Thursday, February 23, 2006

Here's the liner notes for a mix I made in an ongoing Round Robin with friends. The goal is to meet the categories and maintain a good disc flow (and, of course, to shock & awe the recipients of the disc):

1. Dramatic entrance:

o Robbie Fulks – “Gravid & Tense” – The Very Best of Robbie Fulks. A hum, a drum, a few strums, all minor-key and full of foreboding and over in 30 seconds. Welcome to the mix.

2. Boastful song:

o The Third Bardo – “I’m Five Years Ahead of My Time” - Nuggets. Most of the rap I like wouldn’t be all that illuminating to this bunch, so I went with weird garage hippie boasting. That’s right! He’s five years ahead of his time, making him, um, 1972.

3. References another song:

o The Mountain Goats – “My Favorite Things” – live Mountain Goats mix by Misha Tepper. This would have worked well for the extended metaphor category, too, but it traded places with The Hold Steady (a different Hold Steady song than the one in the metaphor category, though – one that references “Fairytale of New York,” not the one with the line “tramps like us and we like tramps”). Goddammit! He loves John Coltrane! And he loves getting’ some and Elvin Jones’s drumming. Nice.

4. Song about food:

o Mississippi John Hurt – “The Chicken” – The Immortal. It ain’t food yet, because it’s running away from M.J.H., but that’s not going to last long because the second C is to season the bird and K fills him in. That’s the way you spell chicken.

5. Reminds you of your first love:

o Fairport Convention – “I’ll Keep It With Mine” – What We Did On Our Holidays. Recorded earlier the same year as the masterful “Who Knows Where The Times Goes?,” this is a bit overheated but clearly pointing the way. My first love loved Dylan (who wrote this song, natch), folky rock music, and female singers. I loved everything about her then. I was unaware of the Fairport Convention at the time, but every time I hear this song, everything about it reminds me of being 18 (the same age as lead guitarist Richard Thompson was when this track was recorded) and being in love. Like most things you do when you’re 18, it doesn’t quite work out, but when it was great, it was the best thing you’d ever done in your life.

6. At least 30 years old but you heard it for the first time within the past year:

o Vashti Bunyan – “Window Over The Bay” – Just Another Diamond Day. From her 30-years-lost nursery rhyme/Britfolk classic, produced by Joe Boyd, who, incidentally, produced the previous track, too. I love how her gorgeous voice carries the halting rhyme structure to a perfect and perfectly wistful place. I love how the acoustic guitar comes in on the second verse, but panned all the way to the right, as if it were a lace handkerchief carrying a fragile spider web. Then the trumpet in the left on the last verse appears and quietly mirrors the melody. This is what I wish more 60s hippie princess music sounded like.

7. Changes tempo at least once:

o The Fiery Furnaces – “Duffer St. George” - EP. Switching tempos three times or more in each rotation, this track has moments that combine several of the FF’s nutty musical obsessions: hyper pianos, wacky synths, crunchy Who chords, and vast dynamic in instrumentation through parts. In this case, the original bashing chorus becomes a yearning repetition the second time through. Nice stuff.

8. Features an unexpected transition:

o Deerhoof – “Lightning Rod, Run” – The Runners Four. I know it’s cheating to use Deerhoof for unexpected transitions, because that’s their stock-in-trade, but hey, this is good stuff. I originally used the bizarre chamber-pop song “Spiral Golden Town” from the Green Cosmos EP, but this track is well nigh irresistible to me, from the guitar wizardry to the rhythmic oddness to the J-pop squeaky vocals to the super-catchy, dub-like bassline to the sudden howling guitars to the odd call-and-response on the bridge. These guys are geniuses and The Runners Four is their most accessible album yet.

9. Mentions a superhero and/or comic book:

o Suicide – “Ghost Rider” – Suicide. I couldn’t think of anything else that worked here at first. By the time I came up with a couple of alternates, Suicide had thoroughly claimed this spot, and I couldn’t conceive of doing this mix without this track. This might have worked for the metaphor category, too (as Ghost Rider = America killing its youth), but it’s just better here.

10. Used in one of your favorite movies:

o Neil Young – “Guitar Solo 3” – Dead Man. I love Jarmusch’s Dead Man, and I love this soundtrack. Like most of the album, this track features two electric guitar voices and the sound of waves washing onto a beach. The first part of the song has a steady pulse, but the second part drops it and goes for the sheer thrill of Young’s heavily distorted and phased guitar playing a few spacey chords. It’s sonic heaven.

11. Mentions one of your favorite books:

o Andrew Bird – “Opposite Day” – The Mysterious Production of Eggs. This slot originally belonged to Pere Ubu’s “Heart of Darkness,” but I needed something to transition better to the next song. After a lot of searching (and discarding as sonically inappropriate, such as with Mastodon), I realized that several of the tracks on this album featured cast-off lit references: one to Don Quixote, another to Chekhov, and this one, which refers to Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” in the first verse, where the narrator is shocked that he has not turned into a bug (let alone that any number of other inversions haven’t occurred) because it was supposed to be opposite day.

12. Song your parents liked/One of your father's favorite songs:

o Doc & Merle Watson – “Summertime” – Remembering Merle. My dad sang this to me all the time when I was little. I suspect his dad, a big country music fan, sang it to him. My mom doesn’t like any music, best I can tell, but my dad is big with romantic composers and the occasional folk or soul song. Doc’s version is lovely with a sweet solo by Merle. Now that I’m a father, I can better appreciate how horrible it must be to lose a beloved child, and listening to these two chokes me up.

13. Six-letter title:

o Devendra Banhart – “Anchor” – Cripple Crow. Allmusic lists the title as “Canela,” which is Spanish for “cinnamon” (and makes more sense in the context of the lyrics), but eMusic had it as “Anchor.” Strange, huh? Either way, it works for this category. This is the final song on Banhart’s sprawling Cripple Crow, and I think it’s arrestingly beautiful.

14. Mentions a city you've never been to, but would like to:

o Mission of Burma – “Peking Spring” – Peking Spring. The best out-take from the original run, this song has a great melody, killer performances, and some wonderful Martin Swope electronic weirdness. I like the overdubbed chiming guitar that comes in just before the coda (and nice tempo change, too, right?). And yes, Peking is Beijing now, but who cares? I want to go.

15. Shape in the title:

o The Clean – “Diamond Shine” – Anthology. What a great, simple, pointedly perfect guitar line! You can practically hear the indie bands dying of jealousy around you.

16. Has a specific connection to weather:

o The 6ths + Lou Barlow – “In The City In The Rain” – Wasps’ Nests. As succinct, charming and complete as any Stephin Merritt composition can be, this song actually carries Lou Barlow’s semi-bored delivery better than most Sebadoh songs.

17. Great song. Stupid lyrics:

o Norm Burns & Singers – “Human Breakdown of Absurdity” – The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood and Brush?. Yeah, I’m cheating here again, this time by using song-poems in the stupid lyrics category. This is one of my favorite song-poems, where you can hear these hacks throw off their ennui and just fucking go for it. Like Scott Walker covering the Archies, this song has great pseudo-profound lyrics, backing singers who moan like they’re getting paid by volume, and a chord progression so catchy and personable that you can completely forgive the song seeing if it will outlast its welcome.

18. Much better live than in its studio version:

o Yo La Tengo – “Today Is The Day” – Today Is The Day EP. Originally a quiet, Ira-sung track from the whispery, light Summer Sun, “Today Is The Day” sounds infinitely better with supercharged guitars and Georgia’s sweet/shy vocal delivery. The wordless melody ooo-ooo’s (do we have a word for these) have more bite and the dynamic range sounds like the great Yo La of the 90s.

19. To be played EXTREMELY LOUD:

o McLusky – “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” – McLusky Do Dallas. Un-fucking-hinged, yeah. Simple as fuck, too, which is partly why it’s so great. The tempo upswing in the final verse is choice.

20. To be played very quietly:

o The Moles – “Cars For Kings Cross” – Instinct. This album is mostly a Richard Davies solo album and this song is the most beautiful quiet song he’s ever written. It’s a barely-there song: the lead part is on bass (and I think there’s a second bass playing the low parts), the percussion is minimal, the guitar parts mostly supporting arpeggios until the wordless bridge, and the vocal tracks crossing and supporting each other with an almost psychedelic effect. Oh, and Xmas bells = pop heaven.

21. Built around an extended metaphor:

o The Hold Steady – “Cattle and Creeping Things” – Separation Sunday. This song introduces the Biblical themes that will dominate the album (mostly about the recurring character Holly, whose real name is Halleluiah), starting with the Apocalypse, which is used to describe a loud rock show on acid, and moving backward to Cain and Abel, used to describe a drug deal gone wrong. The song ends with Holly talking about a blissful, Edenic acid trip and asking a guy about his trip to New York, a hellish comedy of errors which he describes as being like he’d lived through it before. Fucking brilliant.

22. From an album that you denounced as crap before ever hearing but now like:

o Elf Power – “O What A Beautiful Dream” – A Dream In Sound. Because of their worst possible band name, I mocked this album mercilessly when it first came out. Surely, I thought, this could be nothing but the feyest of fey proggy crap-indie wuss music. Then I heard it and fell in love.

23. This song is brought to you by the letter 'X' (out of title, artist, and album, two must contain an 'x'):

o Pavement – “Texas Never Whispers” – Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe and Deluxe Edition. I cheated more here than in those other categories. Did you know that Calexico only has two songs with “x” in the titles? Neither worked here. I scoured my collection for something that would work (skipping X because obvious), and this was easily the hardest one to fill. However, I decided that my previous decision to avoid repackaged albums was bunk, so here we have it: a decent, but not great, Pavement song.

24. You remember it from elementary school:

o Bob Dorough – “Three Is A Magic Number” – Schoolhouse Rock. The greatest Schoolhouse Rock track, all brought over on two chords, a choral call-and-response, a supertight rhythm section, and Dorough’s weirdo voice. The oddly semi-religious opening leads to a funky math lesson and then repeats the “man and a woman had a little baby” part, which just kills me. I love the marimba riff, too. That’s a magic number.

25. A song by the last band you saw live:

o The Casting Couch – “Strawberry” – Row Your Boat. I’d say nice words about this album even if I didn’t have to (and I guess I don’t really, but man, I just want to). This is a kicky upbeat number that doesn’t fail to bring a smile to my face. Clever lyrics, dual horn lines, handclaps, crunchy lead guitar that leaps in on the second verse – what’s not to love? Did I mention the handclaps? Yeah!

26. Changed your idea of what music is capable of:

o The Feelies – “Slow Down” – The Good Earth. Among the artists that have claimed this spot in draft versions of the mix were The Minutemen, The Meat Puppets, Can, Mission of Burma, the Velvet Underground, and Love. And all of them deserve it, as well as quite a few other bands. But this one got the slot because a) it’s a bit more unexpected, which leads to b) because although it’s not that amazing a performance, it’s one of the first songs I could play through on the guitar and the slow build was the first time I remember being really aware of dynamics and songcraft. It’s also a wonderful mix-closer. I had to cut my dramatic closer, the Minutemen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” for space, but this song finalizes things on just the right note.


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