Friday, February 27, 2009

Quick Hit Thoughts to Round Out the Love stuff...

Instead of writing big, clunky, rambling chunks of virtually unreadable prose for every single post here, occasionally I'm going to just toss out some fleeting thoughts about the topic at hand wherein I'll throw out multiple songs on which I'm sure you'll sink $.99 immediately upon reading the post. We're gonna end this love theme with some good ol' fashion creepy love songs.

Its Me Again, Margaret - Ray Stevens

Has there ever truly been a creepier love song? Here, the genius that brought you the Mississippi Squirrel Revival, The Streak, and Ahab the A-Rab brings you what might be the only popular* song that includes a laugh track. All you need to know about this song lies in the fact that the only comment about this song on imeem is, "This songs the funnyest"

Choice Lyrics: "I know it's you Margaret... are ya nekkid?" "I bet you can't guess what I'm doin."

Every Breath You Take - The Police

Quick Recipe for a Restraining Order:
1. Buy blank CD
2. Open iTunes
3. Create playlist entitled, "At least 500 yards at all times"
4. Add "Every Breath You Take" by the Police to playlist
5. Repeat 16 times
6. Deliver to object of affection while wearing assless chaps

Choice lyrics: "every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you"

bump and grind - R kelly

This song is just here to represent the fact that anything by R. Kelly should now fall squarely into the category of creepy love songs. Oh what's that? You don't see anything wrong with a little bump 'n grind? Well sorry R but the Illinois department of justice would beg to differ. By the way, he married a 15 year old Aaliyah right after this song was released... lock your doors.

*probably the hardest word choice I've ever made

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road

Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen

I've basically immersed myself in this song for the past couple days in hopes of being able to do it justice but every single time I listen to it I hear a little something that I didn't quite catch on the previous listen. I'll add here that I'm not a big Springsteen guy... I don't pull the Rolling Stone magazine treatment and instantly canonize everything that he does, in fact I've found a large percentage of his recent output condescendingly rootsy and disingenuous. It almost seems like he's making music for a working class that hasn't existed since the early 80s and he's become so out of touch that he doesn't realize he's championing an industrial middle class that isn't even real. That bit of Springsteen bashing aside though, in looking at this song and a handful of his others* you realize that as a songwriter, when The Boss was on, only Dylan was better.**

Never was Bruce more "on" than on his 1975*** release Born to Run on which the classic romantic-in-its-realism love song "Thunder Road" appears. This song doesn't make you love Mary (its object of affection) like Buddy Holly makes you love Peggy Sue or like The Four Tops make you love Bernadette but instead you just knowingly nod assent at why Bruce is so into her despite the fact that, "[she] ain't a beauty but hey [she's] alright" because we've all had this kind of object of our own affection. The girl who is the proverbial bee in your bonnet... the one that as hard as you TRY to win over just isn't buying what you're selling or worse doesn't even see you like you see her... so you're left to do one of two things lay it all out there or fantasize about laying it all out there while doing absolutely nothing. In this track, at least for me, I don't think it's all that clear what Bruce actually decides to do after the screen door slams. Is the rest of the song him running after her and laying his plans on the line in truly romantic fashion or is it the fantasy sequence of events that plays in his head as he drives away unfulfilled as some nutless wimp. Maybe it's just me****, but I like the pathos of option #2. I mean how many times have you***** walked away from a girl just KILLING yourself over you inability to make her SEE that you could have a good thing and that no matter how long she "prays in vain for a savior to rise from these streets" and even though you're "no hero that's understood" that you can offer "redemption."

I tell ya man, I can't figure out if this song is jubilant or depressing as hell and that makes me love it even more. All I know is that while Bruce was listening to Roy Orbison sing for the lonely, all of us... we need to be listening to Bruce Springsteen.

*Born to Run, The River, Badlands, Dancing in the Dark, Rosalita, etc.
** just barely
*** seriously I was shocked when I was reminded of this... 1975? REALLY? This album could have been made yesterday and it would be totally new and game changing and incredible... but in 1975^? This album would have blown off the top of the 1975 version of me's head.
^ an incredible year for music, Blood on the Tracks, Physical Grafitti, Wish You Were Here, Patti Smith's Horses, and Roxy Music's Siren were all released in 75 and hilariously the Album of the Year Grammy went to Paul Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years and the Record of the Year went to.... wait for it... "Love Will Keep Us Together" by The Captain and Tenille. HUZZAH RIAA!!!
**** it is
***** read: have I^
^ so many times I've lost count

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Alkaline Trio - Clavicle

Clavicle - Alkaline Trio

We all have musical phases, and for me, none was more regrettable than my flirtation throughout my freshman year of college with Pop Punk.... I listened to them ALL. The good (Promise Ring), the bad (Less than Jake), and the ugly (Dashboard Confessional). I will argue that this trend was AT LEAST as bad as the abominable rap core movement that was in its last violent, spasming, bile vomiting, throes of death right at this time... with the All American Rejects and Yellowcard filling the Nero-esque role of Insane Clown Posse for the genre, fiddling (literally in the case of Yellowcard) while the whole scene burned to the grown.

As I will note in a more extensive post at some point, guilty pleasures are nothing to feel guilty about, only shit that you have to defend to hipster douchebags much more strongly than all the other non-hip stuff that you enjoy. Like any genre, no matter how detestable, there were redeeming acts that lurked under the shade of the pop punk umbrella. Aside from Fallout Boy who have really just become an arena rock band, the redeemers for pop punk in my mind are undoubtedly Alkaline Trio. At best, critics (read: hipster douchebags) are lukewarm for these guys which is something I really can't understand. The paired vocal stylings of Matt Skiba and Rob Doran simultaneously recall the rasp of Joe Strummer and the angst of Ian Curtis while sweetening up the goth rock formula that the Misfits kind of tried to work in between communal smack shooting sessions.

Clavicle embodies the Alkaline Trio formula... take something simple and seemingly normal and twist it just enough to get everyone's attention.* Clavicle does this with the love song/song about a crush formula. Since I am frightened by girls and generally have a great deal of difficulty and general failure in talking to them I can only hazard a guess that the reaction to the line, "I want to wake up naked next to you, kissing the curve of your clavicle" would follow the following stages: confusion --> entertaining the idea that it was sweet --> calling the court for a restraining order.** The truly impressive female reaction in my mind would be from the lady that listens on after this to hear the actually pretty romantic and totally realistic portrayal of the early days of a relationship that the guy can't help but be REALLY excited about. You know... you meet a girl, you are blown away by how cool she is, you have great conversations about everything, and then you spend the next weeks desperately trying not to fuck it all up (which, trust me, you will do anyway***). But all that is what makes this a kind of perfect love song... it acknowledges that insecurity but more importantly it honors the power of being so purely into someone that you bypass the big points of attraction (because they're a given) and start to be enamored of the insignificant things.

*a la Marcel Duchamp
** If you are indeed a girl reading this blog (unlikely), or are not paralyzed by fear of looking/sounding like a dick when approaching a girl (only slightly more likely) please add your two cents.
*** so it is written, so it shall come to pass

And your next list is...

So in the spirit of the recently departed Valentine's Day I figured on something vaguely love related.... but really who needs another list of love songs? I know how much Unchained Melody might mean to you and your significant other but frankly no one else cares about the trite ridiculousness that is your relationship. What our focus is going to be here are those slightly non-traditional love songs.... the ones that tread lightly (or not) on that line separating love and obsession/horrible taste/full-on creepiness. Unlike our last project though, these songs will not be presented in any particular order. Stay tuned for the first post and hopefully the debut of streaming music on the top30orso blog.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

1. Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal

To approach this song from a different viewpoint at this point is futile. Originally, my plan had been to maybe even finish up this process BEFORE 2009 which would have had me writing my gushing ode du Fleet Foxes at about the same time as all the other music media outlets that declared this one of their songs of the year. That having been said, I'm not sure if any of this is original or not. I might be flying off on a great tangent about this track, click post, and then five days later hear from Joe Satriani's attorneys claiming that in addition to writing the riff for Viva La Vida he was also the first to gush about Fleet Foxes. If that happens, so be it. Just know that I'm just a boy whose intentions are good... oh lord... please don't let me be misunderstood.

I've found that songs hit me on many different levels. Your run of the mill radio pop hits me physically. DJ Unk's "Walk it Out" actually does make me want to create some gutteral herky-jerky facsimile of what "walking it out" might look like. Beyond that, there are songs that hook me emotionally as well. Band of Horses' "kind of released in 2008 but not really enough to be included on this list" love song "No One's Gonna Love You" makes me FEEL that so into somebody that it makes you physically sick to even think about feeling. For me though, the true NEXT LEVEL songs are those that are sensory. Not only do they make you react and feel, but they TAKE you somewhere else. Great rap might makes me want to play ball, great metal makes me want to mount up my white steed and storm the Gates of Mordor, great indie rock can make me feel detached in that better living through chemistry kind of way....

And isn't that what great art SHOULD DO? I can enjoy shitty reality t.v. on a very basic physical level... simply put, it serves a physical purpose by satisfying my need for some kind of distraction. But man, when I watch The Wire, I'm IN Baltimore, and I KNOW Randy, Duquan, and Michael... I FEEL the Wire.

Thanks to my wonderful William and Mary education, I got a chance to develop a very basic attachment to some great artists via my Art History classes. One of those, Bruegel the Elder, is quite relevant to the discussion at hand because for those of you that aren't familiar with this album, it is his, "The Blue Cloak" that is featured on the gatefold cover. If pitchfork media suddenly dropped a newsflash on the indie rock world with proof that Bruegel had in fact risen from the dead and given "White Winter Hymnal" an 8.8 I would only be surprised at the fact that the dead were rising from the grave while yawning at the Flemish Master's love for the Twentysomething indiefolkers. "Why," you ask, "would Bruegel be interested in these guys, particularly this song?" Because, I dare say, they would inspire him... rather, they would make him FEEL. When I hear this song, I'm taken somewhere else by the absolutely incredible harmonies (referenced in the post on Your Protector), the minimal yet powerfully effective musical arrangements, and the non-traditional, almost poetic rejection of the verse chorus verse format of modern pop. When I hear the harmony, I can almost SEE the steam trailing each word as its delivered in some David the Gnome-esque taiga forestscape and despite the inherent nerdiness that making a David the Gnome reference implies, it feels very natural and apropos in this setting. This song is like a glimpse through the looking glass, inside the wardrobe, or along the tesseract in its ability to CREATE a temporary world for the listener. In the vain of Ring Around the Rosies it suggests a macabre nursery rhyme in its almost childish simplicity superimposed upon its violent lyrical overtones.

Simply put, I FEEL this song like none other released this year... and isn't that what good music is all about? Shouldn't that be the sole standard?

Readers' Note (I hope I'm still in plural territory): I plan on keeping this little blog project up and moving even though I've finished my list... probably the same format. Intermittent, mostly musical, lots of pop culture similes.... kind of like a Lil' Wayne mixtape.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

2. Frightened Rabbit - Modern Leper

There's something about Scotland man. For some reason, music that emerges from those moors just has something about it that's hard to deny. Maybe it's just the mournful brogue that makes every sentiment expressed by the likes of Belle and Sebastian, The Proclaimers*, Glasvegas, and Franz Ferdinand sound like the world is actually going to end or begin in the immediate fallout of said sentiment. I think there must be something else though... and here's why: Hank Williams Sr. Many of the readers of this blog have heard me wax crazy on the link between the culture of my dear ol' Blue Ridge Mountain home and that of the Scots-Irish pre-soccer Hooligans that originally populated the area. Their way of life became our way of life, only different. Haggis became chitterlings and brains and eggs. The sheep dog became the hound dog. Tom Dula became Tom Dooley. The link though was never completely lost, we were bound by the intentionally hard scrabble existence that we chose for ourselves. Coming down from the highlands and joining jolly ol' England would have been easier... but it wasn't home just like moving on up to Ohio or Detroit was easier for the downtrodden of the Appalachian during the Depression... but no matter what, it still wasn't home and many of these transplanted hillbillies came home sooner rather than later. It's that passive acceptance of a difficult life for the sake of independence that binds us to our Scottish cousins. You hear that in Hank Williams Sr.'s voice... listen to "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and tell me that HE doesn't know the same life as Stuart Murdoch in Belle and Sebastian's "Get Me Away from Here I'm Dying." I don't know that Murdoch and company ever rocked Hank Sr. in the studio so I wouldn't draw a direct line of influence but the connection is more organic... more genetic.. and it permeates modern country and music like Frightened Rabbit's "Modern Leper" to this day.

That genetically coded sadness is strong in this one. The single most self loathingly bleak line of the year might be when lead singer Scott Hutchinson strains through the chorus, "Is that you in front of me? Coming back for even more of exactly the same? You must be a masochist to love a modern leper on his last legs." What isn't clear though is whether this is a break up song or a love song. Is this his goodbye or his ode?

*no joke

Friday, February 6, 2009

3. Estelle ft. Kanye West - American Boy

The summer after my sophomore year in college it took me forever to find a summer job. I was rejected all over the bustling metropolis of Pulaski... from fast food to retail, NO one wanted me to be gainfully employed. During this time of unemployment I did some serious work watching Dawson's Creek but ALSO got to spend a lot of time with my parents' CRAZY Labrador Retriever as a puppy. For anyone that hasn't had the joy of experiencing this, imagine beating yourself in the head with a tack hammer while cleaning up shit and this kind of comes close to replicating this situation. Every day though, no matter how fucked up the dog got he would inevitably pull some incredibly cute/endearing act that would make me feel like a jerk for being ready to sacrifice him to Odin.... and deep down, I knew he was a sweet dog.

This relationship is similar to my feelings toward Kanye West in 2008... When I first started to hear the tracks leaking off of 808s and Heartbreak I was frustrated. This artist, to whom I had developed quite an attachment over the years was storming around my musical house, chewing up shoes and just making a general mess of things. The funny thing though was that I found myself defending these singles and later the album (which I've come to really appreciate and kind of like) because I knew who he really was. Kanye had become that bad dog who disappointed me one minute while simultaneously reminding me why I have loved him from the get-go. His ego and inventiveness that I loved so much on his previous efforts was what led him astray on 808s just like the inherently cute puppyness of that psycho lab was what led him to drive me to the brink of insanity.

I didn't have to go far to confirm this thanks to the #3 song of the year "American Boy." This is Kanye at his illest. On this track, he shows us that his flow remains one of the best in the game (which does make it all the more frustrating to hear him singing it through an effing vocoder on 808s). He also miraculously makes the tried and not really true formula of rapped verse + R&B chorus sound remarkably fresh and inventive, utilizing the strength of Estelle's smokey English croon to sexually charge the already provocative lyrics. To add to this, this song is also home to my favorite rap-a-long bar of the year, "look at this pea coat tell me he's broke."* Ultimately, if "American Boy" did nothing else this year, it served as a fantastic reminder that no matter how often Kanye pulls the moody and difficult act he can still bring it and spit with the best of them.

*Seriously, how cool is it that he references pea coats?