Song of the Days
Henceforth, we here at the Disclaimer Music Review Archive will be recommending a different song everyday on our home page. (Or, more likely, every couple days because we're lazy.) Basically, we hope this new feature will give you all something new to download and check out on a daily basis. For those of you who don't have time to read reviews but for some reason still have time to visit the site, this should prove mighty useful. Some of our recommendations will naturally be fairly popular and some of them fairly obscure, because we're probably just going to randomly choose whichever song we happen to be listening to on any given day, but you should be able to find plenty of really cool stuff you haven't heard before. If you have any suggestions for Songs of the Day, e-mail us and we'll download whatever you recommend. If we like it, we'll include it here and credit you with the suggestion. Sound good? Oh, and if you miss a day or two, we'll archive all the Songs of the Day right here, so they're easy to catch up on. Enjoy!
SONGS FROM THE DAYS OF YORE:
9/22/05: Arthur Fields- "Good Morning, Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip!" I first heard this swingin' li'l song when Of Montreal's drummer James Huggins played it before a show, but the original is every bit as cheesily catchy as you might hope. Like "The Bugle Boy of Company B," this tune is sort of a revelie-as-pop (or vice-versa) chesnut that is about as cool as the armed forces ever got. And for those of you who are war entertainment buffs, it's much easier to stomach than those racist Private Snafu cartoons. It's evidently on a compilation called Songs of WWI: From Original Recordings 1914-1926, but you can download it here: http://www.firstworldwar.com/audio/zipzipzip.htm.
9/19/05: The Yummy Fur- "Playboy Japan (1971)" (Thanks to Adam Smith of the Plimptons.) Snobby as it may sound, it's difficult not to begrudge the success of formulaic "new garage" bands like Jet and Cloud Room- bands who strain so much to get every detail of their songs and posture correctly "cool"- when there are bands like The Yummy Fur who make genuinely, effortlessly cool, no-frills rock songs like this. Without being in any hurry to get anywhere, "Playboy Japan" exhibits as nifty a mastery of rock dynamics as anyone since the Pixies (not in the quiet/loud sense so much as the tension/release sense) and dazzles you with little touches like the vocoder in the chorus and the piano on the outro, lifting what could very easily have been a nondescript, Strokes-style exercise in distorted detachment into a gem that proves that simple rock songs can still be meticulously crafted. From Sexy World.
9/17/05: Erykah Badu- "Tyrone" Fflo writes, "One middle-of-the-night in Baltimore I was watching the Video Jukebox channel, and the video of this performance was being picked by more than 2 out of every 3 people calling in at 2 bucks a pop. All night. What I like about the narrative especially is that she starts out just musing and by the end has kicked the guy out of her life- we witness the decision being made in real time. Probably just a fluke of the tossed-off nature of its writing, but I don't care." That's to say nothing of the great kiss-off humor Badu exudes, or the fun backing vocals in what could've been a fairly ordinary track (it's admittedly pretty thinly arranged for a live song). It's the sort of thing VH1 would be unable to describe without the phrases "diva," "go, girl," or "girl power," while you and I can just enjoy Badu's cocked-eyebrow intelligence. From Live.
9/15/05: Mason Jennings: "Adrian" (Thanks to Bev.) Just a simple, acoustic indie-folk song. No Will Oldham-style whispered nightmares, no Red House Painters-style meandering, no Sufjan Stevens-style orchestration. "Adrian" manages to make straightforwardness seem like a novel idea as a result. It's a gentle lullaby from a condemned man to his son before the former is taken to the gallows, and Jennings presents it with a simplicity that invests every word with meaning and beauty that could never be managed with more florid attempts at eloquence. Thoughtful, touching, and pretty. From the very good album Century Spring.
9/14/05: The Hollies- "Stop Stop Stop" SoulCrusher77 writes, "Not to be confused with the more well-known hit 'Bus Stop,' and actually a little bit weirder than you'd think the band responsible for that song would be capable of. Instead of clear Beatles-isms, here they employ an off-kilter Indian snake-charmer-sounding melody, which is only appropriate considering that the narrator of the song gets so mesmerized by a dancing woman in a bar that when she eventually comes near to him he panics, knocks over all the tables and drinks, and is kicked out. While lots of other bands were using pseudo-middle-eastern melodies and/or instrumentation at the time, there's something fascinatingly 'off' (and yet still catchy) about this one, especially when the frantic cymbal-crash-punctuated refrain of 'stop stop stop all the dancing!' comes in, plus the banjo (!) part cleverly mimics a sitar. I could see Camper Van Beethoven doing a good cover of this, although somehow it also strikes me as the kind of thing that would fit right in on The Third Reich And Roll, The Residents' suite of brutally deconstructed 60's hits. From the album For Certain Because, although a good Best Of would probably have it as well."
9/13/05: Third Eye Foundation- "La Dispute" (Thanks to Mark Monastyrski.) This is a remix of a track from Yann Tiersen's score from Amelie (one of the best films of all time). The original is plenty great in its own right, but Third Eye Foundation's remix is so subtly twisted and slowly haunting that it's positively possessed. It's the sound of being trapped in an abandoned carnival, a funhouse mirror reflecting your most recent heartbreak, and the ghost of Nelson Muntz floating around, shouting "Haw haw!" at you. If Edgar Allen Poe had an accordion and a sampler, he would've recorded this. From TEF's I Poo Poo on Your Juju.
9/12/05: Edith Frost- "Wonder Wonder" You will never get this song out of your head once you hear it. Ever. You may go slowly senile, forgetting the names and faces of your loved ones, memories disappearing from your brain until you live in a continually refreshing three-second span of experiences like a goldfish, but you will be cheerfully humming this simple indie-folk tune until the day you die. So it's a darn good thing it's an absolutely perfect composition. Like many of Frost's songs, this one is set to a loping, cloppity tempo that will have you instantly picturing happy cartoon horses trotting along, but it manages to become happier still by incorporating a lead Casio, a bassy pitch pipe, and silverware percussion to back her indelible melody. The song is a winking admission of ambivalence toward a lover, but the entire arrangement is so life-affirming and upbeat that it's hard to feel as though the guy's actually in the doghouse. I wish I'd written this. From, appropriately enough, Wonder Wonder.
9/6/05: Jackson Browne - "Late For the Sky" Amanda Kenyon writes, "I know that there are many people out there in the world who are not fans of Jackson Browne, but this is just too fabulous a song to disregard just because of that. Browne's somewhat weak voice is actually an asset here, adding to the plaintiveness of the song. The lyrics are some of the most heartbreaking I've ever heard ('How long have I been dreaming I could make it right/If I closed my eyes and tried with all my might/To be the one you need?') and there's a gorgeous melody to go along with them. It's gentle and sad and beautiful, and I really see nothing in this song that's not lovable. From the album Late For the Sky."
9/5/05: Brewer & Shipley- "One Toke Over the Line" (Suggested and supplied by CosmicBen.) If you think "1970s hybrid of rock and country," you're naturally going to think of the Eagles and then vomit copiously, but this song gets the mix right. Breezy acoustic pickin' gently drives the song, but instead of dragging along the Eagles' momentum-killing control-freak pomposity, Brewer & Shipley soar on a genuine "it's all good" optimism that's much closer to the stoned smiliness of CCR or the Doobie Brothers. Add country music's requisite ne'er-do-well yearning and an endlessly singable chorus, and you've got yourself what should've been an era-defining icon of a song. AMG (and therefore this critic) doesn't seem to know what album this is originally from, but it's available on any number of '70s compilations.
6/27/05: Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra- "Some Velvet Morning" A song that I think more people have heard of than actually heard, this has quickly become one of my five favorite songs of all time. It's late-'60s psychedelic pop at its trippiest, jerking back and forth between Hazelwood's glowering, ominous babblings about some creature named "Phaedra" and "how she gave me life," and Sinatra's swooning, Glenda the Good Witch vocals during the bridges, at which point the music clicks over from being a driving, nearly martial folk-rock thing into a lushly orchestrated waltz. It's way too odd to have ever been a single as successful as, say, "These Boots Were Made for Walking," but it's so catchy and singularly bizarre that it's indelible. From Nancy Sinatra's Movin' with Nancy album, but also available on Ladytron's excellent Softcore Jukebox compilation.
6/25/05: Sage Francis- "Sea Lion" Sage Francis is a rapper whose licketysplit cadence owes a lot to Eminem, but whose lyrics won't make you wince with distaste, and this song is basically his equivalent of "Stan." Rather than sampling Dido's pabulum, however, Francis turns to Will Oldham (aka Bonnie 'Prince' Billy) for the spine-chilling chorus here, and Oldham's fudged-up persona blends perfectly with Francis's quavery/psychotic hip-hop logorrhea. The entire track twitches and writhes in a way that's just dangerous enough that you'll be unable to stop watching from out of the corner of your eye. Best song I've heard all year, thus far. From A Healthy Distrust.
6/23/05: Prefuse 73- "Nuno" Blurring the lines between rap and so-called "glitch" electronica, Prefuse 73 chops up dozens of hip-hop records into fascinating musical collages that subvert many common criticisms of the entire genre of rap. Specifically, rap's opponents frequently whine that it takes no talent to simply talk over a beat and call it music, while hip-hop artists insist that it's all about the phonetic rhythm. This song takes that defense to its extreme, by literally splitting a rapper's flow into individual phonemes that don't form any words when you put them next to one another, and pasting the jabberwocky onto a similarly shredded beat that has as many digital clicks and mistakes as actual sounds. It's as intricate as anything you'd hear on Hot Rats, and anyone whose body resists the infectious channel-surfing should be classified as handicapped. From Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives.
6/22/05: Saul Williams- "List of Demands (Reparation)" Jon Walter writes, "A brilliant poetic rant set to an insanely driving beat, this is a great song to listen to to get yourself fucking amped." It really is cool, with a buzzing loop that suggests TV on the Radio covering R.E.M.'s "Leave." Hooky, too! From Saul Williams.
6/20/05: Buggles- "I Love You (Miss Robot)" If your familiarity with The Buggles only extends as far as the answer to the trivia question about which band made the first video ever broadcast on MTV, you need to hear this one. It was probably deemed to risque to be a single (though the vocals are emotionless enough that you might not listen to the words the first few times through, Trevor Horn mutters lines like "I feel so hard when you take me in" about sex with a robot), but it's nonetheless one of the best new-wave songs I've ever heard. Everything about it is distant and mechanized in the most wonderful way, from the tastefully determined slapped bass to the empty-sounding vocoderized chorus. For those of us who find it easier to relate to machines than to people, this song hits the mark better than anything even by musical geniuses like Kraftwerk and Devo. From the masterpiece The Age of Plastic.
6/19/05: Sufjan Stevens- "For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti" This is one of the saddest songs ever written. I mean, even if you can't make head nor tail of Sufjan's somewhat elliptical lyrics, it's a quiet folk song built around a banjo and a trumpet, and even though that description makes it sound like a song from The Muppet Movie, it manages to be seriously one of the most haunting arrangements in rock history. Imagine Elliott Smith's solo work if he'd ever branched out from his acoustic comfort zone. Personally, I currently live in Ypsilanti (the Michigan town after which this song is named) so the boy-girl harmonies and morbid lyrics hit me on a more personal level than they may hit you- lately, it makes me contemplate how broken I'd be if my dad died (happy Father's Day, Dad!)- but Stevens doesn't have to say anything specific to totally rip you apart with the loneliness of the tune itself. From Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State, which you need to own.
6/18/05: Matthew Dear- "Dog Days" I guess this particular flavor of electronic music is called... *consults cheat sheet* "microhouse"? Yes? No? I dunno. Anyway, it does have the persistent and addictive beats of quality house bands like Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx, so that's fine, but it's also based around a funky clavichord that sounds like Stevie Wonder channeling Kraftwerk, and a fantastic, hollow-sounding vocal refrain that sounds like Bowie at his most robotic. Too danceable to be truly sinister, but nonetheless powered by a certain musical scowling, "Dog Days" is one of those songs that makes you feel really proud for listening to music at all. From Leave Luck to Heaven.
6/17/05: Keren Ann- "Sailor and Widow" (Thanks to Jess.) A perfect, fatalistic little folk-rock number, "Sailor and Widow" finds French chanteuse Keren Ann singing about an emotionally damned woman whose husbands keep dying, alongside a slinky guitar line that Henry Mancini wishes he would've been on the ball enough to write. Really, this one is all about the guitar line. It's like an Inspector Gadget/Pink Panther spy theme, but dead fucking serious. And when the chorus hits and the lush chords break out, it's the rock equivalent of the weather report predicting torrential downpours all day long and throwing your shutters open to discover the greatest sunrise you've ever seen. It's magic, and there's no other word for it. From Not Going Anywhere.
6/14/05: Big Daddy- "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" (Thanks to Twila Price!) I know the semi-ironic-covers-of-classic-songs gimmick is totally played out at this point, but Big Daddy's run at the best song in the Beatles' discography is much closer to a cross between the lovable enthusiasm of "Weird Al" Yankovic and the barbed mash-ups of the Residents' Third Reich and Roll than to witless novelty singles like Save Ferris's version of "Come On Eileen" or Reel Big Fish's version of "Take On Me." With a saxaphone-intensive, twist-derived rhythm and an arrangement that's directly stolen from "Palisades Park," "Mr. Kite" loses the brilliant snake-oil-salesman ominousness of the Beatles' version, and is really clever for having done so. Big Daddy obviously doesn't top the Beatles' version, but it's a much more interesting interpretation than Beatles covers usually yield. Check it out unless you're sick of this sort of thing. From the band's cover of the entire Sgt. Pepper's album.
6/13/05: Jim White- "The Wound That Never Heals" When Jim White is at his best- as he is on this enthralling piece of funk noir- he suggests a Deep South David Byrne, able not only to hit you with any number of stirring, slow basslines, but also a master at telling twisted rural stories that would shame William Faulkner. This one's about a female serial killer, whose misandrous and brutal ways are whispered in White's nonjudgmental voice during the verses, and pitied in the growling chorus. White's all about the details- she doesn't just kill her husband, she wraps his corpse "in a red velvet curtain stolen from the movie theater where she works"- and with the sympathetic production of Morcheeba, you'll never get sick of this creepy little lied song. From the otherwise hit-or-miss No Such Place. (While I'm at it, White's debut album, Wrong-Eyed Jesus! is an unheralded masterpiece. Get it.)
6/12/05: Chicken Damage - "Amplifier" SoulCrusher77 writes, "This is a cover of a dB's song that replaces the deceptively upbeat funkiness of the original with a somber acoustic folk feel more fitting for a song that starts out with the line 'Danny came home and killed himself last night.' But really this beautiful rendition of an already sad (yet clever) song is worth hearing whether you're familiar with the original or not. From the EP Synapse Like Popcorn, which you can download all of here: http://www.wckrspgt.com/spgt/discography/cash_nexus_chicken_damage_synapse_like_popcorn.html."
6/11/05: Unicorns- "Jellybones" The only truly great cut from what would be the Unicorns' final album, "Jellybones" starts with the sounds of some guy playing a really catchy bloopity theme on a scratchy old synth, which kick-starts a rickety, uptempo indie-pop number about a guy who's afflicted with the jellybones. It's kind of cutesy, but if you like the self-assured looseness and ramshackle eclecticism of bands like The Fiery Furnaces or The Scene is Now, this song will be a godsend to you. From Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?
6/10/05: Gillian Welch- "Dear Someone" Amanda Kenyon writes, "Here's another example of lovely vocal harmonies. This is a very sweet little acoustic lullabye, with another of her deceptively simple melodies. On first listen there's not much to it, but as with so many of Gillian's songs, there is much to discover if you listen more closely. From Time (The Revelator)."
6/8/05: Daft Punk: "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" (Thanks to Rich Bunnell.) It is impossible to do futuristic disco music better than this. If you put Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer, Bernie Worrell, and Gary Numan in a blender with a glowstick and all their best funk-electro-disco elements got whirled into one transcendental milkshake times infinity, this is the sound that would be reverberating around your kitchen. Fast, determined, robotic voices, sexy house beats... and it just builds and builds and builds, to a total orgasm of music that features the robotic vocals vocoded into a killer guitar/synth solo... It's one of those songs that ends and all you can say is "Wow." From the semi-underrated Discovery.
6/7/05: Wilbert Harrison- "Kansas City" Fflo writes, "I guess these are the 12-bar blues. Walk it, man. I've been to the place in KC where the scene used to be. There's about a block and a half now, surrounded by nuthin'. I haven't yet gotten myself a crazy little woman there, but it's an appealing idea. Anyway, there's something quintessential in this one. Far be it from me to describe it. Or it's far from me right now how to." Apparently, this was originally just a single, but it's available on any number of compilations. I personally don't have a huge tolerance for the blues, but I love this.
6/6/05: Herman's Hermits- "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" If you claim to like pure, joyous '60s pop, you're only clowning yourself if you don't have at least one Herman's Hermits compilation. No, they didn't generally write their own songs, and yes, you could describe them as "calculated," but even if they don't have piles and piles of artistic credibility, what they do have is hooks out the wazoo. And this song may well be the highlight of their entire career. Guided by a great rhythm guitar (much peppier than most), it's your basic, head-bouncingly catchy post-Beatles pop, but what makes "Mrs. Brown" a true standout are the incredibly sad lyrics, about the resigned victim of a romantic dump running into his ex's mom and asking her not to tell the girl that he's heartbroken. I'm not afraid to tell you that I like it better than the Beatles' "In My Life." From Herman's Hermits.
5/27/05: Sesame Street- "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon" The old, classic Jim Henson crew could really write songs, I tell you whut. (Another good one is "Let Me Be Your Song" from Fraggle Rock.) This one has Jim, as Ernie, wistfully singing about how, although there are any number of fanciful places in the universe he'd like to visit, he's happiest where he is, with "all the places and people I love" as an expressive and pretty flute twitters behind him. And dammit, I'd like to get through this song without crying once. It's just so sweet and gorgeous, it'll totally make you wish you were a kid again. From some old Sesame Street album or other, but beware of the Shawn Colvin version that's floating around out there. You do not want that one.
5/26/05: Lemon Jelly- "Experiment Number Six" (Thanks to Bert.) Combining the trepidant strings of a '50s mad scientist flick, an old field recording of a doctor dispassionately detailing the ongoing results of some sort of biological experiment, scuttling jungle percussion, and the peppy exotica of Esquivel (or at least Austin Powers and Stereolab), this song is that most unusual of creatures: an electro-lounge-pop number that's actually memorable. Good, tense fun. From Lost Horizons.
5/23/05: Timmy T- "One More Try" My early-'90s nostalgia must be tiresome by now, but I still love every single thing about this, the whitest R&B ballad of all time, which comes complete with "Take My Breath Away"-style wow-bass noises and even a hilarious spoken bit calculated to earn ol' Timmy the "heartthrob" title ("Oh girl, you know I love you. I just want you to know, our love I'll always treasure. So please, just don't let me go"). This big bag of cheese at least has a memorable melody, though, which is more than you can say for similarly embarrassing crap from, say, any of the American Idol winners. My brother and I heard this song in his car recently, after neither of us had heard it for about ten years, and we both instantly remembered all the words, and were singing along at the top of our lungs, so it does have some possibly voodoo-induced staying power. Girl. From Time After Time.
5/22/05: El Captain Funkaho- "My 2600" This thing is a lo-fi hip-hop ode to Atari that's built around pitch-changed vocals (name-checking games like Dig Dug and Frogger), a loping old-school funk beat, and an ear-grabbing, snake-charming keyboard. Despite the played-out irony, the result is charmingly cheap homemade rap bliss, not unlike "OG Simpson" by The Moistboyz. Originally part of a 7" single, but it's available on Peanut Butter Wolf's Jukebox 45's compilation.
5/20/05: The Icicles- "I Wanna Know" Pijean writes, "Not exactly the Ramones, although I think the Ramones would appreciate them. A girl group (w/someone's dad on drums) for the '00s (oughts?). Sugary sweet, cute, incredibly infectious. Perhaps a little too cute? Yeah, but it's a nice change from the self-important indie bands who are just so damned whiny. You can hear the tune at http://www.microindie.com/player and see if you can get it out of your head. Perfect for a summer driving mix CD. And they're from Michigan!" From A Hundred Patterns.
5/18/05: X-Ecutioners (feat. Anikke)- "Like This" This four-DJ collective pulls together a tight, upbeat slice of dance-funk here, with a great bassline that drops and slowly ascends like a bowling alley claw game, relentless breakbeats, and scratched-up guitar samples coming together for pure rhythmic joy. Some chick named Anikke raps endearingly over the whole thing, recalling the nasal aerobicizing of Technotronic's Ya Kid K, and there are enough interesting touches like the jungle beats toward the end of the song to keep it from getting too repetitive. Great party track. From the otherwise underwhelming Revolutions.
5/17/05: Barcelona- "I've Got the Password to Your Shell Account" (Thanks to Jess.) Just an addictively breezy little indie-pop gumdrop whose pairing of friendly new-wave electronics and user-friendly hooks can stand next to anything by The Postal Service or the Future Bible Heroes. Plus, it's a song about a jealous girl who breaks into her crush's e-mail because his password is too easy to guess, and who can resist pithy lines like "Put my comp. sci. skills to work/Engineered your logon word"? From the fine compilation Moshi Moshi: Pop International Style.
5/16/05: The Avalanches - "Rock City" SoulCrusher77 writes, "Despite being released a good 4 or 5 years before their full length debut Since I Left You, this track has all the hallmarks of the group's dense but playful production style; in under 4 minutes they manage to squeeze in a jazzy flute, jew's harp, car crash sound effects, opera singing, a Beastie Boys vocal sample, a 70's hard rock guitar riff, and Raymond Scott-esque big band horns. The main difference is that this is all topped off with the delirious, sometimes incomprehensible (pseudo-?) japanese-accented rapping of, um... actually I'm not entirely sure who's rapping here (and on the rest of the EP it's from), and AMG is of little help. Anyway, whoever they are, they have a knack for such nonsensical yet ear-catching lines as 'Super heavy duty ever-ready! Backflips, kicks, legs like machetes!' not to mention the gleeful party-ready refrain of 'Cocaine! Bubbly! Wheeee! That's rock city!' From the El Producto EP, which is out of print but can still be found online."
5/15/05: Cassandra Wilson - "Sankofa" Amanda Kenyon writes, "One of my very favorite forms of music is a capella with very tight harmonies, and this song delivers spectacularly. Cassandra Wilson has a wonderfully mellow voice and a great ear for melody, and even though it's a very simple song, it's hard to beat for pure loveliness. From Blue Light Til Dawn."
5/14/05: Tangerine Dream- "The Dance" (Suggested by Bev.) Bev compares this instrumental synth piece to something from Ray Lynch's Deep Breakfast, but to me it sounds less like Lynch's soothing new age landscapes than the sort of song that might be played by a haunted merry-go-round. It's a really dark snippet of carnival music, basically, and even though the pump-organ theme will send shivers down your spine, it's pretty beautiful. (Beautiful even if you don't find carnival-related things as inherently creepy as I do.) From the Legend soundtrack.
5/13/05: Johnny Cash- "I See a Darkness" (Suggested by Scott Floman.) One of many highlights from Johnny Cash's late-period infatuation with interpreting other artists' songs is this pensive, haunted take on the title track from a superb album by Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (aka Will Oldham). With just an acoustic guitar, dramatic piano, and Oldham's own, twitchy voice to back him, Cash soulfully confesses the unnameable horrors that flit through his mind from time to time: "Many times we've shared our thoughts, but did you ever, ever notice the kind of thoughts I've got?" Cash could always face down mortality in a humble, vulnerable fashion, but rarely did he sound this engulfed by it. From American III: Solitary Man.
5/11/05: The Chemical Brothers - "Where Do I Begin?" Jon Walter writes, "This song moves me to tears and I don't know why. Just listen to it. Don't let the fact that it was on the soundtrack to the horrific film Vanilla Sky deter you." The tune opens with a clear-eyed guitar loop and Beth Orton's silken voice, which give the song an almost Cranberries-esque feel until it slowly builds to a rhythmic climax of beats and effects. I could do without the tacked-on outro, which consists of the Brothers having way too much fun with their "delay" effect button, but until then, as Jon said, it hits you like a bright sunny day when you're least in the mood to handle that kind of happiness. From Dig Your Own Hole, as well as that soundtrack, which is actually infinitely better than the movie that spawned it.
5/01/05: Moby- "Landing" The music? Full of more simmering Orb-style skittishness than anything Moby has done since Everything is Wrong, what with the energetic keyboards that sound like something from Jock Jams played underwater, and the smooth, recent-Underworld-style bassline. The vocals? Murmured in the beautiful voices of Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor, taking a break from the whispery peculiarity they exhibit in Azure Ray to sing an ode to human disconnection here. The result? A spacey electro-pop beaut. From the 18 B-Sides collection.
4/28/05: Dar Williams- "The Babysitter's Here" Fflo writes, "I first saw Dar Wms when she was opening for Ani DiFranco at a little club. Saw her CD in the shop beforehand & was put off by its title: The Honesty Room. Ugh. She is awfully sincere, sometimes cloyingly so, but I like this one. Maybe cuz I too wondered about Fantastic Voyage as a kid, and thought hippie-type teenagers were figures to be admired. And witnessed and noticed many a flare-up of anti-feminism before being old enough to get what was going down." This song totally made me cry. That is all.
4/27/05: 2 Nu- "Ponderous" Okay, this isn't a good song by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a semi-interesting late-'80s novelty, in which a guy who's trying to sound like Steven Wright describes a dream he's supposedly had, over a cheapo dub arrangement that uses lots of Casio percussion samples and synth-bass noises. Lots of sound effects, lots of wince-inducing attempts at humor (e.g., "I'd been here in other dreams. There's usually a water polo game and a girl who'd talk with her eyes, and she'd say, 'Can you see what I'm saying?'"), and not a lot of relistening value, I'll admit. I loved it when I was nine and it was first on the radio, but it doesn't even hold a lot of memory-jogging pleasure the way things like Musto & Bones' "Dangerous on the Dance Floor" and Rhythm Syndicate's "PASSION" do. However, there's one really cool part where a telephone operator starts talking in Hugo Ball-esque fake words (and it's reprised later), and I like fake words. So the song makes for good mix tape filler, but those who like their '80s nostalgia to have some sort of quality to it might stick with Trio's "Da Da Da" or something. From Ponderous.
4/26/05: The Konks - "King Kong" SoulCrusher77 writes, "I was kind of hoping this was an original, due to the way the singer throws himself into such winningly ridiculous lyrics as 'my heart is making a monkey out of me/just a great big monkey filled with misery/ 'cause you don't go king kong when you see me', but apparently it's a garage-rocked-out cover of a song written by Soupy Sales. Go figure. Regardless, from one of the best opening rock-n-roll screams I've heard in recent memory to the primitive but enthusiastic performance style to the infectiously dopey 'king kong, go king kong!' backing vocals, this is just insanely fun listening. From their self-titled debut, and you can also download this track for free here: http://www.bomp.com/konks.html."
4/23/05: Rasputina- "Sign of the Zodiac" I remember reading some interview with The Dead Milkmen's Rodney Anonymous in which he described Rasputina as "three women with cellos who rock harder than 1,000 guys with guitars." Pretty much, yeah. I haven't yet heard their entire discography, but this is easily the most haunting track I've heard spill from Melora Creager's dark, vibrato-soaked lips. Over a barely noticeable bed of mechanical scrapes and squeals, the cellos swoon sickeningly about as Creager moans lines like "In ancient times if you were sick, they'd make you bleed/Oh, honey, I know it hurts" in a Goth moan that's as full of sympathy as black-humored disgust. It's a beautiful melody, but it takes a special mind to pull it off in such a creepy fashion. From How We Quit the Forest.
4/21/05: Boredoms- "Super Are" Oleg Sobolev writes, "One word: Epic." This eight-and-a-half minute track is very impressive in its deconstructive mood swinging in a way the Boredoms don't always pull off: "Super Are" starts off with some droney keyboard noodling, then Yamatsuka Eye announces that things are a-changin' by jumping in with his triumphant wailing voice, and it's not long before we get stomping guitars, insane drumming that sounds like the cymbals are being hit three times before they have a chance to swing back from the initial hit, and a total catharsis of jubilant noise. It's actually a lot of fun! From Super Ae.
4/20/05: Laura Love - "Mahbootay" Amanda Kenyon writes, "This is one woman's ode to her 'big ol' bootay.' The hilarious lyrics (I take it shopping, I buy it presents, I feed it with peanut butter) combined with the hypnotic Middle Eastern-sounding instrumentation make this one of my favorite songs ever." I will add, in the description I wrote before Amanda coincidentally recommended this song herself: (Thanks to Paula Shanks- RIP- and Lisa.) I'm a total sucker for songs that are difficult to describe, so if you haven't realized it by now, the more ham-fisted my descriptions of Songs of the Day are, the better the songs themselves are. And this is one of the best. It's a rhythmic, fat-and-proud ode from Laura Love to her own bum, and it incorporates Middle Eastern-derived vocal stylings, David Byrne-inspired percussion pretensions, and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks-esque weirdo violin work that defies genre descriptions (courtesy of Barbara Lamb). Hooky, too! Best of all, the most subversive part of this song (already pretty awesome for its celebration of women who aren't Survivor-contestant skinny) is the way its massive low end is perfectly designed to make teenier people look silly if they try to dance to it; it's such a substantial rhythm that it requires a substantial person to look good if they're gonna take it on. Kind of like Sir Mix-a-Lot, without the lack of dignity. From Shum Ticky.
4/18/05: Bobby Womack- "Across 110th Street" If there were any justice in the world, this sweepingly beautiful slice of '70s soul would be just as well known as the scores to Shaft and Superfly. Of course, if there were any justice in the world, the seal-killers in Canada would themselves be skinned alive, Lynda Barry would have a Nobel Prize in Literature, and Seth MacFarlane and Bill Frist would be sharing a cell in Guantanamo Bay, so there clearly is not. You can rectify a little bit of this, however, by checking out the musical masterpiece that I'm supposed to be discussing here. It's your typical blaxploitation funk fare, with waka-chika guitars, a great rhythm track, heart-stirring orchestration, and lyrics about junkies and pimps, but man, WHAT a chorus. When Womack launches into the titular phrase, it's a moment so sunny and uplifting that it's easy to believe that anyone can rise up from their hardscrabble roots and make good... and then the dramatic, descending strings at the end of the chorus undercut all the hope. So. Cool. From the soundtrack to the film Across 110th Street, but probably easier to find on the soundtrack to Jackie Brown. God bless Tarantino.
4/15/05: God Bullies- "Ordinary Man" (recommended by Mark Prindle) You remember that movie Falling Down? Well, if it didn't suck and it was a grinding, two-and-a-half-minute musical freak-out that melded the hallucinatory bad vibes of early Butthole Surfers with the tight hard-rock of any-period Motorhead, it would be this song. As guitarist David B. Livingstone (I think) churns out a speedy cowpunk riff, Mike Hard's white-collar narrator stooge completely snaps from the ennui of having "lost control of my life," determined that "this time, they're gonna have to listen to me." It's catchy and effectively creepy, but the best part is the way his voice is run through any number of chilling vocal effects and pitch-shifters that emphasize the way the man has suddenly become completely unplugged from reality. A good song to listen to in a traffic jam. Unless you're particularly susceptible to road rage. Then don't listen to this song in a traffic jam. From War on Everybody.
4/14/05: MC Paul Barman- "I'm Fricking Awesome" From the moment Barman's defiantly effeminate voice pops in atop a great, Prince Paul-produced hip-hop beat, jabbering, "What is it? 'From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil T. Frankenweiler' or something like that? 'Mixed-up files'? Powerful files!" this tale of the MC's frustration with other men with whom he's looking to score will have you doubled over with laughter as well as shakin' the ol' rump. Debates raged over whether Barman's shtick transcended novelty at the time of this song's release, but apart from an annoying hardcore drum fill in the middle, this song makes a pretty solid case for Barman's genuine rapping talent, inextricable though it may be from his snarky humor. After all, novelty rap songs are generally listenable maybe once, but Barman strikes a great balance between hilarious logorrhea and solid, flowing rhyme skills that you'll want to revisit frequently. From the It's Very Stimulating EP.
4/13/05: Alison Krauss- "Forget About It" Amanda Kenyon writes, "A great breakup song from the point of view of the breaker. Alison's sweet, expressive voice does a great job of capturing the pain that comes with ending a long-term relationship, even when it's the best decision for everyone involved. It has just the right blend of grief and vindictiveness, and the line, 'When forever's over I won't remember how much I loved you anymore' just about breaks my heart. From the album Forget About It."
4/12/05: Galaxie 500- "When Will You Come Home" Mike Bryant writes, "Beautiful, lush, but catchy sorta-dream pop, wonderful melodic guitar/bass interplay. Vocals are a little whiney and 80s, but Pitchfork summed it up best actually '(every song) is shot straight into the golden late afternoon light.'" From On Fire.
4/11/05: Farben- "Farben Says: Love Oh Love" If you like the dubby hypnosis of minimalist glitchers like Pole, the chilled-out electronics of Detroit techno artists like Luke Hess, or the heavy-lidded subtlety of Kraftwerk's Tour de France Soundtracks, you'll totally dig German electro-dub guy Farben. For nearly seven minutes, one muted, cheerful bassline plays over and over, accompanied by clicks, buzzes, and woozy orchestral samples that would do Mark Degliantoni proud, all of which serve to nail that keeping-things-moving-while-staying-in-one-place vibe that's the linchpin of this genre. Great music for nighttime driving or foreplay. From Farben Says: Don't Fight Phrases (and if anyone would like to send me a copy of the whole album, I wouldn't angrily dismiss him...) (or her) (probably him, though, knowing what I know about electronic music fans).
4/10/05: Don Ho- "Shock the Monkey" Yup, it's the Don Ho, wrapping his slimy/gregarious lounge stylings around the Peter Gabriel hit, and infusing the song with a million times more personality than the sterile original has, while retaining all its angular catchiness. The Ho version (hee) drops in some fancy late-'90s electronic beats and everything, but it really is just Don Ho singing "Shock the Monkey." What more do you need by way of description? From the fine charity compilation When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You'd Hear (which also features Devo's great smartass run at CSNY's "Ohio," a song that would be a Song of the Day itself except I think I've already done like three Devo songs, so other bands probably deserve a chance).
4/9/05: The Village People- "Macho Man" CosmicBen writes, "This ubiquitous disco song deserves a snobby critical appreciation. The verse melody is almost nonexistent, and the backbeat is nothing more than functionally danceable. But the chorus is gigantic. It punches you in the face with enthusiasm and sadness every time it comes around. It's possible to hear the song as one man's love letter to his biceps and chest hair. But when the backup singers cry out that they want to be Macho Men too, it breaks my heart. They want it so badly. These aren't the guys flexing their muscles in the gym; they're the ones sitting on couches and realizing they will never achieve their dreams unless they become Macho Men. I hope it worked out for them. At the very least, for singing such a perfect chorus, I hope they got some muscular groupie sex out of the deal. From Macho Man."
4/7/05: Beef! "Memory Fast Forward" Pijean writes, "Beef! is a Dutch reggae/ska/funk band. This song is from a Dutch compilation put together by Radio Netherlands. All the bands played at their big deal music festival, Noorderslag 2005 (there's probably an umlaut or two back there). This is a poignant but bouncy reggae-pop ditty originally released in 2002. Is it one from the album that has a sample on the RN website? Of course not. But you can hear it here: http://www.dutchsound.nl/index.php?pageAlias=dsnl.artist_detail&label=FM127740."
4/5/05: The Tiger Lillies- "Snip Snip" SoulCrusher77 writes, "This is a song from an album (and apparently also a musical) based on a nightmare-inducing German children's storybook entitled Struwwelpeter. In this particular tale, a little boy sucks his thumbs despite his mother's warnings, and as soon as she leaves, a tall tailor comes from out of nowhere to cut them off with a large pair of scissors. All of this is of course set to a peppy accordion waltz and the sing-along refrain 'snip snip! the scissors go/ and Conrad cries out "oh oh!"/Snip snip! They go so fast/and Conrad's thumbs are off at last.' Vocalist Martyn Jacques' trademark over-the-top falsetto (which is somewhere between Tiny Tim and Terry Jones playing a woman in a Monty Python sketch) only adds to the surreal morbid humor. You can also read a translation of the entire book here: http://www.fln.vcu.edu/struwwel/struwwel.html. From the album Struwwelpeter."
4/4/05: Carissa's Wierd- "So You Wanna be a Superhero" A beautiful indie-pop nightmare whose quiet-yet-tense guitars and broken, whispery vocals (Jenn Ghetto seriously sounds like she's choking back sobs at a few points) perfectly capture the hopelessness and sadness that follow a night of paranoid insomnia. The guitars gently twinkle behind lines like "You were right/I can't do this/I'm going crazy" and "Can't tell a single soul that my soul's gone," and it's a wonderfully fragile mosaic clearly made from the remaining shards of someone's life. It should appeal to everyone, but it'll stick with you particularly if you've ever futilely attempted to rock yourself to sleep at five AM, unable to stop the world from closing in around you and convinced that the morning will never come. From Songs About Leaving.
4/3/05: Ol Dirty Bastard- I Cant Wait One of the best songs from one of the best batshit loonball hip-hop albums ever recorded, this revolves around a nagging sample from what sounds like the theme to a 1970s newscast, and then the late, lamented ODB starts in chanting, Big Baby Jesus/I cant wait/Nigga, fuck that! I cant wait! And it just gets more hilariously insane from there (despite the Neptunes' inventive production), as he seemingly starts to argue with his own multitracked voice, claims that he "can't use the word napkin," and then gives shout-outs to Suge Knight, all the Eskimos, submarines, all the "munchkins," and himself. Seriously. The Dirt Dog makes Wesley Willis look like a paragon of stability. From Nigga Please.
3/31/05: Cloud Cult- Fairy Tale (stolen from SoulCrusher77) A short, addictive little indie-rock song thats really more about nursery rhyme characters than fairytale characters. Whatever- its the music thats the important part. If Built to Spill removed most of their guitar overdubs and relied on a chipper, pounding piano to carry a song instead, you might get something like this. Its not the best song ever or anything, but it packs a few solid hooks into two minutes, and employs some smart drumming and nifty, wordless falsetto crooning between the verses, so its a nice, compact pleasure. From They Live on the Sun, and you can download this song at www.earthology.net/cloudcult/albums.htm
3/29/05: Y'all- "The Egg Man (for Edith Massey)" Fflo writes, "Y'all is a duo of cross-dressing hillbilly men who are lovers. Oh, wait---only one cross-dresses. And does so as a hillbilly housewife. They're from Appalachia. John Waters reference here, but cool on its own, or so the kids I give it to seem to think." This is a short, funny singalong about eggs and falling in love with the guy who delivers 'em. Simple and catchy hoedown stuff that I love, and so should anyone who likes They Might Be Giants or Corky and the Juice Pigs, for instance. From The Next Big Thing.
3/28/05: Crowded House- "My Telly's Gone Bung" Crowded House drummer Paul Hester apparently killed himself over the weekend, which is obviously awful in a million ways, so... just seemed like a good time to mention this flighty rarity that he wrote and sung. It's a loping, smart-alecky little slice of folk-rock catchiness that sounds like an off-the-cuff XTC outtake, about how bummed Hester is about his broken television. Really nothing special from a musical standpoint, I suppose, but I grew up with a fanboy brother who was constantly telling me funny anecdotes he'd heard about Hester, or playing me great bits from Crowded House bootlegs where Paul would borrow the spotlight from Neil Finn and either improvise a great little tune or just say something incredibly funny, so this song captures the goofy way he'd hide his talent beneath an exterior of amiably smirky attitude. He'll be missed. From Afterglow.
3/27/05: Fela Kuti- "Expensive Shit" Oleg Sobolev writes, "It's the best song from one of the best artists ever. You can't beat it." Apparently inspired by a night spent in jail in which the authorities were waiting to examine Kuti's... leavings after he swallowed a joint they'd planned to plant on him, this is a supple, furious explosion of polyrhythmic Afrobeat brilliance. Great percussion, funky guitar underpinnings, jazzy keyboards, insistent horns, and call-and-response vocals, all wrapped up in one expertly arranged package. Even at thirteen minutes, "Expensive Shit" never meanders for a second, keeping to a steady beat, stomping through a memorable melody, and performed with the fury of the righteous. From Expensive Shit.
3/25/05: Dexy's Midnight Runners- "Geno" Thatcoolbrotha writes, "An exuberant piece of horn-driven new wave soul-pop that has, despite the fact that it's stolen from Bowie's 'Heroes,' one of the most anthemic and optimistic choruses ever about how sucky academia is. In your face, Franz Ferdinand's 'Dark of the Manitee'!" From Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.
3/24/05: Screamin Jay Hawkins- I Put a Spell on You There are plenty of versions of Hawkinss blues standard out there (Nina Simone has a very good one as well), but only the lunatic delivery of Mr. Hawkins, replete with unhinged giggles and shrieks, can do justice to the sociopathic obsession of the lyrics. I DONT CARE IF YOU DONT WANT ME! IM YOURS! he yells atop the appropriately weird horn/drum/piano arrangement (which slinks and shuffles along in a manner a little too restrained to fit comfortably with the vocals, and thats a good thing), and the effect is flat-out creepy. Good creepy. From that Levis commercial. And Hawkinss album I Put a Spell on You.
3/22/05: Benoit Charest- Belleville Rendezvous This Oscar-nominated bit of weirdo French pop mightve lost an award to that piece of crap from Lord of the Rings, but that doesnt mean its not incredibly cool. And when I say French, I mean that it is identifiably a product of that nation, in the best way possible. I dont know enough about their traditional music to be able to describe exactly how you can pinpoint the melodys French aspects, so just trust me. Its stomping, sexy, and gorgeous, but it intentionally confuses things with a flamenco guitar, kazoos, and percussion performed on spinning bicycle wheels and someones cheeks. (The face cheeks. Its not a Lords of Acid song.) From the soundtrack to the awesome film The Triplets of Belleville.
3/21/05: Pearl Jam- "Yellow Ledbetter" CosmicCarin writes, "I like almost every Pearl Jam song, but I've been listening to this one a lot recently... I think the melody is beautiful and there is so much soul in Eddie Vedder's voice, especially in the first few lines. The song makes me feel good and allows me to close my eyes and drift into it, something that not all of their songs can do." Looks like this one is from the Jeremy EP, but I might be wrong.
3/20/05: Tiny Tim- "Santa Claus Has Got the AIDS This Year" It's just as horrifyingly hilarious as its title, my friends. Any song that needs to be qualified with the introduction, "I wrote this way before Rock Hudson" is a song that's sure to offend, and Tiny Tim, of all people, has come up with perhaps the most objectionable Christmas carol in history. Nick Bougas's liner notes describe this as a "highly original holiday number which mysteriously appears to liken the incurable AIDS virus to a pesky case of the sniffles." Which is a pretty charitable way of describing a ukelele-based song that contains lines like, "He won't be singing out 'ho ho ho ho!' but he'll be yelling out 'NO NO NO NO!'" It's seriously one of the most bizarre things you'll ever hear. From the novelty compilation Celebrities... At Their Worst! Vol. 2.
3/19/05: Petra Haden- "Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand" Joe Friesen writes, "Okay, this comes from Petra Haden Sings: 'The Who Sell Out', which is Haden's song-by-song a cappella cover of The Who Sell Out. And when I say that it's 'a cappella', I REALLY MEAN it's a cappella; she doesn't just sing the vocals without musical accompaniment, she does vocal impressions of The Who's musical accompaniment to back up the regular vocals, with weird studio trickery a-plenty to make it sound even wilder. It makes for a listening experience that's, errm, to put it lightly, ODD. It might sound like a screwy experiment, but what takes it beyond mere novelty and into 'Damn, this actually some pretty cool music!' territory is, simply, Haden is one hell of a great singer. She has a high, soft voice that adds a pretty cool dynamic to the raucous, energetic Who originals. 'Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand' might be my favorite from that album, just because the original has such a pretty melody that fits PERFECTLY with the tonal quality and harmonies that Haden brings to the table here."
3/14/05: Liz Durrett- "Vine" Pijean writes, "I'm really impressed with Durrett's first recording effort, although I like to cut most folks' debut albums some slack. It helps to have her uncle, Vic Chesnutt, manning the control boards. All the songs are of a piece, really, and I could've picked any of the others just as easily. They're all structured around Liz's haunting vocals and Vic's minimalist production. Acoustic and electric guitars wind their way around Liz's voice as she sings about her teenage angst. Ethereal, dark, spooky." From Husk.
3/13/05: Christian Bok- "Seahorses and Flying Fish" (thanks to Jess Grabowski) This is a three-minute slice of sound poetry in which Bok hyperactively (but rhythmically!) makes a bunch of nonsense sounds that I think are supposed to expressively represent the sounds of the titular aquatic creatures. It's kind of like Shooby Taylor's air saxophone gibberings, but there's really no melody, just the forceful phonetic glee of the noises Bok makes, trilling, yelling, making splashing sounds, and energetically chanting things like "billaby billaby billaby!" It's hilarious, but so well practiced and expressed with such conviction that it's definitely not just a one-off. Trivia: this poem was apparently written by Hugo Ball, the Dadaist who also wrote the series of non-words that make up the lyrics to Talking Heads' "I Zimbra." This is available for download at http://www.ubu.com/sound/bok.html.
3/12/05: Moonshine Hangover: "Swamp Song" (thanks to Alexandra Haller) Just a big ol' countrified honkytonk shitkicker. Southern accents, thumpy hoedown bass, self-pitying lyrics, you know the drill. What makes this such a great song is really the boozy energy the band pours into the performance. It's like a Hank Williams 45 played at 78 RPM, with lightning-fast guitar picking and an insistent, snare-intensive drumbeat leading the way. From Mulberry Squeezins. You can get this song at http://www.moonshinehangover.com/music.htm.
3/9/05: Bush- "Head Full of Ghosts" Jon Walter writes, "Without a doubt, one of the greatest pleasures in music for me is hearing a terrible group pull a great song out of seemingly fucking nowhere. This is one of those cases. What a great, great pop song this is." From Golden State.
3/8/05: Urinals- "Beautiful Again" After a 20-year hiatus, hyper, minimalist punks the Urinals reunited as a more melodic indie-pop band that more closely resembled the goofy post-punk of The Embarrassment than their previous incarnation. This two-minute gem sounds like they've been listening to some R.E.M., too, and although the jangly guitars can barely keep on tempo, the power of this song comes from John Talley-Jones's paranoid-yet-resonant plea for the entire world to right itself. "I'm afraid to open my eyes; I see that every flower is diseased," he sings, and it's a great anthem for anyone who's ever suddenly been slapped with the horrible, empty feeling that we as a species have messed things up so badly that humanity is pretty much beyond repair. I've been getting that a lot lately, and thus, listening to this song, which makes a good compatriot. From What is Real and What is Not.
3/7/05: Midwest Product- "Bank" Kraftwerk's "Pocket Calculator" is such an adorable and huggable slice of early-synth technology that it might seem impossible for anyone to ever equal it, but I'll be snookered if Ann Arbor's Midwest Product hasn't recaptured their ability to make automation seem really cute. Chintzy synths and programmed percussion merrily dance about in lockstep rhythms as some guy mechanically intones his satisfaction at his job at a bank in phrases that seem to come from an Onion editorial ("I work at the bank/Approving short-term loan/Want you buy a car!/Want you buy a home!"). From World Series of Love.
3/6/05: Mytwilightpilot- "This Static Chair" (at the behest of Jugdish) The All Music Guide entry for this band refers to their "abstract electronic grooves," but that's really just not right at all. On this song, they suggest the moving, upbeat slowcore of Explosions in the Sky (i.e., all organic instruments, with a focus on dynamics above all else) with the addition of a singer. Frankly, I wish Matthew Crow's vocals were a little more distinctive, but his minor limitations don't detract from the spacious, well-paced charm of the music, which builds from a swaying, ringing bit of friendliness to a distorted catharsis over the course of seven minutes. It's nice! From the 555 EP.
3/5/05: The Free Design- "Kites are Fun"(suggested by Norville Barnes) One of the most deliriously cheerful things I've ever heard, this is pretty much the quintessential embodiment of all the good aspects of hippie silliness. A trilling recorder is the lead instrument, and along with brushed drums, a poppy bassline, and an acoustic guitar, the arrangement sounds like the theme to a late-'60s educational film about how drugs are an impediment to Doing Your Own Thing. However, the lyrics- delivered in really white boy/girl harmonies- are all about kites. And how kites are fun. "See my kite? It's fun." If this song doesn't make you happy, then you're trying too hard to be sad. From Kites are Fun.
[At this point, Willie spends about 14 months in an ultimately futile pilgrimage to what he initially believed to be Mount Kailas, but what was in reality the home of TV's Meshach Taylor.]
12/23/03: Paul Evans- "Happy-Go-Lucky Me" Fun! An old-timey banjo singalong tune, with Evans cheerfully singing and giggling lyrics about how great things are. It has the same sort of weird catchiness as songs by Hasil Adkins or Leapy Lee, and it really is effective at cheering you up! Or giving you a bitter, ironic chuckle if you're not in the mood to be cheered up. I don't know where it's originally from, but it's on the Pecker soundtrack.
12/21/03: Radiohead- "The Gloaming" (Hail to the Thief rough mix) Of all the rough mixes that were leaked to the Internet before Hail to the Thief was officially complete, this is the only one that actually sounds better than the finished product. It's not tremendously different; it's just longer, with an extra verse of Thom Yorke's desperate, paranoid chanting over the hypnotic percussion that forms the "music" of the tune. Since I wish this song were ten minutes long to begin with, longer "Gloaming" is better "Gloaming."
12/20/03: Toto- "Africa" Yes, it's cheesy as all get-out- particularly that synth break in the middle- but it's Toto doing what they do best. Not as bombastic as "Rosanna," but every bit as anthemic and memorable, there's something ineffably comforting about "Africa." I think it has something to do with the '80s harmonies. Check it out. From Toto IV.
12/17/03: Junior Senior- "Move Your Feet" Cole Bozman writes, "So stupid... yet so catchy." And that about sums it up! (He adds, "I was trying to think of something thematic to the holiday, but I couldn't come up with anything. If I hear another Mannheim Steamroller song or rendition of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland", I'm going to have to hurt someone.") From D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat.
12/13/03: Hal Kemp and the Smoothies- "Three Little Fishies" (Thanks to Jon Wyeth Chambers.) A wonderfully stupid Vaudeville song that attempts to create a "hip" new language like Pig Latin or Alfalfa Talk(?) in which you talk like a fish. They never explain how it works, so I don't think it ever caught on, but it's a fun couple minutes of those awesome Vaudeville harmonies, silly voices, and some nonsense about fish swimming over a dam. I can't find what album this song is from.
12/12/03: Bergman Rock- "Help The Band" SoulCrusher77 writes, "I really don't know much about this band, other than that they're basically Swedish indie rock act Bob Hund (who I also don't know a lot about) recording new songs in English. But the important thing is that someone I know reccomended this song to me, and I'm glad that they did. It's a boppy but oddly catchy slice of indie pop that's somewhat akin to Pavement or the rare whimsical moments of Modest Mouse, with appealingly goofy lyrics like 'I have never been to Woodstock/ maybe I'm too old for punk-rock/ I don't care, I like this song, help the band sing along,' a vocalist who sort of sounds like a Swedish accented Frank Black, and to top it all off, a joyously beautiful theremin line towards the end. From the album I, Um, Don't Think They Have An Album Out Yet (note: not an actual album title)."
12/11/03: The Willard Grant Conspiracy and Telefunk- "Just a Little Rain" It's a cute, old folk song reworked by Telefunk (a Dutch electronica band, apparently) and the WGC (an indie folk band). Not as weird as that sounds, the song lopes on by to a chintzy drum machine and cello sample, but most of its unassuming beauty comes from the chiming guitar work and sweet vocals. Head-bouncingly catchy, too. From the excellent In the Fishtank EP.
12/10/03: X- "Crystal Ship" It doesn't take much to improve on most of the Doors' songs- mostly, you just need to let all the air out of Jim Morrison's pomposity tank- but X's zippy cover of "Crystal Ship" is so much better than the original it bears mentioning. Produced by Ray Manzarek and mumbled by John Doe, it retains just enough of the original's druggy haze to not seem desecrated by Billy Zoom's (I guess) firebrand, punky guitar stylings, or Exene Cervenka's joyous backing vocals. Plus, it's shorter and faster. From the X-Files movie soundtrack.
12/7/03: Clinic- "Distortions" Probably the closest these hyperkinetic weirdos will ever get to a love song, it abandons their usual mechanical sputtering in favor of a gentle, Stereolab-esque drone painted with plaintive lyrics expressing a desire to be "free of distortions." It's actually quite beautiful. And then a squaky saxaphone comes in at the end to shatter the mood for no reason, but whatever. Still a great song. From Internal Wrangler.
12/6/03: Belle and Sebastian- "Legal Man" Wheeeeeeeee! Belle and Sebastian taking a merry run at '60s go-go music! With sitars! And cheesy keyboard bits! And interplay between five singers! And oh, the catchiness! And witty use of legal jargon to define a commitment to one's lover ("Extend contractual period: me and you forevermore")! It's really hard not to be happy when you're listening to this song. I mean, I did it, but it was hard. From the Legal Man EP.
12/3/03: Fleetwood Mac- "Little Lies" Goodness me, but I do love this song. Wish it was ten minutes long. I know there's not much to distinguish it from other synth-based, adult contemporary songs from the late '80s- seriously, it could be a Taylor Dayne song without too much tweaking- but with a memorable melody, a killer chorus, and backing vocals that totally make the song ("Tell me tell me lies!"), it's definitely the apex of its genre. From Tango in the Night.
12/1/03: The Autumn Defense- "Written in the Snow" Man, judging from the beauty of this song by the side project of Wilco's John Stirratt, Jeff Tweedy should seriously consider handing over the songwriting reins to the member of his band who can actually write hooks. This is a great, Paul McCartney-style slice of piano pop that doesn't feel the need to spill over into a bombastic chorus, instead remaining content in the casual, infectious beauty of a few verses and bridges. Sweet song to put on a mix for your sweetie. From Circles.
11/23/03: The Polyphonic Spree- "Light and Day" SoulCrusher77 writes, "You may have heard this song in a recent Volkswagen commercial, or at very least read a short article somewhere about that weird band of 24 hippies from Texas who perform in robes. The thing with this song is that at first you almost want to hate it for it's vague hippy optimism, but the whole thing keeps building up into one joyous chorus and by the end of it you're smiling from ear to ear, wanting to 'follow the day and reach for the sun' even as you have no idea what exactly that would entail, and wondering why there aren't more bands out there with such positivity flowing through their music. And that kind of sums up the appeal of this band in general I guess. From the album The Beginning Stages Of..."
11/22/03: Lovage- "Book of the Month" A funny-weird-sexy trip-hop tune from one of Dan the Automator's dozen-or-so musical outlets, "Book of the Month" features Mike Patton (from Faith No More and Mr. Bungle) growling a duet with Jennifer Charles over a rotating velvet bed of rhythm. Like a Ween-ized take on trip-hop's inherently libidinous qualities, it functions both as great make-out music and a parody of make-out music, with lyrics about diseases and meat. From the wonderfully titled Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By.
11/21/03: Sixteen Horsepower- "Black Lung" One of the catchier songs this interesting goth-country band has written, "Black Lung" is a weird hoedown that seems to have sprung from the darkest Appalachian woods you can imagine. (Camper Van Beethoven collaborating with Burn Witch Burn on a song for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack would be a convoluted way of describing it.) It's not outright creepy or anything, but the drawlin' and fiddlin' do lend it a certain Deliverance vibe... From Low Estate.
11/19/03: Kyu Sakamoto- "Sukiyaki" An absolutely gorgeous doo-wop (or something; I'm fuzzy on my pre-punk genre distinctions) ballad that avoids fading into Perry Como-style background fuzz by virtue of the fact that the melody draws lightly from traditional Japanese music. It's all in Japanese, too, so he could be singing about anything (Pepsi), but man is it pretty. From any number of '60s compilations.
11/18/03: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- "Jangling Jack" The most unhinged I've ever heard Nick Cave, this song is basically one noisy, breathless rant about a guy who gets shot dead in a bar. Mixing Nick's typical love of ghastly imagery with smirky black humor, and backed by squalling guitars, this is one insane crystal meth jag of a song. From Let Love In.
11/17/03: Joni Mitchell- "Woodstock" I'm not sure if Joni initially wrote this for Crosby, Stills & Nash or if they covered her version or what the story is, but her version blows theirs into bits of Smithers. With nothing more to accompany her than a big, full, buzzy keyboard (same one used in the opening to Beck's "Where It's At," I think- don't know the name of it), Mitchell's voice takes on a somewhat spooky tone as it winds its way through the serpentine melody. I've only heard this once, so I didn't really catch the lyrics, but the song's so beautiful I'm sure I'll pick up on its meaning on my many subsequent listens. From Ladies of the Canyon. (Thanks Anne!)
11/13/03: Thompson Twins- "Hold Me Now" Try as I might, I can't not be affected by this cheese. I love everything about this song, from the silly '80s synth-bass to the screechy falsetto backing vocals to the befuddled lyrics about relationship discord. Besides being impossibly catchy, this song is so sincere and twinkly in its new wave naivete that I just want to hug it. From Into the Gap.
11/12/03: Disclaimer: "Please Pardon Our Progress!!!" Oleg Sobolev writes, "You see, this song has probably the best use of dissonant vocals around chaotic guitar background and completely awesome techno beat. Joe Hinchcliffe contributes some incredible vocals too. For its 5 1/2 minutes the song never bores me, due to its excellent drive, weird speaker-switched intro and that closing 'Happiness is no longer an option' part, which stops extremely sudden and leaves me speechless. Probably the best track of 2003 I've heard so far." Thanks, Oleg! From The Airbag's Lipstick Kiss, but you can download this song over at Adrian Denning's place.
11/10/03: Mogwai- "R U Still In 2 It?" Jon Walter writes, "This is the most depressing song ever written. Over a echoey and simple guitar line repeated for 7 and a half minutes, a voice intones in a bored manner about a dying relationship. Simple, but utterly captivating. This is the best track Mogwai have ever written, from one of the best albums of the decade. A masterpiece." Word, Jon. From Young Team.
11/7/03: Bad Religion- "What Can You Do?" My friend Jon complains about this being the slowest and poppiest song on Suffer (surrounded as it is by angry punk uppercuts), but come on- it's so catchy! Maybe the best vocal line the band has ever come up with! Listen to Greg Graffin's awesome, staccato delivery of hooky lines like "Although the world rotates itself, the only thing you twist is your mind"! Wow! And anyway, it could easily beat the crap out of any other "punk" song you'd care to mention from the past ten years or so. You should really just go get the album, but if you insist that only one song will do, this is it. From Suffer.
11/6/03: Okkervil River- "Lady Liberty" An amiable, bouncy folk-rock tune that borrows elements from the Elephant 6 and Saddle Creek collectives (overreacting vocals, a full brass arrangement, etc.) without seeming derivative. Vocalist Will Robison Sheff earnestly bleats about an unfaithful lover- or something- and makes me giggle by almost quoting that famous misheard CCR lyric, "There's a bathroom on the right." That may or may not be intentional. From Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See.
11/3/03: Full Frontal- "You Think You're a Man" A fun, clubby cover of Divine's campy gay anthem, this version stays fairly true to the original, except updating Divine's early-'80s, Dead or Alive-style production with sequencers and more modern, post-Pet Shop Boys synths and such. (At some point while writing that, I stopped caring whether it was a run-on sentence.) Bouncy! From the Queer as Folk soundtrack.
11/1/03: Beats International- "Dub Be Good to Me" Apparently a big single in its day, this is what I guess is a "dub reggae" song, if you know what that means. (I don't, really. Some guy at a party last night tried to explain it to me, but it didn't take.) At any rate, its hypnotic pairing of soulful, R&B-style female vocals and a sexy, funky rhythm loop is hip-thrust-a-riffic. Great tune. From Let's Talk About Love.
10/31/03: The Faint- "Worked Up So Sexual" It is a little messier than I'd like it to be, but this stew of Frank Black-style surf freakouts, Grandaddy-style atmospherics, and Duran Duran-style new wave hooks has more than enough good ideas to make up for its clattering instability. From Blank-Wave Arcade.
10/30/03: The Verve Pipe- "Hero" Jon Walter writes, "A great song from a terrible group. One of the catchiest rock singles I've heard. This song is possessed of that quality called 'obsessive catchiness,' where try as you might, you CAN'T get the chorus out of your head. 'Burn like a cancer when the answer did occur to me....' aaarghhh...I'm doing it again!" I personally loathe the Verve Pipe with every fiber of my being, but again, I trust Jon, and I'm also late for work, so we'll go with that. From their self-titled album.
10/28/03: Grandaddy- "The Group Who Couldn't Say" Hands down, the best song on Sumday, this is a bouncy little indie-pop nugget about a group of professionals and office drones who "were the shrewdest unit-movers," so they actually get to go outside. At which point, they become hilariously and rather sweetly baffled by what they're seeing. "Becky wondered why she'd never noticed dragonflies/Her drag-and-click had never yielded anything as perfect as a dragonfly" may be the best lyric of the year. From Sumday.
10/27/03: New Bomb Turks- "Veronica Lake" The past few years have seen no shortage of great, neo-garage rock hooks being written by bands like the Strokes, the Hives, the Libertines, and so forth, but I have yet to hear a song of this genre touch the ebullient chorus that Eric Davidson spews forth here. So catchy! So very catchy! Fast and noisy and catchy! What's not to like? From At Rope's End.
10/23/03: Beastie Boys- "Song for the Man" A loose, funky jazz-pop song that actually features someone or other singing! (I haven't bothered to check the liner notes to find out who is singing because they're printed in, like, two-point font.) Insubstantial but catchy and fun to bounce around to. From Hello Nasty.
10/20/03: Ben Folds- "Still Fighting It" Cole Bozman writes, "The lyrics make 'Brick' sound positively joyful in comparison. I wonder why Ben couldn't have written stuff this mature with BFF. Oh, great chorus, too." Word, Cole. From Rockin' the Suburbs.
10/17/03: Andy M. Stewart and Manus Lunny- "Take Her in Your Arms" If you dig the bittersweet, Celtic-tinged melodicism of Belle & Sebastian's wonderful new song "Piazza, New York Catcher" (yes, it's two Songs of the Day in one today), why not go the extra mile and check out this genuine Irish tune? It's a gently funny song about a lovesick guy who's considering suicide, but it's not nearly as dark as you'd think, especially with the bubbly tin whistle and accordion backing. I like Irish music. From Dublin Lady, though I've got it on Joyful Noise, the Green Linnet label compilation, which is packed with similar gems.
10/16/03: The Verlaines- "Aches in Whisper" Pretty much your typical, jangly-crunchy New Zealand guitar-pop tune (by and large, a great subgenre to begin with, overrated though The Clean may be), only with an impressive slow burn of a melody that becomes subtly more frantic by song's end. It's not a huge, catchy single or anything; just one of those deep tracks that sticks with you. From Way Out Where.
10/14/03: Detroit Cobras- "Shout Bama Lama" This garage-rock cover of the Otis Redding song is a showstopping, irony-free hotwiring of the original, with Rachael Nagy's powerful (but not overbearing) vocals and a punky guitar arrangement bringing forth gallons of energy while still respecting the song's inherent soul. You'll love this. From Love, Life and Leaving.
10/13/03: Morcheeba- "World Looking In" A fabulous, sexy trip-hop tune whose most addictive and effective element, strangely, isn't Sky Edwards's blissful voice, but the haunting slide-guitar lick that pops up every now and then. From Fragments of Freedom.
10/11/03: The Scene is Now- "Yellow Sarong" Yo La Tengo's cover of this tune on Fakebook is probably better known than the original, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't seek it out. Its plinky, plunky arrangement (bongos, piano, xylophone) runs counter to the sweet melody, but that just means it's a wonderful pop song that was built by Doozers who are more interested in architecture than art. A great combination. From Burn All Your Records.
10/10/03: Panjabi MC- "Mundian To Bach Ke" (Suggested by Oleg Sobolev.) Oleg writes, "I must say the guy is a finest example of a man who completely lacks ANY kind of talent, but still managed to put together a FANTASTIC song." I'm not familiar with the rest of Panjabi's work, so I don't know if I'd go so far as Oleg in dismissing the guy's musical skills, but we're in agreement that this is a great song. The main attraction is an endless mandolin-or-something lick that will nag at you all day, but Panjabi's spirited singing and the driving electronic beats make this a simple winner. As far as I can tell this is the title track from his album.
10/4/03: Northern State- "A Thousand Words" An unbelievably fun hip-hop track that suggests a female Beastie Boys (right down to one member of the trio approximating Ad-Rock's endearing abrasiveness), only much friendlier. Which isn't to say the Northern State is soft- their lyrical rhythms and energetic delivery are well-practiced and effective- but their unaffected white-girl voices and lines about Al Gore and Snoopy bring a playfulness to the proceedings that's most welcome. From Dying in Stereo.
10/1/03: Bollywood Brass Band- "Kehta Hai Mera Dil" This is a loungey, brass band reworking of a song from some Bollywood film or another. The result, mixing horns with a tabla-based rhythm section, sounds like the theme to an especially exotic '70s cop show; it's really interesting and addictive. From Rahmania: The Music of A.R. Rahman.
9/28/03: Daniel Johnston- "Walking the Cow" From what I've heard of his body of work, this is one of the precious few songs Daniel Johnston has ever written that is listenable on its own, without being reworked and covered by some other artist (see "Speeding Motorcycle" by The Pastels and Yo La Tengo, "Rocketship" by the Dead Milkmen, "Hey Joe" by Sparklehorse, etc.). Luckily, it's a really great song in its own right. Accompanied only by a furiously pounded air organ, Daniel's yearning, childlike voice spins a melody so sweet and naive it could bring tears to your eyes. From Hi, How Are You.
9/27/03: Eilert Pilarm- "In the Ghetto" This Song of the Day assumes you have a certain familiarity with Elvis Presley's famous performance of "In the Ghetto," because Pilarm is a Swedish Elvis impersonator. Perhaps the best Elvis impersonator in the history of the occupation, because Eilert sounds more like Andy Kaufman's character from Taxi than The King. On this song in particular, he seems to have never heard the original version ever, seemingly reciting the lyrics phonetically with no regard for rhythm, and it's just wonderful and innocent and wrong. From his Greatest Hits album, I think.
9/25/03: Christie- "Yellow River" War historian CosmicBen tells me that this song is about a Vietnam vet after the war ended (perhaps having trouble readjusting to civilian life? I forget exactly what Ben said. This was a few months ago), but you'd never know it if you were paying attention only to the cheerful, CCR-style pop of the music. Once you're attuned to the subject matter, though, it becomes as haunting as it is infectious. From Yellow River.
9/24/03: lb.- "Angie" Rock purists will probably be offended by this electronic deconstruction of the Stones song, which is full of crosstalk, aural snow, and transmission errors, but the dissonance never gets in the way of the melody. In fact, the tune's yearning and resignation are made that much more poignant by the fact that the song sounds like it's being broadcast from some lonely planet on the other side of the universe. From the excellent Pop Artificielle.
9/23/03: Dump- "Daily Affirmation" This is a majestic, slow-building indie-rock song that crescendoes in a crazy, noisy way that James McNew hasn't done in his day job band (Yo La Tengo) since Electr-O-Pura. Neither especially dark nor especially upbeat, it bascially presents the sound of square-jawed determination, with a stirring bassline to guide you from the charming vocal bits into a frenzied solo. A good waking-up song. From A Grown-Ass Man.
9/22/03: My Bloody Valentine- "Sometimes" The louder you play this song, the lonelier it gets, for some reason. Something about the way Kevin Shields's voice is nearly buried beneath his uniquely mixed guitars that are both roiling and still, as a barely audible bass drum provides a steady pulse... There's a lot going on in the mix, but nothing disturbs the song's inimitably distant mood. It's currently being put to great use in Lost in Translation, but it's originally from Loveless.
9/20/03: DJ Shadow- "Fixed Income" Like most of DJ Shadow's sedimentary trip-hop compositions, this one is built around an entrancing sampled rhythm (breakbeats and a drone of "wow" noises, in this case), which is spiced up with other great, ominous samples. Here, snippets of guitar, violin, and what sounds like a snake charmer's woodwind add up to a somewhat sickly, disorienting mood, and it's great. From The Private Press.
Blur- "Song 2" (Suggested
by Oleg Sobolev.)
Oleg writes, "I mean,
'WOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!' Enough said." Well, besides the fact that the joyous yelp into the chorus is the song's most instantly identifiable feature, you could also mention the band's interestingly mechanical approach to the patented Nirvana/Pixies quiet/loud dynamic formula, which is the song. Cheeky rock minimalism. From Blur.
9/15/03: Yellow Magic Orchestra- "Firecracker (Zero B Mix)" I have yet to hear the original version of YMO's song, but this remix transforms it into a great house track that's built around a fascinating Asian flute riff. That's pretty much all there is to it, but it's got all the things you need from a house song: interesting, catchy, nice beat, and so on. This is not my most inspired Song of the Day description, but check it out anyway. From Hi-Tech/No Crime.
9/14/03: Shooby Taylor- "Stout-Hearted Men" There may be no more ecstatic sound in the history of the human race than Shooby "The Human Horn" Taylor doing his inimitable thing. Over a pre-recorded, public domain backing of chintzy organ music, Shooby plays a wildly enthusiastic "air saxaphone": it's sort of like scat-singing, only... more wonderfully uninhibited. If you can get past him shouting, "Poppy poppy poppy poppy doppy da-SHRAW!" without bursting into appreciative giggles, there's something wrong with you. You can download this song here, along with many others that are worth checking out.
9/13/03: Fay Lovsky- "Alle Liedjes op de Radio" (Eternal thanks to Anne Becking.) This Dutch indie-pop song gets more and more fun every time I listen to it. Built around a peppy acoustic guitar hook that sounds a little like the Inspector Gadget theme song, the song builds to an infectious, bouncy singalong of a chorus that somehow involves "MTV" and a cute, exuberant exclamation of the phrase, "Look at me!" (the two things that come out of Fay's mouth that I understand). It's impossible not to love. I don't know which album this is from, but you must find it.
9/12/03: They Might Be Giants- "Am I Awake?" The theme song to the new show Resident Life on The Learning Channel, TMBG's new song perfectly captures the crappy feeling of sleep deprivation. John Linnell wearily notes, "When I close my eyes, it looks the same as when I open them again," set to the most ambitious foray into electronica the band has yet attempted. With squelchy bass noises and ghostly samples, it almost sounds like Adult or µ-ziq- but with TMBG's typical catchiness. I think you can get this at the band's website; it hasn't been properly released anywhere that I know of yet. Now I'm off to go be bummed about Johnny Cash for the rest of the day.
9/10/03: Wire [aka Wir]- "Foosti-Footsi" Jon Walter writes, "Who would've thought that three old English guys could write a song that would make you want to shake your ass so much!?!? This song is hella catchy. It might be my favorite Wire song--and that includes everything on Pink Flag. Fantastic track." I haven't been able to find this song myself, but I trust Jon, so check it out. From The First Letter.
9/8/03: Golden Palominos- "Boy (Go)" With Anton Fier's crazy rhythms, Richard Thompson's unimpeachable guitar stylings (I think he plays on this track...), and Michael Stipe singing lead vocals, there's more talent crammed into one song here than on "Do They Know It's Christmas?" There's an oddly crisp mood to this number that works really well, as the principals each do their thing, nailed together by a sturdy, danceable bassline. This song makes things seem slightly less horrible. From A History (1982-1985).
9/7/03: Echo & the Bunnymen- "Get in the Car" The Bunny-Men do a delightful 180 here from the mopey darkness of their classics like "The Killing Moon," instead poking their collective head out into sunny, life-affirming Brit-Pop. With horns! And a killer melody that's casually upbeat without being obnoxious about it. It's a shot of carefree spontaneity that's perfect for driving around on the last day you can reasonably leave your car's windows open before autumn's chill hits. From What Are You Going to Do with Your Life?
9/6/03: Steely Dan- "Charlie Freak" (Thanks to Anne Becking.) A typically smart pop song from Walt Becker and Don Fagen, "Charlie Freak" sounds like it's being played in two unusual time signatures at once, from the nifty way the driving piano line rubs up against the vocals. (Whether it actually is two signatures, I don't know- I'm not schooled enough in music theory to be able to identify these things.) But the galloping, clockwork arrangement wouldn't mean a thing if the tune itself wasn't so terrifically weird, and at under three minutes, you may have to listen to this one three or four times to get your mind around everything the Dans are trying to do here. It's simple, but it's not. Accessible, but it's not. Just a huge, heaping plateful of interesting pop contradictions. From Pretzel Logic.
9/5/03: Bennet- "Mum's Gone to Iceland" A memorable, mechanical riff and gobsmacking harmony bits place this single in the same supercharged new-wave niche as "Connection" by Elastica. Even though they use the trick six or seven times throughout the song, it always kills me when they leap from the noisy power-pop guitars at the end of the verse into the a capella hook, "My mum has gone to Iceland." Wheee! From Super Natural.
9/3/03: The Venus in Furs- "Baby's on Fire" This cover of an early Brian Eno song (by a fictitious glam supergroup that includes members of Radiohead and Grant Lee Buffalo, with Bend It Like Beckham's Jonathan Rhys Meyers on vocals) is pretty similar to the original. However, it ups the dissonance factor (more squalling guitars in the middle section) and cuts down on the filler (the middle section is two minutes shorter than that of the original), so what's left is a concise, smarmy glam singalong that threatens to fall apart at any moment. From the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack.
9/2/03: Elvis Costello- "I Want You" One of the most astoundingly dark songs in Elvis's catalog, it starts off as a sweet-sounding acoustic ballad... and grows with intensity and bitterness over a bed of sulking bass and organ as it becomes clear that it's more of a self-destructive monologue of jealousy regarding his ex's new guy (referred to through gritted teeth as "that clown"). I love stuff like this. It's gorgeous. From Blood & Chocolate.
9/1/03: Kula Shaker- "Tattva" This Brit-pop band might not wave the psychedelic flag as fervently (or stare at the amazing trails the flag is making, man) as crazies like Acid Mothers Temple, but they're still several shades of trippy, swirling color more psychedelic than Oasis or The Verve. At least on this single, which is the only song of theirs I've knowingly heard. An incredibly catchy, Indian-influenced chant serves as a chorus- backed by great wah-wah guitaring- and the rest of the song melds Stone Roses-style pop instinct with darker instrumentation, and it's incredibly addictive. From the album K.
8/31/03: Scud Mountain Boys- "Grudgefuck" As vitriolic and bitter toward the woman who scorned him as Elvis Costello's best work, but the Scuds' Joe Pernice adds the dimension of self-loathing to the bile pile. It's a soulful indie-pop song that reeks of desperation, as Joe's stoned narrator calls up his ex and offers her "everything I own" for a booy call. Darkly hilarious and sad, it's yet another lonely masterpiece from Joe's oeuvre. From Massachusetts.
8/30/03: Aphex Twin- "Windowlicker" (Suggested by Jon Walter.) Effective as both a parody of cheap porn music and just an addictively sexy, throbbing electronic dealie, "Windowlicker" is among Richard D. James's catchiest compositions. It's still sprayed with alien noises and bizarre echo effects, but it's impossible not to get sucked into. Also, if you get a chance, check out the jaw-droppingly unsettling video! From the Windowlicker EP.
8/28/03: American Analog Set- "Magnificent Seventies" Despite being based around a two-chord organ drone that I'm positive R.E.M. or Yo La Tengo has used before on a song I can't place, this song is up to the engagingly gloomy standards set by both those bands because it's a really addictive two-chord drone. AAS also toss that Taxi-theme keyboard into the mix, and some friendly "doo doo doo" murmuring. A nice, sad song to wake up to, to prepare for your crummy day! From Through the '90s: Singles and Unreleased.
8/27/03: John Southworth- "It's Not the End of the World" With lush, Brian Wilson-style production and sprightly lyrics to cheer you up even if it feels like everything's collapsing ("No matter what the preachers/anchors/neighbors say, it's not the end of the world!"), this is a must for any fan of bouncy, piano-based pop. Southworth's innocent, nasal voice manages both sweeping emotion and cute lounge-singer grandiosity, and the flutes, trumpets, and other instruments fluttering all around him make the song sound like a big party- one to which you've actually been invited! From Mars, Pennsylvania.
8/26/03: Warrant- "I Saw Red" I would love to hear some indie-pop band do a straightforward remake of this song. In Warrant's hands, it's a schmaltzy power ballad, but beneath the gooey soloing and "sensitive" heartbreak lyrics ("Ooh, it must be magic...") is actually a pretty good song. I dig the way the bright verse does a hard right turn into the darker melody of the chorus, and all irony aside, it captures the betrayed mood it's going for in its own ham-fisted way. Seriously. From Cherry Pie.
8/25/03: Donovan- "Atlantis" This folk-rock ditty is hardly perfect: the first two minutes of it consist of an unintentionally goofy monologue about the inhabitants of Atlantis, and the second half consists of the same simple, stomping piano hook over and over. So why am I recommending this? Because that simple piano hook is among the brightest and catchiest I've ever heard, and it earns its endless repetition in a "Hey Jude" kind of way. Hail Atlantis! From Barabajagal.
7/21/03: Canned Hamm- "Platonic Friend (Monotrona remix)" This remix of Canned Hamm's already-hilarious dinky-pop song "Platonic Friend" (in which the Hamms cheerfully sing, "She just wants to be my platonic friend") is turned into an even stranger creature by Monotrona. With weird, mechanical vocals and a vibrating clavichord, the song sounds like a cross between Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll pt. 2" and the Flying Lizards' cover of "Money (That's What I Want)," with lots of great lines like, "We've got so much in common except for the lovin'!" From Karazma Reimagined.
7/18/03: Swingers- "Lovesick" The best song from Phil Judd's post-Split Enz band, "Lovesick" is a twisty, grumpy new wave song about feeling lovesick. A bunch of cool hooks collide into each other- jangly verse, bridge borrowed from Jethro Tull's "Aqualung," upbeat, Enz-y chorus- in non-sequitur ways that nevertheless sound great together. From Practical Jokers.
7/16/03: Hasil Adkins- "No More Hot Dogs" (Suggested by Mike DeFabio.) If this song is any indication, Hasil Adkins is a weirdo whose music sounds like the product of some ungodly menage-a-trois that contained Jerry Lee Lewis, Jandek, and Napoleon XIV. It's a brilliant, lo-fi rockabilly song on which Adkins's guitar stylings are made practically inaudible by virtue of the fact that, when he's not giggling maniacally into the microphone, he's singing about chopping off some girl's head and hanging it on his wall- all the better to prevent her from eating any more hot dogs, my dear. It's not as creepy as that sounds; Adkins has a nice, light touch that's more interesting than unsettling. From Out to Hunch.
7/15/03: Leapy Lee- "Little Arrows" A feel-good country tune (That is, Hank Williams country, not Garth Brooks country- could you just assume that every time I recommend a country song?) about falling in love and Cupid and whatever blah blah love-is-grand-cakes. But it's got just enough weird touches to sound every bit as sunny and cheerful as Ol' Leapy probably intended: a goofy wah-wah effect on the rhythm guitar, a brief break in which he sings, "Ohh... ohh... ohh... the pain!" in a funny impression of Johnny Cash, etc. It's nice. From Little Arrows.
7/13/03: Crispin Hellion Glover- "These Boots are Made for Walking" (Thanks to Rich Bunnell.) Eternally perplexing thespian Glover- the guy who played George McFly in Back to the Future and then got kicked off the Letterman program- covers the Nancy Sinatra classic in a manner that can only be described as "Crispin Glover-esque." Too funny to be scary and too scary to be funny, Glover is backed by a cheap, Wesley Willis-style synth... and proceeds to frantically, desperately sob the lyrics. It's dark and it's annoying, but it's also wonderful. From Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution. The Solution = Let Ie Be. (And apparently "Weird Al" Yankovic plays on that album!)
7/12/03: Mountain Goats- "No Children" There's a funny Life in Hell cartoon where Akbar and Jeff are describing their relationship through increasingly evil threats, and finally one of them says, "I could spend the rest of my life making us both miserable with low-level whining and hostility." (That's not the punchline; I forget how it ends.) That's pretty much what this song is about. John Darnielle's narrator doesn't have the courage to leave the mutually unhealthy, alcohol-fueled relationship he's in, so he commits himself to destroying them both. (The refrain is, "I hope you die! I hope we both die!" sung in a voice that's both chilling and amusingly chipper.) Catchy song, too, with a piano, acoustic guitar, and bass chugging along the rail to destruction. From Tallahassee, which is all about this unhappy couple.
7/8/03: Sean Paul- "Get Busy" This is apparently a big club hit right now, but for those of us who would rather freak out and walk randomly around Windsor's red light district for a half hour than set foot inside of a club, it's better to just download the thing. In a mushmouthed Jamaican accent, Sean Paul entreats the sexy ladies to drop X with him and get it on till the early morn. People still call it "X"? Anyway, it's really a better song than you'd think: repetitive, sure, and stupid to beat the band, but it's got a killer beat (that actually sounds a bit ominous) and the hypnotic, minimal melody works really well. It's a novelty, but one that you'll fondly remember in a few years. Someone (The Other Leading Brand, most likely) needs to splice this song with "Clint Eastwood" by Gorillaz. From Dutty Rock.
7/6/03: Skik- "Dankjewel voor de Zon" (Thanks to Anne Becking!) This is a tremendously fun goof-pop song, with an endlessly singable refrain even if you don't understand Dutch. It starts off as a catchy, acoustic, syrupy pop song in the vein of Supergrass or the Divine Comedy, but halfway through, they bring in silly, Sgt. Pepper's-style (or Dukes of Stratosphear-style) horns and strings, making for pop song bliss that just makes you want to yell, "Wheeeeeeee!" I don't know wha' album this is from.
7/3/03: Wyclef Jean- "Bubblegoose" Former Fugee does a simple, happy, bouncy, laid-back guitar-based singalong that could be a traditional sea chanty if it weren't arranged in stoned-rapper style, and didn't refer lyrically to urban gunplay. It's one of those songs that's so catchy it's almost maddening. I want sleep. From Presents the Carnival Featuring the Refugee All-Stars.
7/1/03: Southern Culture on the Skids- "House of Bamboo" Possibly the weirdest track from their thoroughly weird album Plastic Seat Sweat, this is a fudged-up cover of an Andy Williams song about a coffeehouse made entirely of bamboo. I gather the original is more of a martini-lounge-jazz sorta thing, but in the hands of the SCOTS, it's a deep-fried bossa-nova mishmash led by an electric sitar, a Hammond organ, and Mary Huff's snarkily sultry vocals. It's a catchy little lab experiment gone awry. From Plastic Seat Sweat.
6/30/03: Sean Lennon- "Photosynthesis" Just a fun little jazz-longe-pop instrumental that blows the rest of the wimp pop on Lennon's debut album out of the water. After it's over, it's likely all you'll remember will be the spirally funk bassline and the trumpet aerobics, but what more do you really need, honestly? It's the best neo-'60s mood piece I've heard in a long time (after revisiting this album for the first time in about three years). From Into the Sun.
6/28/03: Saturday Looks Good to Me- "Ambulance" Despite an arrangement so loose it threatens to come unraveled at any second (but doesn't), this casual indie-pop song is quite pretty in its thrown-together way. With a guitar in the left channel that's echoed and tremoloed just the slightest bit past "surf" territory and into "strange," and the sincere, multitracked vocals of some girl in the other channel, "Ambulance" is all about the sweet, uplifting melody that it keeps developing in a strange way throughout the song. There's no real running theme or refrain, but all the parts fit together anyway. You'd probably have to listen to it four or five times to really get your mind around it, which is why it's good that the instrumentation is so sparse. At any rate, it's not mindblowing, but it's nice and chewy. From All Your Summer Songs.
6/27/03: Tia Carrere- "Ballroom Blitz" Yes, on one level, it's an embarrassing failed attempt to jump-start another actress's unnecessary singing career (and an amusingly random one at that, not unlike Brian Austin Green). Thing of it is, our woman Tia turns out to be a damn good rock screamer on this cover of the Sweet song. Though her version jettisons the enjoyably demented idiosyncrasies of the original, that just means that the song finally clicks into place as a tight, fast, and above all catchy rock number. This chorus would sound good even coming from the mouth of Marlon Brando, but Carrere hurls herself into it with all her might, and her energy is infectious. From the Wayne's World soundtrack.
6/25/03: Iron & Wine- "Such Great Heights" (Recommended by Colin Jaffe.) Some time ago, I recommended "Such Great Heights" by The Postal Service as a Song of the Day. Well, for the EP of that song, The Postal Service recruited lo-fi acoustic popster Iron & Wine to cover it as a B-side, and what a difference the reinterpretation makes! What was once a sweeping electro-pop anthem is here transformed into a snuggly, intimate lullaby with whispered vocals, gentle acoustic plucking, and a sweet mandolin fill at one point. Your lady friend will like this one. From the Postal Service's Such Great Heights EP.
6/24/03: Berlin- "Take (My Breath Away)" Well, this one is really more of a Nostalgia Song of the Day than anything, since the song itself is really maybe not all that spectacular. But what a great mood it conjures with its silly, boingy synth chords that attempt to be majestic, and its wispy chorus that attempts to be romantic but has always struck me as curiously gloomy. If you had a similar childhood to mine, it conjures a cozy little mood of getting up at 5 AM every morning before school to watch Nick Rocks, Nickelodeon's forgotten music video program (which would play this video and Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" video every single day), before PicturePages and Dennis the Menace came on... I wish I was a kid again... Anyway, song: cheesy but entertaining. From Count Three and Pray.
6/23/03: Clem Snide- "Your Favorite Music" With not much more than a slow bassline, amiably clacking drums, and a violin, Eef Barzelay and his bandmates proceed to break your heart as gently as possible with this "sad song I wrote for no one else." Thing of it is, it's really not that sad a song, musically. It's just very mellow- not exactly Swans territory- but paired with the quiet devastation of the lyrics, it hurts like a goodbye hug that you never want to end. From Your Favorite Music.
6/19/03: Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke- "Meltdown" When your mental state is undergoing a rapid landslide, this song will either act as a safety net or plunge you instantly to the bottom, and you'll be transfixed either way. It's a fairly simple trip-hop thingy, with a mesmerizing bassline and a drumline whose gently skittery rolls add a bit of edginess to the mix. However, the main attraction is Gerrard's voice- even as it's buried in layers of echoes and wispy keyboards, her pained, vowels-only wailing and moaning sounds like despair incarnate. Nice creepy sample of children talking/singing around the 3:30 mark, too. From The Insider soundtrack.
6/18/03: New Pornographers- "Your Daddy Don't Know" (Thanks to Rich Bunnell.) This is a cover of a song by Toronto, and the Pornos throw themselves fully into the re-creation of its mid-'80s new-wavey rock style. (Think Rick Springfield.) But with Neko Case behind the mike, this cover transcends simple geek-rock humor and becomes an engaging, proudly cheesy rock explosion- if that woman's voice were a motor vehicle, it'd be one of those gigantic trailers that they use to move the space shuttle. I don't know where this song is from, but check it out!
6/17/03: Lieutenant Pigeon- "Mouldy Old Dough" It starts as a drums-and-fife march of the sort you might hear to indicate that an attack by British forces is imminent, but that's quickly integrated into something entirely different: a perky piano instrumental that sounds like "Telstar" gone to an early-1800s saloon. For good measure, the title is drunkenly growled a few times in the background, resulting in a single that'll have you rhythmically pounding your pint glass on the table. If this had been released 15 years later, you'd assume it was a hidden track on an XTC record. But nope, it's from Mouldy Old Music.
6/16/03: Middle of the Road- "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" Hee! This ludicrous hippie-pop song is just the thing to pick you up after you've spent the morning weeping over Bright Eyes lyrics! With a smile-laden cluelessness that's every bit as goofy as The New Main Street Singers from A Mighty Wind, Middle of the Road brings the handclaps, the nonsensical chanting of the title, and the cavity-inducing female vocals you'd expect from this genre. It's fun! (I don't know why this paragraph is formatted so strangely. I can't fix it.) From Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.
6/12/03: Vandals- "Canine Euthanasia" One of the sweetest songs ever written, this is a heartfelt goodbye to a puppy that had to be put to sleep. But rather than being horribly depressing, the Vandals approach the song with a playful, fast punk-rock joy that better approximates the joy of goofing around with your friend, and takes a surprisingly mature attitude toward the pain of loss. It'll make you smile and cry. From The Quickening.
6/10/03: Langley School Music Project- "Space Oddity" Marco Ursi writes, "150 school kids singing this Bowie tune accompanied by just acoustic guitar, bass, some percussion here and there and this absolutely ridiculously tremeloed electric guitar. The robotic nature of it all takes away any emotion from the song and turns it into one of the coolest, albeit creepiest, things I've ever heard." Word, Marco. This is really strange and extremely cool- it has almost a Silver Apples vibe to it, in a way. From the somewhat unsettlingly titled Innocence & Despair.
6/9/03: Spain- "Spiritual" Guy Peters writes, "Almost a reason to start believing again, Spain's 'Spiritual' is one of the most intensely sad prayers I've ever heard. From the crystal-clear guitar melody and nearly inaudible organ to the painfully sincere singing style of Josh Haden and the simple yet effective lyrics ('Jesus, I don't wanna die alone'), 'Spiritual' is a summary of universal feelings that always gets to me. Hearing Johnny Cash's version (which you can find on Unchained) on the day his wife's death was made official made me feel really bad for an entire day. I still find it baffling that this song is present on a band's debut album." Word, Guy! From The Blue Moods of Spain.
6/7/03: Mekons- "Last Dance" Oliver Crane writes, "This is just an absolutely perfect pop song, told from the point of view of a guy seeing a girl in a club just as everyone's leaving, and knowing that he won't get her. Sounds depressing, but the violin riff and the joyous singing make up for it. The shout of 'It'll be alright!' kicks my ass every time." Word, Oliver. This is actually the first Mekons song I've ever heard, and it totally makes me want to check out more of them: sounds like a cross between the Pastels and Weddings Parties Anything. Dig it. From Fear & Whiskey.
6/5/03: King Missile III- "Hamsters" Colin Jaffe writes, "In your review of Yoshimi, you described one of the songs as 'squishy techno,' and it was apt, but it even better describes this song. The techno sounds are bouncy and fun, and they get noisy and then quiet down, but you don't really notice they've quieted, so when they get noisy again it's like they're getting EVEN NOISIER. So not only do I love the song, but the lyrics are both absurd and make a great point about fashion and how you carry yourself. And then there's the always-endearing John S. Hall delivery. One of my favorite songs off of a record that has a lot of great songs." Colin speaks the truth. The lyrics are too good to give away, but trust me: they're brilliant. From The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.
6/4/03: Electric Six- "Gay Bar" Jon Walter writes, "I love love love this song. I don't know a whole lot about this group, but this is one hell of a revved-up punk song. The lyrics are worth noting, as well: 'Let's start a war, start a nuclear war, at the GAY BAR! GAY BAR!' Great song." Word, Jon. Singer Dick Valentine bellows in a husky, fake-British voice with peppy guitars raging around him, and the final effect is every bit as silly and amusing as The Elastik Band's "Spazz," but in the form of a concise rocker. At last, a band from Detroit that I can be proud of! From Fire.
6/3/03: Tori Amos- "Black Dove (January)" Cole Bozman writes, "I make fun of Tori... well, constantly, but this is one of the most perfect songs ever written. It makes up for Boys for Pele, anyway." Word, Cole. A truly haunting piano figure, a vocal performance free from cutesy impish/orgasmic/shrieky flailing, well-placed crescendoes... If Tori could nail this sort of musical beauty more often than once every couple of albums (and on the Toys soundtrack- ooh, "Happy Workers" should totally be a Song of the Day!), maybe I wouldn't be so quick to sneer every time her name comes up. Alas... From From the Choirgirl Hotel, which I assume was titled thusly for the sole purpose of making this sentence sound awkward.
6/1/03: Brian Eno- "The True Wheel" CARPQUIET writes, "If you can find a better use of the high-pitched girly/English schoolchildren vocal effect combined with the use of fantastic guitar and melody, then I will be amazed." Word, Carpquiet. From Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy), and you might also want to check out Head of Femur's interesting cover of the song at their website.
5/31/03: Los Shakers- "Break It All" (Suggested by Mike DeFabio.) I knew a girl in high school who would claim, during times of stress, that she had a "crazy Mexican guy dancing in [her] head." Well, Los Shakers might come from Uruguay, but this keyed-up '60s rock treasure will have pretty much the same effect on you, but in an ecstatic way. Though they take obvious cues from the Beatles' early rockers, Los Shakers' crisp guitar interplay and joyous vocals ("Break it all! You listen me [sic], break it all!") sound like an amphetimine-addled Beatles tribute band playing their most inspired set at a burger joint in the desert. Pure fun. From Break It All, and the Nuggets II box.
5/30/03: Bingoboys- "How to Dance" A great forgotten single from the early '90s, "How to Dance" is a bouncy, Technotronic-esque dance-pop tune that does absolutely nothing original, but does as much as it can with familiar ingredients. A sampled dance instruction record is looped into a spoken hook, there's some tentative scratching for atmosphere, smooth female backing vocals gel with the friendly woman who's sort-of rapping the verses (she's just sort of speaking them to a rhythm, using an odd conversational inflection), etc. Sure, the kids today might prefer dancing to their "Lords of Acid" or their "The Prodigy," but it's nice to go back and remember that this is what the hip aerobics instructors were listening to thirteen years ago. From The Best of the Bingoboys.
5/29/03: Bob Dylan- "Most of the Time" I'm ordinarily not much of a Dylan person, but I'd be lying (and dead inside, to borrow a phrase from CosmicBen) if I said this casual watercolor of a song didn't affect me. Backed by some unobtrusive guitar skronk and a very simple bassline that's borrowed from Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," the song takes the form of a rickety affirmation, in which Bob tries to convince himself, in an effectively trembling voice, of how far he's come on his recovery from heartbreak. Regretful lines like, "I don't even remember what her lips felt like on mine/Most of the time" abound, and ow my computer has just started emitting some sort of insanely high-pitched Zaireeka squeal make it stop ow. From Oh Mercy.
5/28/03: eels- "I Like Birds" (Suggested by Rich Bunnell.) Without quite shedding the shy misanthropy that's always made him so charming, frontman E sings a bouncy, acoustic-rock celebration of our avian friends. (Who, it must be said, are really much better companions than people generally are.) Typically creative production and subtle undercurrents of lonely disconnection abound, as in all the eels' work, but to paraphrase Shonen Knife, this song is really just about I like birds. Therefore, it's cute and fun and you should donate to your local exotic animal rescue league. From Daisies of the Galaxy.
5/26/03: Lightning Seeds- "Pure" A really rinky-dink arrangement (it might even just be MIDI) is easy to overlook with this song, because the Britpop vocals are so cute and lightweight and catchy. In fact, it sounds like a more cheerful (or at least less bitter) Magnetic Fields or Trembling Blue Stars; and since the lyrics speak of a desire for things to be "pure and simple every time," the uncluttered arrangement makes sense. From Cloudcuckooland, and those Aquafina commercials.
5/25/03: Yo La Tengo- "Moby Octopad" (Suggested by Rich Bunnell.) Yo La Tengo don't often make music designed for your dancing pleasure, but if "Moby Octopad" doesn't get your body into suggestive-hipster-mating-dance mode, you're wrong. With James McNew thumping out an addictive bassline that sounds like it's working out on a Stairmaster, Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan (doing a falsetto!) harmonizing lyrics stolen from Burt Bacharach, and well-placed piano and feedback snippets contributing to the sizzling funk-pop atmosphere, it's everything we love about Yo La in one bootylicious package. From I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, which you should already own.
5/24/03: Doris Day- "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" (Thanks to Adrienne.) Though I'm sure jazz-pop from the '40s doesn't sound particularly appealing to many of you, I bet you'll like this song anyway. Beautifully orchestrated- to the point where it sounds like there should be a lavish Busby Berkeley dance routine going on to accompany it- and set to a tango beat that's as sultry as Mancini's "Lujon," this is among the sexiest pre-rock songs I've ever heard. And Day's teasingly confident voice is the icing on a huge bowl of Cool-Whip. Day's version is apparently available on Move Over Darling- and hey! Mancini apparently recorded this at some point, too! I totally called it!
5/20/03: Bright Eyes- "Haligh, Haligh, a Lie, Haligh" I really try not to recommend two songs by the same band very often, here at Song of the Day Headquarters, but I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't tell you to check out this utterly shattering breakup tune. Not only does it contain one of the most instantly addictive choruses Conor Oberst has ever written (vibes and all!), it's shockingly powerful to hear him talk about his ex giving him "a lock of hair you said would prove our love would never die" before spitting, "Well, ha ha ha," or the pleading way he wails, "[You said] you'd always be there/Well, where are you now?" It's a gorgeous breakdown. From Fevers and Mirrors.
5/19/03: Neutral Milk Hotel- "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" Oleg Sobolev writes, "This IS the pop masterpiece I've been waiting all of my life. Bright acoustic guitar just pictures the crazy celebration of youth. And these lyrics! 'And one day we will die/ And our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea/ But for now we are young/ Let us lay in the sun and count every beautiful thing we can see.' This is what I want my youth to be wasted for, really - just laying in the sun and counting every beautiful thing I can see. Listening to this song, I simply can't understand how people can dislike Jeff Mangum's voice - it comes with such a soul and brightness that the album about death reminds me about holidays, beaches and huge green meadows. This song is what I wanted to hear all these 15 years, one month and eighteen days." Word, Oleg. From In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.
5/18/03: Flaming Lips- "Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)" Colin Jaffe writes, "No-one but Wayne Coyne could write a song about a guy having a fantasy in which he's a secret agent, and then in the fantasy the secret agent goes insane, and the guy fantasizing all this finds himself nearly going insane from getting too much into the fantasy. And the music's that wonderful Lips nu-prog that they'd do much more of on The Soft Bulletin, most especially in the song 'The Spark That Bled.' Hey, that should be a Song of the Day too!" Hey- Colin's right! The original version is on Zaireeka, but for those without four stereos, there's a fine stereo remix on the Waitin' for a Superman EP. Keep the Songs of the Day comin', people!
5/17/03: Disclaimer- "Five Mile Hill" Cole Bozman writes, "What, me suck up? This is one damn catchy pop song, driven by an acoustic guitar and some energetic drumming. If I didn't suck so badly with lyrics, I'd mention them too. Either way, it packs more interesting ideas into 2 1/2 minutes than most popular bands can manage in an entire album. I just listened to it three times! From the album Bombs by Night, Balloons by Morning." Word, Cole.
5/16/03: Joseph Arthur- "In the Sun" Nick13 writes, "I heard this on my local college radio station a while back - it's a great emotional folky song that I think you might well like." Word, Nick. It's a nifty, cascading acoustic-rock song. From Come to Where I'm From.
5/14/03: Monster Magnet- "Dead Christmas" Jon Walter writes, "From the greatest hard rock group of the 90s comes this song, which could possibly be called a 'power ballad' although it's a hell of an odd one. A great melody, and a fantastic organ arrangement. This might be my favorite song from the band." I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it a power ballad- it sounds like a fairly straightforward, Dandy Warhols-style rocker to me. But to everything else, I say "word!" Awesome song. From Dopes to Infinity.
5/12/03: Venetian Snares - "A Giant Alien Force More Violent And Sick Than Anything You Can Imagine." Mike DeFabio writes, "It's a 15 minute, one song EP, and it's just insane. If Mu-Ziq is like Aphex Twin on Prozac, Venetian Snares is like Aphex Twin on crank. The stretch from about 13:38 to about 14:40 is about the most violent thing I've ever heard." There's not much I can add to Mike's description except, "Word." This is punishing music, but in a good way.
5/11/03: Michael Stipe & Rain Phoenix- "Happiness" Yeah, it's really incredibly overlong, but that's because it had to take up the entire end credit crawl of Todd Solondz's Happiness. (A movie you should definitely see, though not if you're feeling extremely sensitive.) In the same "stupid pop song" spirit as "Stand" and "Shiny Happy People," Stipe throws himself into this upbeat three-chord wimp-rock song with amusing abandon, cheerfully singing intentionally dumb lyrics like "It seems to me the things I want in life I've never had/So it's no surprise that living always leaves me sad." Rain Phoenix adds backing vocals. From the Happiness soundtrack, assuming there is one.
5/10/03: Ministry- "Jesus Built My Hotrod" I understand that the single version of this song sounds rather different from the Psalm 69 version, which I have, so maybe you should investigate that one too. Either way, though, you get the Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes growling a hilarious redneck parody of "Blue Moon"-style scat singing while the Ministry boys bash out killer industrial speed-metal noise behind him. And really, that's about it, but with a song as crazed and energetic as this one, what more could you possibly need? From Psalm 69.
5/9/03: Bityears- "Gamle Klassiker" (Formerly credited to "Joel Larsson and Adam Johansson.") I have a a low tolerance for songs about cars- in any language- but it's impossible not to fall in love with this charming, lo-fi Swedish pop song from the very second it starts. Teenage friends Larsson (the deeper-voiced of the two, as well as a critic over at Sam Ulward's) and Johansson trade infectious call-and-response verses before singing in unison on the chorus, and it's no exaggeration to say their playful goofiness results in one of the most fun songs I've ever heard, even if you don't understand the lyrics. Don't believe me? Mosey on over to the Bityears' website and check it out. It's on their album The First Bityear, as well as the compilation Locusts, Roaches, and Ants: The Music of the Web Reviewing Community, vol. 1.
5/7/03: Van Morrison- "Moondance" I know I'm really going out on a limb here... but this is a cool song. It's a brilliant slice of jazz-pop, or whatever you want to call it, with a great flute melody driving it- well, that and Van's powerful voice belting out a bewitching tune that sounds like he should be performing it in one of those hard-boiled private-eye hats that Dennis Quaid wore in Far from Heaven. (I'm starting to think I should update the song of the day in the evening instead of the morning, to prevent phrases like that last one from slipping through due to my not-yet-awake state.) Not much more I can say, really. If you know the song, you already love it, and if you don't, you'll probably recognize it when you check it out. From Moondance.
5/6/03: Gants- "Road Runner" If I weren't so tired, I could probably think of the term for this type of music. I don't think it's really rockabilly... maybe it's boogie-woogie or something. I'm totally blanking on it. Anyway, it sounds like the early Beatles, and it sounds like it should be playing in the background of a drive-in restaurant from the early '60s where the waitresses wore roller skates (or in the background when Mario fights the Hammer Brothers in Super Mario Bros. 3). At any rate, it was a big hit for the Gants, and it's a song about the Road Runner, complete with awesome "Meep meep!" noises. And I like it. From Road Runner.
5/5/03: Gruppo Sportivo- "Hey Girl" I've been downloading songs by this Dutch new wave band all weekend, and I love each song more than the last! Why were they never big in the States? This song sounds something like a cross between Madness and The Fixx, with breakup lyrics that aren't above including godawful puns like, "She said, 'Your nose is running, honey.' I said, 'Sorry, but it's not.'" (Get it?) They make room for a killer trumpet solo, too! If you ever make yourself a new wave mix, you need this one on there. From Back to '78.
5/4/03: John Linnell- "South Carolina" This song alone is almost worth picking up John's solo record for. It's a catchy-as-heck piano boogie about a guy who crashes his bicycle (perhaps intentionally) and then sues someone. It sounds like your typical They Might Be Giants song from around the Apollo 18 era, really, with Linnell's typically clever lyrics ("The back wheel's O is now the letter D/I was an I and now I am a V") and a silly, pitch-lowered chorus. Slight but infectious. From State Songs.
5/2/03: Funkadelic- "Get Off Your Ass & Jam" (Suggested by Mike DeFabio.) There's not much more to this song than a freaky-ass guitar solo, Bootsy Collins's addictively bubbly bassline, a keyboard hooked up to a wah-wah pedal, and a hilarious, chanted exhortation to dance. It really doesn't need more than that, because George Clinton's band of merry funksters brings it all to you with such a silly-yet-focused sense of purpose that it's hard to disobey. From Let's Take It to the Stage.
5/1/03: Nina Nastasia- "This is What It is" A dramatic drone-rock number, this is definitely one of my very favorite songs that Steve Albini had a hand in (he engineered it). An organ just sits there, with a few of its keys held down through the whole song, and a string section stutters insistently in the background, punctuated by the occasional, urgent bass drum thump. It's a haunting atmosphere that borders on scary, until Nina's disconsolate-yet-flat voice (think Edith Frost guesting on a 6ths record) butts in to matter-of-factly mutters words of defeat and resignation. The perfect soundtrack to a downward spiral. From The Blackened Air.
4/29/03: Idlewild- "You Held the World in Your Arms" At this rate, who knows if I'm ever going to get around to reviewing The Remote Part, Idlewild's serviceable follow-up to 100 Broken Windows, but this song deserves your attention. It's a foursquare, charging rock song that plays into all the hyper-R.E.M. comparisons the band has gotten (from this reviewer too), but puts forth such an achingly effective mood that originality really isn't an issue. The chorus in particular makes me feel somewhat frustrated, because it's so perfect, with its sweeping keyboard line and Rob Woomble's pained vocals, and I can't help but think it'd be more effective if everyone in the world were listening to it at once and communally basking in its beauty. So here's yer chance. From The Remote Part.
4/28/03: Parappa the Rapper: "Prince Fleaswallow" An extremely trippy reggae song from the PlayStation game Parappa the Rapper. In the game, the point of the song is that Parappa (some sort of dog/bear concoction) is helping a giant, pimped-out frog sell crap at a flea market, and the stream-of-consciousness lyrics reflect this, but just barely. Lines like, "I've been working here since my momma was a baby" are indicative of the head-crushingly weird nature of this song, which is tremendously catchy to boot! Great frog sound effects, and Parappa's spoken response vocals are strangely pleasing. It's fun.
4/27/03: The Undertones- "Teenage Kicks" (Suggested by Joe Ciaravino.) Cripe, I love early punk. And this is a great, summery example of such. It's a really simple, midtempo, three-chord basher that sounds to me like the Clash's "I'm So Bored with the USA" slowed down, but the lyrics are such a carefree ode to making out that it's probably closer to Joey Ramone's rock-and-girls aesthetic. Excellent driving song, especially if you're going to the beach or, I dunno, to get ice cream or some other warm-weather fun activity. From The Undertones.
4/26/03: Gary Jules- "Mad World" (Suggested by Jon Walter.) It's songs like this that make me live for the outside Song of the Day recommendations from you guys (er... those I don't forget to check out, anyway). This is a guy named Gary Jules, doing a soul-piercing cover of the Tears for Fears song, bringing out all the loneliness and disillusionment in the number by giving it a spare piano arrangement and impossibly sad vocals. In a way, it sounds like Neil Young being backed by Chan Marshall on piano, to give you some idea of the yearning emotion you're in for. From Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets.
4/25/03: Cibo Matto- "Birthday Cake" This is the one Cibo Matto song that I've genuinely enjoyed after more than a couple listens; luckily, it gets better every time I hear it! It's a high-strung party song that uses Parliament's interstellar funk as a starting point and then tosses in wailing, Japanese-accented rapping about the '60s and expired food products. Love that fuzz bass, too! This is crazy. From Viva! La Woman, but it's also on the Brain Candy soundtrack, if you're in the market for a more listenable record.
4/23/03: Divine Comedy- "Perfect Lovesong" (I can't remember who recommended this, because I have a disproportionate number of friends who are into the Divine Comedy, and I've lost all my old e-mails- Anne? Joel? But thanks to whoever did!) "Give me your love and I'll give you the perfect love song, with a divine Beatles bassline and a big ol' Beach Boys sound," begins this adorable pop tune, bringing in the bass as soon as Neil Hannon brings it up, and then layering on the Brian Wilson production tricks really thick for the remainder of the song. Woodwinds, a glockenspiel, falsetto "oooo" backing vocals... it's really jokey and sappy, but if, like me, you can stomach the Beach Boys' style only if there's a little irony thrown into the mix, this might very well live up to its title. From Regeneration.
4/22/03: The Urinals- "Ack Ack Ack Ack" This is about as punk as it gets, my friend. One minute long, with a steady 2/2 beat and the bass, guitar, and vocals all playing the same single note throughout the song (except for a brief bridge that finds them hammering away at a slightly lower note for a few seconds). Lyrics? Mostly "ack ack ack ack." If you thought Wire had stripped things down as far as they could go, you're in for a hilariously monotonous treat. It's available on Negative Capability Check It Out.
4/21/03: Bob Mould- "New #1" Another great codependent anthem from Bobby, this one is propelled by an enormous rhythm section (possibly a drum machine- I haven't checked the liner notes- but it sounds identical to the crushing insistence that Malcolm Travis exhibited in Sugar) and a 12-string guitar that forlornly does its duty without being showy about it. Mould has never been the most technically proficient singer in the world of ex-punk rockers, but after several minutes of pleading for time to get his head together without the added stress of his lover taking off, he wails, "Are you listening to meeeeeee?" in a surprising, semi-high register, it gives me goosebumps every time. From The Last Dog and Pony Show.
4/20/03: Gillian Welch- "Everything is Free" (Thanks to Anne Becking!) What a great, great, mopey song this is. Well, Gillian herself isn't really mopey so much as disillusioned, but it's a good song to listen to if you are. It's a very simple folk song, with a perfectly sad, minimal melody that's confident enough in its own stark power to just repeat itself over and over until you realize that it could pretty much go on forever and you'd be satisfied, because it's such a soothingly unhappy mood. From Time (The Revelator).
4/19/03: Devo- "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA" An oft-overlooked stopover on the path to devolution, this is a two-part song that relies more on chanting (awesome vocal interplay between Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale) and whacked-out keyboard noises than an actual melody, but that matters not. The "Smart Patrol" section is a stomping statement of purpose for the spud boys, and then it launches into a hyperactive tale of "Mr. DNA," who is "an altruistic pervert." None of this makes much sense, but it's rhythmically addictive. From Duty Now for the Future.
4/5/03: The Queers- "Ursula Finally Has Tits" Oh, come on. It's an adorably silly kiddie-punk song (in the style of the Ramones, the Dead Milkmen, et al) about these teenagers who think this girl Ursula is awesome now that adolescence has caught up to her. Joe Queer sounds like he's struggling to hit some of those higher notes- and they're really not all that high- but it's endearing, and the melody is nice and breezy. If you've ever purchased a Blink-182 product, you can atone for that by purchasing the Queers' record Love Songs for the Retarded, which this song is culled from.
4/4/03: Melanie- "Brand New Key" Here's the deal: on Wednesday night, I couldn't sleep because this song, which I hadn't heard or thought about in months, kept running through my head. Then, on Thursday, my friend Erica gave me a list of songs she wanted me to download for her, and this song was, oddly enough, on the list. Later that day, my coworker Jon brought his copy of the Boogie Nights soundtrack in to listen to while we received boxes, and the song is on there too. It rather freaked me out, so I can only assume that God wants this to be a Song of the Day. Frankly, I'm not sure whether I like this song or whether it's irritating, but either way, it's got one of the most compelling and addictively off-kilter melodies ever written. The lyrics are piffle about roller skates, and the music consists mostly of a bassline that just moseys around, but Melanie's singing is really interesting. For the verses, she gamely proceeds like your typical Dusty Springfield-esque chanteuse, but once she hits the chorus, the vocal line sounds like it's falling down the stairs all of a sudden, and it keeps doing it. You'd have to hear if, if you haven't, and I highly recommend you do. Like I said, I can't tell if it's good or bad, but it's weird, and that counts for something. From Gather Me.
4/3/03: u-ziq- "Brace Yourself Jason" (Suggested by Mike DeFabio.) Mike describes this as "a happy little drill-and-bass number. He's sorta like a sane Aphex Twin." That pretty much fits. I really love this style, where ambient basslines and fluttery, airy keyboards can be attached to maniacally fast beats in a way that simply adds an invigorating energy to the song, without overpowering the mellower elements. (I think "Mellower Elements" would be a pretty good name for an ambient track, come to think of it. Say it a few times. 's fun.) If you are at all interested in the amusing food web of noises that makes up the electronica world, you'll get a kick out of this. From Lunatic Harness.
4/2/03: The Elastik Band- "Spazz" (Suggested by Jon Walter.) You know how the band from The Muppets, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, was meant to be something of a psychedelic band? Okay, imagine if they were actually on some sort of psychedelic substances, and you've got this gigantic question mark of a single. With a spy-guitar line and a backing band that seems content to just sort of do whatever (including an enjoyably random blues-rock breakdown in the middle), "Spazz"'s real weirdness comes in with the singing. Sputtering, barking, and drawling are three of the featured vocal activities here, but they're by no means the only ones present, as the listener is warned that "People gonna think, yes they gonna think, people gonna people gonna think you a SPAZZ!" Enjoy! From the Nuggets box.
4/1/03: Flaming Lips- "Orion's Soldiers Betrayed" (Suggested and courteously supplied by Paul Ackerman) Apparently released only in South America, on some Argentinian relief charity CD(!), this pre-Soft Bulletin track combines all the yearning, humanistic beauty of, say, "Waitin' for a Superman" with the somewhat unpolished style they perfected on Clouds Taste Metallic. Over a bed of floundering guitars and synths and cool unidentifiable noises, Wayne Coyne sings one of the prettiest,catchiest melodies he's yet constructed. I'm unclear what this story's about- intergalactic warfare or something- but Wayne's message of brotherhood and love is stronger and more deeply affecting here than can possibly be described. It's yet another masterpiece, and a must for both the Lips fan and the non-Lips fan (Jon Walter). From the compilation Dirty War Torn.
3/31/03: New Bomb Turks- "Scapegoat Soup" Do you know how much I hate the bar scene? You will, after you listen to this fabulous speed-garage-rock tune, about how oppressively shallow the experience of trying to hook up with strangers is! It rushes along in a manner that's sarcastically fast, so it can be hard to catch all of Eric Davidson's lyrics (shouted in a friendly way), but it's catchy enough to make you want to sit through the few listens that will be required to understand 'em all. "'Whatcha drinkin'?' 'What's your major?' Man, I don't even care!" makes me laugh every time, and I'm giving them bonus points for the keyboard bit in the middle, where it just sounds like someone's mashing it with his palm. From At Rope's End.
3/29/03: The Glands- "Swim" It's impossible to listen to this song only once, the first time you hear it. Even if it's plopped in the middle of a mix tape or something, that just means you're going to do some rewinding. I'm a sucker for bouncy piano-pop songs like this in the first place (think a more modest version of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky"), but even moreso when they've got a singer with as winsome a voice as Ross Shapiro singing a peppy, "Hey-ey Joe!" refrain. Fans of Eels-style introvert-rock will be thrilled, but it's so catchy that everyone else should be too. From The Glands.
3/28/03: Spoon- "Everything Hits At Once" Spoon has never been a band much concerned with vocal melodies, but that doesn't matter on this clever little puzzle of an indie-rock song. With neat, syncopated organ blips, riffs that put in tiny cameo appearances and split, and all sorts of other unobtrusive elements all working together, it would've been easy for this song to become cluttered, but the great thing about this song is the way all its elements hold back to make room for all the others. Basically, it's an infectious pinball game, and Brett Ratner's three-note singing fits into the arrangement wonderfully. From Girls Can Tell.
3/26/03: Chet Baker- "The Thrill is Gone" A slow, jazzy blues number where a piano, a trumpet, and Mr. Baker's voice all add up to a big wad of regret. Chet resignedly throws up his hands, admits that he's tired of whatever relationship he's in, and sounds like he wants to just crawl into bed with a big bottle of wine. Beautiful and sad, you'll love it. From Let's Get Lost: The Best of Chet Baker.
3/25/03: Bad Religion- "American Jesus" More top-drawer melodic punk rock from Bad Religion, with Greg tearing apart the complacency of Americans who feel, "I don't need to be a global citizen 'cause I'm blessed by nationality," and all the material items they worship. The chanted backing vocals thrillingly up the anger midway through, without derailing the memorable melody. From Recipe for Hate.
3/23/03: Human League- "Don't You Want Me" I personally don't think this song gets enough credit. Yeah, it's been on countless '80s compilations and is spun nightly in "retro" restaurants like Red Robin, but you never really hear anyone talk about it. That's a bummer, because it's one of the most perfect new wave songs ever recorded. With boy/girl vocals providing both sides of the story about a sudden breakup, vocal hooks galore, and a downcast (practically New Order-esque) bridge that perfectly contrasts with the addictively perky chorus, the Human League might've been one-hit wonders with this one, but how could they have topped it anyway? From Dare.
3/22/03: Radio Birdman- "Aloha Steve and Danno" (Suggested by Jeff Hayes.) For some reason, it's a mid-'70s garage rock song that incorporates huge bits of the Hawaii 5-0 theme, but it totally works! Even if you've never seen an episode of that show, it's impossible not to enjoy the upbeat, punky bliss with which these Aussies bash out a killer riff, and then embellish it with "Book 'em, Dan-O"s and that familiar guitar line. From the album Radios Appear.
3/21/03: Primus- "Mephisto and Kevin" This song probably won't hold a lot of interest to anyone who isn't a big South Park fan- and even then, hearing Les Claypool breathlessly narrate the biography of that little monkey thing that follows Mephisto everywhere might not be up everyone's alley- but it's a wonderful heap of detuned funk energy. Besides the hilarious lyrics, you get Primus's typically tight- if nonsensical- rhythms and a transcendentally silly chorus sung by Isaac Hayes. From Chef Aid: The South Park Album.
3/20/03: Dead Kennedys- "Soup is Good Food" A psychotic surf-punk track that features some of the coolest guitar playing I've ever heard, courtesy of East Bay Ray. It's not especially show-offy, but he introduces an awesome riff and then varies it just a little throughout the song, which is pretty nifty. In addition, you get Jello Biafra's entertaining, spoken stuffed-nose venom about The Man ("We're sorry- hate to interrupt, but it's against the law to jump off this bridge! You'll just have to kill yourself somewhere else. A tourist might see you and we wouldn't want that!"). From Frankenchrist.
3/19/03: Creedence Clearwater Revival- "Lookin' Out My Back Door" As far as I'm able to tell, this is a song about John Fogerty sitting around and watching an impromptu musical jamboree that has broken out in his backyard, with a bunch of different animals merrily playing instruments. If that hilarious image isn't enough to convince you of this song's Muppet-y goodness, it's got a killer slide guitar riff to accompany the upbeat acoustic strumming, and the "Doot! Doot! Doot!" hook in the chorus should be enough to make even the most depressed listener giggle. From Cosmo's Factory, I think. And by the way, could someone please release a Paul F. Tompkins comedy record? That guy's hilarious.
3/18/03: Adult- "Silent Property" I know there's a really, glaringly easy line I could be drawing between this awesome, bouncy electro-dance tune and some other techno artist, so you guys would know what this song sounds like, but it's eluding me... Aphex Twin? Plaid? Sorta. At any rate, it's an electronica track based around a dinky, robotic bassline and some happy synth noises all around it. Catchy, fun, yeah. From the Detroit techno compilation The Forgotten Sounds of Tomorrow.
3/17/03: Super Furry Animals- "The Man Don't Give a Fuck" Sorry for the lengthy string of days that went songless. Anyway, this typically stellar SFA tune might be open to charges of being a bit slight... since a good portion of its running time is taken up with a looped Steely Dan sample, chanting, "You know they don't give a fuck about anybody else!" while the Furries crank out high-quality weirdo rock behind it. Gruff Rhys's calm, tuneful verses make for a nice counterpoint, but mostly, it's a great song to feed the anger you're feeling at Bush and Rumsfeld and those fuckers. Available on the Outspaced compilation. Happy St. Patrick's Day, too!
2/27/03: Norman Blake- "You are My Sunshine" Ever since I was a wee one (an infant, I mean; I'm still rather short), this song has made me weep uncontrollably for some reason. Not Mr. Blake's version, but the chorus-only version you're taught in elementary school because isn't it sweet to see a bunch of bored, off-key six-year-olds being forced to sing in the school cafeteria on Mother's Day? I was never able to view the line, "Please don't take my sunshine away" as anything but horribly depressing, because it always sounded to me like a last-ditch (yet futile) effort to convince a loved one not to abandon you. (I was very cynical even as a kiddie.) And you know what? I was right! Blake's four-minute bluegrass version of the song is among the saddest, most rock-bottom desperate attempts at averting heartbreak that I've ever heard. You already know the tune, I'm sure, but have you ever heard it with lines like, "You have shattered all my dreams" and, "I'll take all the blame"? Well, you need to because it draws out the song's real meaning in a realistically hopeless fashion. From the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
2/26/03: Boredoms- "Omega" That's not the actual name of the song- it's really just a Greek omega symbol, but I can't seem to find the special character to type that. Like most of these Japanese rock deconstructivists' work, traditional "song" elements such as verses, choruses, and even forward momentum are rejected here. Unlike the occasionally unlistenable punk noise they used to trade in, though, "Omega" begins as a soothingly weird experiment in percussion and chanting, but that's quickly replaced by a crazy mechanical drone that sounds like a reel-to-reel puking up tape for a good five minutes. Why should you even bother listening to this, then? It's hypnotic, and I like hypnotic. From Vision Creation Newsun.
2/25/03: Lagaan- "Radha Kaise Na Jale" (Thanks to Adrienne Newell.) This song is credited to "Asha, Udit, Vaishali, & Chorus" in the version I have, but looking up the Lagaan soundtrack is probably the easiest way to find it. This song will have more meaning to you if you actually watch the movie first, but I can't imagine that most of you are going to rent a four-hour Indian musical about a cricket match (awesome though it is- and believe me, I wasn't any more enthusiastic about the prospect than you probably are) just to "get" a Song of the Day. Luckily, it's a great, ornate Indian tune to begin with. Really interesting percussion, adorably squeaky female vocals that alternate with more confident-sounding male vocals, and a great, playful melody. I don't know enough about Bollywood soundtracks to describe this in better detail, but just trust me. (I say "just trust me" a lot in these descriptions, don't I?) From the Lagaan soundtrack.
2/24/03: Sloan- "Bells On" A leisurely, personal pop ballad that's often overlooked on Twice Removed (surrounded as it is by upbeat catchiness in the form of "Coax Me," "Snowsuit Sound," and others), but on its own is a remarkably sad song in which Chris Murphy tries to deal with his girl running off with his friend. Messing around with the quiet/loud dynamics- but not in a cliche, post-Nirvana way- and dropping in bitter lines like, "To you, your friend was hurt, but to him, I owe him money," Murphy and his bandmates perfectly capture the random, confusing bouts of anger, sentimentality, and despair that follows an unexpected dumping. From Twice Removed. SERVING SUGGESTION: Listen to it back-to-back with Soul Coughing's "True Dreams of Wichita" for added girl-running-off-with-friend fun!
2/23/03: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone- "Airport Samba" The name of this one-man band pretty much says it all: this song features Owen Ashworth and his cheapo keyboard lamenting a goodbye at an airport that didn't go so well. Yes, the song does click along to a tiny samba beat, but the keyboard part consists of some simply held chords that sound a bit like a lo-fi Stereolab (or Dump). Add to that Owen dejectedly muttering, "I wish you would turn around/You never even said goodbye," and you've got a brief, adorable masterpiece of heartbreak. From the album Pocket Symphonies for Lonely Subway Cars, which is pretty much impossible to locate, from what I can tell.
2/22/03: Hank Williams- "Why Should We Try Anymore?" "Are you ready for some football?!" Williams boldly exclaims as he- oh, wait. No, this is Hank Williams (Sr.) doing what he does best: crooning a simple country ode to hopelessness, lovelessness, and all-around dismay. Being such a pioneer, Hank's musical arrangement might not sound especially imaginative nowadays- it's not even "verse-chorus-verse," it's "verse-verse-verse-verse-verse"- but the misery in Williams's voice is timeless as he proclaims, "The dreams that we knew can never come true/They're gone to return no more/False love like ours fades with the flowers/So why should we try anymore?" From 40 Greatest Hits.
2/21/03: The Postal Service- "Such Great Heights" (Suggested by Jeff Hayes.) My friend Jeff is excitedly telling everyone he knows that they have to check out this new single from the Postal Service, which features Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie and Jimmy Tamborello from Dntel and the excellent synth-pop band Figurine. And is it a great song? Is it ever! As Tamborello provides an amiably groovy electronic backing (skittery programmed drums, squelchy drone bass, assorted bleepy noises), Gibbard supplies his trademark plaintive vocals and a soaringly pretty indie-guy melody about how much he loves and misses his S.O. The two styles work seamlessly, and it's a perfect song as the weather gets warmer. From Give Up.
2/19/03: Blackalicious- "Alphabet Acrobatics" (Suggested by Mike DeFabio.) Pretty much a novelty hip-hop track, but a hilarious and technically impressive one, "Alphabet Acrobatics" is basically an exercise in which Gift of Gab raps a few alliterative lines from each letter of the alphabet, to a beat that gets faster and faster as the song goes along. It's playful enough to drop the words X-Ray, Xerox, and xylophone into the X section, which should give you some indication of how the whole thing works. Great mix-tape tune. From the EP A2G. By the way, the AMG says the tune is called "Alphabet Aerobics," but I found the song on Kazaa under "Acrobatics," so I don't know who's right.
2/17/03: Odds- "Heterosexual Man" An infectious bassline is all that's needed to drive this hilarious parody of machismo ("I'm gonna make every woman I know! I'm gonna make 'em take off their clothes!"). The Odds' nerdy harmonies add an addictive quality to the already catchy song, and it's all delivered with a good-natured smirk. From Bedbugs. And by the way, if you haven't visited the parody site whitehouse.org before, you really need to do so. This page had me laughing till I was in tears: The First Lady's Recipe Box. Check out Laura's recipe for smoked turkey!
2/16/03: David Clement- "Geriatriphilia" A tiny, sweet, silly love song in which Clement envisions himself and his boyfriend as old men, living lives of cozy familiarity with each other and pretending "not to notice when our bodies make weird sounds." The tune is a playfully gentle indie-guitar pop number whose awesome melody doesn't outshine the contemplative nature of the song. From the thoroughly enjoyable record Your Free Gift, which can be obtained for free with any donation toward Clement's future recording sessions. Check out www.davidclement.com for more details- it's a pretty cool deal!
2/15/03: Mark Kozelek- "Ruth Marie" The Disclaimer Music Review Archive's own Jenny e-mailed me this song yesterday, telling me that she's listened to it 50 times and has yet to do so without crying. Well, I've only listened to it three or four times so far, but I've had the same reaction. It's an unbearably sad (and I mean "unbearable" in a good way, of course) song of loneliness and abandonment from the perspective of Mark's girlfriend's grandmother, who had recently been put into a nursing home. I was gonna quote some lyrics from this song, but I can't even read them from a Kozelek fansite without breaking down in sobs, so just trust me that they're wonderful and beautiful and heartbreaking. I was never a big fan of the Red House Painters, but this solo acoustic tune reaches closer to Nick Drake's hermetic emotion than RHP's somewhat dull slo-core-isms. From the Rock 'n' Roll Singer EP.
2/14/03: In recognition of the fact that Valentine's Day can kiss my ass, there will be no Song of the Day today.
2/13/03: Moist- "Underground" (Suggested by Jon Walter.) An unimaginative acoustic-rock arrangement is redeemed by a great, uncertain melody in this song. It sounds like a less cloying version of Duncan Shiek's "Barely Breathing," and I mean that in a nice way. There's also an amazingly pretty- and gratifyingly strange- synth intro to this song that I wish was twice as long as it is. From the album Mercedes Five and Dime. While I'm at it, might I suggest you pay a visit to Guy Peters's wonderful new review site?
2/12/03: Brian Dewan- "Any Other Way" In his incongruously serious monotone, Dewan sings a story of finding a rusty old sled- a discovery that puts his character through an utterly insane, Rube Goldberg-esque exercise in chaos theory. It's basically a three-minute wry joke, but the punchline is worth it. Plus, the bleepy organ music sustains repeated listens, and the entire tale is wonderfully phrased (to give just one couplet away, "They said the surgery was successful, but they'd misplaced my muscles and skin/Would I sign a waiver that said I agreed to be a skeleton?"). From Dewan's Hello Club EP.
2/10/03: Dusty Springfield- "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" (Suggested by Cole Bozman.) A nifty Bacharach-and-David ballad that's pretty much just Dusty singing powerfully over a bunch of strings and some heavily echoed drums. Pretty song. I think it's from Dusty.
2/7/03: Jacques Dutronc- "J'aime les Filles" Doesn't the title mean "I love the women" or something to that effect? That would fit, because this song by French singer/songwriter has a funny, girl-watching cheek to it that transcends language. Musically, it's a self-consciously sappy, soft piano-jazz number, with Jacques singing in a way that would be identifiably French even if that weren't the language he was singing in. Catchy, too! From the album Dutronc au Casino.
2/6/03: Butthole Surfers- "Birds" The best straightforward hard-rock song the Buttholes ever wrote, "Birds" is a couple minutes of fire-breathing guitars hammering away at breakneck speed while Gibby Haynes bellows atop it like a drunken priest. Yeah, Paul Leary's solo is surprisingly pedestrian for him, but there's so much energy packed into this bite-size firecracker (not that you should be putting firecrackers in your mouth) that you won't notice. From Electriclarryland.
2/2/03: Space Needle- "Hot for Krishna" I'm recommending this based more on the cleverness of the title than the song itself, though it's a serviceable little instrumental. Frankly, it sounds like a cross between Yes and the Velvet Underground's first record, with an enjoyably screechy violin running around randomly atop a tribal drum bed and a proggy guitar figure... It's short, and it's fun. From the otherwise uninteresting album Moray Eels Eat the Space Needle.
2/1/03: Shins- "New Slang" Probably the saddest and most beautiful slice of acoustic pop I've heard since Elliott Smith's "Miss Misery." The easiest way I can think to describe this song would be to say it sounds like Smith covering a song from Ween's country album: just imagine the melodic brilliance that could come from that pairing, and you've got the Shins. Very mellow, very sad, with fantastic, poetic lyrics. And my apologies to anyone who I previously told this song was called "Gold Teeth and a Curse." I was once misinformed. From the album Oh, Inverted World.
1/30/03: Genesis- "That's All" It's fun to listen to Phil Collins seethe about how there's no winning with his woman- especially on a song that has such a honest-to-goodness brilliant melody. Over a spare backing that focuses mostly on a smooth, pip-poppity keyboard line, Phil actually delivers a great vocal performance, singing through gritted teeth and occasionally bursting into shouts of rage. (Well, maybe "shouts" is too strong- it's still Phil Collins.) With lines like, "I could say 'day' and you'd say 'night'/You tell me it's black when I know that it's white," no wonder he divorced her by fax and then married a 27-year-old! From the album Genesis.
1/28/03: E- "Hello Cruel World" I'm tempted to recommend "Waste of Paint" by Bright Eyes again, because man, that song just beats the crap out of me every time I hear it... but that's against the Song of the Day bylaws, so you'll have to content yourself with this rueful little popper by the soon-to-be frontman of the Eels. To paraphrase a description I once read of Kevin Spacey (don't ask why these things stick with me), E has the unique ability to sound downright jaunty about his own misery, and that comes through wonderfully on this song. The music is pretty straightforward guitar pop- catchy enough, but the real selling point is the vocals. His smoky voice harmonizes with itself, detailing several general disappointments before he flings his arms open and sings, "But what the hell- hello, cruel world!" Only Aimee Mann writes more exhilarating odes to the freedom of giving up. From the album A Man Called (E).
1/27/03: Of Montreal- "Baby" (Suggested by Joe Ciaravino.) "It's a song I've listened to, and continue to from time to time whenever I think about my unrequited love for a certain 'Little Red-Haired Girl' (a Charlie Brown reference)," writes Joe, and this really is a perfect song to accompany such an activity. Rather than sounding upset or pleading or hopeless, Kevin Barnes and his bandmates come up with gorgeous, cutesy harmonies as he acknowledges the fact that "even though my feelings aren't returned, and in time I won't think about you this way, that doesn't stop me just for now from wishing we were each other's baby!" Sweet acoustic backing, too. And for some reason, the Charlie Brown comparison is especially apt for Of Montreal's cheerful refusal to fall into disillusionment. From the album Cherry Peel.
1/26/03: Joy Division- "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (Suggested by Jon Walter.) Though I personally don't feel that this is "the most beautiful song ever written in rock music," as Mr. Walter writes, it probably is pretty high in the running. Moreover, it has what may well be the most haunting synth line I've ever heard, that's doubled by a dreamy-sounding bass. Ian Curtis mumbles disconsolately over top of the murk- which sounds more like early dreampop than new wave- singing about the futility of... well, just about everything. A must-hear. Available on New Order's Substance compilation (Joy Division became New Order after Curtis's suicide) and just about every goth-kid mix tape ever made.
1/25/03: Nick Drake- "Time of No Reply" Never fails to make me cry. Though Drake was an exceptionally gifted guitar player with a heart-melting whisper of a voice, his tunes- particularly the ones that consist of nothing more than him and his nimbly fingered acoustic- always had a gentle modesty to them, no matter how hopeless and shattering his lyrics could be. And this is probably the saddest song he ever recorded (though how can you pick just one?). I can't do any of the lyrics justice by typing quotes from them, but when Drake almost conjures a light at the end of the tunnel during the astoundingly pretty verses, only to shove a rock in front of the exit during the bridge, it's a moment that's just too, too painful for words. And it's beautiful. From Time of No Reply, though you're better off just to buy the whole Fruit Tree box set.
1/24/03: JJ72: "October Swimmer" Singer Mark Greaney has a wonderfully theatrical voice of the sort we haven't heard in rock music since Phil Judd split Split Enz. His larynx sounds like it's actually hurling itself at the microphone for that extra oomph, and the band's music- crunchy Britpop- thumps and chimes and floats along with sympathetic energy. Unremarkable lyrics, but when Greaney takes off into his gorgeously strange falsetto, you'll feel it in your loins. I think I'm running out of ways to describe these Songs of the Day. From the album JJ72.
1/22/03: Frank Black- "Headache" This song was recommended by Andre, who writes, "Many a afternoon has been spent screaming about my headaches caused by insane girlfriends- not that [the song is] about girls, but they give the worst headaches if you ask me." Given Frank Black's typically obtuse lyrics, this song could be about girls on some level, for all we know. However, more immediately, it's about a headache, set to one of the most straightforwardly poppy melodies Frank has written since he went solo and decided that odd time signatures are more important than hooks. (Was this a single? Should've been.) From the album Teenager of the Year.
1/19/03: Nirvana- "Sliver" Similar to Nevermind's "Lounge Act," "Sliver"'s chief assets are an infectious bassline from Krist Novoselic and surprisingly poppy mumble-to-scream vocals from Kurt. Practically a new wave song in the happy way it bounces around, "Sliver" is a surprisingly cute song about Kurt being dropped off at his grandparents' house against his wishes when he was a kid. I'm sure that some angsty holdout from the early '90s would say that the song isn't "cute" and how dare I say that when it's clearly an exploration of separation anxiety and the youthful trauma of feeling abandoned by one's parents or whatever, but the chorus is "Grandma, take me home!" It's adorable. And catchy! From the album Incesticide.
1/16/03: Harvey Danger- "Flagpole Sitta" This stomping rant about the shallowness of youth culture- and society in general- might be a little dated nowadays with its talk of publishing zines and raging against machines, but since we live in a world where the average citizen doesn't seem to care that Donald Rumsfeld wanted to poison Afghanistan's food supply, perhaps a little misanthropy is in order today. Plus, with engagingly snotty vocals and a raucous anthem of a chorus, it's about the catchiest bit of disillusionment ever to hit the radio. From the album Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?
1/14/03: Incognito- "Out of the Storm (Carl Craig remix)" Ten minutes of giddy space-funk! I've never heard the original, so I don't know which elements belong to Incognito and which to DJ Carl Craig, but the tune is a hypnotic mixture of loping bass and atmospheric, swirly keyboards that lie dormant one moment and run around like laughing centipedes the next. Good music for the downtime in your life. This version is on Craig's disc Designer Music V1.
1/13/03: Kate Bush- "There Goes a Tenner" (Suggested by Anne from the Netherlands.) Note to self: Kate Bush and Pat Benetar = two totally different people. This is an insanely catchy piano-bounce song that reminds me a little of Madness, only with a more playfully gloomy mood. It's apparently about a crime spree, but that's a little hard to tell, because Bush's adorable British accent swallows some of the words. No matter, though, because the silly synths and breathy "uh-oh"s in the background make this a total pleasure no matter what it's about. From the album The Dreaming.
1/12/03: ELO- "Mr. Blue Sky" You know that song from the Volkswagen commercial that features a montage of this poor white-collar schlub going through the exact same routine every day at work until he discovers that there's now a convertible Beetle? Well, this is it. It's perhaps a bit overlong (due to an unnecessary coda that can be easily excised for your mixes), but only a very petty critic would mention that, since the stomping piano and life-affirming lyrics- and vocoder!- are so perfectly joyous that they could go on forever and I wouldn't mind. Looks like it was originally from the album Out of the Blue, but I might be wrong.
1/10/03: PJ Harvey and Bjork- "Satisfaction" (Suggested by Anne from the Netherlands.) This live recording captures the unique vocal talents of both PJ Harvey (pissed-off monotone) and Bjork (giddy, off-the-wall shrieking) as they run through a muted, downcast cover of the Stones song. For the first couple listens, it sounds as though the ladies are simultaneously performing two different songs, so odd is the disconnect between their singing styles, but once you get adjusted to it, it's a wild indie-girl reinvention. I have no clue where this song is from.
1/8/03: Mocean Worker- "Hey Baby" A charming bit of turntable electro-funk that I think I saw on a beer commerical at some point, "Hey Baby" has an unstoppably fun bassline to propel things. The fun comes along when the Worker (Adam Dorn) starts narrating, "Hey baby! Hey baby! Hey baby!" in a cheesy lothario voice reminiscent of the guy that sang "The Humpty Dance." Fun novelty big beat music. From the album Aural & Hearty.
1/4/03: Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks- "I Scare Myself" (Thanks to Mark Smith.) Mixing acoustic mariachi with an acid-tango violin, and throwing in some background singers who sound like they were borrowed from Burt Bacharach, Dan Hicks's muse for this song must've looked as expansive and gnarled as an H.R. Giger portrait of Vishnu. At once soothing and tense, this song expertly displays the dark side of '70s whimsy. I highly recommend this one, even if you don't usually check out these songs of the day. From the album Striking It Rich.
1/2/03: U2- "Numb" (Suggested by Oleg Sobolev) From the egregiously underrated Zooropa LP comes this casually addictive little single, featuring the literally monotonous vocal stylings of the Edge. As he mopishly recites a list of forbidden activities, electronic bleeps and blunders bounce all around him, and Bono backs him up in a silly falsetto. The song doesn't come right out, grab you by the lapel, and shake you, but it's fun to hear U2 do this sort of miniature trip-hoppy videogame stuff. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to go back to listening to all those Tatu songs I downloaded, because I cannot stop doing so for some reason.
1/1/03: Monkey Syndicate- "Heterosapians" You remember that line on Friends when Joey, that lovable lummox, says, "If the homosapiens really were homo-sapiens... is that why they're extinct?" Well, Ben Greenstein and Bob Tempchin take that notion and run with it in this Spinal Tap-esque rock odyssey, which posits the theory that the homosapiens were conquered by the heterosapians. It's basically an excuse for a lot of cheap puns ("Deep in the anals of history...") and Mr. Show-inspired archaic lyrics ("These rascals threaten our dainty way of life!"), but Greenstein's straight-faced emoting makes me giggle every time I listen to this. The production is nice, too, especially on the novelty space-funk of the bridge. It's not from any album, but if you want to check it out, e-mail me and I'll put you in touch with Ben, who is a very nice guy. And happy freakin' new year.
12/28/02: Tatu- "How Soon is Now?" Tatu is Russia's answer to the manufactured, sexed-up pop tarts that those of us in the United States can enjoy on the cover of Stuff every month. Apparently, they're two teenage lesbians (that's the gimmick), one of whom squeals like an anime heroine on most of their songs, the other of whom has a more normal voice, and their music is just catchy and entertainingly clueless enough to avoid being infuriating. Take, for instance, this utterly bizarre run-through of the Smiths' "How Soon is Now?" It retains the tremolo-infatuated guitar stylings of the original, but adds an inappropriate piano... while the chanteuses sound like they learned the words phonetically, with no clue as to their meaning. It's very, very wrong, but in a good way that makes me smile every time. From the album 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane.
12/27/02: Bright Eyes- "Waste of Paint" One of the most desperately lonely songs I've ever heard. You've seriously gotta check it out right this very second. Conor Oberst strums his acoustic guitar for six and a half minutes, and wails in a quavery voice about failure, lovelessness, mortality, and how much it hurts not to have that human connection that could make it all better. It's not really a cynical song, though- there's a touching verse about how happy he is to see his roommates in love, even though he still feels empty. There's a lot of beauty here, and although it's a little repetitive and not especially impressive from a technical perspective, fans of Neutral Milk Hotel or similar bands shouldn't mind much. From the easy-to-remember album Lifted, or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.
12/25/02: Kevin Bloody Wilson- "Hey Santa Claus" As Calvin once said, if a novelty Christmas song is funny once, it's funny every time, and that's certainly true of this cheerfully profane treat by the pride of Australia, Kevin Bloody Wilson. It's basically just a couple kids (played by Kevin) angrily yelling at Santa because they didn't get the stuff they asked for. I'd quote some of the lyrics, but they'd just come across as annoyingly juvenile in text, when in fact Wilson's delivery makes them entertainingly juvenile. Alright, just one: speaking about how his poverty-stricken family got by at Christmas when he was a kid, he fondly remembers, "Dad used to suck a peppermint and we'd all sit around his tongue!" I have no idea what album this is from, but I bet it's funny. Merry Christmas to everyone out there who celebrates it! Peace and love be with you!
12/24/02: Replacements- "Waitress in the Sky" A flighty little song (har har) about stewardesses, where the bitterness is hilariously out of proportion to the subject matter. The music is basically a nondescript country-rock thing, but Paul Westerberg's lyrics never fail to crack me up: "The sign says, 'Thank you very much for not smoking'/My own sign says, 'I'm sorry I'm smoking.'" It's juvenile and ridiculous, and therefore it's brilliant. From Tim.
12/23/02: Camper Van Beethoven- "Sisters of the Moon" Not really a tremendous song on its own, but very effective if plopped in the middle of a mix tape, this is Camper's cover of Fleetwood Mac's vulnerable-to-the-point-of-sappy tune. Rather than re-creating (or even paying attention to) the original melody, however, the band feeds the song to a nagging drum machine and a detached, computerized text-to-speech program, while the guitars and other instruments drone away in the background. With the computer mumbling the song's lyrics (as well as random references to Spinal Tap and "Rock Lobster"!), this cover achieves a quiet spookiness that's really cool. From the album Tusk.
12/21/02: Nada Surf- "Popular" (Suggested by Joe Ciaravano) The scorchingly funny chorus of Weezer's "Undone- The Sweater Song" was brilliant enough to make most people overlook the fact that the verses were pretty much garbage, so it was kind of Nada Surf to take that song's formula and make a wonderful slice of geek-rock from start to finish. Musically, it's a rather transparent rip-off (they even got Ric Ocasek to produce it, just like Weezer!), but the talking bits are funny as a popularity "expert" becomes increasingly unhinged, laying out his crackpot theories. Then, of course, the song then soars into an ear-candy chorus that's merrily venomous in its indictment of the popular kids' shallowness. Fun video, too. From the album High/Low.
12/20/02: Locust- "Master and Servant" I was somewhat disappointed to discover that this writhing technopop tune is actually a cover of a Depeche Mode song, since the S&M lyrics are played so straight that I'd hoped Locust was serious. Nevertheless, with a bossa nova beat, and all sorts of libidinous instruments like harps surrounding lyrics like, "Forget about your equality- let's play Master and Servant," the safe word for this song is "catchy"! From the album For the Masses: A Depeche Mode Tribute. (Note: This isn't the hardcore math band The Locust, so don't go in expecting lots of that band's noise, jerky rhythms, and wordless shrieking.)
12/19/02: Pee Shy- "Mr. Whisper" Twee-pop at its finest. With ringing guitars, a bouncy piano line, and a bridge that features gorgeous girl harmonies and toy instruments, "Mr. Whisper" should've been as big a hit as, say, "Thriller." The fact that it was on the radio for about a day and then vanished, however, just means that it's another great undiscovered song for you to investigate. And did I mention smile-inducing lyrics like "To prove how far away Nebraska is, you speak in whispers/To prove how far away I am from you, I call you 'Mister'"? From the album Don't Get Too Comfortable.
12/18/02: Tom Waits- "Goin' West" (Suggested by Jon Walter) With his insanely scraggly bellow and hilariously macho lyrics like "I've got hair on my chest/I look good without a shirt," Waits practically sounds like he's drunkenly waving a pistol in your face here. Cheaply recorded and amusingly creepy, with distant, swatted drums and a rotating guitar line, "Goin' West" is a pithy bit of testosterone. From the album Bone Machine.
12/15/02: Phish- "You Enjoy Myself" (A Live One version) If you'd never before heard Phish's magical feats of self-indulgence, you shouldn't go by their truncated performances on SNL last night. You'd be better off checking out this 21-minute feast of nimble instrumental interplay, from the band's first official live album. Unlike the endless, monochromatic jams of someone like the Grateful Dead, Phish actually has the sense to pull assorted moods and influences out of the air for their explorations, running the gamut from new-agey ambience to galloping funk to nonsensical chanting within the same tune. Download me! From the first disc of A Live One.
12/14/02: My Morning Jacket- "I Will Be There When You Die" (Recommended by Guy Peters, I think.) Not a threat like its title might suggest, but rather an open-hearted statement of devotion that also happens to be sung in a gorgeously yearning voice by Jim James. With nothing more than a thoughtfully strummed acoustic guitar to back him, James clings to his lover's affection like a man holding onto the side of a cliff only by a sapling, and the lo-fi recording makes it sound like we're eavesdropping on a particularly sweet confession. It's a song so beautifully, piercingly sad that my friend Aimee told me she's going to have to lend me a bunch of Beach Boys albums to counteract it. From the album Tennessee Fire.
12/13/02: Neil Finn- "Sinner" Questions of faith, guilt, and loss (I guess) are expertly covered in Finn's usual, non-specific way here, but the real treat of "Sinner" is its smooth, satiny melody and the well-adorned production by Finn and Marius De Vries. An eerie, recurring sample of a violin and piano underpins a terrific, sneaky bassline that's as catchy as the vocals. It's another great nighttime song, out of respect for our Alaskan readers who are probably in the middle of three months of unrelenting darkness right now. Or else three months of oppressive daylight. Good song either way. From the album Try Whistling This.
12/9/02: ABBA- "S.O.S." I've listened to this song several dozen times this past week, psyching myself up to see Mamma Mia in Toronto on Wednesday, and it makes me smile every single time. A melodramatic, forlorn verse that's built around a piano line and would later be ripped off by Madonna for "Like a Prayer," and an obliviously happy chorus that's pure pop candy. I realize there's been an overabundance of Swedish pop on this site in this past week, but I don't care because those goofy Scandinavians, though slow, and dangerous behind the wheel, do serve a purpose. And that purpose is to write boppy, infectious pop songs! Why would I deny them that? From the album Gold, and probably a studio album too.
12/8/02: Gus Gus- "Why?" (Suggested by Andre Denomme) An airy, Air-y pop song that's nothing more than one of those full-sounding vibe organs and Emiliana Torrini's plaintive singing, but it adds up to a terrific bit of nighttime atmosphere. Honestly, I could listen to an entire album of nothing but that organ tone- it's so sexy and bubbly- but the happy/sad melody of this song makes it one of my favorites in the genre. From the album Polydistortion.
12/6/02: Roxette- "Joyride" (Thanks to Rich Bunnell for the inspiration.) HELLO! YOU FOOL! I LOVE YOU! With those six words, Roxette's elfin-voiced Per Gessle can transport you back to a time in the early '90s when this infectious, Swedish pop tune ruled the airwaves. If you haven't heard it in awhile, I urge you to revisit it and let the song's innocent brilliance wash over you again: that joyous whistling in the middle of the verse! Those stupid wah-wah noises! The goofy backing vocals on the line "In a wonderful balloon"! Come on, don't be a pansy. From the album Joyride.
12/4/02: Telepopmusik- "Breathe" So it seems I have an unsettling weakness for simplistic electronica tracks that are featured in Mitsubishi commercials. (This one's from the one where the guy is driving all over the place, and we see a montage of all his companions in the car on a bunch of different nights.) Sue me. This is a good one. I don't have much to say about the melody or rhythm or anything itself- it's catchy enough, not earth-shattering- but the mood of the song is bloody brilliant, to quote that whimpering little redhead from the first Harry Potter movie. With an insistent thump of a beat that sounds so close it could be your own heart, and sexy female vocals pushed into the distance, "Breathe" is a perfect, cozy song to listen to while you're in your car, cruising past the nightlife (which is a lot more satisfying than actually being out in it). From the album Genetic World.
12/3/02: Sparklehorse- "Apple Bed" With a voice so world-weary that it sounds like he barely has the energy to move his tongue to form sounds, Mark Linkous writes some of the most affecting snippets of tragic beauty you'll ever hear. This song, which plods along to a simple bassline and close-up drum machine, is the sound of lying on the floor in complete and utter defeat. Subtle instrumentation like muted guitars, a cello, and backing vocals by the Cardigans' Nina Persson add to the gorgeous hoplessness of the tune, but Linkous's whispered lyrics ("Around my deep and bloody sea/To breach the hive and smoke the bees") achieve a non-specific and unnerving sense of things falling apart. From the album It's a Wonderful Life.
12/2/02: Stone Roses- "I Wanna be Adored" There's more to this song than meets the ear initially. It aches. Just like the title- with its clever debt to the Ramones- implies. The guitar- all echoey and jagged and helpless- aches. The lyrics ache. The desperation as the song builds to a thumping Britpop climax aches, and you really have to be in the mood for someone to share your pain to be attuned to it, but there's a pervasive, skin-melting sadness here that goes beyond the simple U2 stylings and non-electronic house music influences exhibited by this song. It's always breathtaking in its ambivalent catchiness, but if you're in an emotional place where this sort of thing can really do some damage, it'll mow you down like a thresher. (Description edited here for tact.) From the album The Stone Roses.
12/1/02: BT- "Never Gonna Come Back Down" A song that's gone on every mix I've made for people for the past two years, this is an amazing drum-and-bass track with Mike Doughty rapping/singing/ranting semi-psychotically over BT's rhythm-heavy arrangement. The verses are pure madness, with Doughty noisily quoting the Book of Revelation, asking for DJ Rap's phone number, and giving a series of shout-outs to an imaginary crowd, while the chorus reins everything into a brilliant, addictive hook full of more energy than I'd be able to muster in a thousand lifetimes. From the album Movement in Still Life (if you're going to check this out, you want the version that's 5:47 long; beware of the truncated single version from the Gone in 60 Seconds soundtrack that deletes most of Mike's ramblings).
11/23/02: Moistboyz- "OG Simpson" Recorded at the height of public furor over the OJ Simpson "Trial of the Century" (because, y'know, so much was riding on the outcome), this song of support for the Juice is a bilious attack on the media frenzy surrounding the case. With Mickey Moist (better known as Dean Ween) stomping out a terrific bassline that Weezer would later steal for "Hash Pipe," Dickie Moist shouts hilariously angry lyrics that perfectly capture the national mood of 1996. (The line, "This shit is fuckin' weird/Mickey, hand me a beer!" is the single best summary of that whole surreal circus I've ever heard.) This was apparently originally released only as a standalone single.
11/21/02: Babylon Zoo- "Spaceman" Apparently a big hit single in the UK, but virtually ignored over here in the States, "Spaceman" is a groovy, somewhat angry electro-rock song... played at twice the speed it was recorded. Imagine if you were dubbing a cassette on high speed for someone (which you really shouldn't do, but whatever), and a song jumped out at you as being mind-blowingly awesome with Chipmunk voices, keyboards bouncing all over the place, and a bassline that's so fast it almost sounds like a drum roll. If you enjoy dancing or know how to, this is an excellent dance tune; for the rest of us, it's still a Ween-esque bit of fun. From the album The Boy With the X-Ray Eyes.
11/20/02: Super Furry Animals- "(A) Touch Sensitive" This is a really cool, dub-techno sort of instrumental that is often overlooked among the flashier tunes on Rings Around the World, but it's quite effective on its own. With synths that sound simultaneously spacey and scuzzy, skittery cymbals swooping salaciously, and a smooth bassline supplying a somewhat sexy setting, "Sensitive" is a singularly salburious song. (You see why there haven't been any new reviews in awhile?) From Rings Around the World.
11/18/02: Mitchell Froom with Ron Sexsmith- "Overcast" If a midnight rain puddle could sing, this is the sound it would make. While Froom provides a smooth noir backdrop with piano and other keyboards, Sexsmith sings perhaps the most memorable melody of his career thus far (through a megaphone, from the sound of things). Actually, the song sounds more like Sexsmith walking home in the cold, drizzly night to a house that's now empty- forget that stupid rain puddle nonsense. The tune is a little too short, I think, so listen to it twice. From Froom's album Dopamine.
11/15/02: Future Bible Heroes- "Losing Your Affection" Well, it's Friday, which means that it's time for another Stephin Merritt Song of the Day. This is a mellow little synth-dance tune sung by Claudia Gonson in an enthusiastic voice that's so obviously amused by the lyrics that she can't quite summon the deadpan monotone Merritt usually requires for his songs. And the lyrics are up to Stephin's usual pithy brilliance, this time about how much the narrator enjoys her lover's devotion: "I would rather be a queen at the guillotine in a bloody insurrection/I would rather be the king when the rooks take wing than losing your affection." It's droll, and the world needs more drollness. From the album Eternal Youth.
11/14/02: Ladytron- "Playgirl" So it sounds a little like Air's "Sexy Boy." Turning old-school synths and drum machines into fuzzy club music that pities the superficiality of club culture, Ladytron has secret weapons in two female vocalists. Helena Marnie takes the lead vox here, and her distant-yet-compassionate singing is countered by brusk, spoken interjections from Mira Aroya, in a style that recalls '80s new wavers like Boys Don't Cry... only with feelings behind their flashy, deadpan surface. From the album 604.
11/13/02: Elliott Smith- "Needle in the Hay" This harrowing, understated pop song is the apotheosis of everything Smith has done to date. It sticks to pretty much the same formula as his other well-known songs- acoustic guitar, multitracked vocals, and not much else- but his performance here is so powerful in its seething misery that the minimal arrangement allows you to really hear subtle dynamic changes in his whisper of a voice, and the tentative strum of his guitar. It's a story of a stressed-out college kid who turns to drugs to cope with all the pressure, and by the song's end, it's easy to imagine this guy falling into a Requiem for a Dream spiral... It's just shattering. From Smith's self-titled album, and also on the Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack.
11/12/02: NEW MOMENTARY FEATURE- DRINK OF THE DAY: Bloody Mary. With the deliciously salty taste of tomato juice and worcestershire sauce masking the nasty taste of the vodka (while still maintaing all of the vodka's delightful intoxifying qualities), you'll be able to down this sucker in like ten seconds! And its replay value is astonishing: once around with a Bloody Mary isn't enough- three or four would be welcome if I wasn't out of vocka now dammit. It's like the best Italian dinner you've ever eaten, because it's liquid and you leave buzzed. From the immensely useful Webtender website (though I recommend you subsitute a dash of chili powder and a pinch of cayenne pepper for the Tobasco sauce that's called for).
11/10/02: Old 97's- "Valentine" If your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband ever kicks you out of the house, this needs to be the first song you listen to in your car as you go to the liquor store and then to a hotel to contemplate your next move. Over a simple, country-based, bouncy acoustic figure, Rhett Miller regretfully (but somewhat optimistically) mumbles about the specific horrors of heartbreak and its aftermath. "It's a lonely, lonely feeling when your valentine is wrong" is among the most chillingly on-target lyrics I've ever heard, but it's delivered in such a friendly manner that hope almost seems like it's just around the corner. From the album Fight Songs.
11/9/02: Crowded House- "There Goes God" Neil Finn's collaborations with his brother Tim (in Split Enz, as the Finn Brothers, or on the Woodface Crowded House album) have always been a bit scattershot, since Neil's effortless songwriting brilliance rather outmatches Tim's somewhat stiff, labored compositions. This song, however, is perhaps their most fruitful combined effort: a brain-massaging Aussie-Beatles pop song that portrays God and the devil as two mutually grouchy neighbors. From Woodface.
11/7/02: Luie Luie- "El Touchy" Goofy, fun instrumental that's introduced by Luie Luie himself, speaking extemporaneously about how he has invented a new dance craze called the Touchy: "It is a wonderful idea for people to get together and touch." Luie apparently plays every instrument on this Latin-flavored instrumental, which is actually pretty impressive, since the most prominent sounds are a trumpet, a Moog, and a somewhat clumsy guitar. It actually sounds like it belongs to the same genre as the Dating Game theme music, just to give you some idea. It's so innocent... I think it's from an album that's called El Touchy.
11/6/02: Thinking Fellers Union Local 282- "Noble Experiment" Well. Since it seems Rich Bunnell was the only one of you who actually did go out and try to nullify some Republicans' votes yesterday, it seemed like the way to go today would be to suggest this beautifully weary, Optigan-driven waltz that serves as an epitath for the human race. There are obviously plenty of reasons to hope that the future is at least short and painless, and Anne Eickelberg's soothingly flat voice is enough to make the end days seem like the most relaxing, exhausting bit of peacefulness we could ever hope for. Of course, hope for anything is increasingly becoming the sole province of the unrealistically optimistic and the stupid, so... I think I'll have a gin and tonic before work! From the album Strangers From the Universe.
11/5/02: R.E.M.- "Ignoreland" Swimming underneath a roar of guitars, Michael Stipe spouts the most aggressively direct lyrics he's ever written, about his disillusionment with the Reagan/Bush Sr. years in the United States. You'll need help decoding his singing, which is even more muffled than usual, but help is worth seeking out ("Ohhh! He's saying, 'I'm just profoundly frustrated by all this!'"). It's a good song to get you pumped up today before you go do your civic duty of voting Republicans out of office. From the album Automatic for the People.
11/4/02: Alphaville- "Big in Japan" With excellent, lonely production (a fuzzy guitar is buried in the mix beneath plinky keyboards, resulting in an odd, boingy feel; plenty of reverb for that far-away sound...), "Big in Japan" is a new-wave hit that actually sounds like it's wandering around lost in an unfamiliar country. A little cheesy, sure, but it's nevertheless a perfect song to throw on when you're feeling strangely disconnected from the rest of the human race (but not quite separate from it, which would call for Kraftwerk). From the album Forever Young.
11/3/02: Hole- "Doll Parts" Why not celebrate last week's release of the expendable Nirvana greatest hits album by revisiting one of the best songs Kurt Cobain probably wrote? Forget the run-of-the-mill lyrics (and your personal antipathy toward the vocalist); the real draw here is Courtney Love's defeated, hoarse singing and a rudimentary melody that suffocates in its own misery... before Love lets out some of her throaty bellows to close the song. Sure, it's slight, but it's a quality flashback to 1994. From the album Live Through This.
11/2/02: Johnny Cash- "Rowboat" It's Johnny Cash turning one of Beck's pessimistic, imitation country songs into a pessimistic, genuine country song! And it sounds exactly how you'd expect when you imagine Cash covering Beck. Plus, you get to hear "Rowboat" out of the context of Beck's Stereopathetic Soulmanure, which is an album that only pretentious fucking idiots could claim to enjoy. This version is on Cash's wonderful album Unchained.
11/1/02: Falguni Pathak- "Pal Pal Teri Yaad" There's not much I can tell you about this Indian dance track except that Falguni's singing (I assume that's her name and not the name of the band) is amazingly supple and endearingly high-pitched, and the music does a fine job of supporting her vocal gymnastics as well as keeping to a steady, pervasive rhythm. I don't know what the song is about (she could be singing, "Drink Pepsi" in Hindi over and over for all I know), and I don't know whether this song is unique among Indian pop music because I know zip about the genre, but it sounds really cool to my ignorant ears. From the album Maine Payal Hai Chhankai, but it's more readily available on Orbital's entry in the Back to Mine mix compilation series.
10/31/02: Camper Van Beethoven- "Take the Skinheads Bowling" A nonsensical, fun little college-rock anthem, this is also now the theme song of Michael Moore's excellent documentary Bowling for Columbine. Smart-alecky collegiate humor, a nifty violin part, and David Lowery's youthful straining to hit notes... it's a gem. From the album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.
10/29/02: Apples in Stereo- "Rainfall" Robert Schneider's lyrics are nothing to write home about (unless you're writing to say, "Dear Globo-Chem, these sure are some mediocre and inconsequential lyrics. Please send me as many free products as possible."), but Hilarie Sidney's melody is spellbindingly pretty on this song. Bashed out with more energy than we're used to from these evergreen optimists, Sidney's light voice is beautiful in its un-show-offy sensibility, and the noisily poppy guitars are dripping with hopefulness. A must-hear, especially if you're in the mood for a sunny day and none is forthcoming. From their new album Velocity of Sound.
10/28/02: Wall of Voodoo- "Can't Make Love" With the serious announcer voice of Stan Ridgway navigating several aisles of clanging keyboards, it's hard to call "Can't Make Love" catchy in any traditional sense. What's addictive about the song is the way Ridgway delivers a seemingly misogynous, cut-the-crap declaration of unfocused horniness ("I'm a nice guy, but I don't love you/I just wanna sleep with you," which you must admit, is billions of times more effective than "Nookie")... and then goes on to show just how unfocused his libido is by repeating the first verse with "boys" in place of "girls," undercutting the macho frat boy-isms of the song's first half. Twenty-some years later, this one would probably still be banned on most Southern radio stations. From the band's self-titled EP.
10/27/02: Plastic Bertrand- "Stop Ou Encore" An indefinably entrancing slice of new wave funk, this one sounds like Blondie's "Rapture" if Debbie Harry were replaced by high-pitched geek Spize Jonze... and Spike proceeded to rap through the song in French. It's not going to touch you emotionally, I'm sure, but oh doctor, is it hilarious! I haven't been able to figure out what album it's from, but I know it's on the Three Kings soundtrack.
10/25/02: Beatles- "Run for Your Life" For some reason, most reviews I've read use this song as a reason to downgrade Rubber Soul, dismissing it as uninspired filler, but it's quickly becoming my favorite Beatles track. (Hasn't quite unseated "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" yet, but I'll letcha know.) Kicking off with a cheerful rockabilly riff, the music's boppy cheerfulness is quickly undercut by John singing, "I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than be with another man..." The rest of the tune continues in much the same fashion, indulging John's dark sense of humor, but it's magnificently disturbing, with a psychotically rickety chorus. It's sure to bring a malevolent smile to your face. From Rubber Soul, like I said.
10/24/02: Magnetic Fields- "Meaningless" I've probably already had four or five Magnetic Fields songs as Songs of the Day... and so help me, there'll be four or five more because Stephin Merritt impresses me anew every time I listen to one of his records. This is a straightforward pop song (albeit one that makes ample room for a ukelele), but its catchiness outweighs its genercism, and as with most of Merritt's compositions, the lyrics make for pretty tasty icing. Writing from the perspective of a just-dumped individual, he effortlessly tosses off amusingly bitter lines like, "If some dim bulb should say we were in love in some way, kick all his teeth in for me/And if you feel like keeping on kicking, feel free." From disc three of 69 Love Songs.
10/23/02: Ani DiFranco- "Self-Evident" Since I'm in an extremely anti-George W. Bush mood right now, owing to this article by Molly Ivins, I thought I'd recommend this lengthy, frothing, articulate hipster screed about the WTC attacks, and what an incompetent administration is currently making a huge, hopeless mess of things in our nation. Like her ex-classmate Mike Doughty, DiFranco has a gift for coming up with phrases that are as impressive for the catchy way they roll off her tongue as they are for their poetic imagery themselves, and she spits them at you like a tommy gun. It's basically just her in concert, doing a spoken-word thing over a really cool bed of jazz pop (how did they get that awesome keyboard sound?!), and I know we're all pretty much tired of this sort of thing, but I'm angry and boy does this hit the spot right now! From the album So Much Shouting So Much Laughter. (By the way, if you're as ornery as I am right now, you should totally check out the hilariously nasty anti-Bush venom at Get Your War On.)
10/20/02: Cracker- "Don't Fuck Me Up (With Peace and Love)" Another top-notch cut of catchy cynicism by David Lowery. With Johnny Hickman's countrified lead guitar spicing up the already upbeat tune, it's an entertaining anti-flower power anthem. Enjoy! From the album Cracker.
10/19/02: Ramones- "Hair of the Dog" Played very quietly, this catchy, somewhat production-happy Ramones tune can be a suitable admonishment after an especially embarrassing night of boozin' it up. One of Joey Ramone's most upbeat songs, it's hard to argue with lines like, "Done it before, prob'ly do it again/Don't know if I ever will learn." From the album Animal Boy. My head hurts. Oh- and happy freakin' birthday to Cosmic Ben Marlin!
10/18/02: Gipsy Kings- "Hotel California" The Eagles' "Hotel California" is among the worst singles ever released, so it's quite the feat of alchemy that the Gipsy Kings have pulled off here. Simply by adding frenetic Spanish guitar, shouting the lyrics in Spanish (in a tuneful way- it's not Rollins-esque bellowing or anything), and upping the tempo by 90 BPM or so, the song is transformed from an intolerable swatch of drudgery into a toe-tappin', rump-shakin' exotic pop delight. As far as I can tell, it's only available on the soundtrack to The Big Lebowski, if the AMG is to be believed...
10/17/02: The Ventures- "He Never Came Back" I have a coworker who used to scare trick-or-treaters by blasting this song from a stereo on his porch on Halloween night. Kids would be terrified to come to his door, and so he'd get to keep the candy for himself. I thought this was a pretty good plan, especially considering how creepy this surf-rock-based tune really is. Even without the amusing sci-fi shrieks that pop up periodically, the entire mood of this heavily reverbed instrumental is whimsically dark, in a way that's infinitely more entertaining than the evil-side-of-the-space-age meandering of Kubrick's 2001. From the album The Ventures in Space.
10/16/02: The Rutles- "Cheese and Onions" Unlike most of the Rutles' songs, this doesn't seem to be a specific parody of any one Beatles song, but rather a standalone tribute to John Lennon's songwriting style in general. Rutles mastermind Neil Innes does a mean Lennon impression, too, and it's well-served by this piano ballad that dissolves in a sea of strings. In addition to nailing John's snarky humor ("Do I have to spell it out? C-H-E-E-S-E-A-N-D-O-N-I-O-N-S?"), it's a gorgeous song to boot. From the Rutles' self-titled album.
10/14/02: Lambchop: "Give Me Your Love (Love Song)" This cover of a Curtis Mayfield song is probably the funkiest track ever recorded by the easygoing 14-piece conglomerate known as Lambchop. The lush string section brings a level of authenticity to the tune, but that's strangely undercut by Lambchop's usual idiosyncrasies: some guy noisily banging on a lacquer thinner can for percussion and Kurt Wagner's strained attempt at a falsetto, for instance. Driving and infectious, it's a great song for us dorks to put on when we want to feel vaguely sexy for a few minutes. From the album What Another Man Spills.
10/11/02: Leonard Cohen- "The Stranger Song" Might be hard to believe at this point, now that he sounds like some sort of shoddy muffler, but Leonard Cohen once had a perfectly normal and pleasant singing voice. This song is a folk ballad about a card hustler, and it has a wonderfully despairing melody to compliment Cohen's subdued acoustic picking (which will never heal if he keeps doing it), and all the characters come up losers in the end. From the deceptively-titled album Songs of Leonard Cohen, and it's also the running theme in Robert Altman's fine film McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
10/10/02: Aimee Mann- "Wise Up" Eye-shreddingly sad in Magnolia and even worse when you apply it to your own life, this deceptively fragile song dredges up all the incurable problems in life. You know that sickening, trapped feeling you get when there is absolutely no path you could take that will result in the situation getting any less painful, whether it's in a personal relationship or with your job or whatever? That's the feeling Aimee conjures here, in a piano-based tune so pretty it'll shatter you like an icicle when, at the very end, she adopts the gentlest voice she can to sing, "So just... give up." From the Magnolia soundtrack.
10/9/02: Space- "Me and You vs. the World" An ill-fated Bonnie and Clyde tale set to a bouncy Britpop backing (really fun handclaps in the chorus, too). The protagonists pretty much hit the ground running and are quickly offed- there's not much time for rising action in a three-and-a-half-minute pop song- but over-enunciating vocalist Dave Palmer finds room for both humor and disarming sweetness... while the rest of the band finds room to incorporate a horn section as well as a cute techno bridge. It's a whole lot of song for your money, basically. From the album Spiders.
10/8/02: Radiohead- "Climbing Up the Walls" (Zero 7 remix) No normal person would listen to the original, claustrophobic version of Radiohead's tale of suburban paranoia and think, "This song needs to be transformed into a slinky, semi-orchestral ambient house thing." The fact that supertalented electronica duo Zero 7 did think that, however, is one of the reasons we all love them so much. Not much of the original version is retained here except for Thom Yorke's haunting vocals, which makes kind of a funny (but nevertheless intriguing) juxtaposition with the laid-back smoothness of Zero 7's arrangement. This probably appeared as the B-side to some Radiohead single, I'd guess, but I really have no idea.
10/7/02: Violent Femmes- "Kiss Off" Another affection-starved tantrum from Gordon Gano. This one doesn't have any quotable lines with quite the desperate, universal punch of "Why can't I get just one fuck?" but with Victor de Lorenzo going buck on his drum and Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie flailing about in an insane fashion, the song feels like unbearable, heartbroken pain. It's funny, too, in that smarmy Violent Femmes way, with a great chorus. From the band's self-titled album, and there's a really cool live version on the 120 Minutes Live disc, if that's still in print.
10/6/02: KMC Kru- "The Devil Came Up to Michigan" As if the devil could be anywhere but Michigan... This is a hip-hop update of the Charlie Daniels Band's "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," with an old-school scratching contest in place of the fiddle match that was featured in the original song (and on Futurama). It's a catchy and lighthearted example of the state of rap in 1990: Kraftwerk samples, 808 drum machines, and breakbeats galore! From the album Gettin' Smooth With It. For fun, go to the All Music Guide, look up this album, and check out all the awesome old-school rap covers that appear on your screen (remember Candyman?).
10/5/02: Monty Python- "Traffic Lights" One of the most hilariously annoying songs ever recorded- and one whose humor is too subtle to give away or attempt to explain. It's basically Terry Jones singing an ode to traffic lights with the help of some background singers who are a bit more professional than he. For added fun, make this your answering machine message. I forget which album this was originally from, but I've got it on The Final Ripoff.
10/4/02: Dinosaur Jr.- "I Misunderstood" With ex-Minuteman Mike Watt thrashing around on bass, and J Mascis handling all the other instrumental duties himself, this Richard Thompson cover is a showcase for how fascinatingly wounded Mascis can make his rachety voice seem. Like most of the Richard Thompson covers I've heard, it improves upon the original (kind of like Dylan covers)- this time by simply bringing a fuzzy punk energy to the regretful tune. "I thought she was saying good luck/She was saying goodbye," Mascis growls, and it'll stop you dead in your tracks when he does. From the album Beat the Retreat: A Tribute to Richard Thompson.
10/2/02: The Fall- "Lay of the Land" Opening with a chant that oscillates between creepy and dopey, and thereafter jerking back and forth between a noisily galloping verse and the shave-and-a-haircut rhythm of the chorus, "Lay of the Land" is, in my mind, the quintessential example of the Fall's fractured post-punk genius. Can't say whether the lyrics have any significance or not, but when Mark E. Smith slurs, "Where's the lay of the laaaaand, my son? What's the lay of the laaaaaand, my son?" it'll be in your head for days. From the album The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall.
9/30/02: Sugar- "Explode and Make Up" Love's a bitch, as they say in overrated Mexican film titles, and no one gives voice to romantic frustration and failure better than Bob Mould. This song is arguably his best-ever vicious circle of resentment, anger, sorrow, and apology (as the title suggests), with his pained vocals hovering just below the stratosphere of raging guitars he sets up for himself. Then there's a blazing solo and the whole song collapses in a heap of spent energy. It's a good song to listen to over and over when you're feeling sorry for yourself. From the album File Under: Easy Listening.
9/29/02: Burn Witch Burn- "Beaumont, Arkansas" After the unfortunate breakup of the Dead Milkmen, Rodney Linderman (nee Anonymous) formed a new "Gothic folk" band that was apparently more in-tune with his musical sensibilities. This bewitching little track- har har- hurries itself along like a peasant futilely trying to escape the Headless Horseman, with a twitchy drum-and-mandolin arrangement, as Rodney goes on about various unpleasant happenings. Then Rodney's wife, Vienna, shows up for the chorus to mumble in a gorgeous, 6ths-worthy monotone about the devil's presence in the titular small town. Creepy and catchy, I really should've saved this for Halloween's Song of the Day, but whatever. There's always "Monster Mash"... From the album Burn Witch Burn.
9/28/02: Frank Black- "(I Want to Live on an) Abstract Plain" Another Frank Black musical Rubik's Cube that will have you scratching your head and tapping your foot simultaneously, if you're coordinated enough. Opening the song with the three-chord sequence stolen from Nirvana's "On a Plain," and then lunging forward into a spirally swirl of an indie-rock tune, propelled by Frank's rickety falsetto. Who knows what the song is actually about, but with crisp guitars and a really interesting melody, it's an endearing little puzzle. From the album Teenager of the Year.
9/27/02: Tobin Sprout- "Hermit Stew" It's strangely inspiring to hear Tobin (the ex-Guided by Voices guitarsist), with his reedy voice and fake British accent, strumming an acoustic guitar and crooning about the joys of being a hermit, living alone in the woods. Sprout has an underappreciated ear for memorable, British-invasion-style melodies that has somehow been overshadowed by Robert Pollard's more hit-and-miss approach; why not check out what you've been missing with this, Sprout's best solo tune? From the album Carnival Boy.
9/25/02: Drugstore- "El President" Drugstore's Isabel Monteiro might not have the most conventionally listenable voice in the world (she sounds like a foreign-accented cartoon character who's been weeping for about 12 hours), but this ballsy single gives you ample reason to look past it. Driven by an acoustic guitar and an intensely dramatic cello, and featuring the guest vocals of one Thom Yorke, it's a chillingly pretty tale of civil unrest and dissidence, capped by a lightning crack of a chorus: Yorke and Monteiro taking turns wailing, "Kill the Presideeeeeeent!" It's immensely satisfying. You may turn me in under Operation TIPS for recommending this song now. From the album White Magic for Lovers.
9/24/02: The Stranglers- "European Female" A really pretty, understated new wave tune with crystalline keyboards and a Spanish guitar canoodling in interesting ways that lift this tune above bland Mike & the Mechanics/Mr. Mister fare. In places, it even recalls the Pet Shop Boys, though I can't recall Neil Tennant ever underplaying his choruses in quite so enchanting a way (though PSB is obviously the better band, I should point out). This is sweet, mellow mix tape fodder. From the album Feline, though I've got it on the Stranglers' Greatest Hits 1977-1990.
9/22/02: Tragically Hip- "Courage" Apparently, the Tragically Hip gets really sick of constant comparisons to R.E.M.- as I suppose I would too in their position- but nevertheless, "Courage" is one of the greatest R.E.M. songs that R.E.M. never wrote. I won't pretend to know what the tune is about ("Courage, you couldn't come at a worse time," sings Gord Downie), but the jangly, lonesome verse and resigned (though energetic) chorus blah blah blah just download it it's a good song you'll like it. Sorry- I don't have the energy for this right now. From the album Fully Completely, but I learned it from the film The Sweet Hereafter (which also contains the great line, "Enough rage and helplessness, and your love turns to steaming piss." Isn't that a terrific saying?).
9/21/02: New Pornographers- "Letter from an Occupant" (For Rich Bunnell) One of those indie-rock songs that's so unstoppably catchy and hummable that it almost makes the crushing pain of life tolerable. It's as though the band chopped up only the catchiest parts of other songs and stapled them together to make one seamlessly thrilling ubersong: one of the most anthemic choruses ever written! Early new-wave guitar rhythms! "Ooooh ooooh ooooh" backing vocals that are so free-sounding that you can't help put push the gas pedal harder and harder while you listen to this song in your car! Neko Case's authoritatively husky singing! Sing it, learn it, love it. From the album Mass Romantic.
9/20/02: Mutton Birds- "Dominion Road" A jangle-rock treasure about a guy who is shattered when his girlfriend leaves him, and about how he tries to glue himself back together by focusing on the little things in life. Sounds kind of like a cheerier Midnight Oil, in a way... From the album The Mutton Birds.
9/18/02: Of Montreal- "The You I Created" Like all of Of Montreal's best, this song encapsulates a number of contradictory emotions within a single- and singularly strange- tune. Dottie Alexander bemoans the fact that her lover has changed from a sweet guy into someone more apathetic, but comforts herself with the way she still dreams of his old persona. To assist this bittersweet pondering, the song leaps from being a mellow piano tune into a full-on polka. Does it make sense to pair Alexander's heartbroken voice with peppy clarinets, music-box percussion, and jokey "operatic" backing vocals? Of course not. But that's why we love Of Montreal! The song was originally recorded under the name My First Keyboard for some compilation, but it's included on Of Montreal's Horse and Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed) collection.
9/16/02: Manu Chao- "Bongo Bong" One of those brain-implanting little curiosities that should've gotten more airplay than it did, "Bongo Bong" has something to do with a dancing, percussion-playing monkey who is a big hit with everyone when he moves to "the big city" from the Congo. Armed with a cheap keyboard that's approximating a pipe organ and a female backup singer who switches from a sweet-voiced cameo to a Stereolab-esque murmur, Chao's song melds circus pop with They Might Be Giants-esque whimsy, and tacks on a French coda for good measure. The whole tune is one big happy face. From the album Clandestino.
9/15/02: Eurythmics- "Here Comes the Rain Again" (Suggested by Cole Bozman) "I could go the rest of my life without hearing any of their actual albums, just as long as I have this single," quoth Mr. Bozman, and he's right! Arguably the band's finest single, and definitely among the best rain songs ever written, Annie Lennox swaddles her smooth voice in Dave Stewart's expertly assembled layers of fuzzy sequencers and synthesized pizzicato plunks. It's no great shakes lyrically, but with a downcast, drenched-sounding verse and an optimistic chorus, it's as catchy a companion as you could as for on a gloomy day like this. From the album Touch.
9/14/02: Cora Frost- "Oxygene" An utterly bizarre cover of "Love is Like Oxygen" by the Sweet performed by this reedy-voiced German chanteuse. She's backed by a harpsichord, a bassoon, and a violin, all doing their thing at an impressively peppy velocity, but Frost's unusual accent- not to mention the incongruous arrangement for a glam-rock cover- makes this transcendentally unhinged and addictive. I have no clue what album this song is from; I was trying to download a Stereolab song and fortuitously wound up with this oddity instead. Does anyone know who this woman is?
9/13/02: The Beta Band- "Round the Bend" A song about boredom, with Stephen Mason muttering hilarious stream-of-consciousness lyrics in a disaffected Hunter S. Thompson drawl. ("I've got no food and I've got no time to go to the supermarket/It's not that I couldn't make time; it's more that I get confused when I get there.") Behind him, a teeming mass of orchestral samples, acoustic guitar, percussion, synths, and a cuckoo clock congeal into an easygoing jamboree. From their self-titled album.
9/12/02: Residents- "Constantinople" While I'm not a big fan of artists doing random, weird stuff and then expecting us to take it seriously (take note, David Lynch), it's fine to just make odd sounds for the sake of fun. And the weirdness doesn't get any more fun than the Residents, who've made a career out of funhouse insanity. "Constantinople" is a clatteringly catchy approximation of an early new wave song, with sputtering keyboards, jerky guitar patterns... and an obnoxious, southern-accented voice saying, "HERE I COME, CONSTANTINOPLE!" way too loudly to make sense within the "song." If you're not really looking for a comfortable listening experience so much as an interesting experiment to make a cartoon question mark appear above your head, check this out. From the album Duck Stab.
9/11/02: The Actual Tigers- "End of May" It's no small accomplishment to write a pop song as hauntingly pretty as the Beatles' "Yesterday," and it'll certainly sound like a ridiculous exaggeration if you haven't actually heard this one, but "End of May" is so beyond gorgeous it's incredible. "Yesterday" was certainly an influence here- to assume otherwise would be to insult the band's intelligence, I think- but even if you were to call it a rip-off, this song has such a movingly lonely melody you couldn't say it's anything shy of beautiful. A subdued acoustic guitar and cello back up Tim Seely's voice, and it adds up to one big invitation to a good cry. From the album Gravelled and Green.
9/10/02: Dandy Warhols- "Hell's Bells" (Suggested by Jon Walter) The notion of "highbrow" rockers the Dandy Warhols covering an AC/DC song might sound like just another irritating ironic cover, like Reel Big Fish's run at "Take On Me," but the combination works well here. Performed as a lengthy, acoustic-based dirge (to use Mr. Walter's description), and enhanced by those awesome, warm trumpet sounds that I love so much, "Hell's Bells" solves a problem that has always dogged the Dandys: that their songs would just kind of plod along engagingly, but without any hooks to sink your teeth into. By following AC/DC's big, stupid punk/metal vision (and I don't mean stupid as an insult), they've finally got their hands on a memorable musical recipe, and they do wonders with it. (NOTE: The version of the song I have is six minutes long and I don't know where it's from, but the Australian version of Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia apparently contained a 25-minute version of this song that I haven't been able to get ahold of. If you know where I could find it, please let me know!)
9/8/02: Soul Coughing- "St. Louise is Listening" Just your typically incredible Soul Coughing number: a shuffling drumbeat, incredibly funky bassline, ominous sampler flourishes, and Mike Doughty growling phonetically infectious lines like, "Then your ephesia strikes a bargain with the barter yard/I've got to box you for the money." Please check this out if you haven't yet been introduced to Soul Coughing; they're one of the coolest bands ever. From the album El Oso.
9/7/02: The Jazz Butcher- "Mr. Odd" For an example of what a great band can do with only three chords repeated over and over, check out this cheerful guitar-pop song. Though there's not much melodic development to it, the tune nevertheless goes through a number of amusing phases, from the catchy verse to the wistful chorus to a satisfying guitar solo to the entire song exploding into a period of hollow noise and then back again. Along the way, the Butcher sings a series of nonsensical lyrics making fun of a guy who lived next to the recording studio ("Ground control to Mr. Odd... Share my lunch with Mr. Odd!"), bringing a little welcome levity to this already buoyant song. From the album Cult of the Basement.
9/6/02: Barbara Manning- "End of the Rainbow" This cover of a Richard Thompson song may be among the most eloquently cynical musical statements ever. Barbara's own innate mellowness brings a deceptively friendly tone to raw lines like, "There's nothing at the end of the rainbow/There's nothing to grow up for anymore," and her guitar hits a similarly wonderful balance between jangly and scratchy. It's like turning to your best friend for comfort when you're at your lowest point and having them tell you, "Just give up." It's a beautiful punch in the stomach. From the album 1212.
9/5/02: Pigmeat Markham- "Here Comes the Judge" (Suggested to me by Mike DeFabio.) Ever heard the catchphrase "Here come the judge"? Marge Simpson said it once... Yeah, I'd never really heard it either, but apparently it was a fairly big catchphrase back in the day (the "Allllll-righty then" of the late '60s, if you will), and it was invented by Pigmeat Markham, a soul comedian who spent a lot of time at the Apollo Theater and on Laugh-In. The influence of the latter is evident on this, his trademark song. The infectious jive music often comes to a halt so Pigmeat can throw in an unbelievably corny joke (even the hoary "Order in the court" gag is present), but the audience in the judge's "courtroom" is so appreciative of the jokes, laughing wildly, that it's hard to mind them. While the music's going, Pigmeat chants boisterously and authoritatively about how he's going to stop the war, and then everybody joins in to warn, "Here come the judge!" It's excellent mix-tape fodder. From the album Here Comes the Judge.
9/3/02: Chris Isaak- "Wicked Game" Routinely named among the sexiest songs ever written, and with good reason. (The Calvin Klein advertisement of a video that was made to go with this song is not among said reasons.) Crooning in an obsequiously Elvis-like fashion, and backed by a sultry waterbed of bass, hushed female backing vocals, and slide guitar, Isaak lambastes some accursed woman for beguiling him as they are wont to do. The lyrics really aren't important here; the point of "Wicked Game" is in creating a musical atmosphere so irresistably erotic you can practically see steam rising from your speakers. From the album Heart Shaped World, which should really be hyphenated, shouldn't it?
9/2/02: Captain Beefheart- "Her Eyes are a Blue Million Miles" A twisted love song whose naggingly obtuse guitar line suggests the unsettling pit in your stomach that shows up when you realize that, by any logical measure, your significant other would probably be considered "out of your league." ("I can't see what she sees in a man like me, but she says she loves me," the Cap'n brays.) The production here is rather muted, which lends the song a creepy, it's-a-little-too-quiet quality, but the arrangement flutters all over the place in ways that can't quite be called "catchy," but are still so interesting that the song will stick with you for a good long while. From the album Clear Spot.
9/1/02: Neutral Milk Hotel- "Oh Comely" Eight minutes of Jeff Magnum warbling (mostly on-key) with an acoustic guitar, singing perverse lyrics about the human reproductive system and mass graves, before he's joined by strangely antiquated horns for the tune's final act. On first listen, it might seem irritatingly repetitive, but once you've come around to the my-first-guitar simplicity of the arrangement, the tiny variations from verse to verse- and Magnum's pained vocal crescendoes- reveal themselves as important details in this tremendously subtle and heartbreaking song. From the album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.
8/31/02: The Cars- "Shake It Up" This is such a breezy little song, it's impossible not to love. Dinky keyboard noises, a synth bassline that can sit alongside "Tainted Love" in the pantheon of great basslines of the '80s, Ric Ocasek's hiccupped vocals, and a goofy bridge that has the entire band muttering, "Vroom vroom vroom!" "Shake It Up" isn't a life-changer or anything, but it's still a terrific party song. From the album Shake It Up.
8/30/02: Mr. Scruff- "Fish" I'm not really sure what subcategory of electronic music this turntable exercise would be filed under. Whimsical trip-hop, maybe? (If "happy hardcore" can be a genre, "whimsical trip-hop" can too.) At any rate, DJ Mr. Scruff whips together a hilarious combination of breakbeats, a loping bass sample, and all sorts of bizarre dialogue clips of people babbling about fish (e.g., "Trout are freshwater fish and have underwater weapons"). True, it might not be as technically impressive than DJ Shadow, but the song is ten times as fun. From the album Keep It Unreal.
8/29/02: Chappaquiddick Skyline- "Everyone Else is Evolving" "I hate my life," sings Joe Pernice in his incongruously placid voice. "Please don't be scared when, someday soon, you hear I've gone awaaayyy..." Sounds like the most depressing song of all time, right? Wrong! The music is so sublimely content in its quiet sadness (to the point of including a mellow breakdown in the middle, where Thom Monahan's bass happily carries things), and Joe's lyrics are so perfect in their pessimistic pithiness that it's never quite clear how much of the song is supposed to be genuinely emotional and how much is the blackest of black humor. (The fact that the Pernice Brothers sell T-shirts reading "I hate my life" at concerts- the coolest T-shirt in my collection, I might add- suggests the latter.) Either way, it's a superb downer of a pop song. From Chappaquiddick Skyline's self-titled album (I should mention that Chappaquiddick Skyline is basically the Pernice Brothers minus guitarist Bob Pernice).
8/28/02: The Killjoys- "Today I Hate Everyone" Owing a large debt to the springy punk of Husker Du's Grant Hart, the Killjoys had a minor hit in the '90s with this infectious tribute to boredom and self-pitying isolation. With breezy "ooo-weee-oooo" harmonies alongside galloping guitars, misanthropy has rarely sounded so cheerful and appealing. From the album Starry.
8/27/02: Grandaddy- "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot" Since many of you are going back to college this week, get reacquainted with your ethernet connection by instantly downloading this nine-minute epic that would've taken you roughly six hours to finish from the dial-up connection in your parents' storeroom that you used all summer (except when they needed the phone). It's a three-part song about "2000 Man," a beleaguered pilot who has apparently been labeled expendable by the Powers That Be. The meaning of the song isn't quite clear to me (a cautionary tale about fin de ciecle shortsightedness?), but that doesn't stop me from being moved by Grandaddy's uniquely lonely brand of space rock. Whether Jason Lytle is forlornly plunking away at a banjo or the entire band is building to a piano-and-synth crescendo, the song is doubtful about the idea of a happy ending, but not willing to give up on the idea, and therein lies its power. This is as close to prog as you'll ever see the Song of the Day get, by the way (and it's still much closer to the Flaming Lips than to, say, Gong). From the album The Sophtware Slump.
8/25/02: Robyn Hitchcock- "Devil's Radio" Apparently an anti-Rush Limbaugh diatribe (though with Hitchcock's famously oblique lyrics, it's hard to tell for sure), this song has the distinction of being the only one I'm aware of that uses reverbed whistling and a trilled clarinet to simulate radio crosstalk and static. Don't worry, however- in the midst of this folksy strummer, the sound effects aren't harsh enough to disorient the song, or anything. They just bring the music up to the level of cockeyed creativity exhibited by lyrics like, "Darlin', you don't have to call me Stalin/Or even Mao Tse Tung." From the album Moss Elixir. On another note, having just watched Fight Club again, I really don't think that scene where Brad Pitt is driving the car, talking to Ed Norton with the other Project Mayhem guys in the back makes sense in light of the big twist that I won't give away. Can someone e-mail me and try to explain what's actually happening there?
8/24/02: Placebo- "Pure Morning" On first listen, this sounds like nothing more than a numbingly repetitive ripoff of the chorus to the Butthole Surfers' "Pepper": guitars that mill about in a stoned haze, a huge drumbeat, and sing-songy lyrics like, "A friend in need's a friend indeed/A friend with weed is better/A friend with breasts and all the rest/A friend who's dressed in leather." Try getting it out of your head, though. It's insanely simplistic, but nevertheless addictive. From the album Without You I'm Nothing.
8/23/02: Paul Bellini- "Long Dark Twenties" The Kids in the Hall writer stepped up to the microphone to deliver this bouncy rock churner about a guy who's caught in a vicious circle of loneliness and self-imposed isolation. This being a song by a man who is best known for popping up in KITH skits wearing only a towel, however, it's not nearly as bleak as that description sounds. Pithy lines like "He just took drugs and stayed indoors/Spared from the cancer-causing summer sun" preclude a pall over the proceedings, and the tune itself is rather sweet. From the Brain Candy soundtrack (there's a different version available on Bellini's album The Northland's Own, but that's not a very good album to begin with, and its rendition of this song feels sluggish compared with the one on Brain Candy).
8/21/02: L7- "Pretend We're Dead" From the best female punk band I've ever heard comes this surprisingly glossy call to political action. Singing rather than shrieking, and backed by new wavey guitars that are more Go-Go's-esque than you'd expect, Donita Sparks lends her charmingly snotty voice to one of the most anthemic songs her band has ever recorded. It's kinda strange to find your head merrily bobbing from side to side as you listen to an L7 song that lambastes the "Moral Majority," but you can't resist. From the album Bricks are Heavy.
8/20/02: eels- "Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor" This spare, hopeless song is apparently a re-creation of the final moments of E's real-life sister before her suicide. Simple, practically whispered vocal line, unadorned guitar played with E's fingernails to give it a thumpy distance, and painfully specific lyrics make this one of the most credible lumps of depression ever put to tape. From the album electro-shock blues.
8/16/02: The Litter- "Action Woman" An unapologetically hateful song, this early psychedelic rocker is basically a "sleep with me or I'll find someone who will" ultimatum for the narrator's girlfriend. Lyrically, it's every bit as appalling as that sounds ("A little competition now/Maybe that'll wake you up"), but if you're in the mood for wiry musicians spouting unredeemed machismo, it's a lot of fun. The guitars abrasively pluck out what sounds like an angrier version of the riff from the Seeds' "Can't Seem to Make You Mine" before going on an all-out crazy solo, and the feeling of repressed sexual energy hovers over the melody and the insistent bassline. From disc two of the Nuggets box set.
8/15/02: Travis- "Why Does it Always Rain on Me?" (Suggested by Scott Floman) Since The Invisible Band fell off everyone's collective radar almost instantaneously, I think it's time to go back and revisit why we all got interested in Travis in the first place. An acoustic pop song that's searchingly beautiful and unstoppably catchy, it bops along merrily while Fran Healy sings, "Why does it always rain on me? Is it because I lied when I was 17?" in the most pained voice this side of Thom Yorke. When all is said and done, I think I like this one more than Coldplay's "Yellow" (though not by much). From the album The Man Who.
8/14/02: King Missile- "Pickaxe" Kinda punky, kinda new wavey, kinda gruesome, John S. Hall gleefully sings(!) a sweet little ditty about how "she split my head open with a pickaxe and I loved it" as his band thrashes about behind him. It's as memorable for its melody as it is for its self-loathing black humor. From the album The Way to Salvation.
8/13/02: Fiona Apple- "Across the Universe" The only Beatles cover I've ever heard that actually improves upon the source material, Fiona floats her way through the song in a gorgeously stoned murmur, and she's backed by an ethereally pretty cloud of keyboards and friendly-sounding drums. It's interesting to hear the juxtaposition of the Beatles' melodic beauty and the acidic sense of defeat Fiona always brings to her music; it gets at the tune's pure center much better than Phil Spector's production monkeying on Let It Be does. From the Pleasantville soundtrack.
8/12/02: Ben Folds Five- "Song for the Dumped" Sure, it's smirky and ridiculously sophomoric, but that's kind of the point: A big, stupid, hilariously angry anthem for everyone who's ever been unfairly cast aside. The Five's bass/piano/drums setup bashes out a sloppy hook while Ben's adenoidal voice whines out a bracingly unsentimental bit of venting ("I wish I hadn't bought you dinner right before you dumped me on your front porch"). From the album Whatever and Ever Amen.
8/10/02: Paul Oakenfold- "Ready, Steady, Go" Oakenfold might be increasingly seen as a hack in trance music circles, but this single is as solid a slice of energetic dance fodder as I've ever heard (faceless though it may be). Frenetic drums, nifty keyboards, spy-music guitars, and breathless vocal samples coalesce here into an addictive strobe light of a song. From the album Bunkka- and it was also the score accompanying that car chase sequence in The Bourne Identity.
8/9/02: Lush- "Papasan" Subtle cues from traditional Japanese music are integrated into this remarkably sad song. With a deliberate pace and only a few musical elements present at any given time (trepidatious guitar interplay, triangle, and Miki Berenyi's comforting voice), the empty space between notes wonderfully complements the love-weary lyrics. As she ponders the emotional pitfalls that result from staying friends with an ex-lover, Berenyi never gets sappy or more florid than she has to- even finding time in this short tune to let a brief acoustic lick take over- and she transforms her miserable exhaustion into a thing of beauty. From the album Lovelife.
8/8/02:The dB's- "The Fight" Early "alternative" pop song with weirdo harmonies, strange echoes on the drums, and a terrifically jerky melody that makes hard right turns into the bridge... all in the service of an amusing story about stupid boy/girl arguments ("She said, 'You never give me lovin', think of how I feel.' I said, 'You never give me money- you're so bad to me.'"). It's a fun little stopover on the bridge between new wave and the R.E.M.-instigated college rock movement. From the album Stands for Decibels.
8/7/02: The Kinks- "Art Lover" As disturbing as it is to hear lyrics like "Jogging in the park is my excuse to look at all the little girls"- particularly when they're sung to a peppy xylophone backing- this song slowly reveals itself as the crushingly sad interior monologue of a guy who's lost his daughter. From the album Give the People What They Want. (And once you've absorbed this song, check out Lambchop's version from the Kinks tribute album- Kurt Wagner gives an intensely creepy reading.)
8/6/02: Suede- "Trash" This was the soundtrack to last night's installment of horrible, horrible dreams I've been having, so at least I got to hear some cool music while, in my subconscious, my car got stolen, my heart got broken, and I committed suicide. It's an amazing neo-glam rock song, with blazing guitars, Brett Anderson's slick caterwauling, and a celebratory lowlife chorus ("We're traaaaaash, you and me..."). What makes the song truly great for me, though, is the simple bent note that comes at the end of every verse that infuses the song with such a strange energy that it threatens to spin out of control- you'll see what I mean when you hear it. From the album Coming Up.
8/5/02: Brian Eno and David Byrne- "Mea Culpa" Foreshadowing basically the entire techno movement (not to mention hip-hop pranksters like Deltron 3030 and Prefuse 73), this 1980 collaboration between Eno and Byrne still sounds futuristic. As the two postmodern auteurs lay down musical drones and ethnic rhythms that sound similar to the Talking Heads' Remain in Light album, a heavily reverbed conversation stolen from AM radio chatters along on top of it, giving the song a transfixingly twitchy quality. It's both hypnotic and frantic- you'll love it. From the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.
8/4/02: The 6ths- "All Dressed Up in Dreams" With nothing more than thin-sounding (albeit energetic) synths and a tinny drum machine to provide a musical backing, 6ths svengali Stephin Merritt creates some of the most gorgeously modest pop songs around. Here, Helium's Mary Timony lends her wispy voice to Merritt's lament of being unceremoniously dumped ("You said you'd arrive at eight, but you're seventeen days late"), and it adds up to some of the sweetest romantic gallows humor ever to grace the indie-pop world. From the album Wasps' Nests.
8/3/02: Split Enz- "Bold as Brass" If you know Split Enz only because of their new wave hit "I Got You," you'd do well to check out some of their freaky earlier work, which lies somewhere between Zappa's weirdo indulgences and Madness's playful pop stylings. The funhouse insanity of "Bold as Brass" is a good place to start, because it's one of the most whimsical songs I've ever heard. As goofy sound effects (and a brilliantly whacked guitar lick) whiz all over the place, Tim Finn chants random lyrics and shuffles his guitar before launching into a spirally waterslide of a chorus. It's giddy fun- the musical equivalent of popping Bubble Wrap. From the album Dizrythmia.
8/2/02: Dirty Vegas- "Days Go By (Hot Shit Remix)" Yes, I'm a shameless sucker for a vocoder. That said, this lightweight house music gem should also appeal to people who don't have a bizarre fascination with dehumanizing the voices of the singers they listen to (and judging by the song's popularity in those Mitsubishi Eclipse commercials where the girl does a spastic little dance inside the car, that appeal is considerable). As a wistful vocal pines for a lost love, a sexy bassline and your typical BOOM-chick-BOOM-chick house beat move things along. It's as effective when you're driving alone in your car as it'd probably be if you were in a nightclub. (By the way, if you do a search for this song, you'll probably find a million remixes with different titles- you want the one that's about 3:40 long. The longer original mix is available on Dirty Vegas's self-titled album.)
8/1/02: Devo- "Mechanical Man" Recorded well before the spuds' Eno-polished debut, "Mechanical Man" is a masterfully creepy jumble of primitive synth sounds, guitar squeaks, and a truly unsettling robot voice. Robots are always cool to begin with, but this one gives me chills when his monotonous statements of loyalty suddenly turn sinister toward the song's end. It's available on Greatest Misses as well as one of those out-of-print Hardcore Devo albums Rykodisc came out with.
7/30/02: Andrea Maxand- "When God Shuts the Door" After hearing millions of really generic indie-rock songs that just sort of wander tunelessly around, and plenty of indie girls who either go way overboard with the aggression or with the coquettish blandness, the addictive "When God Shuts the Door" reminded me why I started loving this music in the first place. Andrea's sensibly appealing vocals provide an inviting path through the song's hammering rhythm track (a jumpy tape loop), brilliantly dirty guitar tone, and and wheezing keyboard work. From the album Angel Hat.
7/29/02: Meat Puppets- "I Quit" The one truly great song on the Golden Lies album (recorded with only one founding member of the band- Curt Kirkwood), it's one of the most casually endearing songs I've ever heard. A bare-bones melody, an even more minimal guitar line, and Curt's typically nonsensical lyrics are basically all this song consists of, but the new Puppets band pounds it out with such breezy exuberance that you can listen to it five or six times in a row.
7/28/02: The Lilys- "A Nanny in Manhattan" A short, infectious, Sloan-esque retro rocker about a jealous ex-boyfriend wondering what's going on with his former girlfriend now that he's out of the picture. It's got a really interesting descending melody and good-natured lyrics. Nice cowbell work, too! From the album Better Can't Make Your Life Better.
7/27/02: XTC- "1000 Umbrellas" As a string quartet creates swirling heartbreak sounds behind him, Andy Partridge moans a series of half-serious descriptions of how he is now the "monarch of misery" because his lover left him. The contrast between the uneasy verses and the more traditionally catchy chorus makes for an outstandingly squeamish chunk of depression. From the album Skylarking.
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