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Wolf Parade- I’ll Believe In Anything
Probably my favorite desperate co-dependent junkie love song of all time. There’s a deep off-kilter sadness and emptiness at play throughout, with the narrator simultaneously promising to be the one who’ll save the day and fix everything but also needing to be rescued himself and getting increasingly crazed and frantic as the song progresses. Of course, the only possible way to fix anything here is through a grand escape to some unknown land, and that’s a defeat in itself and impossible. The song is obsessed with possibilities and all the things the narrator could do, but in the end nothing actually changes. I interpret the “if I could take the fire out from the wire” line as a drug reference, but you can interpret it as any kind of continuing problem and the overall effect remains the same. There’s a constant pain keeping things from being how the narrator thinks they could be, but there’s no solution. All we get is the dream of hopeless freedom where none of your choices actually have a meaning to anyone outside of yourself and you’re free to do anything, including destroy yourself.
I know that makes the song come off as super dark and depressing, but I sincerely love it. It perfectly encapsulates the feeling of wanting to solve someone’s life for them but feeling powerless and just dreaming of how you could save them and yourself. The “look at the trees and look at my face and look at a place far away from here” has one of the most heart-wrenching vocals ever, and that sweeping musical lift prior to the return to the 1st verse is flawless. It’s Arcade Fire indie epicness before Arcade Fire even existed, and the music keeps the song from drowning in its depression, matching up with the lyrics but keeping things from getting too downtempo.
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The Music Tapes- Majesty
I was supposed to go see the Music Tapes and their “Traveling Imaginary” concert tonight but the show’s been postponed due to a band emergency. So now, I get to just think about how ridiculous and awesome it’s going to be to hear songs like this played inside a crazy circus tent.
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Her Name is Calla are an up-and-coming British band with a penchant for creating beautiful and atmospheric music. This track, from their upcoming debut album The Quiet Lamb, is slower to start than I would normally like, but the beautiful harmonies reminiscent of Grizzly Bear keep things interesting enough until the delicate but stoic main vocals kicks in that I don’t mind. The violin at 2:35 provide a nice instrumental lift, and the song doesn’t stop building from there. The drums kick in and, along with the increase in strings and use of brass, give the song a sweeping sense of grandeur. The wailing vocal calls to mind Damien Rice’s better moments, and everything comes together beautifully for a hypnotic climax from 5:30-5:55, before returning to the softer tones of the first minute, completing the movement wonderfully in both a musical and emotional sense. The song’s one weak point is the lyrics, but the music and vocals are evocative enough that some lyrical slightness can be forgiven and you can be drawn into and wrapped up in the mood “Pour More Oil” creates.
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Sufjan Stevens- The Owl and the Tanager
How I was wrong, tingling from the kill
Tickle me until, you devil bird you evil still
Slept on my arms, I was sleeping in the sill
I was sleeping in the room with you
You little boy, you little boy
How could you run from me now?
The loneliest chime in the house
The loneliest chime in the house
You let it out, you let it out
Come to me Calvary still
I’m weeding and raking until
I’m bleeding in spite of my love for you
It bruised and bruised my will
This song has been haunting me for the last week, and I haven’t been able to figure out a full interpretation for it, which is going to slowly drive me insane. I can see it being about a relationship where the narrator cares much more than the other person and is abandoned, with anger and violence leading to sex that still ends with the narrator being ultimately alone. But I can also see it being about a sexual relationship between two male friends that both are conflicted over and that gets derailed after one reveals what’s going on to others, leading the narrator to be unable to deal with his feelings and leave the other person alone and waiting forever. (I’m hoping I’m not just projecting that and that other people see it in the text too) It’s the most raw and sadly beautiful moment on an EP filled with ennui, angst, crises of faith, and neediness. Sufjan utilizes just the piano here, and his playing is largely delicate and sparse with fuller more classical moments occuring later and keeping the music from becoming repetitive. The focus is on Sufjan’s lonely and pain-soaked vocal, which has a much more mature tone to it than on Illinois and less of the affected shakiness that characterized his higher vocals on that record, resulting in a song that’s memorable and devastating.
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The Postal Service- The District Sleeps Alone Tonight (DJ Downfall Persistent Beat Mix)
As it becomes more and more likely that there will never be another Postal Service record, it’s easy to forget about how much I used to love a lot of that record before the songs were used in every commercial ever and got tired. I recently rediscovered this remix, which keeps the lonely shoegazing emo kid emotions and lyrics of the original version intact but adds some nice thump and a futuristic synth part so that you can groove along in your misery. It drags in the middle, but the explosion at 4:32 makes up for that, and is more effective because of how the song made you wait for it, which is something almost all dance remixes try to achieve but only a few nail.
“Baby Say Goodbye,” Wavves. King of the Beach has an appealingly bratty quality, with Nathan Williams’ plaintive pipsqueak regularly dropping acid on those sunbaked Beach Boys harmonies. Brian Wilson is about as lazy a reference point you can pick these days, but some things in pop never grow old, and Williams borrows the best of those Surf City harmonies and modernizes them with production tricks learned from Animal Collective and others. It all comes together exactly once, on the album-closing suite “Baby Say Goodbye.” As bouncy and bright as July itself, the song surprises you by turning suddenly into an anthem, as Williams sings the title over and over again the way his forebears used to lament that God only knows. A song for the season if there ever was one.
(track via hamtunes)
It’s interesting that you would pick this as the one time when everything comes together, because this is one of the more frustrating tracks on the album for me precisely because it just barely misses building to perfection. The track absolutely is striving for an anthemic moment at its close, but it doesn’t get there because of how bland and emotionless Williams’ vocal sounds as he repeats the title again and again, leaving the backing vocals to do all the work. Obviously it’d be ridiculous to expect great displays of vocal prowess here, but there’s not enough feeling in the delivery to justify the lyrical build-up throughout the song (not that Wavves is alone in that problem, it bothers me about a lot of indie rock), and what should be a big finish is undermined by the continual “oh yeah”s until the end when letting the instrumental fully take over would’ve been a wiser choice. It’s still an enjoyable track, but I always hate when a song comes close to greatness and falls a little short.
Joe D’Agostino from Cymbals Eat Guitars at Schuba’s in Chicago.
I saw Cymbals Eat Guitars play a Lollapalooza pre-show tonight, and it was a good show with one flaw that kept it from greatness. In terms of the music and vocals, it was excellent, with the band being both intense and fluid but still precise when they needed to be. There was a lot of new material, almost all of which represented a significant leap forward including one track that had a far better hook than anything on their debut album. The sound mix and quick pace of the songs made it difficult to catch any lyrics, but I don’t doubt that they’ll be at least the same quality lyrically as the older songs. They also did a delightfully messy and high-energy cover of Superchunk’s “Detroit Has A Skyline”, which was also recorded for The AV Club and should be available soon. The show’s problem lay in a lack of real connection to the audience. Joe D’Agostino spends 90% of the show staring off to his right with his eyes closed or bent over his guitar, and the rest of the band (besides the bass player who made a few comments) was silent. Joe’s behavior can probably be attributed to needing to concentrate due to the difficulty of a lot of the band’s guitar parts and vocals but it made it significantly harder to connect with the performance, especially since between song banter was minimal. I will give him one thing though: he does the best microphone fellatio since early 90’s Tori Amos, with a wide open mouth millimeters from the mic much of the night. I also met Joe briefly after the show and he was very friendly and nice. We talked about when the next album was going to come out (not until next year), what other bands were playing (including Lady Gaga, who one of the band members sorta-knows) and the last time I saw them, at Generation Records a few months ago. All in all, it was a show I was glad I went to, despite being pretty exhausted from getting less than 3 hours of sleep last night, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again tomorrow at Lolla.
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Best Coast- Goodbye
So I know that Best Coast is all anyone’s talked about the last couple days and the full-on backlash is about to begin, but Pitchfork is actually right about this record. It’s a lot of fun and a very good indie beach album. The simplicity and obviousness in its lyrics are indicative of pop genius, not stupidity, since the key to a good pop song beyond a great hook is relatable lyrics, and
I lost my job
I miss my mom
I wish my cat could talk
Everytime you leave this house, everything falls apart
Well, I don’t love you, and I don’t hate you
I don’t know how I feel
are absolutely things everyone has thought or felt at some point. (Come on, you know you wish your pets could talk. My sister and I frequently talk about what our dogs would sound like, complete with accents and goofy speech patterns, when we get bored.) The same holds true for the lyrics of the rest of the album. Even on first listen, these songs felt familiar, because the lyrics are things I think every time I’m in a dysfunctional relationship, which is you know… a lot of the time. The simple repetitive lyrics fit with the musical tone of the record, which sounds less like the “classic indie pop” Larry Fitzmaurice makes a vague comparison to in his review, and more like 50s/60s girl group pop updated for 2010 and given a little stoner haze in the production.
Do I think the record is going to be an enduring classic? Absolutely not, but it’s enjoyable to relax and chill with, making for a light and fun counterpoint to the heavier, pretentious, and drama-laden songs I usually listen to. This record is so unpretentious that it almost loops back around and becomes pretentious in its simplicity, which is the source for a lot of the negativity around it I think, but let’s just listen to some music that’s fun and focus on just enjoying things for once. I almost can’t believe I said that, since I’m king of over-interpreting stuff (see: all my Tori Amos posts), but sometimes it’s nice to listen to something and appreciate it at face value, and that’s what Best Coast songs are designed for.
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Sufjan Stevens- The Mistress Witch from McClure (solo live)
Sufjan, please come back, I miss you. If you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, this is a very pretty and soothing song. Once you realize it’s about Sufjan and his siblings discovering their father having an affair and Sufjan feeling abandoned afterward, it becomes a bit more intense. The song has a childlike pettiness to it at points (it’s titled The Mistress Witch for starters) and there’s a lot of anger covered up by Sufjan’s calmness and lovely falsetto. That quiver is his voice on “He left us now for dead” is just gut-wrenching though, and reveals more pain and emotion in 3 seconds than most artists do in an album’s worth of material.
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She had a name, she had a spirit
She had a line in the play if you waited to hear it
But a master of disguises…
Her demise was her design, they said
“Was it the mending of the gown or the running it around?”
She said: “My name and my spirit are both corrupt
And if you hold me close you gotta hold me up
It was the tender meaning of this slender gown
That brought me bending to the ground
Now you’ll wear any old thing, oh you’ll wear any old thing”
There’s such an intensity to this song, it feels like it could spiral out of control at any second, like Spencer Krug and the band are just barely keeping it together. The song threatens to overtake them, but they tame it while still keeping the frenetic energy. Lyrically, the song is stunning. In just the part of the verse I’ve quoted above there’s so much expressed beautifully: the idea of the girl, forgotten and ignored, feeling she’s been made weak and evil, someone who was committed to beauty but who’s been destroyed by the effort and has given up. As the song moves into the next verse, the anger that’s been lurking under the surface boils over with the sarcastic vocal on “It’s an act I think she’s just pretending”, and the control slips as we hit the song’s emotional climax of “Burn the virgin flags and I will shake (shake!)”, expressing the pain at the loss of everything he wanted. After that, the song finally does spiral out of control going into the “see the paddle go up, and go down” finish, where he surrenders and revels in destruction, but by then it’s a conscious choice (both in terms of the narrative and in the band’s performance).
So she wrapped herself in swaddling
That the fever deviated to a broken wing
“It’s an act, I think she’s just pretending”
Burn the virgin flags and I will shake (shake!)
As the heat waves in the sand
This one’s for Maggie
This one’s for Sam
Or any other random spirit lover
I have lusted after you
The way bloodsuckers do
P.S. How ridiculous is it that the Pitchfork staffers are just sitting and staring blankly at their computers the whole time this performance is going on? That lends it an almost surreal quality as well.