Thursday, April 03, 2008

Holistic Mix 2007: Heads In The Cloudz

Our holistic mixes were built around the idea of Songs That Took You By Surprise. As defined by Leonard Pierce, "This can mean a song with a surprising or unexpected moment, a false start or a false ending, songs you discovered you liked by an artist you generally dislike, songs you like in a genre or style you don't generally care for, songs you'd never heard that came out of nowhere and completely enthralled you so that you immediately sought out the artist, songs with shocking lyrics, or even songs that start out poorly and then get really good."

1. Danielson – “Headz In The Cloudz” (A Prayer For Every Hour, 1996)

A delicious acoustic guitar drone anchored by straightforward drumming and punctuated by Daniel Smith’s squeaky vocals. This is from the Danielson Famile’s first album, which was also Smith’s senior art thesis project at Rutgers. It’s interesting to me that he roped all of his younger siblings into this project, which features a lot of avant-garde noise-pop and highly personal, explicitly Christian lyrics. There’s a charming video for this song, too, with crude artwork of cloud-headed cartoony Daniel Smith flying through the sky mixed with the real Daniel Smith wearing a silly cloud-head hat as he wanders through a large city. I was introduced to this song through the Danielson Famile documentary, which I rented as a lark. I’d previously heard a few Danielson songs and found them offputting, but the movie won me over to his viewpoint, and I consider myself a fan now. Anyway, how many surprises here? The vocals? The structure (drone-y A part/strange B part/mostly a capella C refrain/back to A for a few minutes)? Just an altogether weird song, but somehow it rocks.

2. Andrew Bird – “Simple X” (Armchair Apocrypha, 2007)

I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ve tried to populate this mix with recent music as often as possible. This Andrew Bird track is a collaboration with drummer/keyboardist Martin Dosh, who wrote the music, and it stuck out on the album as a surprisingly oddball tune on an album full of oddball sounds. I don’t think the lyrics mean anything literal (just another apocalyptic love song, to my read), but the melody is gorgeous.

3. cLOUDDEAD – “The Velvet Ant” (Ten, 2004)

Catchy! With a rectangle iris! What the fuck does this mean? Why is it so catchy? Seriously, what the fuck?


4. Wooden Shjips – “We Ask You To Ride” (Wooden Shjips, 2007)

I originally drafted this song for the particular mix as the one that doesn't change throughout, but then I realized that it had a few minor variations, so it didn't work. Still, when that brutal electric guitar comes out of nowhere, I almost jumped the first time I heard the song.

5. Grizzly Bear – “Little Brother (Electric)” (Friend EP, 2007)

This is a pleasantly unpredictable song. It's a re-recording of a mostly acoustic track from Grizzly Bear's 2006 album Yellow House, and it's pretty much a three-piece band, until a 2nd guitar joins near the end. The singing is immaculate, the guitar line clean and creative, and the structure all over the map.

6. Akron/Family – “There’s So Many Colors” (Love Is Simple, 2007)

Speaking of unpredictable structures, this one defies all logic. It starts with a chorus of voices singing "there's so many colors without the dirty windows" for about a minute-and-a-half. Then there's two-to-three guitars playing the main theme followed by a section of clean, bluesy licks with feedback and shakers and tambourines. This takes us to about the 3:30 mark. Then, there's a folksy verse section, complete with banjo, leading into an electric guitar-driven choral refrain, followed by crazy multi-guitar soloing. Then, everything drops down to a sweetly sung, acoustic-picked section about "that chemical mountain chaser." That's some avant-garde bliss-hippie weirdness right there. I love it.

LINK TO MP3 (which is somewhat different from live version)

7. Cardinal – “Public Melody #1” (Cardinal, 1994)

Little musical interlude. The first time I heard the Cardinal disc, I was thinking, "did they just put a baroque instrumental someone on this rock album?" The answer was yes.


8. Joanna Newsom – “Cosmia (Live)” (Joanna Newsom And The Ys Street Band EP, 2007)

Here's where we stretch out a bit. I know there's some Newsom-hatas out there, but I figured I'd give y'all a chance to hear her at her most ambitious and passionate. Her singing and playing is usually a bit cool, but here, when she reaches the final chorus, she gives it her all, and the band joins her. It's a revelation. Then there's a fade-out accompanied by bowed saw. Yes, indeed.

9. Boris – “Naki Kyoku” (Akuma No Uta, 2005)

Some of y'all may think I'm mad to follow the feyest of my favorite current artists with one of most muscular. But, as you may hear, the Newsom flows into the Boris almost seemlessly. And the Boris track starts from a quiet beginning (justifying the cover art of the album, which mirror's Nick Drake's Bryter Layter) into a blistering psychedelic middle into a furious final section. When I first heard this album, I was digging Akuma No Uta up to this point, when it became one of my favorite things ever.


10. Sparklehorse – “Spirit Ditch” (vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, 1995)

I was working in a record store in Tuscaloosa, Alabama when this album came out. I'd read a little about Sparklehorse in No Depression magazine, so I was expecting a slightly psychedelic country-rock album. What I heard instead was this lunatic folk-rock album like nothing I'd ever heard. I remember that I was alone in the store when this song came on, and when I heard the quiet spoken voice at the point where most bands would have put the guitar solo, I cranked the store stereo. The voice, an answering machine message about a nightmare the artist's mother had about him, thoroughly creeped my shit out. It's still one of my favorite albums.

11. My Morning Jacket – “Phone Went West” (At Dawn, 2001)

Most of y'all probably have heard this one, but let me just point out that this song starts out as a reggae track by bona fide hippies, and that before it is over, it will even have a dub-ish section. Let me then draw your attention to the fact that this song is pretty awesome, a beautiful, poignant track that I can't help but love. Surprise!


12. Espers – “Flaming Telepaths” (The Weed Tree EP, 2005)

Hey, how's about a Blue Oyster Cult cover by a psych-folk band that emulates 60s British band The Pentangle? Why sure, we can throw in a four-minute guitar freakout! You want the song to stop abruptly in the middle of a phrase? Why, I think we can manage that!


13. Mekons – “The Building” (Punk Rock, 2004)

Ending with an a capella melody-less song about oppression in a totalitarian state. Good times! The original is a single by the Mekons from the late 70s which I first read about in a Greil Marcus essay. Despite this, I was completely unprepared for actually hearing this song, which is like a fascist koan.

(Can't find this one online, sorry.)


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