Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Some Quickly Jotted Notes On Songs Selected from iTunes Shuffle Play

First up, it’s…

Air: Not the French band, mind you, but the improvising jazz trio, Air and their tune, Keep on Playing Right Through the Mirror Over the Water- which kinda sounds like the title to a lost Genesis cut, circa 1973. But there’s no Tony Banks here, no sir. At best, this kind of free form improvisation acts like dental floss for my mind, getting into and between all the nooks and coral crannies to clear out unwanted sonic detritus like, say, that cheesy refrain in Outkast’s The Way You Move, which I don’t really like but can’t get out of my head. This music also affects me a hell of a lot more live. It feels slightly neutered here at my desk. And it makes me nostalgic for Chicago’s Velvet Lounge or the Empty Bottle.

(Note: I’m a big fan of the iTunes crossfade playback option, which allows you to fade out a song as the next fades in. This makes way for some inspired moments of one-song-into-another flow.)

Suzanne Vega’s Undertow: It’s December 1986, at least I think that’s when I first recorded Vega’s debut, which is incredibly evocative of that time in my life. I’m surprised by just how many of the lyrics I still remember. This was on constant rotation then, and it lost my ears sometime in the early 90’s. It’s really nice to be hearing it again, even if the 80’s production glaze dates things a bit.

Follow that up with Altern 8’s (“the cheapskate KLF”) Move My Body! Ha!! Mid-80’s Greenwich Village folk into ‘ardkore ’92 rave! But let’s not forget DNA’s version of Tom’s Diner, right? I DJ’d a house party in Athens, Ohio (Ohio University) in the Autumn of ’93 and I remember Move My Body getting a great response. The kids loved it! It might have been the first time I ever DJ’d. I was in heaven. In every music junkie there’s a DJ trying to claw his or her way out. Some dude who owned a club in Athens even gave me his card (I wasn’t that good, but it was Athens, not exactly a hotbed of second wave rave music). It’s that killer breakbeat and the swirling ecstasy of the infamous ‘mentasm’ sound that does it for this song- “like a swarm of bees.” Pure sugar rush, this one.

Sinking, The Cure. Oh, how I once flirted with the gothic romanticism of the death rocker fashion aesthetic! I was far from the inner circle of the Smith inspired wind-swept hair teases, black finger nail polish and dabbing myself with patchouli, but I did dye my hair black and proudly wore my Doc Martins. (I still wear Docs- they may very well be the most durable shoes around…and practical, too!) but I’ve always had too much of the suburban preppie in me (what marketers now refer to as “metrosexual”) and back then my fashion sensibilities were equally informed by hippies and ravers- this meant colors other then black had to be introduced into my wardrobe. What a mélange! But I could (and still can) wallow in Robert Smith’s pathos for hours. That run of Head on the Door, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration (and I still have soft spots for Boys Don’t Cry and Pornography) –such a perfect combination of Technicolor pop and histrionic gloom.

(Quick aside: Another album, to go along with those I wrote about missing in my previous post, Leo Kottke’s My Father’s Face. My introduction to the man and his guitar…heard again today for the first time in almost a decade!)

Brand New Friend, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions: I can’t stress just how much Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ first album, Rattlesnakes, meant to me. It was one of the first “College Alternative” albums I ever owned, and probably did more to influence my late-80s music listening habits then any other. My brother, Randy, went away to college in the Autumn of 1985 and came home with a tape of it for me. I remember he gave me the follow-up, Two-Easy Pieces, from which this great song comes from. The creamy crooning backing vocals are particularly irresistible- and such lovely strings…is it Anne Dudley on string arrangements again? The outro is simply perfect. Why is this album out of print? Are there any Lloyd Cole solo albums worth buying? Is he still listening to Arthur Lee records and making all his friends feel guilty about their cynicism…and the rest of their generation?

Contempt, The Books: The second song from their dynamite debut, Thought for Food. Great music meshed with a hilarious reenactment of the famous opening scene from Goddard’s film, Contempt (hence the name) wherein the studio demanded that the director offer up more Bardot cheesecake. Obligingly, he did, volunteering her derriere as she interrogated the object of her attention with dry questions like, “Do you like my legs? What about my ankles, do you like them? Do you like all of me, my eyes…my nose?” “Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another, “ as John Berger wrote in his Ways of Seeing. In the film, it’s the first gesture of contempt.

Take It or Leave It, The RollingStones: Very unfamiliar with the track. I like the spacious quality of the production. Nice enough as it is, though a bit on the slight side of things, eh?

Certainly, Erykah Badu: Had always thought this debut would be cheesier then it actually turns out to be. In fact, it’s anything but. It’s silky, sexy and filled with feathery, soulful grooves. Should have known. I love Mama’s Gun- huge fan of it. What little I’ve heard of the new one, Worldwide Underground, sounds great. Neo-soulrrific!

Prisoner of the Highway, the Coctails: The iTunes crossfade flow really worked splendidly between these two songs- I thought the Badu song was still fading out but Prisoner of the Highway had already been playing for 20 or so seconds. That’s the crossfade action I’m talkin’ about! We’re so easily delighted these days. I like this album quite a bit…it’s so mischievously innocent. Perfect North-Side Chicago bar music. Give me a couple pints and this music would sound positively revelatory. (Well, come to think of it, most would!) I like it most when I can hear Archer Prewitt’s guitar gesturing toward the greatness that would come to such stunningly gorgeous fruition in The Sea and Cake.

Contort Yourself, The Contortionist: From the always dependable Soul Jazz Records. It’s a hot thang right now…the post-punk sound…and why not? It puts My Life in A Bush Full of Ghosts into perfect late 80's post-punk/New York perspective for me- the scene it came out of. All that “angular” guitar, those quick splashes of squirty sound, the frantic drumming. Everywhere, little splashes of, hey, contorted rhythm. It’s all herky-jerky-David Byrne-drowning-in-the-big-suit-and-flopping-around. Brian Eno’s in there, too. Not the suit, the sound.

Intermission, The Coctails: Again. This is kitschy! Yes, it’s not bad at all, even better after a couple pints. This is cartoon music, isn’t it? Doesn’t Archer Prewitt have his own comic? Oh, now it all makes sense. I feel like a cartoon when I listen to it. There are thought bubbles above my head. Look out, ya’ll!

Gunning for the Buddha! Shriekback. This was their Alterna-hit, played by college DJ’s on those low powered left-of-the-dial FM frequencies…. Synth steel drums, or the real thing? If I remember correctly, the liner notes for the album included hilariously penned descriptions of every instrument played in each song. Did they have steel drum samples on synths back in the late 80’s? Break out the tiki torches, it’s backyard barbecue music. It all crashed and burned after this one. Remember that awful cover of Get Down Tonight?

Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation, Funkadelic: …Bernie Worell! Glurpy syths galore! Hands down, the best title of any of the songs played over the past hour!

Dominator, Human Resource…this is the Frank DeWulf version (he of the famous Acid Rock single, an early entry in the Belgium New Beat scene that began with big chugging keyboard riffs of Smoke on the Water). There was a remix CD of this song, right…I think my friend Mike Kraus might still have a copy…with like 10 remixes of this song, right? Insane! Easily the most popular song to ever use the mentasm sound mentioned earlier. When is the mentasm sound going to have its revival?

The Coctails win! Three tracks pulled from over 600! All in a hours time. Cakewalk, this time, from Early Hi-Ball years. It’s really deceptively simple, isn’t it? If you listen closely enough you can hear the cartoon cars zooming down Ashland.

Ooogum Boogum Song, Brenton Wood: I do so love the sweet soul music. Almost never fails to sooth me. First time I’ve ever heard this song and it’s entirely, outrageously, wondrously pleasing. A sweet little snare groove, a charming lead vocal and some nicely placed rhythm guitar. “You got soul! You got too much soul!”

That’s enough, I’m exhausted. Is it time to eat yet?

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