Earlier this year, I came out of a semi-hibernation period to sit down and start the the Mix Tape Series, listing for your pleasure a series of tracks that, when put together, fit on an 80 minute CD-R that you could give to the girl you have a crush on as a way to tell them “Since I’m not in High School anymore, by giving you this Mix CD I’m helping you realize that you won’t have to look at me in a sexual manner ever again.” Maybe it was irresponsible of me, but hey, someone’s gotta help keep those birth rates down.
I started with the “Goosebumps mix,” which was 16 tracks that would totally have gotten you laid in 2005, but won’t do much good for you in 2011 since College Freshman have no idea what a “Badly Drawn Boy” is but it sounds old and gross.
And they’d be right.
A quick recap of the rules- you have 80 minutes to fill, you’re allowed to have multiple tracks by the same band, but they can’t be back-to-back, and you get extra bonus for a really kickass transition. This mix, “Remember When Mix CDs Used To Be Awesome” was created this year (2011 baby!) and if you play it backwards, it’s filled with satanic verses. Probably. Cards on the table, I have no idea how to play a CD backwards. On to the music!
[click on song title to listen to each track]
TRACK ONE: Peter Adams- The Tangled Canopy
Scientifically speaking, my year end lists for best songs and albums? Not always perfect. Case and point, Cincinnati Singer-Songwriter/Savory-Breakfast-on-Weekdays-Eater, Peter Adams, released two EPs last year- each one a three song orchestral pop compositions that was used for performances of the Cincinnati Ballet. I bundled I Am a Strange Loop with Dances for Heather as one of the top 10 albums of the year, and had three tracks from the two of them in my top 50 songs list.
This was not one of those listed up there. I honestly had only listened to it once at the time of writing it. And now I feel quite foolish. Because “The Tangled Canopy” was easily one of the 5 best songs of 2010.
Suck it, Menomena, your limboing saxophone isn’t enough to prevent you from being knocked down the 2010 best song list.
“The Tangled Canopy” can only exist as the first track of a mix, because anywhere else it would disrupt your flow like crazy. The first 50 seconds of this track starts with silence, and then slowly building strings before the vocals come in with some light acoustic guitar. Adams’ voice is soft and almost tender for the first third of the track, before finally unleashing a flurry of instrumentation (drums, violin, synth, did I mention violin?)- all, of course, played by Adams, the world’s most hi-fi lo-fi artist.
When he comes back into the song at the 2:45 mark, he doubles over his vocals, which gives it an electric vibrancy that takes the song up to another level. He’s aided by the fact that the last minute and a half of the track is possibly the catchiest sequence of music he’s ever recorded. Finally as the song nears to an end, there’s one last flurry of violins just to remind you that you can have kickass songs that include Violins.
It’s an ideal way to start this mix. Starts off slow, grabs your attention midway through, and ends on a high note, allowing you to smoothly transfer to…
TRACK TWO: Wavves- Green Eyes
Wavves is a band composed of a narcissist and a few sadists. Starting as a bedroom project of Nathan Williams, the band started to become popular in 2009, at which point Williams decided, “When in Spain, be a douchebag” and took a cocktail of Ecstasy and Valium before insulting the crowd at the Barcelona Primavera Sound Festival, and making his drummer quit. Oh, I should mention that at this point, Wavves was a two person band. Going solo baby!
For the album King of the Beach, Williams added two new members…the former band mates of Jay Reatard. Reatard, if you might not remember, died last year, but not before making his band members quit because he fucking peed on them during a concert. Though we guess it’s technically an upgrade if you go to a valium/ecstasy mixing narcissist to replace a, well, pisser.
Not to speak ill of the dead…but I would not want to have that man pee on me, either.
Now, Wavves has the unfortunate problem of being lead by a douchebag who is…actually incredibly talented. 2010’s King of the Beach proved that, and “Green Eyes” is easily the best example. It’s upbeat, punky, and lyrically makes a lot of sense, given William’s past records of douchebaggery (did I mention that he’s sort of a douchebag?). “My own friends hate me/ But I don’t give a shit” he sings over raging guitar and driving drums, as the song oscillates from calm to frantic without giving you whiplash, which is surprisingly tough to pull off, but seems almost effortless in this track. Also, Williams avoided his natural inclination to start punching everyone in the recording studio right in the face, which I personally think was a good call, because the punching sounds would probably have interfered with the song’s basic rhythm. But that’s just me, I’m a bit old fashioned that way.
TRACK THREE: The Rural Alberta Advantage- Stamp
I really fucking love this song, but I keep forgetting what it’s called. I don’t know why, maybe it’s the fact that “Stamp” isn’t one of the more memorable lyrics in the song (“The hardest thing about this love is that it’s never gonna last” gets that distinction). But either way, it’s embarrassing when the two times I’ve met this band, I’ve said, “Man, I really like the music video you guys did for…uhh…shit…it was your first single on the new album…like the ‘I don’t neeeeed you’ part, you know?” and I’d try to clarify further but by then I’ve already been tackled by security. So yes, this song is called “Stamp” and it is probably the best song on Rural Alberta’s incredibly solid sophomore effort.
The difference between Departing and Hometowns is that, in Departing, there are fewer instances of the band really taking advantage of the fact that Paul Banwatt is probably the best drummer in Indie Rock right now, and that Amy Cole probably gets a similar distinction as far as hauntingly beautiful harmonies are concerned. “Stamp” is an exception because the high points are totally dominated by those two. At the two minute mark, the song drops off and becomes just a driving force for steadily building drums leading to a final exclaimed harmony that leads to a chorus of “ooo ooo ooos” that possibly is the best musical moment of 2011.
Plus, the guy in the music video sort of looks like a younger, slightly more Jewish version of me.
TRACK FOUR: Mumford and Sons- Little Lion Man
It’s nothing like a song that is enjoyable as hell to listen to becoming surprisingly popular to make you want to go, “Fuck off, pitchfork.” That’s what we have with 2010’s banjo picking, British folking, harmonizing ditty known as “Little Lion Man” which earned the ire of pitchfork’s actually-pretty-shitty album review. Is it thematically original? No, not particularly. Are the lyrics overly profound? No, “I really fucked things up this time, didn’t I my dear” read more like e-mail than poetry. Is poppy folk music suddenly becoming pretty popular? Sure. But the truth of the matter is, if this song weren’t a hit, you’d have to imagine that pitchfork would be viewing it through a different lens.
But I do digress.
“Little Lion Man” is delightful. Sure, I’m a sucker for banjo and harmonies, but why should that be a bad thing? Will I listen to this song to get “meaning” or some sort of emotional resonation? Not particularly. Will I blare this in my car and harmonize along with the chorus? You bet your ass I will. Will the people I drive by say to themselves, “Holy shit, that’s the whitest boy I’ve ever seen?” Well, yeah, but they do that already, so that’s not really relevant to this discussion.
Oh, and for those of you keeping score at home, this mix is absolutely crushing it so far.
TRACK FIVE: Kula Shaker- Peter Pan R.I.P.
Like the Mumford and Sons track preceding this, Kula Shaker’s single from their revival album, Pilgrims Progress, made my best songs of 2010 list, so I feel I’ve already written it to death. Blah blah the lead singer miiight be a fascist, blah blah they were big in the 1990’s, blah blah CELLOS. This is part of the slow interlude that I worked into here. I mean, it’s great, and it does get us a nice back-to-back of strings, but I don’t have much to add to this song other than to say that it’s pretty. Much like…
TRACK SIX: Deer Tick- Ashamed
This song is very soft and gorgeous, and to be honest, it was a risk to put it this early in the mix. The Rhode Island folk group Deer Tick put this song in their debut album, and it’s all finger picking, swelling harmonies, and the occasionally forlorn violins. It’s a great song, but nine times out of ten I’ll put a song like this, or “Peter Pan R.I.P.” towards the end of an album to close that sucker out.
But this was here as a transition, a nice little break before we go into the upbeat portion of the rest of the disc. This song, with smoky mountain vocals and jarring sincerity (“I should have been an angel, but I’m too dumb to speak”) carries itself on its earnestness. Clocking in at just over two minutes, the majority of the song is just a singer-songwriter ditty with a few stray bass notes almost hidden in the muck. With 45 seconds left to go, the rest of the band comes in to harmonize on the chorus of “What a crying shame, what we became” before finally, in the last twenty seconds, letting the drums kick in just long enough to tease you before the song ends, and slowly fades away…but leaving us with a pickup that transitions quite nicely with…
TRACK SEVEN: Fishboy- Aaron the Afterthought Astronaut
This track also runs about two minutes, but while Deer Tick gave us a somber but beautiful, Aaron the Afterthought Astronaut is cheeky, breakneck, and catchy as all hell. Fishboy, an Austin, TX band and personal favorite, released Classic Creeps in 2011, an alphabetically organized album about 13 characters (whose names all begin with A) who link with each other in strange and wonderful ways. If it sounds goofy and fun as hell, it pretty much is.
“Aaron the Afterthought Astronaut,” apart from winning this year’s “best song title ever” award, starts off with peppy acoustic strumming and lyrics such as, “And if all the phones are off the hook/ I’ll get out a skywriting book” when the drums kick in after 30 seconds to take this song from “oh that’s fun” to “holy shit yes.”
“At this point in my life only two things matter. One- becoming an astronaut. Two- it’s you, my dearest Ava, you’re the only one I got” Eric “Fishboy” croons in just another instance of an incredibly catchy song section being given an incredibly fun set of lyrics. The track eventually melts into the repetition of the line, “No, I don’t think I’ll ever find another” which leads to a subdued bass line that should lead directly to the second song of Classic Creeps…but we have Mix Tape Rules to follow, and it actually matches up surprisingly well with the single-notes-introduction of…
TRACK EIGHT: Buke and Gass- Naked Cities
A highly touted track of 2010 is helping shore up the “cleanup spots” of this mix. Fishboy leading up to gracious interviewees Buke and Gass probably is the most “pump up the stereo” worthy section of the whole mix. “Naked Cities” starts off with some stray notes (from the…Buke- Bass Ukelele, I believe) before kicking in it into high gear and taking you on a head bopping journey for the course of three excellent minutes.
Since I realize that this list has been pretty short of humor and pretty heavy handed on “short and somewhat strained descriptions of songs” I’m going to just say “This song is catchy as hell” and then do a breakaway segment that I like to call…
Jeff spoofs the Pitchfork review of Buke and Gass’s Album Riposte
(The pitchfork review of the Buke and Gass debut album- my top album of 2010- was a very lazily written three paragraphs with a 6.8 rating. Lead singer Arone Dyer confessed that the review annoyed her, saying she would have rather gotten an incredibly low rating because that at least stands out, and correctly pointing out that the review doesn’t talk about how the songs actually sound, and instead focus on the instruments they use. Read it here if you want to be underwhelmed.)
As a writer from pitchfork I’m not allowed to infuse any of my personality into my review so instead I will through around dry descriptions of a band’s sound, and name drop several bands that you’ve not heard of and that the band itself would never consider an influence. For those of you reading this to see which songs I think are worth listening to, or even an examination of what the high points of the album are, fear not, I’ll get to that in the final paragraph.
Buke and Gass are a Brooklyn band, and much like the New York Dolls, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Sufjan Stevens, their sound is centered around necessity. This necessity is imparted to the listener through the rhythmic styling that avoid loops in favor of the “human touch.” This approach of using a human being to provide percussion can be seen in such acts as Television, or even New Zealand’s The Clean. I knew about Dan Deacon before we made him popular, but have you heard of the group Ssion? They’re basically Cut Copy, but they didn’t get nearly as famous.
Anyway, I really like the song “Naked Cities” because it’s very upbeat but I’m not going to go into further detail about that. God, those Mumford and Sons really aren’t that good, are they? I also dislike The Head and the Heart for getting popular in a grassroots campaign. 6.8/10
TRACK NINE: Peter Adams- Cypress Knees
Peter Adams, you’ve done it agan! Sorry, sorry, I just got into a weird “Hollywood Producer mindest” and I thought that this song was a pitch for a film starring Sean Penn as a father who lost his son who sees his child’s face in the Cypress Knee of a tree about to be demolished to build a shopping mall, and he makes it his mission to save that grove of trees.
The song itself is actually very good. Peter Adams’ best instrument is the violin- it’s the one he’s been playing with the longest and it’s the one he plays with to the best effect. The violin solo that comes in at around the one minute mark and dominates the track for a full minute is far more badass than 95% of every guitar solo that’s ever existed ever, and is sure to be pivotal to the dramatic apex of Cypress Knee, starring Sean Penn, featuring the kid from Real Steel as Sean Penn’s son.
Remember Hollywood, I expect to get Executive Producer credits for that little gem. And hey, Peter…uh, if you want to give me a 10% cut of the song royalties you get when they use this song in the movie, I’d be cool with that too.
TRACK TEN: Los Campesinos!- Miserabilia
Los Campesinos! write the happiest sounding songs that you have to stop yourself from singing along to in front of more conservative company. This is a great song that’s incredibly catchy and has a lot of universal appeal, and you just hope that you folks don’t catch the aggressive discussion of female masturbation within the lyrics. This song has been featured in my “Top awesome lyrics you could never put as an Away message” post that should now replace “away message” with “Facebook status” but whatever. This helps keep the mix driving, but now, because I’d rather not focus on the lyrics such as “shout at the world because the world doesn’t love you” I’m going to bring you another compelling feature instead of deconstructing this song with…
Jeff Points Out Inappropriate Topics That Los Campesinos! Had The Good Sense Not To Address in This Particular Track
Soup that is too hot and burns the roof of your mouth.
TRACK ELEVEN: Frightened Rabbit- Nothing Like You
This track from Frightened Rabbit’s most recent album grows on me the more I listen to it. While I can’t say that the track is on par with any of the awesome-but-depressing-in-a-TMI-way tracks from “A Midnight Organ” Frightened Rabbit songs are generally growers. The more you listen to them the more they resonate. Either that, or it has since become more significant to me, which would mean that the last year has been rougher on me than I thought, and apparently I’m Scottish. Which honestly I can see still being on the table. Anyway.
Ultimately the track does what Frightened Rabbit does best- mixes a bleak outlook with upbeat music, and throws a few “fuck you” lines in there as well. Nothing Like You is a song about a rebound relationship, about establishing a connection with someone for no other reason than to distance yourself from a poisonous past. “She was not the cure for cancer,” Scott Hutchinson opines, “There is nothing like someone new, and this girl she was nothing like you.”
And see? If you didn’t listen to the lyrics, you’d think the song was downright cheery. Sorry to burst your bubble.
TRACK TWELVE: Fishboy- Aspen2k
Fishboy, you’ve done it again! God, sorry, again I got in the “Hollywood Producer” mindset and I thought I just pitched a motion picture idea of a ski comedy that takes place in an alternate universe where Y2K actually happened, with the ski instructor played by Anna Faris. But, no, Aspen2k is actually just another classic example of quirky Indie pop from everyone’s favorite Denton band, giving listeners a nice mix of upbeat melodies with enjoyable, endearingly goofy lyrics. I don’t want to go too in depth on the two Fishboy tracks in this mix, since they’ll make my top tracks of 2011 list (spoilers!) but this continues the strong midpoint of the CDs.
Lately, my mixes have followed a certain rhythm- slow but building to start off, the most upbeat stuff in the middle, and finally let it lull you to a close with pretty, longer tracks to close it out. But enough about this particular track (just listen to the damn thing) I’m going to try to flesh out this (at this point, 3000 word) long list with another feature of…
Jeff Tries Out Some Stand-Up Comedy Material Randomly In His Description of a Fishboy Song (Unfortunately It Ends Up Resembling The Comedic Stylings of 2011 Era Jay Leno)
So, lemme tell you, there’s this band, Fishboy, ya heard of them? You hear about these guys? So let me tell you, this Fishboy, well, the main guy in the group, Eric, he’s the one doing the singing and the writing and such, and if you see that little music video for this song, he’s singing with a Muppet. A Muppet!
Speaking of Muppets, did you hear that they’re making a new Muppets movie? Yeah, it’s starring that guy who showed his penis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Hey, don’t they already have a shrimp Muppet character? Ha, you see it’s funny because it implies his penis is small, and I think the shrimp muppet is named Pepe.
Boy, speaking of small, this segment will be just that, thankfully.
TRACK THIRTEEN: The Rural Alberta Advantage- The Breakup
This is the first or second best on The Rural Alberta Advantage’s “Departed” (the other one appearing earlier in this list) and it is the one track on their Sophomore album that sounds most like it should be from their first album. That doesn’t make it inherently better, it just, musically, sounds more like it’s from “Homelands.” While their latest is more guitar-centric, The Breakup (apart from dealing with…an oddly similar theme as Stamp) is basically drums and dueling keyboards. And that is a strength of this band- Don’t Haunt This Place, their best track to date, adheres to the exact same musical blueprint.
I don’t want to give away too much of my insight of this song here, because this article is going to be over 6000 words long, and I’m still planning on doing a more thorough write up for my eventual year end list (which no doubt will come out at some point in 20144), so let’s just move on.
TRACK FOURTEEN: Dream Bitches- Maniacal Mechanic
Is there anything more frustrating than liking a band and not even being able to determine if they’ve broken up or not? No matter how sure you are of the band’s demise, you’re never able to know for sure, you’re just left gluing together bits of knowledge hoping to see a glimpse at the truth. In this internet age, if you stop making music but don’t announce it, people will still stumble upon your music and be unable to find any news of you after a certain time.
That is the case with the Dream Bitches. I discovered this New York girl band through a split EP done by two members of the band- Singer/songwriter Yoko Kikuchi and guitarist Casey Holford. From their This Song/That Song 2006 EP, I discovered Dream Bitches, who apart from having an awesome name, also worked in fun self-referential lines like, “What could be a better way to go/ than losing your life at a Dream Bitches show?”
Of course, here is where the mystery begins. You go to the band’s “About Me” page, you see a description of Coke and Spirters (the album featuring “Maniacal Mechanic”) which was released…in 2008. It doesn’t look promising for the band at this point. Then, since their Tour Dates page says, “Check our myspace for show info!” you check the band’s myspace…which hasn’t been accessed since (as of this article’s publication) August, 2010.
Finally, going back to where I started, a check of Yoko Kikuchi’s homepage shows… no music. No music whatsoever. She now just advertises her design work. It’s almost disheartening, but at least I know to mourn the loss of the Dream Bitches.
And why are the Dream Bitches worth mourning? Well, listen to this song. Low-fi and underproduced, it still manages to draw you in with an incredibly catchy melody (plus, they have dueling harmonies singing different lyrics, which is an underappreciated art form/a way to make me fall in love with you as a person). Tinny drums go into vocals that sound like they’re blaring through a radio speaker, that then turn into female harmonized power vocals and riffing guitars, this is a song that you play on your car’s stereo, blasting up the volume and rolling down the windows.
It goes to show you how much this band can pull off with substandard production and just two and a half minutes. We need more quirky women Indie rockers, dammit. It’s a shame to see that these Dream Bitches have since broken up. Or did they? (They did).
TRACK FIFTEEN: The Arcade Fire- Rococo
I’ve already written about this song in my top songs of 2010 list, where I delved into the lyrics and analyzed them (it’s essentially derides the Hipster Culture) while simultaneously avoiding spontaneously typing “LITERARY ANALYSIS MOTHERFUCKERS!” surprisingly successfully. So I’m not going to rehash my discussion of this song too much, other than to point out that I place this at this point in the album where it’s still a song you will look forward to listening too (fourteen tracks later), but where it still slows down the tone just enough to let you ease into the closing moments of the mix.
But I can’t leave you with such a bare-boned description, so here goes…
Jeff Pretends That This Article is a Prescription Drug and Reads a Fraudulent Disclaimer
This article contains songs that have appeared on previous lists. Do not spend too much time focusing on the short descriptions if you have not previously read these other lists. Due to the sheer level of words, this article is not meant for those with glaucoma or the illiterate. Do not listen to the songs in this article if you like Nickelback, or hate good music. If you comment, you are not allowed to ask why Radiohead was not represented on this list. It’s not that I have anything against Radiohead, it’s just that they get enough play of their own. Call your physician if your erection lasts longer than four hours.
TRACK SIXTEEN: Peter Adams- Bending Sky
For those of you keeping track, this is my third Peter Adams track to make this list, and it’s my second track that I’ve previously written about.
“If you love Peter Adams so much, why don’t you marry him?” Uh, wow hypothetical reader, you really made me seem very sketchy with that question. “It’s not my fault you’re the one who took that route trying to find a joke to gloss over the fact that there isn’t much more you can say about this song.” Touché, hypothetical reader. Touché.
Bending Sky is the slowest, prettiest song from the “Dances for Heather EP”. Adam’s Tenor vocals stay start in a higher register, only dropping down to offer breathless periods to lyrical stanzas before going into soaring, majestic violin solos. To use technical musical terms, this song is less “upbeat” than the vast majority of this mix, but it is very high on the “fucking gorgeous” scale. This track doesn’t feature that much (if any) guitar, and there’s less of a conscious effort to construct violin that drives the melody forward than in tracks like, say, Tangled Canopy. Instead we have a basic background of synth and drum machine (I’m only assuming. Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong) with interludes being filled with violins.
While Peter Adams is a master at making violin sound “rock and roll” this track goes the opposite route, with the violin play fitting nicely into an aural niche that makes this song more of a lullaby than an anthem.
But really, what’s wrong with a beautiful lullaby? That’s what I thought. Nothing.
TRACK SEVENTEEN: Artichoke- No Domino
Now, before I make this statement, let me preface this by saying that I’m a big fan of Artichoke, I absolutely should get off my lazy ass and email them to try to do an interview with bandleader Timothy Sellers, and I’ve been listening to them (and enjoying them) since 2006. Artichoke is a California group that, in all honestly, is absolutely a gimmick band. They’re a good gimmick band, but a gimmick band nonetheless.
Case and point, here is a listing of their albums that came out after the album Evaporation (which came out in 2002, holy shit).
This album takes a scientist where the first letter of their last name starts with each individual letter, A through M in this case. So you have sunny pop songs about scientists like Marry Anning (which actually is an awesome song) and Charles Darwin. I really liked this CD, but it is 100% a gimmick. One thing that amuses me to no end is that, for some reason, Artichoke name-dropped WNUR, the college radio station I was a DJ at (Steve Albini and I, we’re the only relevant alumnus of that station, don’t try looking into it), which happened to be the way I found out about this band, since the CD was sent to us back in 2005 while I was an apprentice at the station. So basically, he uses, in his press section, the description that was written on the little sticker of the CD when it was added to the stacks.
And even that basically just says, “I thought this would be annoying, but it’s actually a pretty good indie rock album.”
Of course, the gimmicks keep coming.
Yeah, they randomly did a cover album of the Sex Pistols. Gimmick? Gimmick.
Okay I’ve not listened to this one, and from its description it sounds like a proper, non-gimmicky CD about Timothy Sellers’ neighborhood. I’m not saying 100% that it isn’t gimmicky, I’m just saying I’m assuming it’s not, and I’d have to listen to know for sure.
Second verse, same as the first, came out four years later and is a little bit (but only a little bit) worse.
It’s a kids album. There’s nothing more to say than that. It’s a kids album about animals. Though too be fair, when the greatest gimmick band in the world made a kids album, they did manage to get a Grammy nomination out of it. I honestly haven’t listened to this one yet.
BEES! I ADDED THE CAPS TO THIS TITLE! AND THE EXCLAMATION POINT! BEES! BEES! BZZZZZZ! THIS IS AN ALBUM ABOUT BEES! BEEEEEES! IT IS ONLY ABOUT BEES! BEES! BEES! BEEEES!
“They don’t allow bees in here.”
That said, despite this lengthy and unnecessary detour, this track, “No Domino” is a deliberately paced, enjoyable indie pop song that is from an album that is in no way a gimmick album. The song isn’t a gimmick either, it relies on semi-dependable hooks and a sort of faded rock quality that was particularly en vogue in the early Aughties. At a sauntering 5 and a half minutes in length, it’s not a head bopper, but it’s a nice lounging song that fits in quite nicely at the back of this CD.
Oh and also it’s part of an album about pizza and backgammon and I need a third thing that Dominos can refer to if I want to finish this joke.
TRACK EIGHTEEN: Why?- Exegesis
As a writer and an grown ass man with an English Literature degree from a top-15-in-the-nation University (ha haaaa, the economy) very little is more emasculating to me than having to look up a song title to figure out what the word means. So of course when I google Exegesis and have a goddamn Wikipedia article saying, “It’s the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text, dumbass” I think to myself, “Wow, I hope someone edits the word ‘dumbass’ out of that, it makes it seem very unprofessional.” And I also think, goddamn you Why?!
Then again, I can’t be too surprised that Why? went this route naming the track. I mean, they named their album Alopecia (which, apart from being one of my top 5 albums of 2008, is a word I at least know the definition of, because I watched Arrested Development through the story arcs with Stan Sitwell). Jonathan Wolf is smarter than me, and he’s more talented than me, so I can’t really make fun of him for using two dollar words. Why? works best as an Indie Rock band with spoken word/white rap lyrics. While their last album was a disappointment in the sense of veering too much into the song route and too far from the rap roots of the group, “Exegesis” balances on the wire between the two schools. The track itself is only a minute and a half, but it’s haunting and simplistic, with ghostly percussion leading into soft instrumental triplets as the vocals literally fade in to repeat one short 10 line stanza a handful of times before again fading into the ether. “No stack of yoga mats/ or foam chord cushion pads/ to lessen the pressure of the phone cord choking my neck,” the song concludes, bringing things to an almost deathly standstill.
But the joke’s on you, I got three more four more tracks on the way.
TRACK NINETEEN: Frida Hyvönen- Jesus Was a Crossmaker
In case the umlaut didn’t give it away for you, Frida Hyvönen is Swedish, ya. And for those of you familiar with 1971’s folk/baroque pop music, you might now that this is a cover of a song by Judee Sill who died in 1979 in just about the way you’d expect a 35 year old musician to die. Hyvönen’s cover of the track is pretty bareboned, which works great when you first listen to it, though it doesn’t age well. Of the tracks on this mix, this is the one I skip the most. It’s not that it’s a bad song- on the contrary, it’s just piano and angelic female vocals and it’s pretty as hell, but it a four minute track that’s…not the most face paced song. It depends on your mood, but I’m not often in the mood for it.
We’re in the home stretch, and this is the last of the slow, plodding songs before I get to the slow plodding songs that pick up and leave you energized, which is of course the proper way to close out a mix CD according to this sentence which just made that up now.
TRACK TWENTY: Versus- Ghost Story
Here’s a song that requires either a lot of patience or a very idle listen, but the payoff for each option is pretty great. From 1996, the track is old enough to sneak into convenience stores that don’t card to buy cigarettes. Founded in 1990, Versus was remarkably prolific- in fact, in writing this article I just found out that they’re still releasing albums (granted, after a 10 year hiatus, but music is music). Members of Versus have been in bands such as +/- and The Pacific Ocean, and really it’s hard to find tracks that stand out when their catalog of music is so huge. “Ghost Story,” however, is one of those stand out tracks.
“Ghost Story” clocks in at nearly six minutes, employing a pretty solid example of the “soft-loud” dynamic that 1990’s Indie Rock was particularly awesome at. Every few minutes of slow, soft music eventually blasts into high energy, fist pumping rock redemption. While I enjoy the hell out of this song, I’d never put it in the beginning of a mix- the build up takes a little too long, and if you have a full CD worth of songs ahead of you it’ll be easy to skip. But towards the end of the CD, it fits in nicely. And it’s absolutely worth it when you get to the halfway point of the track.
Just listening to the song itself, delving a little deeper than that “loud-soft dynamic makes it awesome, you guys” description listed above (ugh, work), the track sounds haunted. The “soft” parts of the strong are loose drums, tightly wound sporadic guitar strings, and eerie bass peppered lightly throughout, and the “loud” parts…still plod along at the same pace as the soft parts. The pickup is dramatic, but subdued- you can practically hear Richard Baluyut holding back his vocals even as he triples the volume of his voice. He wants to go faster, more energetic, and it creates a sort of tension just beneath the surface of the music to give it, dare I say it, a spooky feel. The tone of the song, as it takes you to cautious lows and restrained highs, feels like it’s the delivery of a ghost story, conjuring images of flashlights illuminating faces in dark rooms.
It is distressingly difficult to dig up information about this song, but I was able to dig up the lyrics using some google magic to examine what’s on the surface of the song (since many lyrics in the softer sections are difficult to make out, and the vocals in the loud sections are almost clouded by the instrumentals). The song itself uses the concept of a ghost story as a metaphor for love, which is roughly as surprising as telling you that the vocals were recorded using microphones. Snark aside, the metaphor is a fairly interesting look at relationships, though occasionally heavy handed. For example- “Yeah it’s the same old ghost story that never ends, stupid disappearing act and we’re still friends” is a straightforward but interesting line, since it establishes the promise of a relationship that will never occur as the real “ghost” that the song is about. That’s an interesting take on unrequited love, and I’m actually not being sarcastic here. That said, “I don’t want you to sleep with me/ I just need you to set me free” is legitimately cringe-worthy, so you have to take the good with the bad on this song.
Thematically, it’s a song you can take and leave, but the execution of the track, from the haunted instrumentals to the numerous pickups and slowdowns, make it an extremely worthwhile track. And though I could have ended things here, I still had extra space, which allowed me to put another “pick me up, close me out” type track after this one, namely with…
TRACK TWENTY-ONE: Didley Squat- Little Darling
Here we have another 5 and a half minute song, but this one is a little less “1990s haunted music” and a little more “Aughties piano driven rock and roll.” Didley Squat is a defunct band that existed in Sacramento from 2002 to 2008, and apparently their press information for their final EP, Burning Alive Making a Living (which gets its name from the prominent lyric of “Little Darling”) said that they were honor students, which is totally misleading since they’d been releasing stuff for 3 years at that point, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t high school students at the time. They’ve since been inducted into the Sacramento Area Music Awards hall of fame, which is totally a thing.
The track starts off with slow piano and oh so sad sounding vocals (“we will all suffer”…loverly). This meandering lasts about two minutes before everything goes crazy. Pianos are smashed (melodically). Guitars are blaring (melodically). Drums are blazing (…erm…drum…odically). David Mohr’s nerd-rock-core vocals gleefully shout out “Burning alive making a living” before the final minute which is the band’s Broadway showstopping moment (seriously, you can just imagine the kick line). The opening lyrics are brought back, slowing down the tempo slightly, but amping up the entire song in the process. Electric guitar! Vreeorrr! Ominous whistling!(?) Piano power chords! The song quickly falls down to earth, a final slow down to leave you gasping for air, and a firm knowledge that what you just listened to was not only the last song on the band’s EP (or this mix) but the last hurrah of a band that no longer plays together. These are the moments where you can’t help but place significance on the track, knowing that none other like it will ever be recorded again. And with that, we can say, definitively, that this mix is finished and ready.
TRACK TWENTY-TWO: The Thermals- I Don’t Believe You
Fuck! Oh, dammit, I didn’t mean to put this track here, I was gonna stick it somewhere in the middle. Shit, and Didley Squat was such a good point to end things on. Well, whatever- as much as you try to explain the artistic process behind making a mix, sometimes it just comes down to if the songs are good. And this one’s pretty okay. Well, since I stuck this on the end of the mix by accident, I’ll stick my description of it right here (#39).
If you want, we can pretend this is interactive. This Thermals song is yours to place anywhere of your liking when you eventually download/steal these songs to make your own personal mixes. Because hey, not all cars have ipod docks, right?