Thursday, May 21, 2009

Shuffle ‘n’ Write for 5/21/09

All right, let’s try that again. Full explanation here, short explanation thus: I’m going to hit the shuffle on my iPod and write my immediate reactions to the songs in real time, hopefully to weed out any overthinking and just get to the heart of what this song means to me. First ten songs, even if they repeat artists or albums, even if they’re the most embarrassing things on my player.

1.) The Beatles – “If I Needed Someone”: A Harrisong. I wonder if the heavy harmonies from John and Paul indicate a lack of confidence in George’s vocal? I really enjoy the unorthodox sentiment of the song, suggesting there is maybe more than one “suitable” person for everyone. There’s a slightly bashful, apologetic tone to it that’s interesting, and separates it from anything John or Paul would’ve done (John would never apologize, Paul would never think to).

2.) George Harrison – “Isn’t It A Pity?”: Well, okay, I’ve got seven minutes to write about this one. This kind of borrows the na na na na sequence from the end of “Hey Jude,” and I have the same problem with this song as that one: there are very few pop songs I think really need to be longer than five minutes, much less seven. And like in “Hey Jude,” the part that repeats endlessly is the less interesting part. The front part of this song is a really beautiful sounding piano song (but not too lugubrious), with a nice chord change in there somewhere that kind of drops out from under you. In fact, I like the front bit to this song better than the front bit to “Hey Jude” (although this may partially be because you hear “Hey Jude” all the time, and this is a little fresher from less exposure.) And actually, that first four-and-a-half minutes do fly by nicely. But at the end, that callback to “Jude” just drags. Seriously, we could fade at the five-minute mark. Man, this is a great song, though. I heard a quote somewhere (can’t remember if it was a critic or one of his contemporaries) that said Harrison keeps rewriting this song, and I can see that; “Just For Today” off Cloud Nine is kind of a weaker attempt at recapturing that combination of weariness and power.

3.) Ming Tea – “BBC”: A song from Austin Powers (first one, I think) done by Mike Myers and friends in the style of a 60s tune. I like pastiches that don’t specifically quote songs, but make a whole new one, and I think this qualifies (unless this is riffing on a song I’m not familiar with). A bit of fun.

4.) Groove Armada – “Edge Hill”: Ha! Another (nearly) seven-minute song! There’s not a whole lot of Groove Armada I’m into; I actually got this song off of the soundtrack to the first Tomb Raider, which I bought because I was working in a movie theater when that movie came out, and I heard Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At?” over the end credits while cleaning up popcorn and spilt soda about a hundred times, but still decided I needed to own that song. Not a lot on the soundtrack that I dig, but this song alone is worth the price of the disc. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the actual whole movie, so I don’t know where they use this song, but it’s absolutely beautiful, and in contrast to what I said about “Isn’t It A Pity?”, this really does need to be as long as it is. The beats-‘n’-bass at the beginning are steady but repetitive, almost to the point that it’s too much, and so just when you wonder if the song is going anywhere (don’t you dare look at the time to see if it’s coming!), this incredible string section comes in. There’s something awe-inspiring and mysterious in it, like you’ve made contact with aliens or have found a doorway through time or just saw Superman for real. “Uncanny” is the word. If I ever have an out-of-body experience, I want it to be to this song.

5.) Something To Do – “Something To Do”: This is a ska band from my home state of Wisconsin that I saw play in college once. They did a cover of “Get Off My Cloud” that was pretty cool. I don’t listen to whole lot of ska; I like it in theory, but I’ve got a pretty untrained ear for it, so it tends to get same-y in my head. I bought this CD EP to, y’know, support local bands and all that. It’s solidly enjoyable, although the buzzy guitars are a little bland. There’s a repeating line at the end that builds and builds with harmonies and instrumentation, and I always like the effect. It seems like a mission statement -- “Another day goes by / And still I wonder why / It seems this same shit / It happens to me all the time” -- for an album that I am not sure exists.

6.) Elvis Costello – “Kinder Murder”: Brutal Youth is probably my favorite EC album, although I think you’re not “supposed” to like it because it’s overproduced? (I like heavy production, though, and nothing on this record is what I’d call intrusive.) It’s got this great thing where the main verse just alternates between these two threatening-sounding chords. I feel bad that I get so wrapped up in Elvis’ incredible gift for melody that sometimes I lose track of the lyrics (which is again, what we’re all “supposed” to be listening for in Elvis Costello).

7.) The Cars – “Good Times Roll”: I love the sound on the guitar; you know, the one at the beginning coming in through the right channel. You hear it on other Cars songs and on other things Ric Ocasek has produced, so I wonder if he’s doing anything specifically to get that sound or if it’s just something I’m imagining. This song itself I guess isn’t anything real special; I didn’t dance to this in kindergarten or anything (see "Shake It Up"). Not my favorite keyboard sound, I suppose; seems to make a big difference on my affinity for one Cars song over another, actually.

8.) The Beatles – “Strawberry Fields Forever”: This is the Love version. Does a neat trick where a stripped-down version blends into the “proper” version (the vocal isn’t slowed down on this one), which is an interesting experiment. Is the song what it is because of all the showy production, or because it’s a good song? Love itself is mostly interesting as an experiment; Beatles songs are so ingrained into our heads that hearing these altered versions forces you to recontextualize them; take the world’s most famous songs and make them unpredictable again. The bit at the end with the fadeout and the “Piggies” harpsichord part and the “In My Life” triple-speed piano and the “Hello, Goodbye” outro vocal is showy, but a neat trick nonetheless, particularly when it drops out to just the vocals and the drums.

9.) The Moody Blues – “Voices In The Sky”: True fact: I am named after Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues. As a kid, this always seemed significant to me, and so I was likely one of few children in my age group to listen to this. It’s difficult for me to critically assess The Moody Blues because it’s so tied to my childhood and nostalgia, but hey, I’m not doing criticism here. I still think the bridge/middle-eight/whatever it is with the soaring “caaaaalling toooo … *snare hit* … meeeeee!” is neat, and makes up for whatever I care for about it less in the gentle acoustic pastoralism (why do I like that sort of thing better when it’s XTC?)

10.) Weezer – “O Girlfriend”: The Green Album gets a lot of crap, but truth be told, I never thought the Blue Album was all that magical. I guess you had to be there, and I got this album first. Okay, this song doesn’t really mean anything, but did the early Beatles song mean anything either? I see this CD as a kind of modern stab at "Let’s write a lot of good, hooky, straightforward guitar-pop songs that people will like." The intent is so up-front to me that I don’t think you can hold it against them. What’s wrong with simple songs people like? Okay, maybe you could swap out the guitar solo for one that wasn’t just the vocal melody (that is a genuinely weird choice).

Hm, I think this second batch turned out a little better, a little more focused. Should probably stop using the phrase “neat trick,” though. Also, look Zach, I wrote about Weezer; finally something on this blog that you would care about! I’m ready to have a long, drawn-out discussion in the comments about the relative merits of Rivers Cuomo both in the 90s and today if you are…


Your Brother Zach said...

I guess i missed this one...but we can still talk rivers cuomo if you'd like.

also: i plan on commenting more. i haven't done it in awhile and i've had some pretty funny zingers to throw in here and there and whatnot. be prepared!

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