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.

  • Listen to "A New England" (Extended Version) and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Friday, December 22, 2006

    Perfect Christmas (2000) – S Club 7

    The classic picturesque Winter Wonderland—one-horse sleigh, bells jingling, special someone, freshly-roasted chestnuts, ice-skating rink straight out of Serendipity—finds a modern-day soundtrack. Although an easy target of criticism, given that S Club 7 was sired by Spice Girls/American Idol magnate Simon Fuller, “Perfect Christmas” proves to be holiday pop at its peak: sweet enough to indulge in pleasurably, yet temperate enough with the sappy sentiment that grimaces do not abound. Radio-friendly R&B-lite vocals and a classic Motown-esque melody mosey into a rising and falling chorus that leaps to its spires, then retreats a few steps, gradually climbing in progressively chromatic fashion a spiral staircase of beat-locked-bass and Shasta-sheen strings. The S Clubbers saunter sonorously along the snow-paved sidewalks of tealight-illuminated Candy Cane Lane, all for the sake of punctuating their wish list with an asterisk: *Eliminate the “unrequited” and “long-distance” in the relationship. This winter brew concocted by songwriters Cathy Dennis and Simon Ellis goes down all smooth and buttery, like the creamiest of rum eggnogs, tapping into the alchemic wonder of the holiday season to spark visions of perennial munificence that melt away with the conclusion of winter break.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    Elevator Love Letter (2003) – Stars

    Frigidity gets an audit in “Elevator Love Letter,” the avowal of a fashionably aloof career woman who flourishes in the boardroom and founders in the bedroom. Amy Millan is a girl unattainable behind a facade of ambition and achievement, who keeps confidants and would-be suitors at bay with a temperament that lies somewhere between the irksome neurosis of Ally McBeal and the off-putting Oscar Wilde-isms of Ling Woo. Isolated by the aftereffects of her corporate ascent, she still secretly yearns for intimacy. To that end, Millan’s voice has never sounded sweeter as it glides leniently, smooth as honey, yet tempered by the burden of a weary detachment. To assist her, Evan Cranley devises a lolloping bassline that fits so perfectly in the pocket, lingering on the root before joining the guitar through the chord progression, that its dynamic allure magnetizes the soul to do its bidding. Torquil Campbell is the aspirant from accounting come to deliver her from the ivory tower of a downtown high-rise. Although he realizes she’s out of his league, he’ll be dusting off the John Hughes-inspired lines tonight, hoping to charm her inner Molly Ringwald. Perhaps she capitulates in a moment of weakness, only to return to the environment that obscures her apathy beneath the humming of printers, copiers and fax machines, illuminates her loneliness in the radiation of a computer monitor.

  • Listen to "Elevator Love Letter" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, November 18, 2006

    Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe: A Farewell To Tower Records (1960 - 2006)

    A part of my life is marching towards a slow, certain death. The Going-Out-Of-Business Sale signs have gone up at all Tower Records, as the entire chain is slated to meet an imminent demise, its assets having been sold off in bankruptcy to the highest bidder who has no intentions of salvaging the company. While many may barely bat an eye at the news, or even take sadistic pleasure in such a fate, some understand its significance, while others share in my despondency.

    To me, the closures symbolize the waning days of a lifestyle in which I once reveled—a pastime known as record-shopping. One of the biggest independent record stores in the country, Amoeba, still exists a 30-minute drive away from home; my visits there will probably become more frequent, if not more costly. But no longer can I run out on a whim on a Saturday night to the neighborhood Tower Records a few blocks from my home to check out the sale prices on new releases, hunt for back catalog, and take inventory of the gaps in my collection. (Why I prefer not to download, take copied music from others, or order CDs online is an entirely different discussion.)

    Admittedly, Tower’s regular prices were ridiculously high, which—aside from the backlash from music fans against the record industry in general—surely contributed to its financial woes. Still, Tower’s redeeming qualities were its encyclopedic selection that dwarfed those of Best Buy or Circuit City, and its convenient suburban locations (Virgin Megastores are too sparsely disbursed and their prices are just as prohibitive). Also, Tower’s sale prices were competitive, and its prices on back catalog were often reasonable. True, Target’s new release prices are excellent, but its limited product selection eventually rotates out of stock. Walmart sells censored versions of its music—which pretty much makes purchasing rap at Walmart an exercise in meaninglessness. Granted, the exclusive bonus track deals that Best Buy has been able to secure are an alluring, if not cunning, tactic to force completists like me to buy new releases there; I had already begun buying fewer new releases from Tower on that basis alone.

    Above all else, though, I had a history with Tower—a stalwart that survived when Licorice Pizza, Musicland, The Wherehouse, Music Plus and numerous others could not. It was a destination devoted entirely to the pursuit of musical discovery (augmented by DVDs, books, magazines—even collectibles in its later years). In high school, I walked its aisles after class to search for a new theme song for the weekend’s exploits. CDs were sold in cardboard long-boxes back then, and albums were actually released on vinyl a few weeks before the CD. Although things have since changed a bit, nearly twenty years later on Saturday nights I would regularly visit Tower Records, a mistress in whose aisles I could find comfort and rediscover forgotten pleasures as well as seek out new experiences until midnight.

    Yesterday, I made one last visit to a local Tower store: bargain-hunting shoppers gleefully rummaged through the dwindling inventory at the liquidation sale, disinterested vultures in an opportunistic spree. In the midst of all the bustling activity, I took a reflective look around, my heart wistful as I bid a final farewell.

    It may be pathetic and silly to mourn the death of a record-store chain that was short on bargains, to wax maudlin over a format that creeps toward obsolescence. But, God-willing, when I am old and the hearing is not what it once was, when the discretionary purchases have yielded to what the pension doles my way and retirement savings allots, I will recall the countless hours spent at records stores in general and Tower Records in particular, riffling through the bins, soaking in the delicious smell of shrink-wrapped vinyl—later replaced by the clacking of compact-disc cases—that became the scents and sounds en route to discovering the soundtrack of my life, audio snapshots to preserve the visceral impact of my memories. Although the delights of youth—Christmas morning, birthday parties, trick-or-treating—disappear with age, when I was browsing the bins of Tower Records, I was in a candy store, a kid who knew no surfeit.

    Saturday, November 11, 2006

    Tears On My Pillow (1958) – Little Anthony & The Imperials (Sylvester Bradford/Al Lewis)

    Little Anthony takes a slow rhythmic stroll upon a moonlit terrace of disconsolation, his alto piercing the lonely night with a wistful wail that carries over a crestfallen chord progression and the lament of doo-wop vocals, before retiring to languish in the pool of tears he fashions for himself every evening. He still holds out hope for a second chance—foolishly perhaps, but without the delusion of expectation.

  • Listen to "Tears On My Pillow" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Tuesday, October 31, 2006

    Boris The Spider (1966) – The Who

    Much as the urban legend of mentally disturbed individuals who began placing razor blades, pins and needles in candy withered the once thriving neighborhood traditions of Halloween, John Entwistle’s monomaniacal fascination with a spider likewise depicts fiendishness incarnate . . . well, at least from an entomological perspective.

    A thumping bass line yo-yos about like an arachnid on its silken web, bobbing in carefree locomotion as Entwistle describes his fixation on the little critter which makes its way across the room. With a guttural growl he dubs it Boris, mimicking its creepy, crawly movement in a puckish falsetto. Yet, despite Entwistle’s engrossment, poor Boris meets a grim fate, squashed flat, courtesy of a good old-fashioned book-slammin’.

    Around these parts, the streets were never again bustling with trick-or-treaters, either.

  • Listen to "Boris The Spider" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, September 30, 2006

    Brooklyn Roads (1968) – Neil Diamond

    There comes a day when one’s childhood seems to have transpired during an entirely different lifetime, a day when one is free to re-construct monuments from the shards of what at the time were perceived shortcomings. Neil Diamond pensively captures this moment of resolution in “Brooklyn Roads,” a rapt recollection of days spent struggling to find academic bearings in the midst of an overwhelming imagination that caused him to flounder at school. He recalls the scents and sounds of apartment life, the comfort of his father’s beard, the fantasies he would indulge to escape his life of mediocrity. Throughout, a somber brume of French horns, strings and melodica underscores the ebb of auld lang syne—as when one, upon awakening from a nap, gasps in the acute realization that death is certain, and the past, irretrievable. The mind reaches back to rummage for what the heart craves, perhaps finding vicarious consolation in the belief that Home still redeems the fanciful reveries of youth.

  • Listen to "Brooklyn Roads" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "Shilo" (1968) – Neil Diamond.
  • Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    A Thugz Mansion In Heaven’s Ghetto: Tupac Shakur—10 Years Gone

    While it is fun to speculate as to whether or not he is really dead, today—September 13, 2006—marks the 10th anniversary of Tupac Amaru Shakur’s death.

    Although for practically that entire decade I could have cared less about Tupac—believing his music said nothing to me about my life (to borrow from Morrissey)—I recently came to realize that his lyrics reflect a poetic truth about the human condition. In his music, conflicting emotions, values and beliefs collide in a fusion of rage, bravado, and compassion, yet flow out in terms that not only the mind understands, but the heart embraces. He was blessed with a distinctive voice, a prolific pen, an uncanny ear for rhythmic wiles, a perspicuous lyrical style that seamlessly blurred the line between reality and fiction, and profound insight into the interplay between his own desires, fears, joys, pain, anxieties, strife, triumphs, and failures, as well as those he could see in his community and society in general. Plus, the beatz is bangin’.

    Despite his thug persona, Tupac’s oeuvre evinces an irrepressible artist’s sensitivity as much as it does a ruffian’s weary worldview, allowing others to understand his ambitionz az a ridah. We picture you rollin’, ‘Pac.

  • See also "If I Die 2Nite" (1996) — 2Pac.
  • Tuesday, August 29, 2006

    Love Goes On! (1988) – The Go-Betweens

    One of many pearls left behind by the recently departed Grant McLennan (12th February 1958 – 6th May 2006), “Love Goes On” conveys its yearning in strides constructed of the happy-go-lucky buoyancy of twee pop, burdened with the gravity of carnivorous longing. With drums and bass buried far below in the mix, percussive showers of acoustic guitar carry the insistent rhythm which flaunts a melody that pines for want of experience, elevated by the optimism of its “badabopbopbadadabow!”s and a violin jig that recalls the fingered birdsong of a flute. McLennan understands the theoretical paradigm of love, but he is also familiar with love’s sinister complexion. He knows that despite its incongruities, love goes on.

  • Listen to "Love Goes On!" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sunday, August 06, 2006

    Thank You For The Music (1978) – ABBA

    In the tradition of Barry Manilow’s “I Write The Songs” and Yes’ “Our Song,” “Thank You For The Music” relishes the performer’s perspective, celebrating the power of music to transform the entertainer and enhance one’s joie de vivre. Although Agnetha Fältskogat’s sentiments are at times silly and self-absorbed, “Thank You For The Music” regales as it builds from a reflective stroll across a stage to a vaudevillian chorus line. Playful figures of upright piano meander and gallivant throughout like marionettes, while mandolin trills and vivid keyboards grace a chorus built around a chord progression composed equally of melancholy and gratitude, mirroring the realization that music is the sine qua non of life, such that to be without it is truly an impoverished existence.

  • Listen to "Thank You For The Music" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "Dancing Queen" (1978) – ABBA.
  • Saturday, July 22, 2006

    I’m Ready (1980) – Kano

    From the dancefloor of an interplanetary discotheque emanate handclaps and an undulating synth intro (that later anchored Tag Team’s 1993 party anthem, “Whoomp! There It Is”), in pulses sent out as signals to notify other life forms that a boogie of cosmic import is forthcoming. In accordance therewith, razor-crisp drums kick in, escorting nipping keyboard pecks into the atmosphere as a shoveling bassline arrives to scoop in and progressively dig out a subterranean groove from deep within the host planets’ cores. As extraterrestrials boogie alongside humanoids, they partake of the funk that orbits in spheroids of falsetto/baritone voices, filter-swept and LFO synthesizers, and a periodic vocoder refrain that announces its standby status in anticipation of robotic missions. In an amicable space-disco invasion, “I’m Ready” spreads infectious intergalactic goodwill while dispersing its sonic probes in colonization of uncharted star systems.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Friday, July 14, 2006

    The Bones Of An Idol (2005) – The New Pornographers

    With melody mystical and imagery allegorical, The New Pornographers revisit a mythology that once inspired a quest for something seemingly unattainable. When reasons to continue the endeavor are no longer apparent, introspection can resurrect a dream laid to rest, renewing purpose. The yen for worldly renown has lain dormant for some time, but the thirst of aspiration has not been completely quenched. Like a talisman of reinvigoration with which Indiana Jones would abscond, remains of forgotten zeal are excavated, but the opportunities for exploitation have dwindled from disuse.

    Needless to say, any song graced with Neko Case’s vocals already enjoys an eminent distinction. And, from its hammering eighth-note piano chords that chisel away over a bedrock of steadily advancing drums, to the elastic guitar refrain that warps gently in lieu of a chorus and the vocal layers that overlap to preserve the finds, “Bones” spurs an expedition that unearths sought-after relics of ambition. The bones of an idol are once again becoming comfortable in this skin.

  • Listen to "The Bones Of An Idol" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Stay (Faraway, So Close!) (1993) – U2

    Embedded on 1993’s underrated Zooropa, “Stay” yields one of U2’s more persuasive moments post-The Joshua Tree. The Edge’s curtailed flecks of guitar and Adam Clayton’s creeping bassline intertwine like gear cogs that apply torque to the vectorial plod of Larry Mullin, Jr.’s drums, as they forge ahead through the somnolence. Drenched in drowsy reverb that carries to the furthest reaches of night, Bono’s punchdrunken drawl emits gently as it professes messianic intentions. “Stay” loiters in the parking lots of seedy vacant motels, hanging around in a stale milieu of urban decay, a sprawl of psychological blight, a cesspool of spiritual decadence. Bono commiserates with a young woman who has become apathetic toward, and incapable of, human interaction, preferring instead to experience life through the filter of commercial media. A Rorschach blot of nebulous guitar slowly crescendos in a subtle accretion of soporific reverb. As he projects arcs of e-bow, The Edge lofts background vocals that plummet from escarpments carved of emotional erosion. Bono fancies himself a savior who would deliver the damsel from her stagnancy. However, his self-assuredness fails to stave off another evening of escapist depravity that trips her up in a tangle of intoxication.

  • Listen to "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sunday, July 09, 2006

    Reunion (1999) – Korea Girl

    Although sharing a title and subject matter with a Stars song, whereas Torquil Campbell attends his high school reunion with an agenda, Elizabeth Yi throws her invitation away in the trash, but continues to haul around the debris of high-school alienation. Yi knows that she hasn’t achieved in ten years what the corporate sell-outs will announce with the badges of their BMWs and Benzes, hasn’t given up on her dreams by starting a family like the ones her classmates will proudly display in photos. Yet, her band hasn’t achieved the indie recognition she had counted on to compensate for eschewing a charmed yuppie life. In short, her social status vis-à-vis her popular classmates remains unchanged—they will still sneer at her with superciliousness, condescendingly feign interest in her life, then whisper snide remarks behind her back. Nor has her contempt for them waned: “Why would I spend more time / with people that I hate, couldn’t wait to leave behind?” To break the tension, guitarist Tobin provides a warm-fuzzy solo from the school of Dean Wareham. While Yi concludes with a tinge of sarcasm, there’s also a hint of envy in her voice: “Beautiful / you were / popular / in school / So cool.” She hasn’t yet given up on the American dream; it’s just that hers was crafted on cassette tapes in bedrooms, rather than predetermined by career guidance counselors and Ivy League educations.

  • Listen to "Reunion" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • The End Of The World (1963) – Skeeter Davis (Sylvia Dee/Arthur Kent)

    A piano revolves sullenly on an axis of heartbreak as Skeeter Davis plaintively ponders how life can be so insensitive to her misery, carrying on unabated when she no longer has anything to live for. A heavyhearted Davis sinks under the weight of her melodramatic millstone, happening upon a bridge that solicits consolation with classic country woe-is-me-ism, crying steel guitar tears that are dried with wipes of violin. Despite its exaggerated sense of calamity, the egocentric self-pity that pervades “The End of the World” is one that is globally understood, and at some point or another, universally suffered.

  • Listen to "The End Of The World" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, July 08, 2006

    Underwater (2006) - Ghostface Killah

    Ghostface Killah, Wu-Tang Clan’s prolific assassin, portrays a drug smuggler shot during an offshore trafficking exchange gone wrong, who falls overboard and begins a phantasmagorical descent toward his spiritual fate. Guided by “mermaids with Halle Berry haircuts,” he witnesses a chimerical world of mergirls sporting pearls and Gucci belts, Spongebob in a Bentley Coupe (whose girl checks out Ghostface, prompting Spongebob to bitch-slap her), treasures and vessels (including Noah’s Ark and relics from the Titanic), finally reaching Atlantis where Muslims worship, welcoming him with Qur’ans and Torahs—the respective religious texts of Islam and Judaism, whose followers on earth are diametrically opposed politically. Producer MF Doom (of Madvillain) conjures a mysterious dragnet of Charlie’s Angelesque flute samples (from “Just A Love Child” by Bobbi Humphrey) and a spectral mermaid voice. It’s fitting that Ghostface depicts an aquatic scene: his album’s title, Fishscale, refers to Peruvian Fishscale—a form of cocaine—bridging the drug reference with the fishscales of a mermaid’s tail. Although he eventually reaches the promised land, it’s unclear whether he means to suggest that the Islamic religion is the only true one, or whether it, and Judaism, are as illusory as the underwater hallucinatory scene he just witnessed.

  • Listen to "Underwater" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Monday, July 03, 2006

    4th of July (1987) – X

    (Part One of the From Matrimony To Alimony trilogy)

    In this country-tinged round of barroom rock, John Doe deplores a loveless marriage with the same blue-collar strife and pregnant details that Springsteen brings to the table. Doe can’t identify the exact moment of defeat, only the entirety of the ebb. As he reflects upon their quandary, he is reminded of the carefree trivialities that once enlivened their relationship. Perhaps she can remember as well. He goads her to partake of the Fourth of July festivities, hoping to tap into the celebratory spirit abounding and alleviate the symptoms, if not cure the malady. He just hopes this isn’t the day she declares her independence.

  • Listen to "4th of July" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Just Because It’s Dying (2002) – Jenny Toomey with Franklin Bruno

    (Part Two of the From Matrimony To Alimony trilogy)

    Along with Stephen Merritt, Franklin Bruno is one of the modern-day American songwriters who excels in vivid metaphors and clever wordplay that appease the intellect. His colleague and occasional collaborator, Jenny Toomey (of Tsunami/Grenadine/Liquorice/Simple Machines/Slack/Geek/solo fame), undertook to record renditions of twelve old and new Bruno compositions. One of the highlights of this association, “Just Because It’s Dying” (from Bruno’s 2000 release Kiss Without Makeup) offers encouragement to those who have lost the passion in their relationship and are on the fence as to whether it’s time to cut ties.

    When the heat of July just gets you more sweaty than steamy, it’s time to rediscover the sparks that once flew: “When you see the fireworks fizzle / hit the lake, and start to sizzle / don’t you wish for one last missile / to illuminate the sky? / So do I.” Depicting love as tangible, Bruno appeals to the rational side of the debate that promotes salvaging over scrapping, knowing that rash decisions grounded in emotion are more likely to be erroneous ones. Toomey sings with empathetic compassion, backed by Bruno himself, former-Tsunami member Amy Domingues, and members of Calexico, who lay down a blanket of sauntering acoustic chamber pop. Aside from their lyrical wit, Bruno’s songs cast memorable melodic hooks as well: Toomey’s swooning inflection (“do you?” and “to you”) bait the heart, while tender moments of gently nudged melody in the transitional refrain reel it in. Once landed, Bruno’s not inclined to throw it back just yet.

  • Listen to "Just Because It's Dying" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Theme From A Summer Place (1960) – Percy Faith and His Orchestra

    If you were born in the ‘50s, ‘60s, or even ‘70s, there’s a good chance you heard this playing at an outdoor mall while shopping with your mother, or wafting from a transistor radio in the kitchen while she whipped up some Toll House cookies. This July 4th, why not make “Theme From A Summer Place” the theme for your summer place while you grill tasty treats for your friends and family to enjoy? With its leisurely rhythmic waltz, dreamy flutes and French horns, and strings swaying gracefully in the breeze, “Theme From A Summer Place” is sure to soothe and delight your guests as they lounge by the pool, nursing tall, cool refreshments in anticipation of the evening’s fireworks display your neighbors are sure to put on at the block party! “Theme From A Summer Place”—no mid-summer’s backyard barbeque is complete without it!

  • Listen to "Theme From A Summer Place" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • John Riley and the Housewives Who Love Him (2003) – Baskervilles

    (Part Three of the From Matrimony To Alimony trilogy)

    In “John Riley and the Housewives Who Love Him,” Baskervilles don their Belle & Sebastian cap, as singer/guitarist Rob Keith pouts sardonically to the strains of haunting chamber pop. Notably, Craig Van Orsdale’s sweetly sibilant hi-hats and richly pinging ride cymbal sparkle in exceptionally recorded brilliance. Anti-climactic one-two jabs of guitar and tom-tom punctuation following the refrain reflect the songs theme of unmet expectations. Keith depicts John Riley as a Hugh Grant-type that women daydream about and men resent, waiting for him to slip up so that the tabloids can humiliate him. Keith reduces Riley’s accomplishments to how many gossip rags he moves at the checkout stand. But, Riley’s true appeal lies in providing a daily diversion for women who live vicariously through his publicized affairs as they sleepwalk through stale marriages. Keyboardist/violinist/vocalist Stephanie Finucane chimes in to explain women’s idolization of John: “Reading about him beats the doldrums that set in / Glad we’re not alone even though romance has gone,” to which Keith retorts sarcastically on behalf of their husbands: “That’s right. I mean, why work hard / when it’s ‘til death do we part? / Our love life can’t compare to John’s.” Although men may teem with cynicism and sarcasm, the irony is that, quite possibly, they covet as much as they contemn.

  • Listen to "John Riley and the Housewives Who Love Him" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sunday, July 02, 2006

    Overture/Going Through The Motions (2001) – Sarah Michelle Gellar (Joss Whedon)

    There’s ennui in the vampire slayer business and Buffy Summers has come down with a case of the blahs. While Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s musical episode, Once More With Feeling, boasts more complex and entertaining fare (“I’ve Got A Feeling/Bunnies/If We’re Together,” “I’ll Never Tell,” “Something To Sing About”), opening number “Going Through The Motions” whets the appetite by alluding to the puns, visual gags, and inside jokes that cater to viewers’ knowledge, as well as showcase Buffy creator Joss Whedon’s surprising brilliance as a songwriter with a knack for the tongue-in-cheek musical jocularity of The Simpsons. With its refined orchestration, and in true Hollywood soundtrack tradition, the overture foreshadows a central theme to be revisited later in the episode (“Something To Sing About”). The episode itself weaves in the series’ ongoing storyline, and this song in particular epitomizes Buffy’s chronic grievance as she kicks vampire and demon ass while nonchalantly strolling through the cemetery, yearning for a deeper purpose in life.

    Sure, Sarah Michelle Gellar is no more accomplished a singer than, say, Winona Ryder is an actress. But hey, at least Sarah’s chosen profession isn’t singing. (Sorry, Noni—loved ya in Beetlejuice, Heathers, and to a lesser extent Edward Scissorhands, but it’s been all downhill since then). Gellar’s voice is tenuous, unsophisticated, nasally, and comes off like that of a girl starring in a backyard play—endearing qualities all. But, importantly, she is able to remain fairly within the neighborhood of the twin suburbs called timing and tune, where Buffy vanquishes the undead as she strolls down the boulevard, cutting a svelte figure that has a promising spot as musical guest on Sesame Street singing a duet with Count Von Count.

  • Listen to "Overture/Going Through The Motions" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • In My Time Of Dying (1975) – Led Zeppelin

    Robert Plant, half-drunk with bottle of whiskey in hand, attempts to cajole his way into Heaven, hoping that his hard-living ways will not bar his entry. Jimmy Page, on the other hand, loafs on the devil’s porch, knowing his obsession with the occult has already sealed his fate. What begins as a bluesy spiritual that takes its time in winding down the bayou to reach the levee, soon ruptures into a slide guitar wankfest featuring the lambasting that drummer John Bonham inflicts upon his kit—igniting his hi-hats in a fiery sizzle, cudgeling his kick drum in rhythmic knocks that pound on Heaven’s door, launching assaults on his snare that outright try to bust the door down. All the while Page tries to sear a hole in the guarded portal with a howling, crowing, squalling conflagration of dirty slide guitar. The interplay between Bonham and Page that feeds the inferno does nothing in furtherance of their admission through the Pearly Gates, but they make a devilishly convincing case to be Hell’s house band.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Snowden (2005) – Doves

    On 2005’s Some Cities, Doves out-Coldplay, Coldplay. While the latter’s 2005 release, X & Y, indicates an artistic dégringolade—between appropriating wholesale Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” riff (down to the key) and Chris Martin’s apparent relinquishment of lyric-writing duties to Gwyneth, or just as likely, daughter Apple—Doves take aim at the soar-core crown, exploiting the timbral similarity of Jimi Goodwin’s dampened intonation to Martin’s.

    The song’s title references a character from Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch-22, whose rather gruesome death as a World War II fighter pilot was pivotal to the developmental crisis of the main character, Yossarian, transforming Yossarian’s attitude toward fighting in the war from patriotism to survival. At first, Goodwin assumes the roles of both men: Snowden, as he hemorrhages to death; Yossarian, as he realizes the futility of his life-saving efforts. The song dilates in epic scope, building from simple acoustic guitar strums and mermaid cove atmospherics, to disembarkment onto the shore, then a purposeful stride across the hinterland towards a dubious fate. Goodwin expands his perspective to soldiers who must go off to fight wars manufactured by their country’s government, muttering gripes beneath their breath as they sit stationed overseas. A sirenic choir of ghostly voices and Mellotronic strings coalesce in gothic beauty, serving as a soaring hook in lieu of a chorus, as mortaring drums forge ahead with clanging cymbals, escorting platoons to certain death. A squadron of troweling guitar, sinewy bass and clinking glockenspiel disintegrates into lo-fi flares of fuzz, detonating across a battlefield, followed by sustained echoes of guitar squeal that peal across the sky like wounded fighter jets emitting plumes of smoke as they plummet toward earth. Goodwin cuts back to the troops pondering their fate as they are thrown to the wolves: “If this will be our last summer / then why should we care?” However, it’s probably not concern for their own life which they are forsaking; rather, it’s more likely the justification for war that will cause them to desert the scheme of their orchestrated demise.

  • Listen to "Snowden" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Tonight You Belong To Me (1956) – Patience and Prudence

    Immortalized by the ukulele-toting Steve Martin and cornet-wielding Bernadette Peters in The Jerk, “Tonight You Belong To Me” was a #4 hit for Patience and Prudence McIntyre. They were only 10 and 13 when they recorded this jaunty promenade about a romance that exists only in one’s dreams, making it as creepy as it is endearing, especially given that it sounds like the Lolitaesque siren song of a pair of Talking Tinas. Yet, endearing it is, with its irresistibly precious ambulatory two-part vocal harmonies that, like The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There,” make you forget the singers are probably without the benefit of life experience to inform their melodic musings.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Acoustic Guitar (1999) – The Magnetic Fields

    Quite simply one of the most clever songs ever written, “Acoustic Guitar” personifies said instrument, imploring it to “bring me back my girl,” alternating between bribery, wheedling, and threats. In between, the song ascribes virtues to the guitar, while acknowledging personal shortcomings, and humorously recalling the ex’s idiosyncrasies.

    To the uninitiated listener, the song is either a tender gender bender or lesbian lament due to Claudia Gonson’s reference to her girl. It’s even more endearing, however, when one realizes that a man wrote this song, as if he is hiding behind a female voice and a guitar to further distance himself from his inadequacies. Yet, in another twist, songwriter Stephen Merritt is gay. The genius, then, is that the song succeeds despite the fact that, in order to personally relate, most listeners will impute to it characteristics which it possesses neither in form, nor in substance—the perspective of a straight male.

  • Listen to "Acoustic Guitar" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Achy Breaky Heart (1992) – Billy Ray Cyrus (Don Von Tress)

    Before his lead stint in PAX TV’s Doc, his cameo in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, or his role on Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana as father to his real-life daughter, Miley, Billy Ray Cyrus was most loved (and mostly reviled) for this line-dance-inducing ditty. His ridiculous physical maneuvers on stage were actually something to behold in their embarrassing awkwardness, wherein he would punctuate his performance of this song with farcical air punches and swivel to and fro with hands held aloft above head, prancing about with the grace of a tow truck driver. It’s obvious he recognized, yet decided to embrace, the song’s frivolousness—how could he not, singing such drivel. And therein lies this song’s worth: the ability to be at once so base, yet so annoyingly catchy, is an accomplishment worthy of recognition (due to Don Von Tress’ sly songwriting). The fact that he often references “Achy Breaky Heart” in Hannah Montana is all the more reason to give him props for acknowledging what it did for his career. The fact that Sonic Lager knows that he often references this song in Hannah Montana is, admittedly, all the more reason to stop reading this blog.

  • Listen to "Achy Breaky Heart" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • 14 Zero Zero (1998) – Console

    As the side project of The Notwist’s Martin Gretschmann, Console reinterpreted Katacombo’s 1979 Goo-era Sonic Youthesque post-punk din, transforming it from a prototypical Kim Gordon atonal blare-fest into a precisely-programmed computer diatribe. (Interestingly, the lyrics from the original version appear to have survived almost wholly intact 20 years later, with very minor tweaks to reflect modern computer terminology.) The re-imagined “14 Zero Zero” is a dynamic Roland TR-808-driven sequence of cascading, undulating, modulating portamento pulses, bleeps, arcade blips and analog polyphony executed via modular patch-bays, MIDI-chains and SCSI conduits. With terse mockery and scorn, a software-synthesized simulated voice sarcastically contemns its user for his technological dependency and addiction. As a final parting shot, 14 0 0 taunts its user’s garbage in, gospel out mentality by spitting forth a value judgment in a catchy refrain: “i got my hard disk / with all that hard disk trash inside.”

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Bag Lady (2000) – Erykah Badu

    With deadpan metaphorical quips, Erykah Badu chides women who haul so much emotional baggage around that they are doomed to perpetuate a vicious cycle of overbearing co-dependency that drives men away. Badu uses hobo imagery and street dialect to signify the morass of an emotional ghetto that traps in self-defeating insecurity, bereft of hope for personal advancement unless a woman first gets things right within herself. Highlighted by the classic signature of Fender Rhodes panning suitcase vibrato, the arrangement is primarily bolstered by brawny 5-string bass, sinuous blaxploitation guitar, syncopated bongos taps, and military snare rudiments. Although she acknowledges that the root of the problem lies in past betrayals, Badu encourages her sisters to ditch the bags, abandon the shopping cart, and escape the housing projects of the heart.

  • Listen to "Bag Lady" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sharks & Sailors (1997) – June of 44

    (Part Four of the Mine Ears Have Heard The Glory of the Banging of the Drum tetralogy)

    Guitars grate, scratch, plink, hum and buzz in the waters of “Sharks & Sailors,” while a bottom-dwelling bass trolls its depths. Ex-Rodan guitarist/vocalist Jeff Mueller snarls a chantey of bemusement, but his vocals serve as punctuation to the true featured player—drummer Doug Scharin. Spurred by stretches of unconventional time signatures, Scharin lobs tom-rolls that tumble a shade earlier and a trace longer than expected. During the quieter passages, he casts a net of highly-controlled double stroke, accent and roll combinations, culminating in tom and snare hits on unforeseen offbeats. To further catch the listener unawares, the toms are tuned and mic’d in such a way that renders them devoid of resonance, like taut sails being struck. The drum monsoon that arrives 9 minutes and 7 seconds into the song is stunning. Via his atypical tom and snare strikes meshed with one-handed rolls, Scharin adds his name to the pantheon of drumming with an innovative, yet musical, non-solo performance.

  • Listen to "Sharks & Sailors" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Souvenir (1981) – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

    (Part One of the Gorgeousness and Gloom tetralogy)

    As a small consolation to its victims, had “Souvenir” been playing on the Titanic as it succumbed to the icy waters of the North Atlantic, at least the sound of heaven would have accompanied them to their watery graves. Dabs of choppy keyboard bob beneath a sublime motif emanating in exquisite patterns that lap against a vessel of sinusoidal waveforms adrift on an oceanic soundscape of ethereal synthesized voice pads. A beat thumps starkly as Paul Humphreys vacillates laconically in dichotomies—volition vs. vicissitude, infatuation vs. indifference—in an attempt to resolve his confusion. His angst endures as a memento of his desire, impairing his sense of reason and confounding his emotions in a state of discombobulation.

  • Listen to "Souvenir" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, July 01, 2006

    Me and the Bees (2000) – The Softies

    (Part Two of the Gorgeousness and Gloom tetralogy)

    Twee-pop icon Rose Melberg and fellow indie pop cohort Jen Sbragia susurrate in sotto voce with the dejection of girls sent to their room. A piano pensively picks out notes while a guitar gently strums crestfallenly, as the girls mope in forsaken aimlessness, given to the caprice of nature (“Now it’s just me / and the bees / in a cyclone of fallen leaves”), as love lost blows away in diaphanous traces, blue with heartache and longing.

  • Listen to "Me and the Bees" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Someplace (But Not This Place) (Window Gardens Remix) (2001) – Brittle Stars

    (Part Three of the Gorgeousness and Gloom tetralogy)

    Despite her hints that she’s close to calling off the relationship, she’s still not taken seriously. So vocalist Estelle sighs wearily about being patronized: “But you said ‘Sleep on this’ / That’s what my dad would say.” She knows the nagging discomfiture portends unhappiness. While the original version lulls in its simply stated sedateness, the Window Gardens Remix restores the lush elegance implicit in the original by adding astral synthesized strings and chiming guitar, pushing the band further back in the mix, and increasing the reverb while clarifying the vocals—treatments that enhance the disconsolate beauty of an inevitable adieu.

  • Listen to "Someplace (But Not This Place)(Window Gardens Remix)" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Out Walking (2003) – Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham

    (Part Four of the Gorgeousness and Gloom tetralogy)

    Yes, she provided the singing voice of Jem, served as singer for Belltower, co-starred with Julia Roberts and Justine Bateman in Satisfaction, and became Luna’s foxiest bassist. But, whatever Britta Phillips did up until the day she recorded “Out Walking” pales in comparison. For, on that day, she approached ne plus ultra.

    Phillips’ sensual, aching purr drifts in a narcotic aura of disorienting beauty, wafting in slow oscillatory gradations between melodic zeniths and nadirs with the cigarette-distressed beguilement of a femme fatale. She describes a couple’s weary apathy—his rote, her remove. On occasion, however, their romance sporadically awakens in sparks of rejuvenation, as when an old song brings those feelings flooding back.

    Spectral reverb and toasty compression envelope Phillips’ breathy emissions that wash over a substratum of Mellotron string drones, roundwound bass string heft (both courtesy of famed David Bowie producer Toni Visconti), and pendulating drum lethargy. Fellow Luna bandmate/leader Dean Wareham loiters off to the side, sparingly dispensing subtle thrums of guitar. Gliding on a draft of Mellotron flute, tintinnabulating sleighbells, and morsels of vibraphone, the instrumental break captures the enchanting otherworldliness of a winter evening in Reykjavík. Britta winds up by recalling her quondam life as the person she was referring to, at one point finessing the word “from” with such absolutely gorgeous expressiveness that it triggers shivers of synaptic bliss, suffusing the being with holistic euphoria.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Communication (2004) – The Cardigans

    (Epilogue to the Gorgeousness and Gloom tetralogy)

    Despite its odd and enigmatic ambiguity, “Communication” is Nina Persson’s moment of pure vocal perfection wherein she radiates the quintessence of beauty. It unfurls slowly like a country ballad playing on the jukebox of a lonely roadhouse in the purlieus of Twin Peaks. Its warm tube compression and lush reverb cradle Persson’s silken, slightly smoky voice that lingers on notes, caressing each measure with pathos (including a heart-rending, tear-welling massaging of “eye” in the second verse). 

    Portraying a woman who has searched unsuccessfully for intimacy, she finally discovers a promising soul mate. The details of their circumstance slowly begin to unfold: soon after they met, she discovered their shared heroin addiction; unbeknownst to him, she fell in love—unrequited—but at least in those moments when they were shooting-up together, they were simpatico. However, she died from an overdose. She lives on in his memories, but the presence he sometimes feels is, in fact, her supernatural attempts to let him know she is there. From her heavenly vantage point, she still believes he’ll one day realize how she felt about him, and maybe he’ll reciprocate, at least metaphysically. But, to her dismay, as difficult as conveying her feelings to him seemed in life, they are nearly impossible in the hereafter, given his unwillingness to hold a séance or consult a Ouija board. So desperate has she become, that she tries to beckon him by planting suicidal thoughts as he sleeps. All she can do is wait for death, whenever that may occur (an overdose, perhaps?), to reunite them. Such futility exacerbates the frustration of a soul who, even without corporeal existence, craves elusive companionship.

  • Listen to "Communication" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Friday, June 30, 2006

    I Never Said Goodbye (1972) – Engelbert Humperdinck

    Death, despondency and regret seem to be a recurring theme here at Sonic Lager, perhaps because such pain illuminates what is important in life. Engelbert Humperdinck further heightens that awareness in this sorrowful tale. He and his wife had fought the day before, she fled upset, crashed her car, and died before he could reach her hospital bedside. Now he is haunted by phantoms and the vestiges she left behind (perfume, shoes, unmade bed, shopping list, apron)—traces that serve as reminders of how inconsequential their quarrel was in the grand scheme of things. He rues the opportunity he squandered, a chance to say what would become a final farewell to her when, instead, they parted in anger. Now, the remorse will torment him until, perchance, he is finally given an opportunity to reconcile with her in death.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Exhume To Consume (1989) - Carcass

    In a genre that, for all practical purposes, knows no dynamics and little differentiation, “Exhume To Consume” is grindcore at its finest . . . isn’t it? Quite frankly, it’s impossible to discern the unintelligible demon-dog snarls buried beneath the clamorous din, so one must take Carcass’ word that the lyrics reflect such high-minded rhetoric as: “I devour the pediculous corpse / Whetting my palate as I exhume / The festering stench of rotting flesh / makes me drool as I consume.” “Exhume” amuses like a soundtrack straight out of an Evil Dead 2 scene, with Ash as honorary guest at a deadites’ feast of putrefaction. Despite its morbid obsession, this is actually well-crafted poetry, paired with the tumultuous fury of . . . umm . . . Darth Vader raping the reanimated corpse of a wildebeest? One can only imagine Carcass smirking in the smugness of their wink-wink, nudge-nudge tongue-in-cheek jocularity. Like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead chronicles, “Exhume To Consume” is over-the-top theatrical comedy that entertains as macabre burlesque.

  • Listen to "Exhume To Consume" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Thursday, June 29, 2006

    You Got It All (1986) – The Jets (Rupert Holmes)

    This tale of love upgraded though a replacement beau navigates a chord progression that sails through profound key changes, arousing emotions with the caprice of puberty. Harking back to the days of Sadie Hawkins dances, auditorium assemblies, and slam books, “You Got It All” roams the campus quad at lunchtime to explore the possibilities of recess romance. With its surprisingly breathtaking melody tenderly conveyed by Elizabeth Wolfgramm, the song is an emotional coup by songwriter Rupert Holmes—he of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” fame—that deserves to be enshrined in any iPod repository of slow jamz.

  • Listen to "You Got It All" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Land’s End (1986) – Siouxsie & The Banshees

    (Part Three of the Mine Ears Have Heard The Glory of the Banging of the Drum tetralogy)

    “Land’s End” is all about Budgie dexterously spraying a ritualistic jungle-drum pattern of throbbing kick drum double-thumps, one-handed snare strokes, jittery hi-hat pedal stomps in accented sibilance, and open hat strikes on the “three-and,” while throwing floor-tom double-flams and a rack-tom hit on the “two-ee” off-beat in successive combination during the verse. Really, Siouxsie Sioux’s singing, and Steve Severin’s and John Valentine Curruthers’ playing, become secondary. Although Siouxsie seductively coaxes out a suicide pact, and Severin and Curruthers billow out an aqueous sea swell of bass and guitar, it’s impossible not to become mesmerized by the mind-boggling drum pattern that catapulted Budgie into the inner circle of drumming wizardry.

  • Listen to "Land's End" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "You're Lost Little Girl" (1987) – Siouxsie & The Banshees
  • That’s The Way Of The World (1975) – Earth, Wind & Fire

    “That’s The Way Of The World” is a musician’s elysium where euphoric strains waft across golden fields lambent with the lustrous convergence of harmonic elements: Larry Dunn gently lays down twinkles of Fender Rhodes electric piano over a heartbeat of drums; a duo of trombones puff out clouds of muffled brass sprinkling droplets of glockenspiel; Al McKay’s guitar gently massages out a syncopated rhythm; strings glide in airiness. In exalting spiritual transcendence over the mundane, Philip Bailey’s falsetto lends a lofty altitude, while Maurice White’s soulful drawl digs deep into the nitty-gritty. Verdine White’s bassline springs in elasticity as a fulcrum, scaling and shuffling in steps that traverse the ambit of the chord, constantly seeking resolution over surprising and stirring chord progressions. That he co-wrote this song is evident in the line’s momentum that injects a little funk into an otherwise placid ballad, perambulating in one of the most expressive performances ever recorded. Johnny Graham metes out an elliptical solo played on a brand new Stratocaster which forced him to be more restrained than usual, building tension by spacing, sustaining and bending his notes with such finesse so as to elicit facial contortions of gratification. In its calming diffusion, “That’s The Way Of The World” elevates the listener to the upper reaches of enlightenment where a reinvigorating sojourn awaits.

  • Listen to "That's The Way Of The World" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • We’re On Drugs (2005) – Pitty Sing

    As a polished production with cinematic scope and gestures of grandeur, “We’re On Drugs” arrives fashionably late as the track that was left off of 1986’s Pretty In Pink soundtrack. Instead of merely emulating a genre from the past, however, Pitty Sing transcend the recent eighties post-punk/alternawave revival by eschewing superficial similarities and blatant derivative references. Instead, they channel the essence and sensibilities of that era—the earnest expressions of adoration—unashamed to gush sentimental. Singer Paul Holmes’ vocal similarity to Jim Kerr, the synchronous Yamaha DX7 keyboard tings/“da da da da da da da da”s, and the sweeping string arrangements recall Simple Minds’ “Alive and Kicking.” Andrew Puricelli’s fluctuating bassline refuses to sit still, wandering around the chord in the ambulant style of The Smiths’ Andy Rourke. Whether it’s the bold obstruent and sonorant respirations Holmes suspires, or the narcotic drawl with which he oozes his brand of romanticism, “Drugs” sedates as it misleads. So as to be distinguished from mere ‘80s re-treads, what began as fond enchantment digresses with a demented twist: “And then it comes / when it feels like we’re in love / and they’ve covered us in blood / just remember we’re on drugs.”

  • Listen to "We're On Drugs" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Looking For The Perfect Beat (1983) – Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force

    In 1982-83, Afrika Bambaataa, The Soul Sonic Force, Arthur Baker and John Robie stood near the pinnacle of artistic achievement. If “Planet Rock” was the paradigm by which they had set the standard for the future of hip-hop, “Looking For The Perfect Beat” was their masterpiece—a paragon built upon the desideratum of beat innovation. Its taut kick drum raps patterns in rolling succession, introducing distinct passages throughout with different permutations of the perfect beat theorem, as well as alterations in the variables of timbre, tension, tone, reverb, stereo placement and stuttering panning. Whereas The Soul Sonic Force emceed “Planet Rock” to acclaim with their party-inciting persiflage, “Perfect Beat” dazzles due to its intricate yet propulsive beats, galvanic programming and dynamic arrangement. Here, The Force promote the concoction like traveling medicine show charlatans peddling their aural elixir: “It’s working!” Unlike with most sales puffery, however, believe the ballyhoo.

    To substantiate the bold claims, a dizzying spiral of concatenated plinking skitters upward in carbonated effervescence on rungs of programmed handclaps; snares resound in explosive thwacks, and then tight, crisp cracks; synthesizers stab with succulent pink noise warmth, spring in nimble staccato dabs, drop burrowing clusters of bass; ersatz scratching zips about in synthetic sterility; cyborgian syllabic gurgles orbit in the sonicsphere; clinking metallic hi-hats pitter, programmed percussion patters, electro-rototoms fulminate. In the nucleus of this synergy, The Force issues a “BEAT THIS!” drumline challenge before Baker and Robie throw down their neoteric marching cadence that continues to resonate in the Bonus Beats II and Instrumental version, which are more than mere appendages: rather than rehash the track sans vocals, they recast the quest, bringing into focus the nuances of this crusade. The former features the skeletal percussive elements upon which the proposition was developed (including a brief nod to “Planet Rock”), while the latter celebrates the achievement by reconfiguring its components, culminating in a panoply of recognizable world anthems that collapse to the sounds of nuclear warfare (about which Bambaataa would later rant alongside John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon in 1984’s “World Destruction”). Shortly, the coalition will reconvene to reinvent the elusive ideal that drives them to “keep looking, searching, seeking, finding. . . .” As “Perfect Beat” attests, the reward is in the going.

  • Listen to "Looking For The Perfect Beat" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "Planet Rock" (1982) – Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force.
  • Saturday, June 24, 2006

    One (1988) – Metallica

    As depicted in the music video which included clips from a 1971 film, Johnny Got His Gun, “One” voices the suffering of a life-form that barely exists as a casualty of war: blind, deaf, mute—a stump of flesh with no limbs who sports a Chinese take-out box-like device to cover his nonexistent face. His—its—sensorial reality is nothingness. There is a black void, an interminable solitude, a spiritual abyss until he dies, perhaps many years from now. Although he wishes to suffocate himself, even respiration is beyond his control as a life support machine and feeding tubes inflict their daily sentence of torture upon him. In this hell, nothing or no one on earth can ever matter to him again. Why did he survive the landmine explosion? Why didn’t they have mercy on him when they found him severely mutilated in the fields? And, in sustaining his life, why do they continue to torment this piece of meat that lies before them, which can serve no purpose other than to rot slowly into a willing corpse?

    James Hetfield bewails and snarls anguished grievances. Pure electric and acoustic guitars interweave their lament for this wretched mass by commemorating his former vivacity in their animated articulations and classical trills. Lars Ulrich’s kick drum is mic’d to capture the distinct sound of the beater striking the head like an erratic heartbeat, while his snare snaps like shots ringing out over a battlefield. The periodic spates of Mesa-Boogie amp bombination soon rupture in a deluge of distortion, midrange scooped down to the Ninth Circle of Hell. Oddly, phase cancellation nullifies Jason Newsted’s bass, rendering it a phantom limb throbbing subliminal impulses. Hetfield’s and Kirk Hammett’s guitars gnash in crunching, chugging, searing rhythm. Ulrich’s double bass pedal rolls mimic the convulsive guitar riffing with machine gun rapidity. Hammett’s frenetic solo and volant fretboard runs careen frantically as the band thrashes toward an abrupt euthanasic termination.

  • Listen to "One" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Friday, June 23, 2006

    Love At First Sight (2001) – Kylie Minogue

    Kylie Minogue’s voice may sound like she took a hit of helium, but it’s the listener who is left lightheaded in the gyroscopic swirl of “Love At First Sight” that flaunts frisky disco flamboyance and drastic EQ tweaking with unabashed verve like Studio 54 never closed its doors. Having discovered a musical cure for her malaise, Kylie is tingling with gratitude as she falls in love with the DJ who banished her doldrums with his savvy selections. All those weekends spent locked up in his room spinning vinyl are finally paying off.

  • Listen to "Love At First Sight" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    Alone Again (Naturally) (1972) – Gilbert O’Sullivan

    The saddest song ever written reads like a suicide note. Its chipper arrangement sardonically belies the song’s utter despair, a subterfuge furthered by Gilbert O’Sullivan’s voice that resembles Paul McCartney’s, except filled with such despondency had it been McCartney, not Pete Best, who was kicked out of The Beatles in 1962.

    Having been left standing at the altar on his wedding day, O’Sullivan adds God to the growing list of those who have abandoned him, and matter-of-factly states his intention to, one day soon, jump from a tower as a “treat” to himself. At one time, he accepted sorrow as a part of life’s inevitable circumstances: when his father died, he witnessed his mother’s inconsolable grief. Yet, by the time she herself died, O’Sullivan hadn’t experienced any joy to offset his continual suffering. There was always only that damnable, overwhelming loneliness.

  • Listen to "Alone Again (Naturally)" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Somethin’ Stupid (1967) – Nancy and Frank Sinatra

    The Chairman of the Board and the daughter who followed in his footsteps weave the self-reproach of an awkward tag-along who is prone to artless utterances in an all too familiar story of one emotionally invested in a friendship in disproportion to his female counterpart. He knows he’s second fiddle, knows he’s expendable. While she’s jaded to the slick sweet talk that flies her way, he hangs around in the hope that she’ll open her eyes to his sincere devotion. So, he bides his time. Yet, despite his rehearsed overtures, he loses his composure in the heat of the moment, blurting out amorous confessions. In holding down the harmony, Nancy lingers on the same note for as long as two measures at a time, allowing her father to carry the fetching melody that rises and falls over a Tex-Mex serenade embellished with swelling legato strings, pizzicato plucks, and a smattering of French horns. Although our sorry protagonist may have botched an opportunity with ineptness, he does so with enough pitiable charm to carry a John Hughes film.

  • Listen to "Somethin' Stupid" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    Sister Ann (1993) – Aztec Camera

    1983’s High Land, Hard Rain is regarded as Aztec Camera’s best album; unfortunately for singer/songwriter Roddy Frame, each successive Aztec Camera release has failed to meet the standard set by that debut. However, while 1993’s Dreamland certainly can be criticized for its lush production, it is actually a virtue. For, with the aid of studio enhancements, Frame’s voice comforts as it resonates richly within a pristinely-recorded diorama of deliberate guitar, round bass, mollifying female vocal supplements, willowy keyboards, Hammond organ, pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, blue diamonds, green clovers and crisp drums.

    “Sister Ann” portrays the thoughts of an adult survivor of child abuse who still struggles to overcome the scars that remain. He is learning how to heal the psychological wounds inflicted upon him as a child, and ameliorate the pain, through forgiveness, which allows him to see through the hostility he once feared in an abusive parent. However, he still shies away from intimacy, still feels unworthy of being loved. He finds encouragement in the words of a sagacious friend, Sister Ann, who advises him to heal at his own pace so that his recovery is absolute. [According to, Sister Ann Adams, a friend of Frame’s, wrote a book to help those who were abused as children.]

    Frame’s honeyed voice soars in a sonorous blend of blue-eyed soulfulness and compassionate grace, winging inspired notes over anodyne chord transitions that soothe the psyche, purging shame from consciousness as a spirit once shattered is restored to a state of wholeness.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sunday, June 18, 2006

    Stay Gold (1983) – Stevie Wonder

    The closing theme of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, “Stay Gold” elaborates upon the heart of Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” as the poem reveals its palpable beauty to Ponyboy. Stevie Wonder bids us to recollect days of yore when wide-eyed wonderment still colored one’s worldview. There was a time when each day was without worry or strife, when life’s vicissitudes had yet to taint our starry-eyed naiveté and dictate our paths. Regardless of one’s station in life, those salad days of purity are as precious as gold, for they can never be recaptured once the world pierces its barbed talons into your tender flesh and thrashes you around like so many grunion who will, unbeknownst to them, meet their demise as they spawn in the sand.

    Stevie’s trademark harmonica enriches this, one of the few songs (along with “Overjoyed” and “My Cherie Amour”) where Wonder’s soulful voice is paired with a devastatingly beautiful melody, set to a gilded mesh of acoustic guitar, electric and grand piano, bass, strings and clarinet (orchestrated by Francis’ father, Carmine).

    “Stay Gold” places into perspective the province of time—the ineluctable thief, stealing that which cannot be recompensed: innocence and youth. Yet, once given the precious gifts of life’s experiences, preserved as memories, we can open and revisit them to recall disremembered riches.

  • Listen to "Stay Gold" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (2005) – Sufjan Stevens

    Like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Stevens’ portrait of the serial killer who dressed up as a clown, tortured/sodomized/murdered 33 boys/young men, and buried most of them under his floorboards, effectuates a slow psychological rape with lingering aftereffects that procure retroactive consent. As with all great art, “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” elicits a profound visceral reaction—in this case, disgust and horror, yet with a perverse fascination. In stepping into the mind of a psychopath, Stevens dares to explore the details of a topic so inherently repulsive that it stuns the listener captive. Over a stark arrangement of fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a modicum of piano, his (and background vocalist Shara Worden’s) gentle whimpers become those of Gacy’s victims. Unfortunately, the final stanza’s attempt to metaphorically justify the song—drawing a parallel between Gacy and Stevens—derogates from its overall effect, is unnecessary, and is in fact a lyrical blunder he’ll regret one day, if not already. That notwithstanding, the power of this song is its ability to find a strange beauty in such heinous subject matter, illustrating why Stevens is regarded as one of the most gifted songwriters of our time.

  • Listen to "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "Casimir Pulaski Day" (2005) – Sufjan Stevens
  • Slipped Away (2004) - Avril Lavigne

    Co-writer of Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway,” and slagger of her teenage peers, on occasion Avril Lavigne actually delivers on her own behalf. Despite the virtual absence of vibrato in her voice that seems juvenile at times, Lavigne draws sympathy out of hardened hearts as she mourns her grandfather’s passing. Although there’s not much in the way of lyrical craft here, she can’t be faulted for her heartfelt tribute, and, to her credit, she avoids overwrought contrivances designed to wring cheap tears. For anyone who has lost a loved one, “Slipped Away” reunites them in remembrance.

  • Listen to "Slipped Away" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sexy Pee Story (1993) - Cows

    The introductory boisterous brouhaha of “Sexy Pee Story” is a jumble of obnoxious feedback, atonal squeals, somersaulting drums and rollicking bass, protracted to the point that, when the song proper finally kicks in after more than 2 minutes, the sleazy roister that follows is a welcome change of pace. It plays like a Midwest Leopard Lodge convention where Howard Cunningham shirks his duties as Grand Poobah, chucking his fez to indulge a urine fetish in his hotel room upstairs. Frontman Shannon Selberg spews out rasping barks, perfunctory intonations and cauterized shrieks, while the band slathers a grinding two-note riff that churns in folds of distortion and lumbering drums before joining Mr. C for a tawdry weekend of beer, bowling and golden showers.

  • Listen to "Sexy Pee Story" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Suds In The Bucket (2003) - Sara Evans

    With her slightly twangy, yet warm and appealing, voice, Sara Evans recounts the tale of a small-town girl who runs away with her boyfriend, leaving impetuously in mid-chore. “Suds” incorporates all of the elements of a country music soap opera: the toll on her parents, the scuttlebutt, the community’s judgment, and the shotgun wedding. With its honky-tonk hokiness, “Suds” glosses over the repercussion of a deed that can tear a family apart, advising those left behind to resign themselves to the notion that this was inevitable.

    When Kellie Pickler sang this on American Idol Season 5, Simon Cowell made no bones about his bias against country music and complete unwillingness to listen to it with an open mind, instead attacking the song’s title. Had he at least given it a fair shake, he would have realized that “Suds” reinterprets The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” for the red states. True, whether or not that’s a good thing may depend on how many shots of Jack ya’ll had.

  • Listen to "Suds In The Bucket" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • If I Die 2Nite (1996) – 2Pac (Tupac Amaru Shakur)

    In Sonic Lager’s estimation, while Eminem is rap’s wittiest artist, the late(?) 2Pac stands as its most heartfelt. His flow captivates with its clipped staccato, percussive plosives, swaggering inflection, invigorating alliteration, and metric variation whereby he pushes lines to the limits of their respective measures, sometimes extending them across bars. Likewise, his lyrical content conveys fanciful imagery while loosely observing, and taking liberties with, the rules of rhyme. “If I Die 2Nite” uncannily foretells Tupac’s fate, given that he died(?) at age 25 after being fatally wounded in a car-to-car shooting in Las Vegas. His lyrical preoccupation with premature death became a self-fulfilling prophecy, but one that, at times, he seemed almost willing to see come into fruition. While his slaying only intensified his legendary status, as his choice albums Me Against The World and All Eyez On Me exemplify, his contributions to the rap world had already secured his immortality.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also A Thugz Mansion In Heaven's Ghetto.
  • Saturday, June 17, 2006

    Lovecats (2005) - Paul Anka (Robert Smith)

    There’s no dearth of pshaws, smirks and sniggers when mention is made of Rock Swings, Mr. Anka’s cover album of ‘80s and ‘90s hits. And, on paper, it seems as though said album is primed to outright embarrass this old-timer into self-inflicted irrelevance save for standards re-treads (something Rod Stewart has recognized and seen fit to exploit to generous commercial advantage). Yet, Anka’s renditions are surprisingly credible. Sure, there are moments when one realizes the ludicrous incongruity of listening to someone who had hits with such sensitive-guy fluff as “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” and “Puppy Love” belting out “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Eye of the Tiger” to a big band swing. Yet, those moments rarely surface and never stultify. Indeed, this tin-pan alley frolic by The Cure is unapologetically frivolous to begin with. In choosing to cover this song, Anka was either daft or cunning and, in either case, intrepid. Arranger Randy Kerber’s adaptation from the jazz-boogie shuffle of the original to balmy dinner-music sashay is unimpeachable, transcending the original’s campiness to radiate a dignified elegance. Anka isn’t self-conscious about the silly lyrics, either. Instead, he wears them like a mink coat, displaying them with a suave croon that exudes seduction. There hasn’t been a convergence of aged and alternative this chic since Tom Jones and The Art Of Noise teamed up in 1988 to cover Prince’s “Kiss” to similar effect.

  • Listen to "Lovecats" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • The Holy River (1996) – Prince

    Prince’s body of work has always reflected a constant struggle between prurience and piety. “The Holy River” attempts to resolve his Madonna-whore complex, deploring a void in life, self-loathing, and promiscuity, before a moment of religious revelation. Despite the second person narrative, Prince eventually reveals that this is a testimonial: a renunciation of a former life, culminating in matrimonial commitment. Inspired by his spiritual awakening and cleansing, he rips into a jubilant guitar solo that celebrates his redemption, a baptism in the Holy River.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Lost and Found (1987) – Echo and The Bunnymen

    For the better part of the Bunnymen’s career, Ian McCulloch’s lyrics were often abstruse and obfuscated. However, there were moments when he mined the emotional mother lode, striking upon glimmers of undisguised sensitivity. “Lost and Found” finds McCulloch in a cemetery, lost in contemplation, seeking counsel from the spirits of the dead. For it is only when surrounded by death that he feels life extolling its virtues. It’s not until the fourth verse that he substantiates his brooding: the girl is inscrutable, and her disinterest makes her all the more desireable. Unrequited love goes a long way toward justifying gloom. Although his bandmates have found more to do in prior outings, resigning themselves here to background duties, they do so with unassuming gracefulness, cloaking McCulloch in harmonic textures with the promise of hope in the mire of his despondency. Having found the fortitude he seeks, McCulloch communes with ghosts; the chilling wind that howls through the graveyard revives his soul, reaffirming with piercing acuteness that he is indeed alive.

  • Listen to "Lost and Found" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    Surfboard (1967) – Esquivel (Antônio Carlos Jobim)

    Arguably, the 1994 Bar None release of Space Age Bachelor Pad Music, which compiled sundry Juan García Esquivel selections, was single-handedly responsible for the mid-century modern revival of the mid-1990s. Its quirky ebullience opened the door for a new generation to lounge in the futuristic atmosphere that the modernists crafted in their architecture, their furniture, their fashion, their cocktails, their music. Capturing this aesthetic, Esquivel’s adaptation of this zippy Antônio Carlos Jobim instrumental is an ambrosial mixture of Star Trek otherworldliness and downtown department store shopping excursion whimsy. Esquivel imbues intrigue, caprice and zest into the exoticism inherent in Jobim’s compositions. “Surfboard” washes ashore on a swell of cymbal and trumpet exclamations, receding to staccato driblets of casino organ, syncopated pecks of wood block, and isochronal dabs of double bass that samba in simpatico rapport. Throughout, celestial female vocables “oohoohoohoohooooh” in astral etherealness, beedoopbeedahbeedoopbeedaah” fancifully, and “bopbopbopbopbopbopbopbop” with gusto. A hollow-body guitar sneaks furtively through the atrium of an Eichler to partake of splendid vistas through the ceiling-high glass panes of an Eames-adorned living room. At times, Esquivel’s arrangement blends its elements so well, audio mirages insinuate themselves: Is that a duo of women shrieking along with the trumpets in the introduction? Is there whistling along with the organ in the second verse? Such indistinctness enhances the vagaries. In embracing the leisurely modus vivendi of space age bachelors, “Surfboard” serves up a sonic slice of suburban utopia for an artifical atomic age.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Monday, June 12, 2006

    Oven (1989) – Melvins

    In navigating lurches and lulls that defy symmetrical patterns, any band, especially its drummer, can have oodles of fun perfecting a tight rendition of this song. With its disregard of conventional song structure, “Oven” attempts to jumpstart the old pickup truck languishing in the front yard for a foray into town to engage in some tomfoolery. Like an ignition straining to turn over, Dale Crover’s drums detonate spasmodically—an engine stalling, then starting up again, only to die once more—fueled by oleaginous doom metal riffs that churn in combustion, courtesy of guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne and bassist Lori Black, as Osborne wails nonsensically in furtherance of the whimsical caper. Coming to an abrupt halt after a minute-and-a-half, the vehicle conks out, unable to extricate itself from the sonic sludge.

  • Listen to "Oven" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • One Day In Your Life (1975) – Michael Jackson (Renee Armand/Sam Brown)

    Dig down deep inside and you might be able to overlook his recent history as Wacko Jacko and the Smooth Criminal to a time when young Michael Jackson actually exuded innocence. Recording this Renee Armand/Sam Brown composition at 16 years old, Jackson’s fragile alto bleeds as tender a moment as one can have without outright collapsing into melodrama. Lachrymose in its content, maudlin in its expression, “One Day In Your Life” pulls no punches, aiming straight for the emotional Achilles heel with a progression of dominant and augmented chords so exquisitely arranged that they perform open heart surgery without anesthetic: it hurts, but deliciously so. Although laden with the pomp of Academy Award segue music, the arrangement intensifies the song’s poignant wistfulness. Jackson seeks to recapture erstwhile bliss by reuniting in memory. Resigned to the probability that he has forever lost someone who left him long ago, he holds on to the belief that the emptiness in her life will bring her back (yes, we’ll assume it’s a female, and not Emmanuel Lewis or Macaulay Culkin). The palliatives with which he neutralizes the bitter sting of rejection are syrupy, to be sure, yet efficaciously so.

    As people pass in and out of our lives, a select few leave an indelible impression; if we are lucky enough, we reciprocate as best we can. Our paths may diverge, and the awareness that each moment of delight irreversibly fades away stifles the heart like a vise. Yet, the hope that we can entreat fate to reconsider its course heartens us to continue on.

  • Listen to "One Day In Your Life" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sunday, June 11, 2006

    The Angel In The House (1993) – The Story

    The insidious notions of a woman’s place in society were subtly ingrained in Jonatha Brooke through her mother’s acquiescence to the concept that a woman/wife was expected to, above all, please and serve her husband. The “Angel In The House” is the ideal woman applauded in a poem by Coventry Patmore. The endeavor to “kill” the Angel, in turn, derives from Virginia Woolf’s struggle to overcome the cultural and self-imposed repression which women writers of her day faced in revealing the feminine essence of their being. Woolf undertook to slay the Angel with the lethal swath of uninhibited expression.

    Brooke recounts with fragile melancholy, reveries of shame and chagrin that linger amidst pensive arpeggios of piano and acoustic guitar, and sighs of weeping cello. In deference to Brooke’s abreaction, Jennifer Kimball lends only a modicum of shadowy harmonies. Growing up, Brooke saw the Angel exemplified in her mother, who accepted her place in the home with resignation. The only way she knew how to change her circumstances and exert control over her life was by influencing her surroundings; taking up paltry pastimes; remaining attractive. Brooke suspects that her mother quelled her desires, but on occasion, would succumb in sporadic re-awakenings. But indenturing herself to a man meant she was tethered to his ambitions; she never bettered her lot in life, never achieved the upward social mobility she secretly coveted. Finally, in no longer placing ahead of herself the husband to whom she had devoted most of her life, she suffered the fate of which the Angel warned—abandonment. Administered with the anodyne of a stunning chord transition, Jonatha is dismayed at how interminable the Angel’s influence proved to be, disappointed that she cannot overcome its artifice in her own life: “I thought I was by myself . . . Even in my wildest heart, I cannot kill The Angel In The House.” She realizes that her mother, channeling the voice of the Angel, passed these values on to her daughters. In trying to maintain the status quo by placating their men, the women in Brooke’s family negated the progress for which feminists such as Woolf had fought; they are once again left to start from scratch, once again vulnerable to the precarious possibility that their lives could tumble into disarray: “We’re back to the wheel, back to fire / onto the high wire.”

  • Listen to "The Angel In The House" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Death Of An Interior Decorator (2003) – Death Cab For Cutie

    Like The Story’s “The Angel In The House,” “Death Of An Interior Decorator,” rues the regrettable fate of a woman who accepts her traditional role as mother and domesticated wife at the expense of her own fulfillment. As her daughters left the nest, she lamented the toll her stint as baby-maker took on her beauty and vigor. While her husband pursued his own desires, she tried to improve herself through trivial means. Even the mishaps at her daughter’s wedding are a reflection of her own failure in life—a shattered marriage—and foreshadows her daughters’ destiny to follow in her footsteps. The title’s reference to “death” could be literal or figurative: as she wades into the ocean, the turmoil of the waves crashing upon her “felt just like falling in love again.” She drowns either in the grip of a riptide that pulls her under, or in the despair of her own self-pity. Either way, in empathizing with his protagonist, Ben Gibbard answers his own inquiry: “Can you tell me why you have been so sad?”

  • Listen to "Death Of An Interior Decorator" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios (1981) – Adam and The Ants

    A successful entertainer may live a privileged life, but perhaps also a compromised one. Armed with an agenda of animadversion, Adam Ant née Stuart Goddard bemoans the epidemic of high art capitulating to crass commercialism—the artist who sells out in order to achieve fame and fortune at the expense of integrity. Although he disparages Pablo Picasso, the renowned Spanish painter, Adam targets the perils of the lucrative music industry in which he views the goal of popularity as a vacuous pursuit, and obscurity as a virtue. Adam spews invective toward parasitic executives who deal in exploitation, and the artist who compromises his vision to sell his product, a blanched commodity. Scruples have become obsolete, and society has lost the capacity to discern the divine from the dross—the angels recline in idle stagnation for want of being called upon, or perhaps they have been derelict in their duties as guardians of all that is good and right. Adam likens the moral decay inherent in pandering to an unsophisticated audience to be as vulgar as “watch[ing] Picasso visit The Planet of The Apes”—a civilization where primitive humans are incapable of appreciating Picasso’s genius, such that it is effectively rendered null.

  • Listen to "Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • 17 Berlin (1999) – My Favorite

    Amid a brash effluence of distortion, an advancing crowd marches in pandemonium to topple the Berlin wall. In a city with a history of disunion, every day is filled with toil; every evening, replete with possibilities. Songwriter extraordinaire Michael Grace bestowed upon “17 Berlin” perhaps the most economical stanza in musical history, pithily encompassing the zeitgeist of youth in three sentences: “My boyfriend’s in the stairwell. He looks just like James Dean. And nothing else matters when you’re seventeen.” Grace frames life through the perspective of a cineaste, ascribing epic drama to the mundane, infusing momentous overtones even in negative implications: “And the world won’t end tonight on a black highway lit by neon lights.” He champions the plight of privileged adolescents and blue-collar misfits alike—existences infused with ennui, all seeking deliverance from their situational torpor.

    The rhythmic brunt of “17 Berlin” falls upon drummer Todbot, who sends the lot skipping along to skittering palpitations. Meanwhile, bassist Gilbert Abad sounds intervals in measured tolls to anchor the meter upon which guitarist/co-songwriter Darren Amadio lays blankets of ringing sustain in the verse and writhing constellations in the chorus that pay homage to The Sundays’ David Gavurin. Together, they fashion a sprawling panorama of pococurantism. Grace’s presence on his chef-d’oeuvre is modest; he sprinkles occasional drops of piano and background vocals, an artist-as-curator content to supervise his creation from afar, stepping in only to touch up and embellish. Vocalist Andrea Vaughn’s voice is nonpareil, radiating in empyrean resonance to pierce through the iron curtain of boredom and apathy. Grace’s aphorism is revisited once more en route to oblivion: “My boyfriend’s in the driver’s seat. He drives just like James Dean. And nothing else matters when you’re seventeen.” The blithe conceit of youth, summed up so succinctly.

  • Listen to "17 Berlin" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "You Belong With Us" (1999) – My Favorite
  • Saturday, June 10, 2006

    Buffalo Gals (1982) – Malcolm McLaren & World’s Famous Supreme Team

    A quirky amalgam of square dance tradition and an emerging hip-hop movement, “Buffalo Gals” introduced scratching and sampling to the mainstream pop culture in 1982, receiving airplay alongside the likes of Hall and Oates and Foreigner (and a loose reference twenty years later in Eminem’s 2002 single “Without Me”). The fingerprints of Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, J.J. Jeczalik and Gary Langan—future collaborators in The Art of Noise—are transparently laid throughout, while the introduction of the ironically-named World’s Famous Supreme Team—a pair of New Jersey radio DJs—bring milk crates of street cred to the shindig. Malcom McLaren, former manager of the Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow—and mastermind behind this enterprise—plays the part of square dance caller in a funky hoedown that intermingles country folkishness with urban edginess. A Fairlight CMI sampler spits out a throbbing gyroscopic beat, sizzling hi-hats and lumbering pachydermatous toms in a wicked brew fraught with curious soundbites and out-of-kilter keyboard bursts, flavored with malt, hops and fidgety turntables that whip, warble, flutter, scratch and stutter. The Supreme Team take a turn at the mic, spotlighted in an R&B break that hints at The Art of Noise’s later battles in the soundscape.

    Finally, the world was given music for buffalo gals and hobos to promenade and do-si-do alongside B-boys bustin’ windmills, 1990’s, flares and headspins. Avant-garde in its eclecticism, “Buffalo Gals” coherently presents its patchwork in a 40 of sonic moonshine.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.