Friday, March 07, 2008

Your Smile Has Stopped The Hands Of Time (2002) – Roddy Frame

There was a time when innocence was intact. Girls were classmates playing in schoolyards. Boys would watch with wonder under the spells cast by the pre-pubescent princesses cavorting before them. And then, there was the lonely girl who deemed herself unfit for such frolic. She was the one whose lonesome introspection enabled her to cultivate the alluring qualities that blossomed as she matured. Aztec Camera mastermind Roddy Frame recalls this girl from his youth, whom he recognized was so much more special than even she knew. He vividly remembers her smile from all those years back, anchoring them in that time, and he is a boy admiring her reclusiveness from afar.

Even now, he wants to invite her in from the peripheries of the playground.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Stormbringer (1974) – Deep Purple

    Deep Purple come riding in on an insistent, bare bones head-banging riff, as David Coverdale heralds the destruction that Stormbringer—a mythological representation of a tornado’s fury depicted on the album cover as a runaway white stallion in the sky—will wreak upon anything unfortunate enough to be in its path.

  • Listen to "Stormbringer" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Thursday, March 06, 2008

    Hard Rain (2007) – Shout Out Louds

    He thought it about time to confess to her what should have been fairly obvious. But if it was, she had never let on. So he composed a dramatic proclamation of devotion and placed on her car a written potpourri of laconic prose and excerpted Smiths lyrics which invited her to step outside her door at 11:00 p.m. that evening. He would be waiting to elucidate the jumbled mess of passion and stoicism that had so awkwardly come together on paper. The minutes crept slowly toward the designated moment of rendezvous. Finally, he heard footsteps from inside her house descending the stairs. . . .

    Piecing together the tragic remnants of a phantom romance, the likes of which was quintessentially glorified in eighties pop culture, “Hard Rain” hits with full force in succinct phrases of profoundness: Adam Olenius mumbles with enough pithiness to qualify as Morrissey’s heir apparent for the aughts. Sharing the same musical sensibilities as The Killers—although closer in spirit to The Cure than the former—and with the anachronistic air of authenticity that informed the music of My Favorite, Shout Out Louds successfully evoke the era of ill-conceived letters scribbled from behind the emboldening uniform of black trenchcoats and Walkmen™, hairspray and eyeliner.

    The song’s lively arrangement misrepresents its rueful essence. Olenius culls together tempestuous similes and concrete sensorial impressions to capsulize the pathos of the pivotal moment when an infatuation is professed and consequently rejected with silence. Spectral voices rain down in pelting sheets of remorse as the world begins to collapse around him. Bebban Stenborg interjects with deadpan detachment, perhaps as the rational voice of his psyche, perhaps as the girl vexed by his faux pas. At high volume, the typhoon of guitars that begins to build at 4:28 culminates in one of this decade’s more impressive recorded moments, a maelstrom of inner tumult ensuing from the lapse of judgment, intensifying until it disintegrates into particles of abject failure.

  • Listen to "Hard Rain" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, February 23, 2008

    Give It Up (1980) – The Jacksons

    The penultimate track on the Jacksons’ masterpiece Triumph crafts something wonderfully fresh out of the familiar. The lyrics reflect the most basic of pop song sentiments: a giddy optimism of romantic reciprocation and capitulation. The musical arrangement, on the other hand, represents an innovative vision in composition circa 1980. One’s sense of curiosity is piqued and then escorted by a jaunty piano tramp through an entryway where harp glissandos dart by, as discoballs begin to twirl to a post-disco groove on the dancefloor. The two distinct musical motifs intertwine throughout, as the mood alternates between guardedness and delectation. Marlon lends co-lead vocals which, along with Michael’s fragile falsetto, emit enough goodwill to fill a VW van on the way to a Little Miss Sunshine competition. The boogie segues into a color guard of cellos leading a military snare march toward the dawning of a new day with globules of crystalline synth dripping from above. As the smoke from the fog machines clears, there is little use in anything other than falling in line.

  • Listen to "Give It Up" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sunday, February 17, 2008

    I Just Really Miss You (2007) – Miranda Lambert

    They typically signify gloom: dark clouds, sad songs, the hard wind. Yet Nashville Star Season 1 finalist Miranda Lambert extracts from such clichéd metaphors a moving despondency that overwhelms the listener with empathy. As a Target™ exclusive track, “I Just Really Miss You” proves that not all such addendums are throwaways—the occasional ace in the hole awaits discovery. Lambert has secreted this surprise through limited availability; perhaps she is unsure whether she wants to expose such nakedness to a lowest common denominator, instead rewarding devoted fans who make the extra effort to obtain it. Or, maybe she just succumbed to a cheap marketing ploy designed to sell more copies. Regardless, the song stuns with its simplicity, both lyrically and musically, Lambert hanging her vulnerabilities bare like laundry on a clothesline, letting the rain and wind have their cathartic way so that she can begin anew once the inclemency subsides. The vestiges of a relationship that could not survive still clutter her head and burden her heart, as she reconciles the infeasibilities that compelled them to part. A couple of soul-steering chord changes underscore the perverted celebration inherent in misery, an appreciation of the piquancy of life’s pain.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Witchcraft Tips (2002) – Dame Darcy

    Perhaps in a secret cove nestled somewhere between Disneyland’s New Orleans Square and Frontierland is an attraction which finds Dame Darcy propagating her predilection for gothic neo-Victorian aesthetics in the guise of a witch. “Witchcraft Tips” could be a lo-fi field recording of Darcy preparing the soundtrack for said attraction, spontaneously culling together audio snippets in the nature of an impromptu performance art piece. Tossed into her cauldron: suspenseful dissonance straight out of Elvira’s Movie Macabre; blustery wind effects followed by Gold Rush Era gaiety one might hear in the Haunted Mansion and on Mark Twain’s Riverboat, respectively; simulated pseudo-echoes (you know, like when you pretended you were a baseball announcer as a kid); patent cassette tape manipulation qua crude sampler; tortured banshee wailing; the chorus from Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”; the whir of a spacecraft preparing to lift off. Her manner of phrasing deliberately affected, Darcy touts her soothsaying powers and comprehensive sorcery courtesy of the E.Z. Bake Coven (which, in cyberspace, is Darcy’s informal association of like-minded artisans of the female persuasion). With the inventiveness of imaginative role-playing in which children engage, this intriguing concoction casts a spell both droll and . . . wait for it . . . bewitching.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "Grieve America" (2002).
  • Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Crop Circles (2006) – Visionaries

    When I was a junior high student in the ‘80s, there were two eminent trendsetters who were: (a) taller than the rest of us; (b) better-looking than most of us; and (c) breakdancers—a combination that netted them überpopularity. One of them was John Baker, of whom I have written about elsewhere; the other was Kikuo Nishi. While John went on to play bass in indie rock bands, Kikuo focused his efforts on hip-hop.

    Now known as KeyKool, Nishi is currently a member of Visionaries, a multi-cultural rap collective. While lyrically “Crop Circles” is not mind-blowing or soul-stirring, it is bounce-inducing, boasting a pretty persuasive beat and dexterous scratching courtesy of Rhettmatic. Overall, it’s one of the more amusingly entertaining jointz I’ve heard—especially because their earnest tone is a bit inapposite to the lyrical upshot. From 2Mex’s nearly unintelligible babble to the refrain that proposes the ridiculously awesome concept of leaving crop circles on the dance floor, the net effect is one of comedic ingenuity, leaving its imprint ingrained in the crop fields of your consciousness.

  • Listen to "Crop Circles" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • A Little Kiss Is A Kiss Is A Kiss (1960) – Connie Stevens

    “A Little Kiss Is A Kiss Is A Kiss” is Connie Stevens exulting in the physiological manifestations and inexplicable flightiness of a teenage crush. Her voice lilts with a perky flirtatiousness that rivals Shelley Fabares and Ann-Margret in their unsullied juvenescence. The chirpy vocal vivacity; the pollyannaish orchestration; the giddy la la las that ring out in a realm of copious reverb—it all amounts to the vintage prototype for modern-day twee pop.

    Listen to "A Little Kiss Is A Kiss Is A Kiss" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    June 18, 1976 (2000) – Pedro The Lion

    Had Lux Lisbon of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides not ended her own life with her sisters, it’s almost inevitable she would have done so eventually. Promiscuous beauty that she was, though, she would likely have gotten pregnant first. Given that The Virgin Suicides was set in the mid-1970s, “June 18, 1976” could conceivably be about Lux and the moments preceding her death, as David Bazan breaks the news in bard-like fashion to Lux’s child.

    In an egregious case of post-partum depression, a girl who just gave birth bids a final farewell to her newborn before leaping from the top of the hospital rooftop. While her suicide could be viewed as an allegory for young women who sacrifice the suppleness of their nubile bodies for the sake of bearing children, the narrative’s crux is reflected in the impact upon the bystanders who discern the calm gracefulness of her plunge, conveying her belief that she is plummeting toward peace, which enables them to reconcile the violent fate of one so lovely and yet so inextricably sad. In this regard, the song channels the essence of American Beauty, as where Wes Bentley’s character, Ricky, takes in the horrific poignancy reflected in Kevin Spacey’s expression as the blood oozes from his skull, as if Ricky understands Spacey’s character is, at that moment, reliving the most beautiful moments of his life as his soul passes to its state of permanence.

    Sometimes tragedy and beauty are necessary counterparts.

  • Listen to "June 18, 1976" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Biggest Part of Me (1980) – Ambrosia

    Lead singer David Pack includes enough variety in his vocal tones, and the Doobie Brothersesque multi-part harmonies add enough warmth, to make this otherwise saccharine avowal of adoration appealing. But Joe Puerta makes this song exceptional with perhaps the most meaningful bass line to be found in soft-rock, reminiscent of Verdine White’s masterpiece on “That’s The Way Of The World.”

  • Listen to "Biggest Part Of Me" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Friday, October 19, 2007

    Crisis King (1997) – Helmet

    After the inconsistency of the at-times mundane offerings on 1994’s Betty, Helmet’s 1997 release, Aftertaste, was a desirable return, at least in part, to the menacing disembowelment of dentigerous dropped-D riffs and Page Hamilton’s raspy gnarl that raged rampant on 1990’s Strap It On. Befitting the lyrical personification of tribulation as a fiendish despot who overwhelms with sadistic tyranny, Hamilton’s guitars alternate between metal riffs, slight dissonance and ominous chromatic scales, all emanating with Mesa/Boogie crunch in double-tracked amplitude over John Stanier’s moshable drum gallop to render album-closer “Crisis King” a brouhaha between sovereign and subject. The abrupt metric sleight of hand that tweaks the momentum at 1:34 sends the band careening roughshod through the kingdom with reckless disregard for the welfare of bystanders, who recoil from the anathema of crisis come calling.

  • Listen to "Crisis King" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "FBLA" (1990) – Helmet
  • Saturday, October 06, 2007

    Nothin’ Like The Summer (2007) – Carmen Rasmusen

    Carmen Rasmusen is the only American Idol contestant I have ever voted for. (That is, until Season 7 when Kristy Lee Cook and Kady Malloy made the Top 24.) My selectiveness proved to be well-founded: not only will “Nothin’ Like The Summer” stand as a timeless summer song, but also as the best single by an Idol contestant to date.

    “Nothin’” finds Carmen’s fresh-faced persona smack dab in the dog days of small-town America, idle and innocent. Romance is on the agenda, as she ruminates over the hallmarks of the season where recreation and pastime are preludes to canoodling at the county fair. The song doesn’t rely on a catchy hook so much as it does an umbrella of well-crafted lyrics, an easy-going melody, and a relaxed pace. What impresses even more is that Rasmusen co-wrote this song, whereas other Idol contestants have launched songs assembled by producers from a team of songwriters.

    A budding artistry is evident in her lyrics. While the “flip-flops”/”tic-toc” rhyme could have been corny, in context it smartly evokes the seasonal laze where the golden rules hammered into the brain during school are stashed away in favor of life’s leisurely pursuits and love’s geometry. Contemporary country music too often abuses descriptive literal narratives without regard for the listener’s ability to interpolate a lyric’s meaning. While Rasmusen constructs her estival ode with picturesque descriptions, she affords the listener sufficient leeway to import their own experience: the enterprise of the lemonade stand; the dizzying swoon of flirtation on the Ferris wheel; the dusk-‘till-dawn adventures by the lake; the stardust lounge of the backyard barbeque.

    Perhaps the four-year layover between the height of her Idol fame and eventual album release allowed Rasmusen to address the vocal tendencies which so many had criticized while she was a contestant; they are barely discernable now, if at all. Carmen’s vocals unfurl with controlled dynamics and expressive warmth, a picnic blanket on which to recline as she basks in the festival of her senses. And, as evidenced here and elsewhere on her debut album, Rasmusen’s voice charms most endearingly when it sails into its falsetto.

    As far as the most celebrated Idol alumnae go, Kelly Clarkson’s biggest hits were moderately catchy, but largely a product of pre-packaged songwriting that never rose above the One Tree Hill demographic at which they were aimed. Carrie Underwood, with her pop-tinged voice, is miscast as a country artist, which makes her success in that industry mind-boggling. Carmen Rasmusen will probably never reach the commercial milestones Clarkson and Underwood have enjoyed, but her success lies in making a memorable splash long after the ship of Season 2 Idol hoopla left the harbor. With the strength of “Nothin’ Like The Summer” as her lead-off single, if “Stranded” and “Keep Me Forever Falling” are released as follow-ups, she may yet score a ride on a luxury liner.

  • Listen to "Nothin' Like The Summer" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse (2007) – Of Montreal

    Before boarding the loopy carnival ride of medication, Kevin Barnes exhorts his chemical imbalance to achieve equilibrium without the crutch of antidepressants. Atop a blithe synthpop arrangement at odds with the helplessness he feels, Barnes’ quirky vocals rue the psychological morass that has time and again sapped him of creativity, incapacitated him, and strained his marriage. Hopefully, the inevitable infusion he administers to his cerebral synapses will benignly effectuate a synthetic synergism upon his reservoir of neurotransmitters—a pharmacological panacea, the Heracles to his Promethean punishment.

  • Listen to "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Channel One Suite (1997) – Buddy Rich and the Buddy Rich Big Band (produced by Neil Peart)

    Although one could focus on the technical wizardry evident in the legendary Buddy Rich’s actual drumming incorporated into this re-working of Rich’s “Channel 1 Suite,” what proves to be just as entertaining is the parade of euphemisms the string of big band singers concoct in the second movement to acknowledge that Buddy Rich was a grade-A asshole. The sincerity with which they pay tribute while simultaneously maligning him is artful.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’ (1993) – Wu Tang Clan

    Under the auspices of Wu-Tang, RZA enters the combat chamber, throwing down kung-fu cinema snippets and his trademark dynamically flat rudimentary beats, as guttural grunts plod in the background. Armed with raspy voice and audacity, U-God calls out the pretenders in unadorned fashion. Citing ghetto origins as the foundation for his incorrigibility, Inspectah Deck ups the ante with a more accomplished flow, a more captivating voice. Momentarily altering the lyrical rhythm, Raekwon takes the verbal baton to wax philosophical about the virtues of middle-tier materialism via street economics, denigrating chumps caught up in conspicuous consumption. Method Man dishes the call-out hook, inciting support from the spectator degenerates. Exiled from his precinct, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s inebriated bluster is overheard from a neighboring village before his 25½ bars proper arrive, whereupon he stumbles in to bewilder with his beloved buffoonery. Wielding the formidable dual weapons of hyperactive rhyme and overbearing whine, Ghostface Killah slices through the rice paper walls with erumpent energy to recount his vanquishment of lesser foes before exiting to victorious Wu-Tang chants. Masta Killa wraps up the tourney by detailing the insidious demise unsuccessful challengers will suffer at his hands.

    Step off, bow out, and go cry to your McDojo, son.

  • Listen to "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, August 04, 2007

    Tomorrow (2004) – Emma Bunton

    Beneath the pigtails and babydoll dresses, Emma Bunton was the most comely member of the Spice Girls, innocently cloaking the group’s inherent raunchiness with her Baby Spice persona. But it would behoove many to regulate as a controlled substance the pleasurable seduction in her delicate, coquettish wisp of a voice in order to curtail mania by audio intoxication. With “Tomorrow,” Bunton tries on for size the role as long-overdue heiress to Olivia Newton-John’s throne and, at least for this moment in time, she is sitting pretty. Her breathy vocal quality imparts a gossamer sheen unto a lilting melody that evokes ‘60s mod sensibilities to puffs of horns à la Bacharach, elongated plumes of strings on loan from Percy Faith’s orchestra, and a lazy bossa nova worthy of Jobim’s blessings. Bunton’s tale of guiding her man through bouts of self-doubt and depression with the panacea of amorous affection even recalls the gender roles of a different era—more “Stand By Your Man” than “Independent Women, Part I”—and a far cry from Girl Power.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Life Is Like A Star (1983) – Sandie Shaw (Ilona Kish/Phil Sawyer/Sandie Shaw)

    “Life Is Like A Star” is the one song that would have been more appropriate than “Magic” playing in the background while Olivia Newton-John glided across the floor of what would eventually become Xanadu. Like an errant vestige of the bygone era of rollerskating pinball wizards, it skirts along the cusp of memories that are actually figments, perforating apertures of familiarity in that which is foreign. Sprightly echoes of staccato Rhodes piano radiate into psychotropic chord transitions that probably violate some theory of juxtaposition, frolicking to a nifty 15/8 time signature before settling into an easy disco sashay. In lyrically conjuring images of streaking celestial bodies sparking the colors of the universe and meshing to create “a richly woven symmetry of illusion,” the song betrays its likely genesis in the heavy use of hallucinogens, a de facto endorsement of under-the-influence creativity.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Xanadu (1980) – Electric Light Orchestra featuring Olivia Newton-John

    As part of the closing montage for the 1980 box office bomb, it channels the inspiration of a muse, creating a synergy of renewal between dreams gone by and dreams on the wane, fusing to breathe new life into a deserted building. The ultimate ode to a glorified rollerskating rink, “Xanadu” exploits Olivia Newton-John’s gift for altering sensorial perception through melody. From the opening synthesizer glissando, ELO’s conspicuous chord changes lay down the steps upon which Olivia’s voice perambulates, unlocking the realms of fantasy to the groove of the bassline’s gyrations. Electric piano, strings and Jeff Lynne’s trademark multi-part vocals purfle a kaleidoscopic arrangement as luminescent as the neon lights—and as celebratory as the protagonists’ triumphs—of which its lyrics speak.

    As payoff for enduring a dog of a movie and a tedious choreographed scene to commemorate the grand opening of Xanadu, Olivia emerges onto the screen to perform the title song in her final bow as a muse, having never looked more radiant in threatening to turn the viewer into a pillar of salt. Unforgivably, there’s a dearth of shots focusing on her, director Robert Greenwald’s shortsighted blunder preserved on film: you just don’t squander the opportunity to showcase such a natural beauty.

  • Listen to "Xanadu" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "Magic" (1980) – Olivia Newton-John
  • Thursday, July 19, 2007

    Dumb Job (1993) – Oiler

    About 14 years ago, I was stopped at a red light in my hometown. A former classmate, John Baker, pulled up beside me and we exchanged salutations. He told me to come and see his band, Oiler, play. (Regrettably, I never did.) A few days later, I went to my favorite independent record shop for a weekly replenishment and saw an Oiler/Rig split 7”. I purchased it and went home, eager to listen. Oiler’s contribution to the single, “Asphalt Field,” fit right in with the Amphetamine Reptile brand of noisecore I was immersed in at the time—more Helios Creed than Helmet, but enjoyably raucous nonetheless.

    Let me back up a little, for my musical proclivities owe a great debt to said Mr. Baker.

    I was a lonely loser in seventh grade. I was the guy who had signs taped on his back by cruel pranksters. I had one friend, and he was privy to the “in” crowd, so I had always hoped that, being one step removed, I could eventually qualify for inclusion in their exclusivity. In eighth grade, John, a member of the “in” crowd, was kind enough to at least acknowledge my existence and associate with me on a friendly level. I felt as though he took me under his wing, if not out of pity, then perhaps out of human decency.

    He was always one step ahead of the crowd, extremely bright, handsome, popular, and, quite frankly, I don’t think he even gave a fuck. I suppose that’s why he extended a hand of friendship to me: he saw a pathetic figure who needed someone to show the way when others wouldn’t. From there, I idolized John’s stylistic sense, and took a cue from his musical outlook and academic pursuits. We would pound out the urban beats of “Planet Rock” and “Looking For The Perfect Beat” on our desks, yet he wasn’t ashamed to admit that the glamorous Duran Duran was rad. When I wanted to take Japanese or French, he coaxed me into taking Latin (which believe it or not, came to have its benefits). We were both going to be brain surgeons, you see. And I say that without the least bit of sarcasm. Well, at least HE was smart enough to become a brain surgeon.

    He was a fan of what were at the time relatively cutting-edge bands like The Cure, Echo and The Bunnymen and Dead Kennedys, while I proclaimed on my Pee-Chee All-Season Portfolio an allegiance to radio-friendly new wave like Berlin, A Flock of Seagulls, Missing Persons and Billy Idol. He sported extreme and colorful skull-adornment choices before I ever dared to gallivant with my approximations of Robert Smith or Ian McCulloch gravity-defying hairstyles.

    My high school years proved to be rich with drama, each fanciful misstep enhanced and exacerbated by the backdrop of what was then known as “alternative” music. But, I may never have ventured out of the mainstream were it not for John’s waywardness by example. I aspired to his exhibitionism in calling attention to oneself through flagrance, and his inscrutableness in caring fuck-all about what people thought. He influenced me both in terms of cultural tastes and self-esteem.

    Although we drifted apart in high school—he went full-on hardcore punk, while I sank into the depths of quasi-gothdom—he opened my mind to music that eschewed the popular conventions that were polluting my classmates’ minds. And, I was reminded of his excellence when he wandered down the auditorium aisle all zombified, cutting a Sid Vicious-like figure covered in stage-blood in the senior class’s humanities production of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. This dude was awesome.

    At one point during junior high, John and I had briefly traded basses—I have to believe he did this out of benevolence, as I had a crappy Rowland (not misspelled) bass, and he had, if I recall correctly, a candy-red Fender P-bass. It’s not surprising that he eventually came to play bass for Oiler.

    On “Dumb Job,” my favorite Oiler track, John doesn’t threaten to eclipse Geddy Lee’s virtuosity by any means, instead adopting the modus operandi of indie musicians: hawk attitude as an aesthetic over ostentation. Here, the bass plays a standard part, anchoring the low-end in workmanlike fashion, laboring beneath a constant slab of guitar fuzz and clanging sheet-metal percussion. Female vocals, courtesy of “Beth,” air the grievances of a proletariat with singer potential, alternating between antagonistic Wicked Witch of the West growls and Moon Unit Zappa valley girl jadedness. Clocking in at a shade under two minutes, it fits the bill as a smoke break anthem for misfits with a mall job.

    After briefly speaking with John in the early nineties at a rehearsal studio, at a record store, and then at the traffic intersection, I saw him on the cover of a local ‘zine as a member of Charles Brown Superstar (with Benett). Then, I lost track of him. Someone had spotted him at a computer convention, and a couple of years ago, my father briefly spoke with his mother at a community event. But I suppose the fact that I haven’t seen him in 14 years perpetuates his status as cult hero in my mind.

    John, if for some reason you ever come across this, I would like to thank you for planting the seeds of enlightenment in a hobbledehoy who longed to ditch pariahdom. You really made a difference in my life.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    Come Back Margaret (2006) – Camera Obscura

    Flourishing a swooning string section befitting a Romanian gymnastics floor exercise routine, “Come Back Margaret” provides a maudlin accompaniment for Tracyanne Campbell as her heart goes through its tumbling routine (metaphorical abuse acknowledged). Drums echo in a chamber of Psychocandy-era Bobby Gillespie floor tom/snare minimalism, sonar signals to calculate the emptiness that haunts Campbell’s heart. The lusterless production quality that pervades Camera Obscura’s brilliant 2006 release, Let’s Get Out Of This Country, suitably emulates the raw resourcefulness of someone capturing an inspired moment on a hand-held tape recorder off a Summer Olympics television broadcast. And, it’s the parturient idleness of summer that inspires Campbell to confess her bi-curious attraction towards an itinerant girl. She obscures her fantasies behind the facade of a distasteful heterosexual relationship and a winsome melody, all the while longing to woo Margaret into staying with the pining in her voice. Ultimately, though, Campbell’s tears are merely incidental to the compulsories of competition, as the world and its romance vie for Margaret’s affections as well. Perhaps Tracyanne will finally win her over before the next sojourn’s end.

  • Listen to "Come Back Margaret" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Monday, May 21, 2007

    200 Songs and Runnin'

    Sugarland’s “Settlin’” marks the 200th song posting. Sonic Lager For Lucid Minds has been a rewarding outlet when I find the inspiration to write. Thanks for reading.

    Settlin’ (2006) – Sugarland

    As it incorporated elements of rock and pop, country music came to fill the role that Top 40 radio once played in the ‘80s: an accessible, family friendly, song-oriented means of commemorating the week. While country music continues to be sidestepped and written off by a large contingent of music fans, it should occur to them that this is about as mindlessly fun as it gets nowadays. With indie music having become a function of blog repute and torrent traffic, sometimes it’s nice to blissfully ignore indie cred, let go of pretensions, and appreciate music that’s meant to get in your face with uncouth shamelessness. Head on down to your local Wal★Mart and Sugarland’s Enjoy The Ride awaits you in abundance. The album’s second #1 single, “Settlin’,” features Jennifer Nettles’ voice in exemplary form, its flat, pronounced twang inelegant enough to immediately chafe listeners as it grates into the consciousness like a bleating sheep, yet unassuming in its down-home congeniality, at times exhibiting a soulful warmth that incites the inner hombre into firing the six-shooter skyward in celebration. Nettles’ resolution to aspire to nothing less than excellence in love and life culminates in a chorus that is apt to hijack the hippocampus in boardroom meetings, finding an ally in economical guitar riffs that stab with adamance as if Rick Springfield showed up at the session to hitch a ride to the top of the charts. Indeed, there’s room for everyone on this country bandwagon, if only for want of willing passengers.

  • Listen to "Settlin'" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Thursday, May 17, 2007

    Mr. Nigga (1999) – Mos Def featuring Q-Tip

    Given the recently revived debate on removing certain words from the vocabulary of entertainment, is banning the use of the “N-word” an efficacious step in reshaping race relations? As Michael Richards’ Laugh Factory diatribe suggests, it’s not his use of the word per se that was deplorable, it was his underlying premise of supremacy in denigrating the African-American audience members who had dared to heckle a white man, drawing upon U.S. historical transgressions in reminding them that they were “privileged” to be allowed to speak freely in today’s society, whereas once they would have been lynched for doing so. Sure, he was speaking primarily out of frustration, but he obviously had a preconceived notion of racial status in this country, and the humiliation of being disrespected on stage caused the ugliness to surface.

    So would it make a difference if this particular racial slur/term of endearment is banished from the lexicon?

    According to Mos Def, it probably wouldn’t. He lets us know that, even having found success as a rap artist and Hollywood actor, despite the luxuries he can confer upon his loved ones, at the end of the day he’ll still be Mr. Nigga. In his guest appearance, Q-Tip brings along a variation of the concise refrain from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Sucka Nigga,” which itself explored the use of the word.

    Mos brings it back down to the clichéd, but epidemic, common denominators that plague young black men: to the officer, you’re a criminal, guilty of DWB; to the flight attendant, you errantly stumbled into first class; to the landlord, you are the tenant whom nobody wants as a neighbor; to fellow Rodeo Drive shoppers, you couldn’t possibly be anything other than an employee; to airport security worldwide, you are a drug smuggler. His attempt to analogize Woody Allen’s seduction of Soon-Yi Previn to Michael Jackson’s alleged pedophilia and O.J. Simpson’s alleged double homicide misses the mark, but his frustration with society’s apparent ostracization double standard is duly noted.

    In the end, even those who think they are liberal might be surprised when their actions reveal latent prejudices. Despite lip-service to equality and civil rights, it doesn’t matter to Mos if you use the word, or merely think it, if your actions ultimately reflect it.

    Perhaps at times there’s an obnoxious defiance in the conspicuous consumption of young black athletes or entertainers who hit a financial goldmine, but they’re just celebrating and asserting themselves in ways their forefathers couldn’t—in ways that probably piss off Michael Richards.

  • Listen to "Mr. Nigga" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Anywhere The Wind Blows (1999) – Melora Hardin (Lauren Christy)

    Currently best known as Jan Levinson on NBC’s The Office, Melora Hardin in fact possesses a lovely singing voice (and has recorded two albums). She was able to display this talent in the 1999 film Seven Girlfriends in a scene where she casually plays an abbreviated version of “Anywhere The Wind Blows” on a piano (alongside Tim Daly’s character, Jesse, who displays an uncanny knack for impromptu harmonies upon hearing the chorus once). Melora’s mellifluous voice emits with bare delicateness as she confesses a craving for a little precariousness in otherwise stale surroundings, willing to surrender as a tabula rasa to the caprice of life’s quirks. While the full version sung by songwriter Lauren Christy over the end credits comes properly with polished arrangement, it’s Hardin’s unadorned performance that embodies the song’s capitulatory gist. Most will read the foregoing and sneer with disdain, but those yearning to be uprooted from their daily grind may find “Anywhere” to be an inspirational impetus.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Friday, April 13, 2007

    No. 13 Baby (1989) – Pixies

    The number 13, especially when it coincides with Friday, has unlucky connotations in many cultures. The girl who so entices Charles Thompson IV (a.k.a. Black Francis a.k.a. Frank Black) scoffs at such superstitions, flashing a “tatooed tit” which bears the maligned integer. In turn, Thompson is inspired to renounce blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty for the carnal feistiness of the brown-eyed chola who has caught his attention, guitars spitting out ferocious flares to fortify Black Francis’ shrill squeals of wantonness. “Viva! . . . La loma,” he exclaims as he eyes her offerings.

    Although of lecherous distinction, “No. 13 Baby” comes off as an other-side-of-the-tracks awakening of sorts wherein the social boundaries of race, class and culture melt into meaninglessness in the heat of desire. Guitarist Joey Santiago tastefully lays down intervals and arpeggios as the rest of the band escorts the instrumental latter half of the song into the tequila sunset. Presumably, the temptress is gallivanting off to fresh territory, fully expecting to attract scores of new admirers to worship her. Triskaidekaphobics need not apply.

  • Listen to "No. 13 Baby" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Attends Ou Va-T‘En (1965) – France Gall (Serge Gainsbourg)

    The best pop music is constructed of elements with universal appeal. Even for those of us who don’t understand the French language, France Gall’s brand of yé-yé girl pop exemplified in “Attends Ou Va-T‘En” conveys a familiar air of apprehension. One recognizes the melodica’s latent distress imparted with doleful notes, Gall’s anxiety seeping through the opacity of a troubled melody, set to a locomotive canter that traverses the countryside en route to a hook that portends the dénouement.

    As the muse and model for April March decades later, Gall lent a voice apropos to the songwriting brilliance of Serge Gainsbourg that transcended the barriers of language. (Unfortunately, her career also suffered as a result of being artistically exploited by Gainsbourg.) With a title that translates as “Wait for me, or get lost,” it’s any English-only listener’s guess as to what presently concerns the song’s protagonist, but the pathos of a fait accompli is easily absorbed.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, March 17, 2007

    It Changes (from Snoopy, Come Home) (1972) – Guy Pohlman as Charlie Brown (Robert Sherman/Richard Sherman)

    Forlorn sentiment encumbers Charlie Brown as he mopes amid orchestral flourishes and a pendulous melody that dwells in minor key somberness, underscoring the abandonment he feels as he laments his beloved pet’s decision to return to live with a prior owner, Lila. But the bigger picture is that he has experienced such disruptions in his life before when others leave; he has deemed it a recurring pattern and has resigned himself to the vicissitudes that always upend his sense of stability. In particular, Charlie Brown would empathize with Morrissey in brooding: “My Is A Succession of People Saying Goodbye.”

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • My Life Is A Succession Of People Saying Goodbye (2004) – Morrissey

    Morrissey’s gripe about the revolving door through which acquaintances pass with regularity is symptomatic of his broader complaint—being left behind with nothing of real substance to validate the opportunities he has squandered. Even superficial materialism which might temporarily console him in hedonistic gratification is unattainable. In soporific anesthetization, a hypnotic sequence of harp arpeggios disorients as it draws us further into the morass of Morrissey’s struggle to cope with life’s passing parade. He and Charlie Brown, both.

  • Listen to "My Life Is A Succession Of People Saying Goodbye" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Scorpio (1982) – Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five

    Sharing its title with the moniker of one of the Furious Five, “Scorpio” is a minacious creature: spasmodic synth-prickles palpitate as a portly bassline writhes like a wounded scorpion impaled over spikes of electro-percussion; Melle Mel issues directives to infuse the funk in the always-cool camouflage of a vocoder; sporadic bursts of lasers discharge with futuristic import. The effect is one of a galactic ceremony at which an alien arachnid despot commands its subjects to get down before being exterminated.

    In the early ‘80s, there was hardly a more compelling jam to be heard blaring from ghetto blasters, instantly inciting the robotic seizures of poppers, lockers and breakers who were helpless to resist the command to “show no shame.”

  • Listen to "Scorpio" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    I Remember You (1993) – Björk (Johnny Mercer/Victor Schertzinger)

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – An Anachronistic Remembrance)

    How often does a modern day artist render inferior the vintage performances of a classic song? Presumably, only once in a blue moon. In that case, then, cerulean lunar luminescence bathed Björk when she recorded “I Remember You,” accompanied simply by a sole harpist, an angel at her shoulder. Despite the wistfulness in her voice—at times fragile and soothing, at times powerful and anguished—the song is actually about a nascent romance forged “a few kisses ago.” She is looking ahead to the afterlife, writing her history in advance, certain that when she is allowed to reflect back, the one thing that she will recall as the most precious gift was the thrill of the moment when she fell in love. It is a poignant testament to the infatuation in which she is immersed, and a glowing endorsement of the optimism her future holds.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "New World" (2000) - Björk
  • He Stopped Loving Her Today (1980) – George Jones (Bobby Braddock/Curly Putman)

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – A Tragic Obsession)

    Take undying devotion to its logical extreme and it becomes a tale of lifelong fixation that ceases only upon death. Add in the country drawl of George Jones and the deliberate pace of a funeral procession, and you have the pathetic irony of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Although she left him all those years ago, this gentleman was unable to get over the love of his life, clinging to mementos that prolonged his hope that she’d return. He had vowed to love her till he died. On the day that she finally came to see him one last time, that vow can no longer be broken.

  • Listen to "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Try Again (1983) – Champaign (Michael Day/Rocky Maffitt/Dana Walden)

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – A Second Chance)

    “Try Again” voices the regret of a man who took his woman for granted. Instead of expressing his appreciation through romantic gestures and tender moments, he told her he needed space. But her absence has exposed his foolish neglect; now he understands the intimacy for which she yearned, and he intends to apply his lesson learned. Fortunately for him, the momentary key change at the second “try” in the chorus causes the heart to swoon, increasing the chances that his overtures will be met with little resistance tonight.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • The Heart Remains A Child (1996) – Everything But The Girl

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – Stuck In Love’s Sandbox)

    Tracy Thorn explores the psyche of a woman who still dreams of her ex from time to time. Although she is occasionally tempted to try and contact him, she isn’t sure that she wants to hear that he has since moved on. Instead, a part of her hopes that he is fairly miserable and misses her. Despite this selfishness, she hints that she is disappointed at how begrudgingly she accepts the idea that he might be happy, that her ego prevents her from wishing him the best. Ben Watt’s cadenced loop-based arrangement evokes a metropolitan walk among the skyscrapers downtown, where Thorn, her alto warm and soothing, can sort through her conflicted feelings. But, like a child who pouts when things don’t go her way, her heart is unable to overcome her feelings of inadequacy and rejection, her unfulfilled need to feel loved, and the likelihood that he is better off without her.

  • Listen to "The Heart Remains A Child" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Kim (2000) – Eminem

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – Caught In The Grip Of A Jealous Rage a.k.a. The O.J. Syndrome)

    If one gets past the bloodcurdling misogynistic violence depicted in “Kim” (which is really of the variety one would expect to see in a Wes Craven movie), what emerges is Marshall Mathers’ songwriting talent. His conversational delivery flows naturally like movie script dialogue written in rhyme, blending the distinction between rapping and speaking (well, in this case, screaming) by infusing histrionics into well-crafted meter. After cooing over his toddler daughter, Eminem resumes the abduction of his ex-wife. He murdered her new husband and his four-year old son, but is going to make it appear that she was responsible and committed suicide. All the while he rants like a lunatic, portraying both the raging assailant and his whimpering victim, avowing that if he can’t have her, he must kill her—which he ultimately does by slitting her throat. The venom with which Eminem expectorates his vituperation is enough to repulse the average listener, and even the most seasoned rap fan is apt to be a little uncomfortable. Yet, despite this graphic homicidal fantasy preserved for posterity, the rumor is that Kim and Marshall are engaged for a third time. Looks like they really want to give that “’till death do us part” vow one more shot.

  • Listen to "Kim" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "Who Knew" (2000) - Eminem
  • Smile (2007) – Lily Allen

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – The Passive Vindictive)

    To see an ex wallow in misery and then spurn his efforts to reconcile is probably the dream of every woman who has been cheated on. Lily Allen lives out this fantasy with the faux-reggae/ska rollick of “Smile,” her schadenfreude evident in the gleeful way her drawn out “cry-y-y,” “smi-i-ile” and “whi-i-le” plummet as if his belongings are being tossed out from a third-story window. Armed with the playfulness of Nelly Furtado, the melodic soprano of Corinne Bailey Rae, and the gumption of Gwen Stefani, Allen’s gloating comes off with enough charm to make us forget that her callousness was forged from heartache.

  • Listen to "Smile" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • I Confess (1982) – The English Beat

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – The Adulterer Who Knows No Contrition)

    What otherwise seems like a breezy calypso on a sunny tropical island is really the account of a man who reveals his infidelity to his wife. However, rather than feeling contrition, he turns a bit vindictive. Dave Wakeling admits that this declaration of apathy is done “out of spite,” that he is indifferent to the fact that the marriage is over because it has been dead for a while. In fact, he wouldn’t even care about who he hurt with his indiscretions were it not for the fact that it will affect him (alimony, child support, loss of custody). The romanticist within him was always “searching for paradise” with new women, even though he risked ruining three lives: his, his wife’s, and, presumably, his child’s. Although he acknowledges that he was wrong for his philandering ways, he is numb to the aftermath. His confession, then, is threefold: he’s guilty of adultery, he feels no remorse, and he doesn’t care what happens next. In doing so, he neutralizes any emotional vengeance she might attempt to inflict upon him, selfish to the end.

  • Listen to "I Confess" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • When You Live Life Alone (2002) – Sarah Shannon

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – The Unlikely Resignation To Table For One Reservations)

    The sparse piano plinks, melodramatic strings and guileless vocals which adorn “When You Live Life Alone” brought criticism upon Sarah Shannon for exhibiting Barbra Streisand tendencies. Damn, that’s harsh. No, no. Instead, let’s entertain the notion that a woman of Sarah’s obvious charms could somehow find herself alone with no willing suitors. Once we suspend disbelief, we can indulge her tale of patiently waiting for a whirlwind romance that ends with an untimely parting and consequent somberness in solitude. Sure, the song plays like a musical adaptation of a Lifetime channel movie—I’m seeing Kelly Preston and Tim Daly, or if you want to go a little younger, maybe Chyler Leigh and Chad Michael Murray—but, so what? It’s a showcase for Shannon’s exceptional soprano, technically perfect and rich with feeling. She finds her notes and sustains them to fill the spaciousness of the uncluttered arrangement, instead of trying to abuse the opportunity with recklessly ostentatious vocal runs.

    It was daring of Shannon to record a song pregnant with such pathos, having come from indie noise pop darlings Velocity Girl. And, while she may have alienated those who became detractors, others appreciate the risk she took in her willingness to expose a more sensitive Sarah in pursuit of new musical directions that stir the empathies of the tragic romantic within.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Once I Smiled (1968) – Leonard Nimoy (Charles R. Grean/Leonard Nimoy)

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – Wistfulness On Other Worlds)

    A heavenly backdrop of pastoral orchestration wafts in to lay down the lilting ambiance for Spock to get sentimental. As if hearing Nimoy reminisce in his wavering baritone about a childhood romance with a golden-haired lass wasn’t rewarding enough, the fact that he co-wrote this song makes it that much more appealing. When, in describing the giddiness of love, he recalls days he “swung from trees like a monkey pup,” there’s a burst of innate joy that accompanies the reflexive guffaw. And the concise Spock narrative/croon about his resolve to never love again makes it official: all the elements of “awesome” are present and accounted for.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "Amphibious Assault" (1968) - Leonard Nimoy.
  • It’s Too Late (1971) – Carole King

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – The Disillusioned And The Discarded)

    Set to a gentle saunter befitting coffeehouse bohemianism, “It’s Too Late” offers a rational assessment of the realities that spell the imminent dissolution of a deflated relationship. The listlessness that hangs heavily throughout the day precedes the emptiness of night. Knowing that attempts to resurrect the romance would be futile—or at least not worth the effort—Carole King decides to call it a day with a chorus that strikes a chord of resignation. She confirms that there’s no animosity, no acrimonious parting, only a nod of gratitude as she chalks this one up to experience and moves on.

  • Listen to "It's Too Late" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Do You Love Me (1976) – KISS

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – Insecurity Amid Indulgence)

    Paul Stanley has all the trappings of rock ‘n roll stardom: inexhaustible wealth, the jet-setting ways, the fast-living groupies. Yet, for all the extravagance he enjoys, he still wonders whether his girl’s affections are sincere or a sham. Would she split if he could no longer provide this profligate lifestyle? The earnestness of Stanley’s inquisition is reflected in the rhythm section’s unyielding stomp and power chords that ring out with enough intensity to fill an arena. Despite basking in the glamour of rock stardom, at the end of the day he still craves something more than just superficial debauchery. To be sure, though, legions of young men would gladly take his place without any such misgivings.

  • Listen to "Do You Love Me" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • The Only One (1983) – Lionel Richie (David Foster/Lionel Ritchie)

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – A Formulaic Devotion)

    There’s only one reason why anyone even gives a crap about Nicole Richie: her daddy’s success as a songwriter enabled her to befriend the similarly useless-without-money Paris Hilton, which they parlayed into The Simple Life and a notorious beef before making-up again as BFFs. While “All Night Long” and “Brick House” were big hits, most of daddy’s money flowed from his ballads. And although a ballad is a ballad is a ballad, “The Only One” was co-written with the master of all balladeers, David Foster. Together, Foster and Richie crafted a song of soul mate affirmation which wields a chorus capable of so stirring one’s embrace of monogamy that, in a moment of weakness, one is apt to forgive Richie his transgressions in raising a spoiled socialite.

  • Listen to "The Only One" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Make Out Club (1993) – Unrest

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – Props To Puppy Love)

    In “Make Out Club,” TeenBeat proprietor Mark Robinson brings all the earnestness of a young Shaun Cassidy to the meeting, his jittery guitar clips commingling with the skittish rhythm laid down by bassist Bridget Cross and drummer Phil Krauth to incite a frenzy among pledges eager to undertake the rites of initiation. Decoder rings are distributed, secret handshakes are exchanged and passwords recited to gain admittance to the clubhouse, where Robinson shares an innocent tribute to a first love. By the time he smears his suave crooning harmonies over the chorus, the kids are swooning, anxious to validate their memberships.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • I Must Be In Love (1978) – The Rutles

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – A Fabulous Infatuation)

    The Rutles were much more than a parody of The Beatles. While there is humor and wit in their lyrics, the true ingenuity is reflected in Neil Innes’ songwriting ability to distill the characteristics of Beatles songs into an amalgam that sounds very familiar, yet completely original. “I Must Be In Love” evokes the head-wagging arrangement of ”A Hard Day’s Night,” borrows the guitar jangle of “You Can’t Do That,” and slips in the “ooooh” from “I Saw Her Standing There.” Emulating the simplicity of early Beatles hits, the elementary lyrics portray the discombobulating nature of love that causes one to vacillate between extremes. Melodically, Innes captures the halcyon days of infectious pop with a teenager’s verve. Cry “blasphemy” if you will, but “I Must Be In Love” would rank among the best McCartney/Lennon compositions of their early years.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • He’s So Strange (1982) – The Go Go’s

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – The Stalking Victim . . . and Zombies)

    In B-movie horror story fashion, “He’s So Strange” depicts the plight of any girl or woman who has been friendly to a socially inept classmate or co-worker only to find herself the object (or target) of his obsessive affections. The lovable loser has gone all creepy, haunting Belinda Carlisle’s living nightmare as a stalker. The band revives the watusi and the frug with the intrigue of a beatnik detective’s theme, authenticated by Charlotte Caffey’s B-52’s Farfisa organ kitsch. It appears that the freak of whom Thom Yorke sang on Radiohead’s breakout hit has resorted to the time-honored practices of car stakeouts, obscene phone calls, and burning candles at photographic shrines.

  • Listen to "He's So Strange" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Somebody Hurt You (2004) – A Girl Called Eddy

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – Pining For Something More Than Just Platonic)

    Channeling the melancholy muse that informs Cat Power’s Chan Marshall, Erin Moran (not the one who loves Chachi), reveals a languishing crush. Her fragile voice seeps with tenderness over a gorgeously sedate arrangement that lingers in a diaphanous blue haze; in her quavering upper register, her compassion becomes evident. His eyes betray a sadness he carries with him, the remnant of a broken heart. She hopes to show him that she understands his misgivings, that their past heartbreaks are shards of history which cast them along similar paths to where they now stand: apart, yet two jagged halves of a weary whole.

  • Listen to "Somebody Hurt You" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Stories Of Old (1984) – Depeche Mode

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – The Uncompromising Bachelor)

    As the mouthpiece for Martin Gore’s lyrics, Dave Gahan remains resolute in his refusal to compromise for the sake of the relationship, decrying the downfall of men throughout history who have changed for a woman. He is equally as forthright about his lustful intentions as he is about his steadfastness in nonaccommodation. A moody synthesized clarinet/accordion phrase slinks with Parisian adventiousness through the synth-pop streets of a bazaar in Bangladesh. With all the indicia of adamancy in his warnings, let there be no misunderstanding—there are no strings attached when gallivanting with Gahan or Gore.

  • Listen to "Stories Of Old" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • I Want To Be Wanted (Per Tutta La Vita) (1960) – Brenda Lee (Kim Gannon/Giuseppe Spotti/Alberto Testa)

    (The Cupid Chronicles: Complexions of Love – The Lonely Damsel)

    With all the yearning Olivia Newton-John exuded in “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” Brenda Lee makes no bones about her desperation to find someone who desires her in the way she deserves to be loved. “I Want To Be Wanted” lays bare Lee’s longing borne of loneliness with such pangs of pining that it draws the listener into her mire, be they sympathetic or similarly situated. Strings straight out of Mantovani’s orchestra and cooing background vocals escort Lee to the 6/8 time signature sway of faint piano and guitar, brushed drums and double bass. Winding chord combinations reach a subtly surprising key shift that nudges the heart with just enough tenderness to sustain hope that each day will bring her closer to realizing her idealized romance.

  • Listen to "I Want To Be Wanted (Per Tutta La Vita)" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Monday, February 05, 2007

    Phantom Limb (2007) – The Shins

    The specters that inhabited Oh, Inverted World inform the ethereal “Phantom Limb,” a song that might bring a new level of understanding to a wider audience; the song that arguably solidifies The Shins’ place in the mainstream’s conscience, yet which will retain its appeal even after you’ve heard it appropriated for some network television show an umpteenth time. Its flowing pace gently transitions in haunting gradations, navigated by James Mercer’s Brian Wilsonesque rudders of entrancing chord progressions and melodic maneuvering over jangle-fuzz reminiscent of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Some Candy Talking” softer side, recorded in The Clientele’s realm of lush pensiveness. Mercer’s oblique allusions flesh out the malaise of a lesbian couple who endure a small town’s conservative prejudices by remaining inconspicuous. Their impulses to publicly display their affection never manifest; instead, their appendages meet with imaginary caresses, hoping to avoid the harassment of an illiberal society; their dreams of enlightening the community by flaunting their relationship in the face of ignorance are no more real than a phantom limb’s illusory flail to knock down a barrier.

    On the strength of “Phantom Limb” as its first single, Wincing The Night Away debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart, and even the least pretentious indie kid had to have been a little conflicted. Sure, you were happy for the band. But, it also confirmed that the seeds which had been planted in Garden State when Sam shared “New Slang” with Andrew had officially germinated into the mainstream’s full-fledged embrace of The Shins. (The band even obliged by playing the song on their January 13, 2007 Saturday Night Live appearance instead of a second track off of Wincing.) Hell, if people were actually buying the album, that must mean people outside the file-sharing demographic dig The Shins. You know—old people. Thirty and forty-somethings. All those sales which set the historic mark for Sub Pop indicate a slippery slope that threatens further industry exposure and possible market oversaturation. And—not that the kids’ love of the band would cease—but everyone knows that it’s only a matter of time before your local Ryan Seacrest-affiliated radio station is spinning their disc on American Top 40 alongside The Killers. Then, the bloom is off the rose.

    So, the tempered reactions, the tepid reviews that are begrudgingly conferred, the upheaval wrought upon the indie press—whether intended or not, these act to preserve the indie cachet of Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow by denigrating Wincing The Night Away. Sorry guys, but The Shins are everyone’s band to enjoy now.

  • Listen to "Phantom Limb" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Thursday, February 01, 2007

    Born With It (1996) – Steve Azar and Brett Favre (Steve Azar/McNeel, K./Kim Venable)

    Yes, that Brett Favre. This ain’t no Super Bowl Shuffle, though. Recorded before he won his Super Bowl ring, the bluesy country-rock of “Born With It” would be equally effective in a commercial endorsing Chevy Trucks, Coors Light, Musk Fragrance or Herbal Essence Shampoo. This is kick off your boots, fling your Stetson, grab your girl and jump on the sin wagon music. The Mississippi born and bred Favre is a natural fit for the genre. He carries a tune just fine with a southern twang and country whine, and is not asked to do too much here. An up-and-coming artist at the time, Steve Azar handles the slight majority of the vocals on this ode to a beguiling gal who possess that inherent je ne sais quoi which inspires truckers, construction workers and cowboys to get up off the couch, forgo the game, and take up ballroom dancing, soak in an art show, partake of fine French cuisine, or attend the theatre. Or, maybe she’s just a glorified tramp who enjoys making ‘em horny.

    More than simply just a novelty recording, “Born With It” celebrates a time when a one-off such as this was Favre’s fanfare, the NFL’s only three-time league MVP reveling in the height of his popularity, rather than the croaking swan song of an also-ran athlete.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Monday, January 29, 2007

    Spaceship (2005) – Kanye West

    (Part Six of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    Like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” Kanye’s tale of escapism
    takes us back to the past through a black-colored prism
    Mall job, face accusations of theft and embezzlement
    He ain’t robbed nobody, don’t know where the cash and them khakis went
    He workin’ them late hours reserved for the black folks
    Ignoring rules, hittin’ chronic and nicotine smokes
    They won’t fire him, tho’; management need a bro’
    to fill a racist racial quota for the front of they sto’
    A disgruntled Gap employee who just biding his time
    ‘till the day Jay-Z gon’ need inventive beats for his rhymes
    And when that day come, Kanye gon’ bid them goodbye
    GLC singing ‘bout when his spaceship arrives
    Mr. West at his best when concocting the tracks
    that sell records. Got signed, now he drivin’ Maybachs

    Consequence takes the mic
    talks about street knowledge and strife
    and the constant motivation to achieve more in life
    Hard work, overtime to keep the pain off his mind
    of losing loved ones, of why he ain’t signed
    And educational shortcomings lead to lifestyles of crime
    Hip-hop culture ain’t forgiving when you run out of time
    Just waiting for your options to materialize
    is like waiting for that spaceship to emerge from the skies

    Kanye’s back. When no one wants to hear your music
    it can damage your frail self-esteem
    but success is circumscribed by how boldly you dream
    So excuse Kanye West if his ego has grown
    ‘cause when his raps were unwanted he kept folding them clothes
    for a wage. Now he gettin
    We speak of his music in appreciative tones
    So, it’s clear his metaphorical spaceship has flown. . . .

  • Listen to "Spaceship" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sunday, January 28, 2007

    Agenda Suicide (2001) – The Faint

    (Part Five of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    The Faint’s implements of demoralization—ominous bass synth, fidgeting scrapes of guitar, mechanical beat, snide vocals—approximate a gothic Duran Duran grown intolerant of bourgeois materialism. The Faint mean to admonish that being a slave to an agenda as a means to the end of affording a quaint home in the suburbs is tantamount to spiritual death. Emboldened by the discharge of grainy sawtooth synth and hissing hi-hats, vocalist Todd Fink sneeringly pronounces his ideology: working primarily to sustain an idealized standard of living is foolish, and living solely for one’s job is ultimately futile; accepting one’s fungible role in a characterless workforce renders one’s life no more substantial than a “cast shadow.” There’s a fine line, though, between senseless burnout and industrious virtue. To the extent Fink means to disparage a productive work ethic, his hyperbolic assailment probably deserves all the credence of an unemployed career guidance counselor’s advice.

  • Listen to "Agenda Suicide" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Synchronicity II (1983) – The Police

    (Part Four of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    Beginning with the interminable racket he endures every morning at the breakfast table before trudging off to the job he loathes, Daddy is teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He’s grown numb to the nerve-racking discord that permeates his day—at home, during his commute, at the office. Nowadays, even the comely secretaries no longer stimulate his prurient interest, his desires having long ago been squashed by the periodic degradation he suffers at the whim of his domineering boss.

    In this tale of foreboding, Sting’s impassioned vocals peal over his solid no-frills bass fortification; Andy Summers campaigns the consciousness with economical guitar phrases; Stewart Copeland cracks his snare and beats his kick drum with authoritative aggression, his crispy hi-hats and pinging ride cymbals punctuating the air like efficient stenographers.

    Having reached his breaking point, Daddy returns home with a migraine and a surly disposition. Meanwhile, the Loch Ness Monster (hey, Sting’s idea, not mine), which has slowly been surfacing from its lake in Scotland, emerges upon the shore, about to reveal itself to the world, symbolic of the major paradigm shift that is about to transpire in synchronicity. Beginning tonight, Daddy’s dominion and Nessie’s existence will no longer be subject to debate.

  • Listen to "Synchronicity II" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues (1973) – Jim Croce

    (Part Three of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    Although he envisions inevitable white-collar success if given the chance, his daily grind is strictly blue-collar tedium. Such is Jim Croce’s plight in “Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues,” the grousing of a man who paints a not-so-sympathetic picture of himself with a palette of country blues boogie: he’s shirked his spousal/child-support obligations; he’d loaf as an executive and hassle his secretaries. To be sure, he’s incredulous that his untapped genius is wasted doing such menial work, that his just deserts elude him for the time being. But, despite the fanciful outlook of his reveries, it’s the string of adjectives he strews in the song’s hook that convey the depths of his “steadily depressin’, low-down, mind-messin’, workin’ at the car wash blues.”

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  • Saturday, January 27, 2007

    I’ll Take Anything (1990) – Blake Babies

    (Part Two of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    Ennui and inertia are on the day’s agenda for Juliana Hatfield as she surveys the stagnation that has become her lifestyle. Disheveled and down to the last dollar her parents sent earlier in the month, she thinks a lot about getting up off her duff to look for a job, but soap operas, sulking and sleep are currently much more inviting. While she professes a growing desperation, she still practices slothfulness. Those days not long ago when she had ambition were days she knew she was destined for greater things than her friends and family could even imagine. But now she hides her head under the covers of John Strohm’s blankets of ringing guitar, springing an array of buoyant full-toned notes that reveal Hatfield’s underrated sensibilities as a bassist. Freda Love’s pounding floor toms are a throbbing hangover headache; her tumbling drum fills, an inelegant stumble out of bed. Eventually, Strohm attempts to perk up the pity party with a solo of the variety that inspires an afternoon drive to clear one’s head. Together, the trio concoct just enough of a palliative to stave off the doldrums for another day.

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  • Father To Son (1985) – The Alarm

    (Part One of the Damned If You Work and Damned If You Don’t hexology)

    Mike Peters portrays the angst of a teenager whose father expects him to find a sensible job, perhaps in the steel mill that paid the family’s living wage for so many years. The boy refuses to accept the same dead-end routine that eviscerated his father’s spirit. Instead, with dreams of making a name for himself, he plans to move to the big city. However, his family expects him to provide financial support, especially in light of his father’s impending retirement and the dire state of the economy. Impetuously, the boy leaves town against his father’s wishes for the auspicious embrace of metropolis. Once there, he finds his opportunities meager; his future, less than stellar. So, he heads elsewhere. This soon becomes a pattern of pavement-pounding futility and itinerate frustration. Realizing that his aspirations of fame and fortune were overambitious, he’s now desperate to find anything that would approximate even the modest standard of living to which he was accustomed back home. With Dave Sharp’s restless guitar protesting in the right channel, and a piano/bass-heavy march that would do Madness proud, “Father To Son” soberly cautions risk-takers that the old adage, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it,” sometimes proves to be the stuff of old wives’ tales.

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  • Friday, January 26, 2007

    His Lamest Flame (1998) – Mary Lou Lord

    Arguably, “His Lamest Flame” is Mary Lou Lord’s catchiest song (“His Indie World” being her wittiest), largely because of its irresistible chiming jangle-guitar/“na na na na na na na na na” refrain. The song’s title is a play on Elvis Presley’s “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame”: Lord, whose delicate voice sounds similar to Juliana Hatfield’s, acknowledges that she shares the same black hair and green eyes, but not the name, as the lass Elvis lost. This time, however, it’s the girl who fails to stoke the fire of passion. She senses that there is not much fuel left in the flicker, as the outlook on her romantic future grows dim. In fact, her woefully low self-esteem and passive acceptance of her beau’s waning interest all but ensure that the flame—effete and lame—will be extinguished by her own suffocating self-pity.

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  • (Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame (1961) – Elvis Presley (Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman)

    “His Latest Flame” finds Elvis burned by the bane of every small town’s quasi-incestuous circle of acquaintances who recycle partners amongst themselves. (And, as evidenced on The SmithsRank, it segues quite seamlessly into “Rusholme Ruffians.”) The bustling beat, the catchy melody, the words of congratulation—all belie his envious heartache as he attempts to keep a brave face despite learning that a former love has recently hooked up with an old friend. There’s a palpable sense of loss and resignation in his voice; he remembers the goodness of what once was his to enjoy.

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  • Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    American Terrorist (2006) – Lupe Fiasco

    Adding to the flurry of post-Katrina salvos, Lupe Fiasco takes Kanye West’s infamous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” gripe a step further, accusing the U.S. Government of practicing terrorism against the disadvantaged throughout history by hoodwinking or outright bullying, and then supressing, certain segments of society: steal their land, deprive them of quality education, quash their protests, create distractions to occupy them, exploit ‘em and keep ‘em down. He suggests that manipulation of the economy has inflicted unintended collateral damage across racial boundaries: even the blue-collar Klansman ain’t whistling Dixie as loudly anymore—the price of gas has made cross-burning a costly pastime.

    Although his flow at times lacks fluidity, Lupe’s indictment runneth over with bile as he charges the White man with transporting over the smallpox epidemic which eradicated some Indian tribes, importing and lynching slaves, and now bringing terrorism upon the U.S. because of foreign policy regarding Israel. Also, in his eyes, a byproduct of racial injustice has been the stratification of rich and poor, as a government designed to protect its wealthy injects poison, either overtly or insidiously, into certain communities to perpetuate the oppression: casinos and liquor spell gambling addictions and alcoholism for the Native Americans; guns and drugs facilitate the Black man’s unknowing quest to destroy his own people.

    It’s unclear why Lupe included the reference to mid-1800s era Chinese railroad laborers and gold miners—they came to America in search of a better life. But in doing so, he missed out on an opportunity to chime in on the current illegal immigration debate. He could’ve dropped a couple more lines in the coda like: “Give brown man keys, park the car / Keep grass short, clean the yard / Raise them kids, mind the crib / but don’t sneak past Border Guard.” Feel free to use ‘em for the remix, Lup!

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  • Monday, January 22, 2007

    If I Had Only Known (1991) – Reba McEntire (Jana Stanfield/Craig Morris)

    Consider a day when someone you love perishes suddenly: no prolonged illness or suffering, no death bed farewell, not even a coma or life support limbo—just snatched from your life. Then, imagine that you were given a chance to go back to the day before their passing to say goodbye. Reflect upon what you would share with this person, their qualities and traits you would remember as a lasting impression, the place you would want to spend your final moments together. Yes, it’s heart-rending to think about. Amazing then is the fact that, indulging this notion, Reba McEntire was able to record without a crack in her voice this ballad in memory of eight members of her musical family who died in a plane crash earlier that year. (Hey, Michael Jackson couldn’t even keep it together for “She’s Out Of My Life,” and, knowing what we know now, he probably wasn’t even all that sad about it.)

    With her feelings of regret laid bare, Reba’s grace in bereavement reminds us that the opportunities to cherish those in our lives are too often opportunities squandered, chancing inevitable regret.

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  • Sunday, January 21, 2007

    365 Days and 162 Songs Later. . . .

    On this 21st day of January, three posts to celebrate one year of existence.

    I Broke Up (SJ) (2002) – Xiu Xiu

    A voice whimpers feebly in schizophrenic delusions over the steady throbbing of synthetic percussion and strummed bass chords until Jamie Stewart, so epicene in his petulance, shrieks with maniacal abandon, “Don’t fuck with me! DON’T FUCK WITH ME!” thereby unleashing a brief torrent of discordant pings, screeches and bleats drenched in distorted saturation that stabs the brain with shards of sonic shrapnel. The whole debacle reprises in a seething froth of dementia, Stewart throws another hissy fit, and the hemorrhaging cacophony is sewn up with a hasty suture.

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  • Chemicals React (2006) – Aly and AJ

    One might be quick to dismiss any musical offering by Disney-songstress sisters Aly and AJ Michalka as teeny-bopper fluff. However, one would be careless in doing so. “Chemicals React” is the song that has been hinted at for quite some time now by the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne. But this blows away anything Clarkson or Lavigne has offered in terms of emotional impact. “Chemicals” is superior in terms of lyrics, musicality and structure: the guitars here ring sweeter and buzz heavier, the hook kicks harder and the melody resonates deeper, the words speak poetically and more convincingly, and the dynamic arrangement impels to the verge of wooziness this burst of energy that savors the disorienting thrill of a new romance. Consequently, the apparent pitch-correction slathered on their voices can be forgiven. And if you can admit you like “Since U Been Gone,” then why discriminate against these Cow Belles?

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  • Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2) (1977) – Television

    Little Johnny Jewel was a victim of the duality: the creative icon who was “just trying to tell a vision” (pun obviously intended), encouraged to go for it without the restrictions of responsibility; the strung-out drug addict whose wealth of avant-garde ideas came at the expense of his lucidity. In this tale of an artist going vacant, Tom Verlaine champions JJ, whose drug habit has him living permanently in flux between consciousness, hallucination and dreams.

    In batches of intermittent punctuation between Verlaine’s atonal yelps, Fred Smith’s drooping three-note bass riff dollops in chunky clicks over the drizzle and hiss of hi-hats and jittery kick drum palpitating with arrhythmic rapidity, as prickles of guitar teeter and lurch errantly. As the band hits its stride, Richard Lloyd’s ambling guitar chords strike a counterbalance to Verlaine’s soloing paroxysms—symptomatic manifestations of an obsessive compulsive disorder, feverishly scrubbing and scraping the fretboard clean of its notes before yielding for the moral of the story.

    In the end, all Johnny Jewel wants is for us to acknowledge his sacrifice in the name of art. “[H]e’s paid the price,” the least we can do is count the cost.

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  • Sunday, December 31, 2006

    A New England (Extended Version) (1984) – Kirsty MacColl (Billy Bragg)

    In the ‘80s, the best remixes and extended versions transcended the original mixes not merely by prolonging their duration, but by stripping them down to their compositional rudiments, illuminating something that was previously buried beneath the mix, introducing adscititious elements that furthered the song’s spirit, recasting the components in an arrangement that emerged metamorphosed to reward the listener with a new musical perspective. New Order’s Extended Version of “The Perfect Kiss,” Walter Turbitt’s Mystery Mix of Big Country’s “The Teacher,” and Julian Mendelssohn’s The Full Horror mix of Pet Shop Boys’ “Suburbia” are but a few which exemplify this ideal. Arguably at the top of the list are Shep Pettibone’s Extended Dance Remix of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and Steve Lillywhite’s Extended Version of his late former wife Kirsty MacColl’s “A New England.” So richly does Lillywhite’s re-imagining reverberate in the sensibilities of astute reconfiguration, that it seems apropos to consider the evolution of the song from Billy Bragg composition to MacColl cover to Lillywhite remix in order to understand the value added.

    Bragg’s words betray a crisis at the cusp of adulthood that finds him at once defensive about his stagnancy and pitiable in his disappointments. To cope with his loneliness, he tries to debase the girl least likely to love him by recasting her as the university harlot he graciously dismisses. He ambivalently mulls over the letters he occasionally receives from her, like paltry consolation prizes. Still, he wonders why, amidst his desperation to move forward, what little he desires continues to elude him: he’s not seeking sweeping social or political change, he just wants to find someone to take his mind off of her.

    Whereas Bragg underscores his desolation with the accompaniment of a lone hollowbody electric guitar, MacColl proclaims her bitterness amid a full-fledged kinetic arrangement. Bragg penned additional lyrics specifically for MacColl, as caustic as they are clever. MacColl becomes Bragg’s counterpart—the girl who haunts him, yet who is unable to rid herself of the vestiges of their erstwhile relationship. One is free to choose the protagonist with whom to empathize in this bifurcated saga.

    In turn, Lillywhite’s reworking salvages Bragg’s despair and MacColl’s resentment, restoring them to triumphant effect. The programmed drum patterns pound more resolutely, as if in defiance of the radio-friendly limits imposed by a 7” slab of vinyl. Generously lavished reverb carries the dilatant momentum of regal guitars and MacColl’s canorous multi-part vocals across the sonic expanse. The frenetic digital-delayed guitar riff camouflaged in the single mix now flutters briskly in the spotlight over stepping stones of gritty bass flouncing like henchmen with an agenda, eventually yielding to a ringing tapestry of meticulously-picked Marresque Rickenbacker jangle. Previously unused and latent vocal harmonies are given new life apart from the main vocal melody, pleasantly revealing untapped complexions. The expanded instrumental break evokes a springtime Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, complete with joyous puffs of panpipe. For all its inherent dissatisfaction and drama, the song becomes an affair more celebratory than sour.

    Although lasting nearly 8 minutes, rather than overextending itself, Lillywhite’s treatment leaves the impression that the single version was in a hurry, anxious to find direction in a course of uncertainty. Given time to explore, “A New England” discovers in its protracted form where it means to go.

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