that it is indeed very hot before letting us in on the twist: recalling that once they took their vows, he insists: “We’re man and wife forever!” And then the final plea: “Baby, please won’t you listen?” Ah, it looks like only Mrs Kool wants out.

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Tompall Glaser – If I’d Only Come And Gone (1975).mp3
You’ll remember Tompall Glaser as the co-writer of Streets Of Baltimore (featured in The Originals Vol. 32), which could feature in this post. Here, Tompall got himself tied down after what seems to have been a one-night stand. She had no idea that he was a bit of a cad — “If you’d only stopped to read cold hard words I caved on the other bedroom walls” — and now she’s stuck with a man who wants out. He regrets that he’ll hurt her. If only he had come and gone, Tompall notes by way of double entendre, “you’d be safely tucked away among the pleasures I’d remember ’stead of laying here beside me fearin’ restless thoughts inside me that might awaken with the breaking of each new day.” Yes, if he had “only come and gone the way I’ve always done with summer girls before, shared one night with you and never reached for more, then we wouldn’t face this long and painful righting of the wrong”.

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Boz Scaggs – It’s Over (1976).mp3
Boz is having what seems to be an inner confrontation with two contrary voices conversing in this deceptively upbeat song, with former Ikette Maxine Green doing backing vocals duty. First there’s the lovelorn man who can’t face up to the end of a relationship. “Best of friends never part; best of fools has loved forever from the bottom of his heart.” The second voice, in the chorus, gives it to him straight, in a brutish and artless fashion: “Why can’t you just get it through your head? It’s over, it’s over now. Yes, you heard me clearly now, I said it’s over, it’s over now.” But Voice One isn’t ready to hear that, protesting wretchedly: “You might say that. I can’t take it, I can’t take it. Lord, I swear I just can’t take it no more.” Voice Two urges him to cut his loses: “Go away…it’s too late to turn back now, and it don’t matter anyhow.” And then comes Voice One’s admission of guilt: “I’m to blame; can’t go on the same old way.” And still he protests that he’s not over her.

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Tift Merritt – Keep You Happy (2008).mp3
The relationship isn’t over, but it will be soon. There will be no drama; it will just slip away. Tift doesn’t want it to end but is resigned to it. He is dutifully holding her, but “a feeling has me and tells me it will never stay. Your heart beats miles now, I feel them as they fly away. Close gets so far away.” He is drifting away and she yearns for a place where she could keep him happy. But there is no such place. She sadly reflects: “Why do we pretend there is something to hold onto? See how my world fell in? I was trying to hold you; I was just trying to hold you.” And the sound of a slowly crumbling heart is is set to the prettiest of melodies. What kind of man could ever tire of the lovely Tift Merritt?

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Hem – Too Late To Turn Back Now (2006).mp3
Same story here: the breakdown is inevitable and irrevocable. Here, the pair have clearly done pretty horrible things: “You know we both been feeling reckless since we crashed into the come down.” Bridges have been burnt. “What will keep you next to me, my love, since it’s too late to turn back now.” And yet there is always a flicker of hope. “I caught your face in the reflection, I thought I recognised a corner of your smile. A tired light from your direction; that will keep me in the meanwhile.” And still she knows, they will keep moving forward into separate futures.
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R.B. Greaves – Take A Letter Maria (1969).mp3
Our man R.B. is a pragmatic sort of guy. Coming home one evening, he finds his wife with another man. More emotional types, usually found in country music, might take a gun and shoot the wife and/or her lover; and, if they have no intentions of writing a song about it, perhaps bring the sorry scene to a climax by means of suicide. Not so Ronald Bertam Aloysius Greaves III (apparently a nephew of Sam Cooke). Clearly a man of professional success, he calls in his secretary, the titular Maria, to dictate a terse letter addressed to his wife: “Say I won’t be coming home, gonna start a new life.” And don’t forget to send a copy to his lawyer. Divorce business out of the way, we get an idea as to why Mrs Greaves had John Terry paying nocturnal visit. “Was I wrong to work nights to try to build a good life? All work and no play has just cost me a wife.” Ah, but it seems that R.B. hopes that all work and no play might have brought him closer to a liaison with Maria, who apparently has been a good secretary to him. He comes on strong: “I never really noticed how sweet you are to me. It just so happens I’m free tonight. Would you like to have dinner with me?” Our friend is indeed a pragmatists; dictating the letter to Maria was just a ruse to let the her know that he no longer is attached. Word of warning: office romances are terrible ideas.

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Barbra Streisand – One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home (1971).mp3
The Burt Bacharach/Hal David song was a hit for the 5th Dimension (featured on the Burt Bacharach mix), but let’s have Barbra’s perspective from 1971. There is a bright side to a split. Babs enumerates them: one less bell to answer, of course; one less egg to fry, less tidying up. Great! Except, and your hunch was quite correct, she is not happy. Not at all happy. All she does, as Johnny Cash once did, is to “cry, cry, cry”. When the doorbell goes, it reminds her of him. More tears (which, as Barbra would later note in another song, are not enough). “I end each day the way I start out: crying my heart out.” Even simple grammar falls victim to desperation: “one less man to pick up after” (just how many men are you living with, Babs?). But we forgive her grammatical lapses — for which, in any case, we ought to blame Hald David — as we feel her pain: “Somebody tell me, please: where did he go, why did he go, how could he leave me?” My guess is that he couldn’t live on just one fried egg any longer. Babs expands on the post-split vibe in the second part of the medley, noting a house is not a home when it’s empty of love.

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Tammy Wynette – D.I.V.O.R.C.E. (1968).mp3
Standing submissively by her man didn’t work out too well for Tammy, and today is the day the divorce is coming through. She is hurting at the end of her marriage, of course, because she still loves the man by whom she had stood. But mostly she feels the pain for four-year-old Joe, who is cheerfully oblivious to the imminent trauma. Mom and Dad evidently have done little to prepare the kid for the rupture, having thrashed out matters by spelling them out, literally, Sesame Street style. “We spell out the words we don’t want him to understand” like one might spell out “T.O.Y. or maybe S.U.R.P.R.I.S.E.”. Those are fun words; D.I.V.O.R.C.E. and C.U.S.T.O.D.Y. obviously less so. Tammy, who has custody of Joe, suffers pain from two sides: the prospects of losing her husband and of seeing the little boy suffer. “I love you both and it will be pure H.E. double L for me. Oh, I wish that we could stop this D.I.V.O.R.C.E.”. Alas, we get a sense that this is not going to happen.

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Rilo Kiley – Breaking Up (2007).mp3
Breaking up need not be all emotional trauma. Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis evidently thinks that worse things could happen. “It’s not as if New York City burnt down to the ground once you drove away.” That’s not to make light of a break-up, however. It hurts. “Are we breakin’ up? Is there trouble between you and I? Did my heart break enough? Did it break enough this time?” The emotions are conflicting, though tinged by resigned cynicism. “Here’s to all the pretty words we will never speak. Here’s to all the pretty girls you’re gonna meet.” Hey, maybe he feels bad too. Or maybe not. He let Jenny down, and she kicks back: “Betrayal is a thorny crown; you wear it well, just like a king.” And in the chorus, the ultimate fuck-you to the ex, repeated three times: “Oooh eh [sounds like a taunting ‘nyah nyah nyah’], it feels good to be free.”

Songs by the Dumped
More Songs About Love (happy, unhappy, ending etc)

Albums of the Year: 2004

November 17th, 2009 6 comments

My ten favourite albums of 2004 exclude — and here I fully expect to be shouted at — the rather overrated Arcade Fire debut (it will not feature in 2005 either, seeing as that’s when it came out in many regions). But, Canadians take heart, Ron Sexsmith does feature. As always, this is not intended to represent the ten best albums of the year, only those I have and like best, with some not making the cut much to my regret (Patty Griffin, Anna Ternheim, Sufjan Stevens, A.C. Newman, Joseph Arthur, Kings Of Leon, Laura Veirs). Looking at some contemporary “best of 2004” lists, I feel hopelessly out of touch. Have some of these people ever been heard of again? Did they ever exist, or were their inclusion some kind of critics’ practical joke (Dungen!)?

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Rilo Kiley – More Adventurous

rilo_kileyWhat is it about Rilo Kiley that puts the critics in such ambivalent mood? More Adventurous lives up to its title: it’s an eclectic album, even if there is not much that’s particularly experimental. The variety seems to have puzzled the critics; I like it. There’s the alt.country, folk-rock stuff with which the group has been mostly associated (such as on the lovely title track and The Absence Of God), power indie-pop (the fantastic Portions For Foxes and It’s A Hit), a 1920s throwback (Ripchord), a torchsong country number (I Never), and what might be described as electronica country (the dyslexic Accidntel Deth). Apart from Portions For Foxes, the dramatic Does He Love You (discussed HERE) is the stand-out track. Throughout the lyrics are sharp, and on this album Jenny Lewis found her sexy, expressive voice.
Rilo Kiley – I Never.mp3
Rilo Kiley – It’s A Hit.mp3

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Brian Wilson – SMiLE

brian_wilsonWhen I first got SMiLE , I did not get it. In fact, I was so disappointed by Brian Wilson’s long-awaited and much-hyped collaboration with Van Dyke Parkes that I didn’t expect to ever play it again, just to file it away in a spot where the handsome packaging, with the rather good booklet, would look nice. Then circumstances conspired, making me play the thing four times over on loop. The penny dropped and I got it. There are moments I can live without, yet these moments are a part of the trip: a post-psychedelic trip, a melancholy yet buoyant trip, a trip to a place that doesn’t exist anymore, and probably never did. It’s an album as removed from reality as Brian Wilson is said to be today. The timing of its release, in the middle of the corporate, synthetic ’00s was fortuitous. Coinciding with an era when commercial realism tends to trump enterprising creativity, SMiLE appeared as a connection to a time when innovation was not scorned but rewarded — ironically by putting together the one ’60s masterpiece that never was.

Mike Love apparently described SMiLE as an insult to the Beach Boys’ legacy. To prove his point, Mike Love in 2006 recorded that instant classic Santa’s Going To Kokomo, thereby mercifully redeeming the Beach Boys’ reputation.
Brian Wilson – Roll Plymouth Rock.mp3
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Mindy Smith – One More Moment

mindy_smithMindy Smith’s name evokes the image of plastic blondes in skimpy beachwear living it up at the Playboy Mansion, not the reality of a writer and singer of beautiful country-folk music. Smith was in her early 30s before she finally released this, her debut album. Occasional visitor to this parish Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop (whose periodically updated blog is always very readable) last week commented about One Moment More that it packs an “emotional punch”, referring to Smith’s “supreme songwriting”. Indie-Pop, a man of discerning musical judgment, got it right. Add to that Mindy Smith’s superb, clear voice and ability to invest the right amount of emotion into her songs. Her version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene is probably the best of the many I’ve heard.
Mindy Smith – Fighting For It All.mp3

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Jens Lekman – When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog

Jens LekmanTime was when Sweden burdened us with the regrettable likes of Roxette and Ace Of Base who were hauling in the glorious slipstream of ABBA. This decade, Sweden is a hotbed of wonderful Indie-pop created by artists who can create a catchy hook and an incisive lyric, even a cappela style. The Cardigans set the scene, but the godfather may well be Jens Lekman. Indeed, he gets namechecked, alongside Townes van Zandt, in what may be the best Swedish song of the genre, Hello Saferide’s The Quiz. Lekman turns out some rather good melodies, but the charm of his songs exist in the idiosyncratic lyrics. Take the upbeat You Are The Light: the protagonist gets arrested for defacing his girlfriend’s father’s Mercedes Benz at her prompting, and uses his one phone call to ask the local radio station to dedicate a song to her. There are startling surprises in many of his wry lyrics, but they aren’t contrived, and at times they are casually profound. That is an art in an age when so many people discern depth in Coldplay’s lyrics. And unlike Coldplay and their fellow worthies, Lekman is frequently very funny indeed.
Jens Lekman – The Cold Swedish Winter.mp3

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The Weepies – Happiness

weepiesDeb Talan and Steve Tannen were solo performers on the folk circuit when they met. They decided to collaborate, chose a stupid name for their duo, fell in love, married, moved to Topanga, California, and had a child, and in the interim have released three albums. It’s a happy story, with the title of their debut album an opportune portent. The harmonies are, as one would expect, lovely (especially on closing track Keep It There); none of the songs are likely to jolt the listener out of their comfort zone. But it’s not all predictable introspective coffeehouse folk stuff, and when it is (such as on the lovely Somebody Loved or Simple Life), it’s of superior quality. On other tracks, there are jangly guitars on the suitably upbeat title track, snowbells on the Christmas-flavoured All That I Want, bluegrass guitar on Vegas Baby. Perhaps the most affecting song is Tannen’s Dating A Porn Star, as good a country a song as one might find in this decade.
The Weepies – Dating A Porn Star.mp3

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Dave Alvin – Ashgrove

dave_alvinDave Alvin is a flexible musician, at home in country, folk, blues, rock and punk. He has been a member of rockabilly band The Blasters (with his brother Phil) and the influential punk band The Flesheaters, and he wrote Dwight Yoakam’s country classic Long White Cadillac. Ashgrove is a departure from his previous albums, which covered either country and folk or bluesy roots rock (a genre title I despise). Personally, I prefer the country stuff. I’m not a great roots rock fan, but I do like it when Alvin does it — his guitar work is terrific. As always with Dave Alvin, the lyrics are worth following; some of them are compelling. Two stand out: Out Of Control tells a hell of a story, and The Man In The Bed Isn’t Me is truly touching. The sequencing is a bit jarring, though, with the bluesy rock alternating with the country songs, preventing the set from settling into a coherent mood.
Dave Alvin – Sinful Daughter.mp3

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Ron Sexsmith – Retriever

Ron SexsmithEvery male singer-songwriter who enjoys any amount of critical esteem is likely to be compared to the tragic Elliot Smith, the genre’s eternal poet laureate (whose posthumously assembled collection of demos was released in 2004). Flattering though such comparisons are, often they are inappropriate and lazy. Ron Sexsmith’s sound has little in common with Smith’s, and his lyrics are more hopeful. Sexsmith also gets compared to Paul McCartney (and Happiness from Retriever sounds much like a Macca song), who has championed him. I suppose that the comparisons to Smith do not relate to sound or mood, but to songwriting chops. Retriever, like almost all of Sexsmith’s works, is a beautifully written. It’s a warm, gorgeous album, it embraces the listener in a comforting auditory blanket, aided by Sexsmith’s engaging voice and thoughtful lyrics. It’s not the kind of album, and Sexsmith not the kind of artist, that one turns to for a fix of challenging music; there is enough depth here to remove it from vacant pop, but it will not test the listener. It’s more of an old friend, instantly familiar and great company one is happy to seek out again.
Ron Sexsmith – Not About To Lose.mp3

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Nouvelle Vague – Nouvelle Vague

Nouvelle_VagueThis is one of those unexpected albums: loungey covers of Punk and New Wave classics, such as Love Will Tear Us Apart (here set on a beach), Teenage Kicks, Making Plans For Nigel, Too Drunk To Fuck, and Guns Of Brixton (the latter two of which sound like Gainsbourg songs here). It’s all very sincere and quite fabulous, rendered mostly in a bossa new wave nova groove. Nouvelle Vague, a project by Frenchmen Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux using a roster of female vocalists, does not aim for camp comedy or winks and nods. The exercise requires that the listener simultaneously forgets the originals, the better to understand them on Nouvelle Vague’s terms, and to remember them, so as to appreciate their imaginative reinventions. Some don’t quite work (such as The Undertone’s Teenage Kicks), others compare very well to the original, especially The Cure’s A Forest, The Specials’ Friday Night Saturday Morning And PiL’s This Is Not A Love Song.
Nouvelle Vague – Friday Night Saturday Morning.mp3

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Missy Higgins – The Sound Of White

Missy HigginsI can’t profess to be a great fan of the Australian accent, mate. And yet, it is always satisfying when non-American singers resist the temptation of adapting their accent for the international market. Melissa Higgins retains her strong Aussie enunciation, which can be grating but also helps to invest in her lyrics unblemished authenticity. Much of the lyrics are, or seem, intensely personal. Some of them are standard singer-songwriter fare, but there is much here that moves the listener, particularly the title track, about her sister’s death in an accident (featured HERE) and the child-murder song The River. The hit on the album was the upbeat Scar, which was rather unrepresentative of this pensive, though appealingly arranged album which has few weak tracks. If the disagreeable This Is How It Goes is the price one has to pay to have Ten Days or Nightminds, than that’s not a bad deal.
Missy Higgins – Nightminds.mp3

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Wilco – A Ghost Is Born

wilcoThank goodness for the technology of digital playlists. With this album, I’ll never need to hear the pointless noisy distortions on the 12-minute long Less Than You Think again, even as I applaud Tweedy and pals for their willingness to do something different (though that something almost rivals Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music album for unlistenability). And, depending on my mood, I may skip the 10min-plus Spiders Kidsmoke as well, because the guitar solo really annoys me, by which I am doing the song an injustice. But the rest of the album is very enjoyable. It includes some of Tweedy’s best songs, such as The Late Greats and Hell Is Chrome. But the absolute highlight is — and Wilco fans will have guessed it — the opener, At Least That’s What You Said, which plods along with Tweedy in pensive mood until it explodes in gloriously angry guitars.
Wilco – At Least That’s What You Said.mp3

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More Albums of the Year

Albums of the Year: 2001

October 30th, 2009 5 comments

I was very pleased that the first post in this series of my personal top 10 albums for every year of the outgoing decade (depending how you count decades, of course) created such a positive and generous response. Thank you for all the comments; they are always appreciated. I should point out again that I can include only those albums I actually have and know well. So Gillian Welch’s The Revelator fails to make the cut, though I believe that those of my friends who argue for its brilliance might have a point.

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Ben Folds – Rockin’ The Suburbs

ben_foldsThe are at least two types of Ben Folds fans: those who don’t think that Folds has ever topped the work he did in union with with Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee as the ironically named Ben Folds Five, and those who prefer his more mature solo output. Put me down as belonging in the latter group. While the very funny title track, the driving Zak And Sara, Annie Waits or Not The Same would fit snugly in the Ben Folds Five canon, Folds’ solo debut exhibited a greater empathy for the subjects of his lyrics. On Rockin’ The Suburbs (released on September 11), Folds took the baton from BFF songs such as Brick, Don’t Change Your Plans or Best Imitation Of Myself, musically and lyrically.

Folds is a wonderful story teller. The story of Fred Jones, the old newspaper man whose retirement is going barely noticed by “all of those bastards” who don’t even remember his first name, is particularly poignant. Indeed, throughout the album Folds moves the listener: in the father-and-son relationship of Still Fighting It, in the desperation of the guy still trying to get over a girl in Gone (“the chemicals are wearing off…”), or in the tenderness of the astonishing love declarations on The Luckiest (one of the greatest love songs ever written; alas Folds has since divorced the song’s addressee). The album is not flawless — there is a weak trio of successive tracks in the middle) — but it does suggest that Ben Folds is this generation’s Randy Newman. And that is high praise.
Ben Folds – Fred Jones Part 2.mp3
Ben Folds – Zak And Sara.mp3

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch Soundtrack

HEDWIGThe first time I saw the Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I was gobsmacked. The curious storyline, the intense performances, the incongruous humour (black GIs in East Berlin!), the imaginative setpieces, the animation and costumes, and, above all, the fantastic music, written by Stephen Trask and performed mostly by John Cameron Mitchell as the genitally mutilated Hedwig, which ranges from ballads and punk to Ziggy-style glam rock.

The highlight of the film is the Wig In A Box setpiece, also the soundtrack’s most appealing track. Since I am urging those who have not seen the film to catch up with it, I’ll restrain myself from describing the scene. I expect that many viewers will want to see it repeatedly. I’ll limit myself to posting only one song from each album here (apart from the #1 album of the year), but I also might have posted the gorgeous The Origin Of Love, with its Aristophanes-inspired lyrics, or Wicked Little Town, or Midnight Radio, or the explosive Angry Inch…
Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Wig In A Box.mp3

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Judith Sephuma – A Cry, A Smile, A Dance

sephumaBefore the Idols franchise spewed forth disposable singers of debatable ability, at least in South Africa, televised talent shows in the country brought several artists of notable aptitude to the public’s attention. One of these was Judith Sephuma, born in the northern town of Polokwane (then Pietersburg) and a music graduate from the University of Cape Town. Her 2001 debut album is a captivating blend of jazz and Afro-pop which fully met, and even exceeded, the expectations observers had invested in the artist since her performance at the inauguration of President Thabo Mbeki in 1999, a year before she made a huge impression at the misnamed North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town (the local equivalent of the Montreaux festival). If the wonderful Randy Crawford had been South African, this is what she might have sounded like.
Judith Sephuma – Mmangwane.mp3

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Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions – Bavarian Fruit Bread

sandovalMuch as I love Sandoval’s group Mazzy Starr, I struggled long and hard to “get” this album. It’s the sort of ambient set one needs to be in a perfect mood for (perhaps when one is recovering from a bout of inebriation). But when everything is set, it hits home in its quiet way. If Sandoval sounds fragile on Mazzy Starr, here you want to pack her in cotton wool and keep the volume low, just in case she breaks. The result is exponentially mesmerising and ultimately gorgeous. It’s not the sort of album from which one can pick a representative track (though I’ll try here); it works best as a body of music. If one is in the mood.
Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions – Around My Smile.mp3

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Richard Hawley – Late Night Final

HAWLEYLast month Hawley released a masterpiece, Truelove Gutter. Without wishing to resort to hyperbole, I’ll claim with confidence that it is not only the best album of the year, but one of the best of the decade. Hawley, a former member of Britpop groups Longpigs and Pulp, has produced a series of delightful and always affecting albums that started with his full debut, Late Night Final (it was preceded by a self-titled EP in 2000). The gorgeously melancholy, late night mood of that great triptych of Hawley albums — Coles Corner, Lady’s Bridge, Truelove Gutter — is already evident here. His voice has now dropped a register and the arrangements have become more intricate since Late Night Final (on which Hawley’s country influence is still evident), but the basics of the Hawley sound, and the quality, are already there. The stand-out track is Baby, You’re My Light, which I featured on this mix (which also features Ben Folds’ The Luckiest).
Richard Hawley – Love Of My Life.mp3

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Death Cab For Cutie – The Photo Album

dreath_cabDeath Cab For Cutie is one the most stupid band names in modern music. It evokes the image of shouting and wailing nu-metal emo types, or perhaps a death metal outfit that failed in conjuring a suitably satanic-sounding moniker. Death Cab are nothing of the sort, of course, nor do they deserve to be dismissed for featuring so prominently on the teen drama-soap The O.C. (which was actually quite good for a couple of seasons and featured some excellent music that otherwise would not have received wider exposure). The Photo Album is Death Cab’s transition album, still drawing from the Indie rock of the earlier albums but preparing for the almost symphonic feel of 2003’s Transatlanticism and last year’s Narrow Stairs. It lacks the diversity of 2005’s Plans, but like Plans and more than Transatlanticism, it does have tracks that stand on their own. This is solidly guitar-driven, ambient Indie rock, but more accomplished (or, purists might say, polished) than the four preceding Death Cab albums.
Death Cab For Cutie – I Was A Kaleidoscope.mp3

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Rilo Kiley – Take-Offs & Landings

rilo_kileyIn 2004, Rilo Kiley released a brilliant album in More Adventurous. The preceding two albums are more patchy. Take-Offs & Landings borrows its influences widely, blows some alt.country over it, and voila. Sometimes it works, and there is nothing here that is really objectionable, but this is very much the work of a group still finding its way. Likewise, the wonderful Jenny Lewis is still discovering her voice, which here is still banking on its cuteness before it became the sexiest voice since Julie London’s. If all this sounds half-hearted, then that is not quite fair on an enjoyable album. It suffers not on its own merits, but in comparison to what the group and Lewis as a solo artist produced later.
Rilo Kiley – Plane Crash In C.mp3

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Alicia Keys – Songs In A Minor

alicia_keysAt a time when soul music is dying a gangrened death at the hands of dancing corporate muppets and sexless nasal whiners, we ought to be grateful for the few artists who still refer to the rich heritage of the genre. So I find it difficult to sympathise with those who dismiss the artistry of Alicia Keys. OK, she’s not quite all that which the hype claims her to be, as a pianist or as a singer. Much of her material is bland. It’s safe to say that she cannot compare with, say, Roberta Flack. Judging only from her appearances at the Grammys (which I still watch for reasons I cannot comprehend; probably only for the In Memoriam section), I find her a bit smug, a bit corporate, a bit too convinced of her own genius. And yet, her albums includes a clutch of tracks which, had they been recorded 35 years earlier, would be noted as fine contributions to the canon of soul music, celebrating the derivations of her material as reflecting an astute choice of influences. Despite all the caveats I have raised, I’m glad that Alicia Keys is around.
Alicia Keys – A Woman’s Worth

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The Shins – Oh, Inverted World

SHINSPlaying the song New Slang from this album, Natalie Portman’s character in the fine film Garden State promises Zach Braff’s protagonist that it will change his life. Without wishing to spring spoilers upon the reader who unaccountably have not seen the film, it indeed does so. The Portland, Oregon-based band’s debut thus broke out from the ghetto of Indie cult on the back of Braff’s championing. If the Kinks had been Americans recording their music in the ’00s, this is what they might have sounded like. I have quite enjoyed The Shins’ subsequent albums, which are musically accomplished, perhaps more than Oh, Inverted World. But if I want a fix of The Shins, it’s the debut I turn to.
The Shins – One By One All Day.mp3

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Weezer – Green Album

WEEZERWhat is it with all those people who are so quick to dismiss every Weezer album because it isn’t Pinkerton? It seems to be accepted wisdom that Pinkerton, one of the great albums of the 1990s, set some kind of standard that Rivers Cuomo and the other three chaps must live up to. The trouble is, by the time the Pinkerton evangelists listened to the other Weezer albums, they were no longer of an age when they locked themselves in their bedrooms because school and parents and jocks sucked and listened to Pinkerton in the recovery period between wanks. The Green Album is a fine album; it has some great tunes, it’s fun, it doesn’t challenge you; it does everything you’d want from a Weezer album. Island In The Sun is my cellphone ringtone, by the way.
Weezer – Island In The Sun.mp3

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More Albums of the Year

Songs about impossible love

March 27th, 2009 13 comments

Love that cannot be is a vicious thing. Love is reciprocated, happiness is within one’s grasp (the song Pachelbel makes a beautiful reference to that), but something – marital obligation, family or class politics, sexual orientation, age gap, distance, wrong time and place – obstructs the path to bliss. Here’s then to songs (a couple of them recycled from last year’s post on the subject) about impossible love.

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Karma – Pachelbel.mp3
karmaI am recycling this incredibly moving song from last year. It seems to have been very popular indeed, even though it was a mere album track from an album that was not a big hit even in Karma-Ann Swanepoel’s home country, South Africa. Karma has found someone with whom to connect on an intimate level. As the alert reader might have predicted, there is something that makes this love impossible. They have been talking a lot, always skirting around their true feelings: “So we’ll talk every now and then about our day-to-day, never saying the things we both planned to say.”

In song, however, she tells the object of her desire how she feels: “Thought it best to let you know, you crept into my mind.” And later, the most beautiful line: “I think I smile a little differently when you’re close by.” There are times when impulses threaten to take over: “Then your arms were close enough to kiss.” But, “it doesn’t happen; never will, I guess. But I can hope.” So she is stuck in a love limbo: “And it’s too late to say goodbye, it’s too early yet to think you can’t be mine.” She is distressed, and yet she finds that “there is pleasure to be found in this kind of pain”.

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Rilo Kiley – Does He Love You.mp3
jenny_lewisThe song reflects the experiences of two female friends who are presently conversing. One has an affair with a married man who promises to leave his wife and join her in California. The other is in a difficult marriage – it seems she married her husband only because she felt her “time was running out”. But now that she is pregnant, she seems to love him (or so she says). “But now you love him and your baby; at last you are complete. But he’s distant and you found him on the phone, pleading, saying: ‘Baby, I love you, and I’ll leave her and I’m coming out to California”. Ooops! Obviously the husband is in love with the first woman, who loves him too. And the geometry of the relationships will be further complicated when the love triangle turns into a square soon. Woman #1 realises what will happen: “And your husband will never leave you. He will never leave you for me.” An impossible love for at least two people here, beautifully dramatised by the gorgeous Jenny Lewis.

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Roberta Flack – Our Ages Or Our Hearts.mp3
roberta_flack_first_takeThe obstacle of the age gap was explored by Gary Puckett in his anthem to narrowly but judiciously avoided statutory rape. We don’t know how old Gary was vis-a-vis the young girl, but in Roberta Flack’s lovely song from her 1969 debut album, First Take, the relationship is between two consenting adults. The age difference here seems to be too vast to reconcile. I have difficulty buying into that: she is 21, he is 34. That’s just 13 years (and the 21-year-old girl is probably more mature than the guy). But, as Roberta tells it, “now I find according to society that our ages, they must keep us apart.” She rightly believes that the age difference is immaterial when the two of them are so much in love, “a love too strong for gossip to kill”. But gossip seems to be winning; her man unreasonably a hostage to parochial prejudices. So Roberta has to put an ultimatum to him: “What will it be – our ages or our hearts?”

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Marilyn McCoo – Saving All My Love For You.mp3
mccooThe 1978 original of Whitney Houston’s 1985 hit by the one-time singer of the 5th Dimension. It is, of course, another adultery song (which I think is used better here than in the cheating songs instalment). Naturally, the arrangement of clandestinely banging a married man is not ideal, but she really seems to love him, and, one suspects, he really loves her too, believing that this in itself would justify ending his marriage. “You used to tell me we’d run away together. Love gives you the right to be free.” But she knows that he doesn’t really believe this to be true, that he cannot sacrifice his marital obligation on the altar of love. “You said be patient, just wait a little longer – but that’s just an old fantasy.” So, is he a cheating cad who is just using Marilyn? Or is he in a desperate situation in which at least two – and if his wife finds out possibly three – hearts are broken?

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Erykah Badu – Next Lifetime (live).mp3
erykah_badu1Ouch, she fell hard – “You make me feel like a lilting girl. What do you do to me?” – but is trapped in another relationship. “Now what am I supposed to do when I want you in my world? How can I want you for myself when I’m already someone’s girl?” For Erykah, extra-curricular activity, which her object of desire seems to be proposing, is not an option: “I know I’m a lot of woman, but not enough to divide the pie.” So it won’t happen; they cannot be together, ever. Forever ever? Well, the idea of brutal finality might be just a little too much for Erykah to bear, so she makes a deal: they’ll be together in the next lifetime. “I guess I’ll see you next lifetime. I’m going to look for you.” Which must bring modest comfort to the atheist lover.

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Snow Patrol feat Martha Wainwright – Set The Fire To The Third Bar.mp3
set_the_fireHere we have two people who are in love, but geographical distance is coming between them. “I find the map and draw a straight line over rivers, farms, and state lines; the distance from A to where you’d be…” He and she, for it is a duet with Loudon’s daughter (ergo Rufus’ sister), are feeling depressed about it all. “I’m miles from where you are, I lay down on the cold ground. I pray that something picks me up, and sets me down in your warm arms.” Unlike many others in the impossible love predicament, our two friends may well activate their love fully when they do get together. And in their imagination, they already are: “After I have travelled so far, we’d set the fire to the third bar. We’d share each other like an island until exhausted close our eyelids.” Can the promise of sweaty sex compensate for the agony of separation?

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Morrissey – Driving Your Girlfriend Home.mp3
morrissey_kill_uncle1As the title suggests, Morrissey and his pal’s girlfriend are in a car, but instead of dreaming about double-decker busses, Morrissey is engaged in a conversation punctuated by directions. It turns out that she is not really happy with Morrissey’s pal. “So how did I end up so deeply involved in the very existence I planned on avoiding?” Morrissey has no answer, for he can’t run his mate down in a quest for this girl. She instructs him to drive on, and he does. There is an obvious attraction. Eventually they get to her place. Will she invite him up for “a cup of coffee”? Would he accept such a suggestion? In the event, she doesn’t though she probably was tempted to, and with what seems like profound regret, Morrissey notes: “I’m parking outside her home. And we’re shaking hands ‘Goodnight’, so politely.”

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Jem – Flying High.mp3
jem_finally_wokenI’ll cheat and use the same text as I did last year. Welsh songbird Jem usually does the electronica thing, but here she is in ballad mode. And what a sad ballad it is, continuing the close-but-not-close-enough riff of Pachelbel. “I know that we can’t be together, but I just like to dream. It’s so strange the way our paths have crossed, how we were brought together.” The wonder of love desperately seeks physical expression, but even though she’d “love to spend the night”, she “can’t pay the price”, even if they are “so close to giving in”. The realisation arrives: “I know there’s no such thing as painless love…we can never win.” And still, in the next line Jem reiterates just how giddy this impossible love makes her — it makes her “flying high”.

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In this series so far:
Love hurts
Unrequited love
Being in love
Longing for love
Heartbreak
Adultery
Death

More Songs About Love

The iPod (non-)Random 10-track Experiment

February 5th, 2008 2 comments

I’m about to wipe everything off my iPod, and reload it (for housekeeping purposes). So, for the pure fun of it, here are the top 10 most-listened to tracks. I have arbitrarily decided to exclude anything from the Beatles’ Love album, because I didn’t listen to it more than once, though my nephews played it ad nauseam over Christmas. Where an artist was represented more than once, their subsequent tracks have been skipped for the purpose of this post. Tracks marked with an asterisk have been featured on this blog before.

1. Nicole Atkins – Brooklyn’s On Fire.mp3*
No surprise here: this song has been an constant earworm, and her wonderful Neptune City album a frequent companion. On the album Atkins hops across and fuses genres, being Abba-esque one moment, then grabbing the singing-torch before going all B-52s on our asses. It’s magnificent. “Brooklyn’s On Fire” has an abundance of exuberance, and probably is the catchiest thing on the album.

2. Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
If CD plays counted, this song would easily head the list. The arrangement and harmonies make this the definitive version of this oft-covered Everly Brothers song (certainly better than that by bloody Cher, or the ludicrously OTT effort by Nazareth). Gram and the lovely Emmylou persuade us that love is indeed “just a lie made to make you blue”. An all-time favourite.

3. Rilo Kiley – Portions For Foxes.mp3*
Strange that this older Rilo Kiley track should still appear ahead of the great stuff from 2007’s Under The Blacklight. Jenny Lewis has never sounded sexier than here. When she commands, “COME HERE”, I’m inclined to obey.

4. Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire*
I have a fear that the Taste Police will before long declare Colbie Caillat a punishable offence, seeing that “Bubbly” is now a big hit and getting airplay on MOR radio stations. I suspect that Caillat’s success is in part due to the buzz created by the blogging community. So she is ours, bloggers and blog readers. Her stardom will be due not to The Man, but to the music blogs who gave her exposure and to the MySpace phenomenon. A reader of this blog had a brief but good discussion about how The Man will try to exploit music blogs and interactive sites like MySpace as a new form of marketing. But better that, with all the independence the credible music blogs can offer and the power of the My Space browser to click to the next page, than letting Sony’s A&R goons dictate public taste. Hopefully more people of genuine talent like Colbie will find stardom through that route, not via corporate manufacture.

5. John Denver – Rocky Mountain High.mp3
John Denver is overdue a rehabilitation. The music writer John Doran once responded to my point along the lines that those who would applaud Denver’s liberal politics are reluctant to like his music, and those who like his music are likely to detest his politics. My point is that there is much in Denver’s pre-1974 canon that should not be ignored, or subjected to clichéd jokes about straw-chewing hicks. 1972’s “Rocky Mountain High” is drenched in beauty and is free of the hackneyed shtick which by the late ’70s had turned Denver into a granny’s favourite and party-time Muppet.

6. Ben Folds – Gone.mp3
When I don’t know what to play, Ben Folds is always a safe bet. “Gone” is a great track to sing along to, at least the backing vocals. But don’t let that detract from the excellent lyrics addressed to a lover who left him and now won’t even write to him. He says he’s over her, but clearly he isn’t: ” I thought I’d write, I thought I’d let you know: In the year since you’ve been gone I’ve finally let you go. And I hope you find some time to drop a note, but if you won’t, then you won’t, and I will consider you gone.” I can empathise.

7. Billie the Vision & the Dancers (feat Hello Saferide) – Overdosing With You.mp3
One of the large group of fine Swedish Indie groups, this lot is as twee as they come, in a very enjoyable way (though clumsily monikered). This track features the wonderful Hello Saferide a.k.a. Annika Norlin, whom I’m possibly in love with. The lyrics to this song may be weak at times, but you have to love a song about couch potatoing the blues away with DVD box sets of NYPD Blue and Desperate Housewives (clearly not a bit too much sci-fi on Billie the Vision’s shelf, Ms Norlin). Did I mention, it has Hello Safreide, whom I’m possibly in love with, on it? You can legally download Billie the Vision etc’s albums on their webpage.

8. Scott Walker – Joanna.mp3
Walker’s vocal performance on this glorious Tin Pan Alley piece of treacle is stunning (it usually was stunning, but even more so here). Try singing this song; it is no accident that in the abominable Love, Actually, Liam Neeson mimes it to his son, doesn’t sing it. Which I would probably do, ill-advisedly or not.

9. Foo Fighters – Statues.mp3*
The more I hear the new Foo Fighters album, Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace, the more convinced I am that it is the best thing Grohl and pals have ever done, and that the album deserves to be regarded as a classic in its genre already. Without any hyperbole. Just as it had come out, I expressed my dislike for “Erase/Replace”. Someone commented that I was very wrong about the song. And quite rightly so. It’s majestic! But “Statues” remains my favourite song off the album, a track whose simplicity disguises its depths.

10. Perez – Picture Perfect.mp3
Perez were a South African rock group which subsequently split. Which is a shame, because they were pretty good in an alt.rock sort of way. “Picture Perfect”, from 2002, is certainly superior to much that has been released in the genre. A fine song to sing while driving, and not a bad way to spend five minutes secretly playing the air guitar.

Any Major Awards – The Winners

December 15th, 2007 16 comments

And here are the winners of the inaugural Major Dude awards. Kick back and watch the show unfold, grabbing a few samples of the music (most have previously appeared on this blog; newly featured tracks are marked as such) on the way before you rush off and buy the awarded music as thoughtful Christmas presents for yourselves and everybody you know. And here’s the gong our winners may take home — The Major Dude:


ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Indie Album of the Year:
Swedish:
Loney, Dear – Loney, Noir
(I know, it was released in Sweden a long time ago, but for the rest of us, it is a 2007 album)

and performing a song from this year’s best Swedish Indie Album:
Loney, Dear – I Am John

Other places:
Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter

and performing a song from this year’s best non-Swedish Indie Album:
Josh Ritter – Right Moves

Rock Album of the Year:
Foo Fighters – Echoes Silence Patience & Grace

and performing two songs from this year’s best Rock Album:
Foo Fighters – Cheer Up Boys, You’re Makeup Is Running
Foo Fighters – Statues

Pop Album of the Year:
Rilo Kiley – Under The Blacklight

and performing two songs from this year’s best Pop Album:
Rilo Kiley – Breakin’ Up
Rilo Kiley – Dreamworld

Country Album of the Year:
Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

and performing a song from this year’s best Country Album:
Miranda Lambert – Love Letters (new upload)

Americana Album Of The Year
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

and performing a song from this year’s best Americana Album:
Wilco – Hate It Here

Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala

and performing a song from this year’s best Singer-Songwriter (male) Album:
Jens Lekman – A Postcard For Nina

Female:
Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine

and performing two songs from this year’s
best Singer-Songwriter (female) Album:

Rosie Thomas – Songbird
Rosie Thomas – Say Hello (with Sufjan Stevens)

R&B/Hip Hop:
Alicia Keys – As I Am

and performing a song from this year’s best R&B Album:
Alicia Keys (featuring John Mayer) – Lesson Learnt
(Link removed by DivShare)

Best Kicked-Back Album:
Richard Hawley – Lady’s Bridge

and performing a song from this year’s best Kicked-Back Album:
Richard Hawley – Dark Road


Overrated Artist of the Year:
Amy Winehouse
Comparable album people should listen to instead: Nicole Atkins – Neptune City

and performing a song from this year’s best
Better Than Overrated Artist’s Album:

Nicole Atkins – Brooklyn’s On Fire! (new upload)

Best Newcomer:
Colbie Caillat

and performing as this year’s best Better Newcomer:
Colbie Caillat – Realize
Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire


Most Disappointing Album:

Joseph Arthur – Let’s Just Be

SONGS OF THE YEAR:

Pop/Rock:
Richard Hawley – Valentine

Indie/Americana:
Wilco – Impossible Germany (new upload)

Singer-songwriter/Country:
Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go

South African Rock/Pop Song Of The Year:
Velve – Overpass (ne

w upload)

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
The nominees are:
Brandi Carlile – The Story
Loney, Dear – Loney, Noir
Rilo Kiley – Under The Blacklight
Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

………and the winner is:
WILCO – SKY BLUE SKY

and performing a track from this year’s Album of the Year:
Wilco – Either Way

SONG OF THE YEAR:
And the nominees are:
Colbie Caillat – Bubbly
Richard Hawley – Valentine
Wilco – Impossible Germany
Brandi Carlisle – The Story
Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go

………and the winner is:
ROSIE THOMAS – MUCH FARTHER TO GO


BLOG AWARDS

The best Blogs of The Year

MUSIC
Album blogs:
It feels unfair to choose a “winner” from all the nominated blogs. Even within one category, the diversity makes a comparison about as as easy as comparing the relative merits of black cherries and iPods. There are so many that have given me great joy. Earbleeding Country shades it for me on strength of great, detailed writing and the quality of music on offer.

Earbleedingcountry
(which since this month now lives here)

Singles blogs:
The same as above applies, perhaps even more so. With singles blogs, bloggers tend to write in greater detail, length and often variety than album blogs. I finally narrowed it all down to two finalists: The Late Greats and Echoes In The Wind. The former has introduced me to more new great music than any other blog; the latter is perhaps the best-written music blog I know, in the face of some incredibly tough competition (for the purposes of this exercise; I don’t think most of us compete with each other; quite on the contrary, I’ve found). And so the winner is:

Echoes In The Wind

Retro blogs:
Albums:
Again, tough contest. All the nominees have provided me with so much pleasure. But our winner this year simply had the most stunning variety of music, some of it long-forgotten albums of old which deserve to be rediscovered.

DeaconBlues


Singles:
I do both new and retro stuff round here. The latter especially is fantastic fun. That sense of fun was particularly evident in all nominated blogs in this category. The winner is an old favourite of many:

The Wolfman Howls

NON-MUSIC BLOG OF THE YEAR
If choosing the best music blog was a headache, choosing the best non-music blog was a heartbreaking thing. Indie-Pop Ian Plenderleith’s sporadic blog entries are a monthly Internet highlight. Ndumiso Ngcobo’sSouth African iconoclasm invariably makes me laugh out loud. Rol Hirst’s “Dear Me…” post on the 13th almost clinched him a late winner. 15 Minute Lunch made big waves with the ’70s JC Penney fashion post, but there is so much more great writing there. But for style and exquisite prose, and an unforgettable post about the funeral of the Lazio fan shot by the Italian police, the winner can only be:

Spangly Princess

U-18 BLOG OF THE YEAR
I did not make nominations for best U-18 blog. I really liked the cricket blogs by two kids living in Amsterdam, Sean and Dylan Reeves (how can one not love a blogger who links to his Dad’s blog by saying “it’s rubbish”). But for paternal pride, it has to be Any Minor Dude’s to rarely updated guitar tabs blog. This 13 year old kid does a better job of it than many adults. This is, of course, the little dude who as a10-year-old arriving for his first lesson was asked by his guitar tutor (a seasoned sessionman) what artist’s music he wanted to play. Tutor Rob may have expected an answer like Good Charlotte or some contemporary R&B hit. Instead, the answer came: Johnny Cash. Which is cool as anything.

Guitariotabs

BEST BLOGGER’S MIX-TAPE
Taylor Parkes’ Right-wing Rock mix was incredible: the music was either hilarious or actually quite good, the lyrics produced some serious jawdroppers, and Taylor’s sleeve notes were insightful and witty. Get the mix and commentary at Touched Mix, and check out this unbelievable track — especially when he starts singing!
Lil Markie – Diary Of An Unborn Child.mp3 (new upload)

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Totally Fuzzy
with a BIG Thank You for the fantastic service these guys provide to the bloggers and those who search for great, new blogs. One more time: “Fuzzy And Blue” by the Sesame Street monsters

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Best Any Major Dude series:
From a limited sample of votes, this is clearly the Time Travel to the 1970s series.

Show some love for Rilo Kiley

September 5th, 2007 4 comments

In an interview with Incendiary magazine in 2006, Rilo Kiley’s frontwoman Jenny Lewis spoke about “selling out”:

I try not to covet the music that I love, I’ve done that in the past, where something becomes popular and then suddenly I don’t want to go to the shows anymore. I think selling out is a lewd point when the music stays the same. So if the music is pure, then why not offer it out to the people and give them something better than, you know, Fall Out Boy or other crap that’s on the radio.”

Rilo Kiley’s new album, Under The Blacklight, puts Jenny’s answer to the test. Having moved to a big label, the new CD is unabashedly poppy and commercial. I love Rilo Kiley, I thought the previous album, More Adventurous, was a work of beauty. And now there was this ’80s referencing Jenny-as-Debby-Harry gig, one on which only two tracks sound like traditional Rilo Kiley. In my review of the album, I asked: “Can there be an accommodation with old and new fans? Will the old fanbase buy into the new sound ? Will Under The Blacklight accomplish the mainstream breakthrough it so evidently aspires to? And will the old fans still be there if it doesn’t?”

The trick is to divorce Blacklight from its predecessors, which I tried to do, with incomplete success, in the review. If this album had been released by an unknown act, the blogosphere would be hyping it as “the next big thing”, because this is a superior pop album. So we must lay to rest the indie-folkies of the first three albums, and live with happy memories. Oh, and happy these memories will be. The delicious country-folk of “More Adventurous”, the dripping-with-sex confusion of “Portions For Foxes” (‘…and then talking leads to touching, and touching leads to sex, and then there is no mystery left’. And that command: “Come here!” Hell, what an incredible song), the Patsy Cline homage of “I Never”, the folkish sing-along of “With Arms Outstretched”, the acerbic sassiness of “It’s A Hit”, the Bright Eyes-influence (or influencing) of “Plane Crash In C”, the heartbreaking “Does He Love You?”, the Celtic hues of “Rest Of My Life”…

Will my love for these be diminished by a turn in the group’s musical direction, when the product of that change is great on its own merits? Should an artist be a hostage to our expectations? As I write, I’m dancing along to the catchy-ass chorus of “Breakin’ Up”. And when “Dreamworld” (described somewhere else as “the best song Fleetwood Man never did”) comes on, I’ll groove along to that as well. I am falling in love with Under The Blacklight, too.

Rilo Kiley – Breakin’ Up.mp3 (from Under The Blacklight, 2007)
Rilo Kiley – Dreamworld.mp3 (from Under The Blacklight, 2007)
Rilo Kiley – More Adventurous.mp3 (from More Adventurous, 2004)
Rilo Kiley – Portions For Foxes.mp3 (from More Adventurous, 2004)
Rilo Kiley – It’s A Hit.mp3 (from More Adventurous, 2004)
Rilo Kiley – With Arms Outstretched.mp3 (from The Execution of All Things, 2002)
Rilo Kiley – Rest Of My Life.mp3 (from Take-Offs And Landings, 2001)
Rilo Kiley – Plane Crash In C.mp3 (from Take-Offs And Landings, 2001)

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The Songbirds: Vol 4

August 12th, 2007 4 comments

The final installment of the Songbirds, for now (there are still a few more who need bigging up, but we’ll do that later in the curriculum). So, I’ve featured 20 Songbirds; add your own favourites, and here should be abundant material for a brilliant mix-tape (or double CD-R).

Deb Talan
Deb Talan is one half of the Weepies, whom I utterly love, their silly name notwithstanding. Steve Tannen and Deb Talan were acoustic folk-musicians in their own right and fans of one another before they met. When they did, they became the Weepies (and a couple, or so I’ve heard). The two Weepies albums are great, with just enough of an edge to offset their inherent and appealing twee cuteness. Talan’s solo stuff (which — shame on the world — is not easy to find) is much in the same vein as the Weepies. Check out these excellent recordings of Talan live solo and the Weepies in concert (both endorsed by the artists), from 2003 and 2004 respectively. The latter yielded the Pablo Neruda-inspired “Cherry Trees” file below (edited by your friendly blogger to improve the soundlevels), a song that follows the slightly edgy “Tell Your Story Walking” on Deb’s 2001 sophomore album Sincerely. “Forgiven”, from her 2000 label debut Something Burning, is poetry accompanied by an acoustic guitar, a track that becomes more astonishing with every listen. And I am in love with Talan’s little giggle at the end of “Cherry Trees”.
Deb Talan – Forgiven.mp3
Deb Talan – Tell Your Story Walking.mp3
The Weepies – Cherry Trees (live).mp3 (previously uploaded)
The Weepies- Gotta Have You.mp3 (previously uploaded)

Brooke Fraser
New Zealand’s second biggest selling artist (after Haley Westrena), Brooke Fraser is a huge talent in the singer-songwriter mould with a fine line in attractive melodies and intelligent lyrics. On her second album, Albertine, the rugby All Black’s daughter is introspective about her Christian faith. Happily, her religious musings are not of the saccharine worship variety — God and Jesus are not even mentioned — nor even obliquely about her spirituality. Without listening too closely, “Deciphering Me” or “Shadowfeet”, both from Albertine, could be straightforward love songs. “Without You”, a quite lovely love song from her 2004 debut What To Do With Daylight, has a bit of a Norah Jones vibe going on — if the tryptophanatic Jones was a bit more interesting. Admirably, the CD booklet for Albertine lists a range of NGOs, with contact details, that work on issues such as human rights, development, abuse of women and children and human trafficking.
Brooke Fraser – Shadowfeet.mp3
Brooke Fraser – Without You.mp3
Brooke Fraser – Deciphering Me.mp3 (previously uploaded)

Emilíana Torrini
The name gives it away that Torrini comes from Iceland. Well, her full name actually does: Emilíana Torrini Davíðsdóttir, the offspring of Icelandic and Italian parents. Featured frequently on Grey’s Anatomy (great supporters of the Songbirds — don’t let anyone say that TV exposure undermines an artist’s credibility), Torrini has build up a decent amount of buzz, being mentioned as a bit of an insiders’ tip to the Eva Cassidy Consensus (see here). Her sound is gentle and quiet and militantly acoustic. Yet, beneath the fragile layer of etherealism there is an appealing depth which might require a few repeat listens — but these are richly rewarding. Catch videos of Torrini’s live performances on her excellent website.
Emilíana Torrini – Sunny Road.mp3
Emilíana Torrini – Serenade.mp3
Emilíana Torrini – Nothing Brings Me Down.mp3 (previously uploaded)


Maria Taylor

Azure Ray singer Maria Taylor‘s debut solo album, 11:11, was an eclectic bag of tricks, incorporating folk-rock, electronica and even torchsong. Her new album, Lynn Teeter Flower, is a more cohesive, but not without surprises. One of Bright Eyes supremo Connor Oberst’s favourites (they have guested on each other’s albums), Taylor’s sound is too layered, too crafted, too good to break into the mainstream. But it will establish her as a leading performer in the genre.
Maria Taylor – Nature Song.mp3
Maria Taylor – Lost Time.mp3
Maria Taylor – No Stars.mp3

Jenny Lewis
It is fitting to conclude this series of female singers with one of the best: Jenny Lewis, best known as lead singer of the wonderful (and sometimes frustrating) Rilo Kiley. Where Rilo Kiley have what might be described as an Indie-folk sound (hear the sing-along outro of “With Arms Outstretched”), Jenny Lewis’ 2005 solo album Rabbit Furcoat, with the Watson Twins, was pure alt.country, and deplorably featured a cover of a Traveling bloody Wilburys song, the horrid “Handle With Care”. Jenny has one of the sexiest voices in music today. This is evident on “It’s A Hit” and the fantastic (and easy-to-find) “Portions For Foxes”, both from RK’s More Adventurous album in 2004. Read this excellent interview with Jenny; I particularly like her line about not dropping favourite artists when they become successful or receive exposure in the mainstream (see the entry on Torrini).
Rilo Kiley – With Arms Outstretched.mp3
Rilo Kiley – It’s A Hit.mp3
Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins – You Are What You Love.mp3