Thursday, April 03, 2008

Particular Mix 2007: Prisons and Math

Some friends and I made two mixes at the end of last year and beginning of this one. This is the particular mix, wherein each song must match a specific category. I specifically also tried to incorporate songs from as many of my favorite 2007 releases as possible.

1. The last thing you'll ever hear:
Akron/Family - “Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead” (Love Is Simple, 2007)
Featuring a lovely melody and words of comfort (all lyrics: "Don't be afraid, it's only love/love is simple/don't be afraid, you're already dead/love is simple/la da didi da da didi dum"), this is the song I want playing in my head on my deathbed.

2. Song about a body part:
My Teenage Stride - “Ears Like Golden Bats” (Ears Like Golden Bats, 2007)
I wrote elsewhere about how My Teenage Stride channels kiwi-pop (New Zealand indie rock, I mean) near perfectly, and that even though they're basically no different from any number of garage revivalists, I don't give a damn. This song may sound like 1991, but I love it. I especially dig all the guitar tones and the killer bass line.

3. Cover better than the original:
Sparklehorse & The Flaming Lips - “Go” (The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered, 2004)
Elegaic and crammed with noisy psych-junk, this cover of Daniel Johnston's "Go" moves me like a sad ballad should. Let me say that I love Daniel Johnston, but almost always find his music more affecting when played by an artist possessed of more talent. Johnston has the rare ability to write songs where the sophistication is not immediately apparent in his version. This song, for instance, is pretty simple structurally, but the way it turns on the bridge is masterful.

4. No vocals:
Pelican - “Far From Fields” (City of Echoes, 2007)
This track is more post-rock than metal, but Pelican is more closely associated with the indie-metal scene. Who needs vocals when you have guitar interplay this intricate?

5. What instrument is that?:
Animal Collective - “Derek” (Strawberry Jam, 2007)
I went back and forth on this category for a while, but I finally decided on Animal Collective for their bold oddness. The song only has two parts, a guitar-driven part A, and drum loop-driven part B. But the weirdness that provides depth to the song is a mystery. Some of it ws created by a synth, yes, and some is sampling, but most of the sound is just so bizarre that I can't imagine what created it.

6. Duo:
Nina Nastasia & Jim White - “I've Been Out Walking” (You Follow Me, 2007)
Jim White's drumming is so rich that I have to remind myself when listening to this album that there's only two instruments: drums and a finger-picked guitar. Nina Nastasia's songwriting helps by building tension on a bass melody, like Mother Maybelle covering P.J. Harvey.

7. No chorus, no bridge: the song follows the same structure throughout:
Mekons - “Dickie Chalkie and Nobby” (Natural, 2007)
Jon Langford has written countless two-chord songs that sound like more than they are. It's a neat hat trick when it works, although he occasionally falls on his face. Maybe you have to be a socialist to know how to work with that sort of economy.


8. No verse, no chorus, all bridge: the song has unrepeated (or minimally repeated) movements rather than a verse-chorus structure:
Fiery Furnaces - “Automatic Husband” (Widow City, 2007)
The first few times I heard this song, the intro made me think it was going to be a hip-hop track. Anyway, I flubbed this category. The structure goes: A/B/C/A/B/D/E/B. That's a lot of repetition of the B part (which is instrumental), not to mention two instance of the A verse. Oh well, sorry. I think it's cool that the FFs fit so much into a two-minute track.


9. Spooooooooooky:
Bela Lugosi - “Beware” (mp3 download, 1953)
Wait! Pull the string! Pull the string!

10. About space travel and/or aliens:
Deerhunter - “Strange Lights” (Cryptograms, 2007)
Arguably about space travel with the "we walk into the sun" refrain and the lines about "In space all things are slow/the sound of speakers blown/the silence fits the scene". It could be about a particularly spacey acid trip, yes. If this doesn't work for you, substitute Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" instead, because although it's not about space travel, it's one of the few songs we've deliberately shot through space.

11. Perfect road song:
Laurie Anderson - “Lighting Out For The Territories” (United States Live, 1984)
I'm funning with y'all a little bit on this, the closing track from Laurie Anderson's four-disc epic United States Live, which is not a perfect song for driving on the road, although it is a perfect analogy. Drawing on a repeated metaphor of life as a darkened road and people as lost cars, the radio signals a symbol of the difficulty of communication, this song offers a chilly breath of hope: "You've been on this road before/You can read the signs/You can feel the way/You can do this in your sleep".


12. Voice on loan from god:
The National - “Fake Empire” (Boxer, 2007)
I don't know how this guy's deep moany voice channels the voice of god, but man, it's just right for this message - also from god - "we're half awake in a fake empire." Yeah, we are. I like how well the message works with Laurie Anderson's. I love the competing horns towards the end, after the song quits being a ballad shortly past the halfway mark. I love that the guitars don't appear until 2:31 into the song and then they disappate just as quickly by 2:54. I don't know why I'm such a sucker for this band. I don't like Springsteen or U2, but I can't resist the National's big sweeping rock songs.

13. Song that makes you wish you didn't know the language it's being sung in:
British Sea Power - “Straight Down The Line” (Krankenhaus? EP, 2007)
I blew it with this one, too. The lyrics sound so dumb at first that I didn't try to parse them all the way through until after I'd burnt the discs. Then I realized that later verses indicate it's about a captured POW being tortured for information. Geez. I mean, that's horrible and maybe I wish I didn't know this, but certainly a worthy topic for a song.


14. Killer guitar solo/Should be in Guitar Hero:
Marnie Stern - “This American Life” (In Advance Of The Broken Arm, 2007)
Shredderrific art-rock! This would kick ass in Guitar Hero.

15. Song that makes you laugh (or includes laughter):
16. Song that makes you cry (or includes weeping):
17. Song you'd like to see made into a movie:
Jens Lekman - “A Postcard To Nina” (Night Falls On Kortedala, 2007)
Lekman is a pop songwriter with the left-curve emotional chops of Jonathan Richman and Stephin Merritt. This song's about Lekman pretending to be the boyfriend of a lesbian friend afraid of her intolerant father. Lekman plays it for laughs until suddenly, everything flips around and it's just so beautiful and poignant that it brings me to tears. I should tell y'all that I was originally going to put Chocolate Genius's "My Mom" in the weeping category because it's just wrenching, but I had to cut it for room. Anyway, I'm throwing this in the movie category, too, although I'm not sure I'd want to see that movie. Hollywood would probably read it as a Meet The Parents-type script and cast Ben Stiller, but if handled right, it seems that it could both be funny and quite a bit subversive.

18. Music from Before 1950:
Blind Willie Johnson - “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground” (1927-1930)
As I hinted at before (and as most of y'all probably know), this song (among a handful of others) was included on the Voyager spacecraft sent skyward in 1977. No words, just moaning about the lord, but it's as good of an example of what the human race is capable as anything.

19. Song you're sure nobody else in the group has:
Skeletons and The Kings Of All Cities - “Sickness” (LUCAS, 2007)
Someone else may have this, yes. Some of the tracks from this album were free eMusic downloads at some point in the last year. I liked what I heard enough to download the whole thing, but the album altogether is a little long and pushy. This track, though, with the afropop Rhodes and weird rhythms and splashy keyboards and call-and-response, works for me.

20. The greatest song ever made, according to your sixteen-year-old-self:
Pixies - “Broken Face” (Surfer Rosa, 1988)
This one doesn't need an introduction. I loved the Pixies when I was 16. In the interest of full disclosure, I also considered Jane's Addiction's "The Mountain Song," The Cult's "Love Removal Machine," Sonic Youth's "Total Trash," and several other Pixies songs.

21. Song about about wild - or at least, non-domesticated - animals:
Menomena - “Evil Bee” (Friend and Foe, 2007)
OK, this song is not really about an animal so much as it's using the beehive as a metaphor. But the song both rocks and reveals the inner workings of rock. It starts and stops often. Instruments float in and out of the music, as do the drums. Man, what a great song.

22. Title longer than 8 words:
Arthur Russell - “You Did The Right Thing When You Put That Skylight In” (Let's Go Swimming EP, 1986)
Avant-noise disco built around heavily distorted cello. Russell was a goddamn visionary.

23. Title with 3 or fewer letters:
Deerhoof - “+81” (Friend Opportunity, 2007)
One of the more catchy tracks from Deerhoof's overly proggy 2007 album. Typical nonsensical chorus, horn loops, hooks galore, odd time changes: yes, it's Deerhoof.

24. Song recorded before the artist became even remotely popular:
Lou Reed and The Primitives - “The Ostrich” (mp3 download, 1964)
Get down on your face, man! This is Lou's famous first single performed on the ostrich guitar (where every string has been tuned to D and all the frets removed). From hence comes the Velvet Underground.


25. Song about death:
Low - “Death of A Salesman” (The Great Destroyer, 2005)
So I took my guitar and I threw down some chords and some words I could sing without shame. And I soon had a song. I played it around for some friends, but they all said the same. They said, music's for fools. You should go back to school. The future is prisons and math. So I did what they said. Now my children are fed, 'cause they pay me to do what I'm asked. I forgot all my songs. The words now are wrong. And I burned my guitar in a rage. I wish the song stopped right there, but Low went a verse too far, trying to pull back from the darkness. C'mon, Willie Loman didn't have any such assurances. Still, right up to that point, the song's a killer.


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