Video with 10 notes
Tori Amos- Caught A Lite Sneeze, 1996
There is nothing about this video that isn’t incredible. Those vocals….just wow.
Patti Smith- Birdland
I could probably write 10,000 words about this song if people would read it, but for now I’m just going to say it’s a beautiful hypnotic epic that manages to be completely engrossing and emotionally moving even when you don’t have any idea what the fuck it’s about. And once you actually do figure it out (mostly, kinda-sorta) and do the research, its lyrical depth becomes even more astounding. AND THEN you find out that it was done as a complete improv and you realize Patti Smith could be the best artist on the planet.
So yeah, I’m hoping she plays this (and/or Piss Factory, which is the other Patti song I could write a million things about) tomorrow at the Tibet House Benefit even if it’s a total long shot.
Video with 9 notes
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.
Video with 4 notes
Sound City Players (Stevie Nicks and Dave Grohl) - Landslide
I saw the Sound City Players concert at Hammerstein Ballroom last week, and it was a jumbled mess of a show but when it was on, it was really on. Stevie Nicks killed her entire segment, and this performance of Landslide wasn’t even the highlight (that’d be a ridiculously heavy version of Gold Dust Woman to close the show), but it did make me think.
Landslide is a song that Stevie Nicks has performed literally thousands of times, night after night, from 1975 up until the day she dies probably, and she can still perform it with deep emotion. Often I’ll see a band run through their big hits mechanically and in perfunctory fashion (Alanis Morissette is the worst in the world for this), but Stevie’s still got as strong a connection with this song and imbues it with real power. I’ve seen her sing Landslide a few other times, and it was slightly different in its inflections that night, showing it’s still fresh to her and even after all this time, the song is still a living, changing thing. I had thought that super manipulative Budweiser Clydesdale ad would’ve destroyed Landslide for me for a while (whatever, Stevie needs a new beach house and cabana boy, I guess), but this performance was strong enough that it washed all the extra cultural detritus like that, the Dixie Chicks, and millions of eh covers away and made the song resonant again.
Audio post with 10 notes - Played 49 times
fun.- One Foot
Every pop song needs its perfect moment, and “but I will die for my own sins, thanks a lot” fits the bill nicely. My issue with fun. usually is that their glam bombast musically doesn’t match up with the tone of the lyrics, and that’s still a problem here but the vocals compensate. I feel a weird connection between the “stumble upon a chapel last night” bit and subsequent verse here and the end of Waste of Paint by Bright Eyes, and if fun wants to get emo, that’s not a bad model to follow. The piano bridge shows the song could’ve managed without being drowned in horns and I’d love to get a stripped-down acoustic version.
Audio post with 7 notes - Played 9 times
Nina Simone- Ain’t Got No, I Got Life
Personal anthem right here. There’s 3 things that seal it as a classic for me:
1. How matter of fact and perfect Nina’s delivery on “ain’t got no God” is
2. That flawless held note on “I’ve got my sex”
3. The anticipation that grows throughout the first half, because you just know that the lyrics/vocals are going to have to build and turn to match up with the uptempo jazz music, so that when the song’s climax finally hits, it’s got all the catharsis you could want.
NEW LIZ PHAIR ALBUM
So out of this list of recorded songs for the next Liz Phair album, I’m most interested in “Officer, Arrest Me”, “Rejoin the Odyssey”, and “Run, Dolly, Run” off of just titles alone. I also have this ridiculous hope that Blah Blah Blah is a Ke$ha cover, but after Funstyle it’s more fear than hope. I don’t know what Ryan Adams’ involvement is here besides providing a studio, but he’s been on an upswing in quality for the last few years, so that should lead to good things too.
(Don’t get me wrong, Funstyle was amusing and enjoyable for what it was: tossed-off craziness with a few fully-developed ideas, but I’m just hoping Liz will at least get back up to whitechocolatespaceegg levels of quality here.)
Video with 13 notes
Madonna- Nobody Knows Me (MDNA tour video)
This is my favorite video interlude of all time, even topping “Britney Spears at an orgy set to Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams cover”. In the span of 3 minutes, Madge goes from past incarnations of herself to Trayvon Martin to Hitler to dead gay teens, and it should be an absolute mess, but it all comes together to make a powerful statement about society and self-hatred.
So obviously there’s a lot to unpack there. We start with 30 seconds of Madonna shapeshifting through her various looks and childhood, giving a literal read to the “I’ve had so many lives” lyric. Madonna as chameleon is some well-trod territory for critics and the lady herself, so that’s all set-up for the next section, which features Madonna shifting images between oppressed minorities, current world leaders, and dictators. We also see the first important use of the dancers in front as prisoners and guards, showing the guards savagely beating one of the prisoners, which happens after the “it’s so hard to find someone to admire” line. As serious as the video is, that bit also illustrates the darkly comic and sarcastic tone at play too, which you can see in many places but my favorite example is putting up a photo of the Pope at “no one’s telling you how to live your life”. We’ve moved from the personal to the political here, showing the abuse of power in society but also juxtaposing the images in a way that forces a closer relationship between the powerful and powerless. With the repetition of “nobody knows me” continuing, the lines start to blur.
We hit a lyric that always sounded ridiculous in the song’s context previously, “won’t let a stranger give me a social disease”, but here it’s re-contextualized. With the “fags can’t marry” sign and protests shown along with it, the social disease becomes intolerance and more importantly self-hatred. Without the judgment of others to fear, or societal standards, there’d be no cause for the self-hatred. As the screen shifts to a series of gay teens who committed suicide, we also see each of the prisoners and guards kill themselves. Both the oppressor and the oppressed are equally harmed by the current state of affairs, and no one knows how anyone else is truly affected by what’s going on around them.
There’s more protest clips, which start out somewhat harrowing but shift to more successful peaceful protests as the last bit of the lyrics come into play, “nobody knows me…like you know me” and we get happy couples and guards/prisoners walking together. The ending is the only part of the presentation that isn’t flawless for me. I get that Madge wants to offer something uplifting for the end and is pushing a protest angle, but it feels a bit unearned after the darkness that came before. But that’s somewhat of a limitation in the form, considering this is an interlude to be seen during a pop concert and not a stand-alone art piece. However, it stands on its own and the ending doesn’t negate the theatrical power of the rest of the piece. Even after 30 years, Madonna still has something to say and she manages to say it through her art, unlike most other musicians who are content to either not comment or make separate speeches that aren’t incorporated into their show thematically. This kind of shit is why she’s still at the top of the game.
Calvin Harris w/ Florence Welch - Sweet Nothing
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t completely sold on this song when I first heard it. Florence sounded good, but the music was completely generic.The loooooong intro made me think the video wasn’t going to change my mind, but the bit at 1:55 in where it goes face punch-beat drop-cut to Flo spinning is exactly why pop music benefits from videos. Rewinding that bit 5 times made me start to love the beat too, and by the time I got to the stripping freak-out in the last minute, I loved everything about the song/video.
ok i’m definitely kind of obsessed with this song now.
I’m seriously angry that the NYC Lana Del Rey show is the same night as the Tori show in DC. If Lana was up against anyone but Tori, she’d win. Video Games may end up being my top track of the year, it’s been haunting me for the last couple months and it resonates more and more as time goes by.
The opening instrumentation alone is stunning, and then the vocals come in and the song becomes devastating. Initially the chorus didn’t work as well as the verses for me, but the contrast of the lyrics and the world-weary defeated tone of the vocals pushed me over to loving it.
Video with 1 note
Austra- Lose It (Paper Bag Session)
When I saw Austra a few weeks ago, the one disappointing part of an otherwise great show was that she let her back-up singer handle the high notes in Lose It instead of doing them herself. That makes it especially nice to see her go for them here, even if the notes aren’t flawless.
The song itself loses none of its catchy-ness or power in this stripped-down form, and performing it in this way exposes the melancholy and desperation of the lyrics. The Kate Bush comparisons I saw in some reviews of Austra always felt gratuitous to me (I love Kate a lot, but not EVERY female singer owes a debt to her), but this shows there’s at least a tiny bit of merit to them, even if Austra’s facial expressions are no match for Kate’s.
Liz Phair- Canary
I know Divorce Song, Flower, and Fuck and Run get all the attention but Canary and Shatter are the real heart of Exile in Guyville. The dissatisfaction and loneliness caused from living up to everyone else’s expectations and wishes is expressed in a devastating way here, and it’s one of the best examples of how Liz’s limited vocal range can work to her advantage.
Video with 31 notes
Tori Amos- Sugar (Milan 2011)
Because I’ve heard the majority of Tori Amos performances since 1996 due to my obsessive bootleg collecting, it takes a lot for her to really truly blow me away. I almost always enjoy her performances, but there has to be something unique or special for it to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This Sugar is one of those special performances. The first thing I noticed is the absolute confidence and power she’s projecting out into the audience. That “yeah, you just try and fuck with me, see what happens” attitude that was so prevalent in every performance from 94-01 and which seemed to completely disappear after 2005 (unless she was playing a character) is back in spades, and its making the performances feel unpredictable again. I’ve heard over 100 performances of Sugar (I told you I was obsessive!) and there are moments here where I don’t know what’s going to happen with her inflections and tempo, and that’s thrilling because every performance becomes about those particular moments and feelings, with no disconnect between the artist and the material.
The next thing to stand out about this performance for me was how tender it was. There’s still the anger and moments of fury that have been a part of Sugar since 1998 (a performance where “you’re just a pussy, my sweet boy” isn’t delivered right is a shitty performance), but “when they find you out…” has an empathy and quiet sadness that gives the song another dimension. Even as she’s ready to take this boy to task and call him on his bullshit, there’s still an understanding of his pain. And of course, if we learned nothing else from the 90’s, we should know that utilizing the quiet/loud (or sad/angry) dynamic makes both parts of a song more powerful.
Finally, how amazing are those ending high notes? It seems like somebody went back in time and gave Tori her 1998 voice again. They’re so clean and expressive, giving a difficult song a perfect finish.
OK, I think I’ve gushed enough for now. But trust me, I could probably go on for a few more paragraphs.
Audio post with 53 notes - Played 50 times
Kelly Clarkson - The War Is Over (Smoakstack Sessions Version)
I should know by now that every Kelly Clarkson album must contain at least one song that is a total gut-punch to me. My December had Maybe, All I Ever Wanted had its title track, and now Stronger has The War Is Over. This acoustic version of the song from the pre-order exclusive Smoakstack Sessions EP is similar to the album cut (enough so that I wonder why Kelly didn’t pick a track that would be a bit more different acoustically) but the slightly stripped back production gives Kelly a chance to deliver a vocal performance that’s a bit less bombastic but has more emotional nuances. Each time she hits that chorus, you can feel the determination in “I won’t let you pull me in…” coupled with the resignation and relief in “but the war is over”. This song (along with I Forgive You) has been my main entry point into Stronger, which I initially found disappointing but which has been growing on me with a few more listens.
Video with 3 notes
Alanis Morissette- Front Row
So I got a new computer last week, which enabled me to put all my music on one hard drive instead of having it split up onto two externals and my old laptop’s hard drive, and that sent me on a spiral into listening to old 90’s music I haven’t listened to in at least 6 months. I listened to Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie by Alanis last night, and I was reminded of just how excellent an album it is and how crazy Alanis was for following up a HUGE hit record with 17 stream-of-consciousness rambles, angry rants, and lists about her insecurities. It’s basically one big fuck you to the commercial audience (specifically in Baba and One) and is completely self-indulgent but there’s some amazing lyrical insight and enough beautiful melodies/great guitar hooks that it all works. It’s an album that’s also saved by its sincerity, since you know Alanis really deeply means and feels every word on it, even when how open and unedited she’s being is making you cringe on her behalf.
Front Row is one of my favorites because of the contrast between the completely specific moments it describes and the more universal lines that generally come at the end of each verse. “I’d like you to be schooled and in awe, as though you were kissed by God full on the lips” is pretty much how I want everyone to react to me at all times. The production and layered vocals are interesting and unique in Alanis’s catalog, and it’s nice to start the album off with a more relaxed and fun beat before diving into the heavy guitar track/ballad/ballad/heavy guitar track/ballad categorization for the rest of the first part of the record.
Page 1 of 14