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.”

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  • 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?”

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • Classic Cinnamon Mint (2000) – Sweet Trip

    Embedded on Darla Records’ Darla 100 4-disc retrospective, “Classic Cinnamon Mint” spits out an omnium-gatherum of sample fragments with the randomness of a radio tuner casually scrolling across the spectrum to lock in a stable frequency before finally settling on a techno-ambient groove carried by rhythmic pulses and splats, interrupted throughout by a mélange of audio lagniappes and permutations administered in the lexicon of a video game console.

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  • A Song For You (1972) – The Carpenters

    As one of the few singers who stopped stroking her ego to the sound of her own voice to actually consider how melody and fluidity could effectively convey lyrical meaning, Karen Carpenter displayed unadorned sincerity in this haunting Leon Russell classic which uncannily foreshadowed her premature passing.

    Away from the grand spectacles in front of multitudes, her worldliness does not atone for the shortcomings in her personal life, so she comes clean with pellucidity about her feelings. True, she hasn’t always been the most forthcoming, but if eloquence eludes her, music effectuates a heartfelt disclosure.

    Karen exhibits control over an extended vocal range, from soothing warmth in her lower register to earnest vulnerability in the upper. Equal credit goes to Richard Carpenter for his arrangement: along with the Beach Boys, The Carpenters perfected the multi-tracked choir of harmonies that became their trademark of benign pop for housewives on their supermarket excursions. A monasterial “ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh oooooh” transition ebbs into a frank avowal that this is as much an elegy as it is an encomium. Further bolstering this version’s unimpeachable distinction, a contemplative saxophone solo explores the tranquility of the moment, gradually feeling out a comfort level before shaking off inhibitions to display a little flair.

    As of late, Christina Aguilera has been butchering this song with her histrionics and vocal runs which rob it of its melody and eviscerate its intended emotional impact. Other fine singers have also demonstrated an inability to comprehend—and/or an unwillingness to practice—the art of expression through restrained, subtle vocal flow and dynamics, preferring instead to disregard continuity with their pregnant pauses and hammer the listener in the face with their acrobatic vocal wank-offs. It says here, once and for all, this song should be regurgitated nevermore. [Peter Gallagher, how could you?] The question is, after hearing Karen epitomize its essence, why would you want to listen to others mangle it beyond recognition, sapping it of any sentiment?

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  • Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    The Number Of The Beast (1982) – Iron Maiden

    At the height of Iron Maiden’s popularity, this metal anthem was so polemic because, at first blush, it seems like a spiritually depraved tribute to Satan. At least that’s how it appeared to a 12 year-old who was admonished by the religious community that such hellraisers as Styx, Journey and Rush were satanic. Man, do I miss the days of backmasking witch hunts! On that front, “The Number Of The Beast” is everything heavy metal aspires to be, instilling fear into the hearts and minds of parents, teachers and church leaders quick to judge a book by its cover—or in this case, an album by its depiction of the devil as puppet master of man set against a background of a lake of fire consuming forsaken souls. Go figure.

    Anyhoo. . . . Out of the void, an ominous voice rumbles in dead-on foreboding Vincent Price resonance, reciting a paraphrase of Revelations 12:12 and 13:18 that warns of the devil’s finite rampage on earth. Undeniable eeriness gives way to Marshall stacks unleashing spirited guitar riffing like the Four Horsemen come to herald the Apocalypse. In a soaring tenor tumid with theatrical vibrato, singer Bruce Dickinson assumes the role of a seer coming to terms with his gift of prophecy on the cusp of Armageddon, trying to discern whether his sinister visions are more than just dreams. The ensuing scream that erupts from the bowels of Dickinson’s soul is just awesome, lasting over ten measures, hurling him from his vespertine visions into a living hell.

    Supposedly based in part on bassist Steve Harris’ nightmares after he watched Damien: Omen II, “Number” is really no more demonic than a horror film or T.V. series that pits Mephistopheles’ minions against soldiers of God. Hmmm. Anyone watch Fox’s short-lived Point Pleasant about Satan’s daughter slowly understanding her role as the Antichrist? Had it not been prematurely aborted, it conceivably could have followed this song’s plotline: the mark of the beast has now been embraced by the legion who gather to ritualistically sacrifice in the name of Satan; even those who are antagonistic to the Antichrist will eventually succumb. The distinction between revelation and reality no longer exists.

    Okay, so eventually he actually assumes the voice of Beelzebub himself, but, like any form of entertainment that implicates spiritual warfare, “Number” has the effect of underscoring the weighty question of salvation. It also makes for compelling theatre as well—Lucifer running rampant before his 1000-year imprisonment.

    And, yes, this was posted to coincide with the numerical convergence of 6/6/06.

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  • Saturday, June 03, 2006

    The Long Way Around (2006) – Dixie Chicks

    Following their George W. Bush “bashing” and bickering with Toby Keith, the Dixie Chicks found time to make some spirited music. Spinning the tale of a wayward heart, Natalie Maines condescendingly pities her friends who failed to seek life beyond the borders of their hometowns. She eschews their complacent mindlessness, opting instead for a carefree itinerant lifestyle free of restrictions and devoid of accountability.

    “The Long Way Around” is interspersed with references to the fallout from their 2003 Top of the World Tour—the highest grossing country music tour of all time—during which Maines stated that they were “ashamed” that President Bush was from their home state of Texas, resulting in boycotts and death threats against the group. Additionally, in 2002 Maines criticized Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” as, “ignorant,” to which Keith responded, “I’ll bury her.” Maines in turn wore a “F.U.T.K.” shirt while performing at the 2003 Academy of Country Music Awards. Amusing, eh?

    Rolling along on a chuck wagon of acoustic guitar, banjo, accordion, violin and a chorus of pleasant background vocal harmonies, the Chicks cruise resiliently in the caravan of California country rock (think the Eagles’ “Take It Easy” with less country, more rock). Maines reflects upon the backlash of vocalizing her convictions, yet still places faith in her circuitous detours.

    Even if their music is not your cup o’ tea (or swig of Jack Daniels), you have to respect the Dixie Chicks’ all-American gumption. After all, it’s only Constitutional.

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  • I wear your ring. (1990) – Cocteau Twins

    As the true star of this show, Simon Raymonde’s bass glides in liquid suspension, floating over an ocean of droning synth, a synthetic reef of drum machine, and shallow crests of guitar, sliding from pillar to post with fluidity and impetus in dictating the chordal undertone. Elements augment each other in counterpoint, resolving harmonic tension in prismatic fission and fusion. Elizabeth Fraser’s voice is a species unto itself: rich—at times supernal—with a warm timbre that imbues her vocals with resplendence as it escalades and alights between alto and soprano in seraphic grandeur. The lyrics . . . oh, the lyrics are unimportant, especially since only Fraser knows what she’s singing. They serve their purpose in spurts, though—their intelligibility weaving in and out intermittently due to Fraser’s thick Scottish brogue, euphonic modules allowing glimpses of lucidity between waves of kaleidoscopic beauty.

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  • At Seventeen (1975) – Janis Ian

    In its glorification of self-pity, “At Seventeen” represents songwriting at its best: a sympathetic topic, a melody that broods, well-crafted rhymes, complex sentence structure, profound symbolism and vivid imagery. Ian recalls the desolation of her adolescence, when she deemed herself unattractive, unpopular, unwanted—living vicariously through her pitiable fantasies. Bereft of self-worth, Ian concludes that beauty is the elixir of the teenage elite and the charmed circles of adulthood. She paints the portrait of a girl suffering from self-esteem deficiency who perceived herself to be ugly, unwanted, unloved, reviled. To assuage her bitterness, she regards vapid small-town complacency as comeuppance. Indeed, the former beauty queens do not count the costs of their sheltered lives that beget scarce rewards. As foil to the lyrical hostility, gently plucked acoustic guitar figures lead a samba of bass and percussion, finding respite in a soothing trumpet and trombone duet before resuming the jeremiad.

    As an adult, Ian recognizes that the loneliness and pain she endured at seventeen were creative catalysts that unlocked her imagination and gave her wealth in artistry. All too often, the most brilliant artists owe their profound insight, expression and enlightenment to miserable existences.

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  • Thursday, June 01, 2006

    Far From An Answer (2000) – Papas Fritas

    Attired in the easy lollop of ‘70s soft rock and early ‘80s FM-lite, yet infused with introspection, “Far From An Answer” roams the realm between Fleetwood Mac and The Alan Parsons Project with aching weariness. In issuing a caveat, Shivika Asthana’s unaffected voice distills a guileless sincerity that aims to disenchant the object of her flirtations, who is only setting himself up for utter disappointment. She is emotionally unavailable, unable to offer a commitment of any substance, making a full disclosure in the interests of disclaiming accountability. Yet, like a grifter falling for her mark, she finds herself strangely losing control of her ability to separate pastime from passion. She realizes that the tables have turned—it’s he who will move on, she who will feel a sense of loss.

    Subtly abetted by hints of Fender Rhodes electric piano, feint stabs of organ and traces of dreamy wah-pedal guitar, Asthana’s pleasingly opiate vocals wend over a chord progression evocative of a late-night radio station wind-down, nursing a bottle of cognac beneath dimmed lights, unveiling different layers of emotion with each sip. Bongo drums softly lope off to the side, sprucing up a quasi-disco shuffle anchored by dollops of bass on the downbeat that morph into slippery bobbing and an R&B stomp. An understated guitar solo bides some time on loan from Bread. Shivika “la la la la la”s in nonchalance, accompanying herself in a call-and-response of warnings heretofore dispensed to others that are now hers to heed. What began as diversion has devolved into desire. Her newfound quandary leaves her stranded, with an answer anything but clear.

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