In the digital age, which is the lazy way old people choose to describe the last ten years, musical concepts have changed drastically. “Mix tapes” were replaced by “Mix CDs” were replaced by “Craigslist Casual Encounters” were replaced by “Playlists and Tissues.” And with artists focusing on producing “single tracks” as opposed to “cohesive albums” the artistry and patience found in compiling a compelling mix can only be found from nostalgic music writers or people too poor to get an ipod hook-up installed into their cars (and in some cases, a combination of the two). But, despite the existence of ipod shuffles and itunes playlists and pens that write upside down, a well crafted mix CD (which we’ll describe as a mix tape because that has a better ring to it) can tell the listener exactly what year you made your mix better than anything other than, possibly, a diary entry from an angsty teenager.
Much like how if you’re between the ages of 25 and 32 you’ll know the name of at least 2 of these three characters.
However, unlike mix tapes you may make in High School, a proper mix serves as a launching pad into good music that you either might not have heard before, or that works organically in the structure of the mix. That is why I’m going to begin my Mix Tape series to inform you of songs you’ll love (if you haven’t heard them before).
But first, the rules.
There are many philosophies for the creating of a perfect mix. Some adhere to the “album” philosophy- namely, if your favorite artist would not release an 80 minute album, you should not make a mix that fills up an entire CD, focusing instead on 12-14 truly great songs to interact with each other. While this method makes some good points, it is not the route that I will take, since I want to take advantage of all the space we have available to fit as much music as possible. This will make a mix much better suited for road trips and long drives.
And to make matters worse, he had to listen to Dave Matthews Band on repeat until help arrived.
As a result, the my mix method will slightly alter the Rob Fleming school of mixes. You can’t have the same artists appear too close to each other in the track listing, but you are not forced to start with a “show stopper/attention getter.” In fact, I will try to make the second or third track by the one that really starts to grab your attention. The first track should rise, possibly starting slow before building your attention and taking you through to the next level.
The real difficulty is transitions. An ideal mix is one where, after listening to it a few times, you assume that the songs are meant to be paired together. Once you realize that the ending of “Another Love Song” by Queens of the Stone Age actually sublimely goes into Rouge Wave’s “Kicking the Heart Out,” and that it’s such a great transition that you almost assume they’re the same song, it’s hard not to mentally cue up the second song once you hear the first. With that in mind, it’s time to start the inaugural Mix Tape Series with the mix entitled Goosebumps.
Track One: Tartufi- If We Had Daggers They Would Fly
While I might be presumptuous in calling Tartufi “friends of my former website, Elitish,” I think I can at least safely say that they are “people who let me interview them (which used to be on Elitish but now is here).” This track opens their 2006 effort, Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, and immediately establishes them as a band that is worth your time and beef jerky making abilities. It also gives you confusing results if you google the album title.
Umm…what the fuck, google?
Starting slowly, this San Francisco duo’s track is layers of tinkering piano and soft guitar that swell and build over a minute stretch, until they are met by increasingly overlapping vocals of “ohs” and “ahs” that lull you into a sense of comfort even as the music gets increasingly intense. That is, until everything goes to hell with a flurry of guitar that turn into vocals and drums in a remarkably catchy pattern. Like Built to Spill with a hint of tribal vocal influence, it’s a song that slowly brings you in before grabbing you by the shoulders to let you know, “Hey, guys, listen to me, I’m awesome.” Which actually would be a terrifying thing for a song to actually, physically do. Once songs become sentient it’s just a matter of time before they doom us all.
Where were we going with this again?
The last few seconds and the first few seconds of a song are integral to creating a proper mix. That’s why, as Tartufi’s track fades into soft xylophone (because fuck yes, xylophones) it’s time to go to…
Track Two: The Delgados- I Fought the Angels
You don’t need to be attractive to make good music, but if you make good music we’re just going to assume you’re attractive. The reason why people assume Pete Wentz sings for Fall Out Boy is because their lead singer is chunky, and the reason why people feel that Fall Out Boy is shit is because Pete Wentz is goofy looking and scenester as shit. I bring this up because the only thing that enhances someone’s attractiveness is if they’re foreign. So the fact that “I fought the Angels,” the opening track to 2004’s Universal Audio is sung by a girl on a Scottish Band is basically the hotness equivalent of dividing by zero. It seems impossible. Granted, I’m saying this without having seen Emma Pollock…
*Curt nod* Judges? Judges? Is this acceptable? The judges are informing me that yes, she is attractive.
That of course has very little to do with the actual song, but it does sort of paint the way your brain will take in the lyrics. It’s a pretty girl with a strong voice singing over stripped down guitar rock instrumentals with some vocal doubling tastefully applied where it’s needed. The concept itself (defiance against unseen forces, literally “I fought the angels”) is much better than the lyrical execution (what the hell does “My words are seldom for a friend” actually mean?) the song is made mixworthy when the drums kick in at 1:10 and keyboard and bass and even the occasional almost soundscape use of strings layer through the song which such stealth that you don’t even notice it apart from commenting on how rich and full the song is.
As the song cuts off, however, it’s time to take it back down to the beginning of a low rising song. This mix is called Goosebumps because each song has a moment, usually a build or a crescendo, that gives me goosebumps (unfortunately it is not named after R.L. Stine’s classic works). So, in keeping with this theme, the next song we encounter is…
Track Three: Okkervil River- John Allyn Smith Sails
The closing track to 2007’s The Stage Names doesn’t really hit you until you hit the halfway point, at which point your ears perk up, you say, “What the fuck?” and the librarian says, “There’s no swearing in the library young man,” and you say, “I got your library right here you old biddy” and she goes, “Oh really? Old biddy? What is this, fucking 1950?” and you go, “HA! I thought you’re not supposed to swear, fuckass” and anyway, I’m not allowed in public libraries anymore.
Like I even care. Stupid old biddy.
“John Allyn Smith Sails” is a semi-non-fictional account of the poet John Berryman, who was born as John Allyn Smith Jr. If you’ve not heard this song, or the Hold Steady track that mentions him in passing, we’ll save you the suspense- the dude jumped off a bridge to kill himself, survived the fall, and some days later from hyperthermia.
What makes the song worthwhile however appears at the halfway point, when after describing Berryman’s funeral, a semi-cover of The Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B” comes into play, desperate pleas of “I feel so broke up I want to go home” being expressed through harmonies and, yes, a riveting horn section (read as: trumpet). It’s a brilliant switch over that both cements the song as a musically worthwhile anthem, while serving as clever word play of the title (Sloop John B, John Berryman, get it? GET IT!?)
(KAAAAAHHHHHHNNNNNN! I mean… GET IT!????)
By the time it fades, of course you have to move on to the next track, which continues along the nautical theme (yes, the comparison is looser than Andy Dick after his fourth eight ball, just beware with us).
Track Four: Immaculate Machine- C’Mon Sea Legs
As is custom for my continued effort to get a restraining order filed against me, I’ll just point out again that OH MY GOD KATHRYN CALDER!
I TOOK THIS WITH MY PHONE YOU’RE SO PREEEEEETTTTYYYY
(But seriously guys, back me up on this)
“I hope no one writes anything creepy about me on the internet today!”
“C’Mon Sea Legs” was my number one song of 2007, deftly taking Brooke Gallupe’s vocals and adding about several degrees of Kathryn Calder to take them from good to incredible. I’ve been writing about this song in glowing terms for four years, so it’ll just read as cheap repetition if I go into depth into this song, so I’ll sum it up as succinctly as possible. Gallupe sings the melody, with Calder (who honestly has one of the best voices in music this side of Neko Case) doing soft soaring harmonies. The song serves as a fairly straightforward metaphor for overcoming and getting over negative life events (since it’s in song lyrics, let’s just simplify that as “getting over getting dumped”). Calder’s vocals strengthen as the song progresses, until finally Gallupe lets Calder take over, as she belts the emotional apex of the song, making a powerful and moving musical moment.
When it’s all done, the song is less “anthemic” and more “epic.” Which is why I keep it going with a similarly epic song (that also happens to feature KATHRYN CALDER)
Track Five: The New Pornographers- The Bleeding Heart Show
“Hey, I know this song! This is the song that’s used on those commercials for that shady as hell for-profit university, right?” Well…well yes, fine, it is. “Hey Jeff, did you know that The University of Phoenix takes on anyone and usually leaves its students in massive debt?” Yes, I had heard about that, listen guys, I’m trying to write about this song, it’s really quite good and… “No, but seriously, it’s such a racket, even cracked.com talked about its evils and…” SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LET ME TALK ABOUT THE FUCKING SONG OKAY!?
YOU AND YOUR STUPID TIE CAN GO TO HELL!
Trying too hard to interpret New Pornographers lyrics will make your nose bleed, since A.C. Newman’s main lyrical influence seems to come from magnetic poetry. Seriously, “I leapt across three or four beds into your arms”? Unless you’re living in military barracks, I defy you to find a situation where you’d leap across three or four beds to go to someone’s arms. And if you did have three or four beds, why would you leap across them? Why not go around them? Or at least, I don’t know, push them together so it’s like one giant bed. But why is it so many beds and…
It’s fitting that Newman at least acknowledges the fact that his lyrics are basically amalgamated words that are smushed together and set to power pop melodies with the line, “It looked as if I picked your name out of a hat.” But the lyrics aren’t why we listen to this song (and trust me, even if you don’t think you’ve listened to this song, you’ve listened to this song). The last minute and a half, apart from sounding like some sort of Indie Lion King soundtrack, provides one of the seminal musical moments of the past ten years (“Ohh, bold words, GoodSmith.” Yeah, well a pretty girl looked at me on the bus today so I’m feeling pretty bold, reader.)
That’s right, world. Looked right at me. For like, a FULL two seconds.
Between Neko Case’s belting, which is actually a prescribable cure for Lupus, Kurt Dahle’s transcendent drumming, and the rich layer of harmonies provided by every member of the band (including Kathryn Calder, SQUEE!) this song takes the high point of “C’Mon Sea Legs” and continues at the same high level. So it seems only fitting that I follow this up with a track by an artist once called “The best band ever” by both Paul McCartney and Sting (citation needed)…
Track Six: The Wrens- I’ve Made Enough Friends
As you may have gathered from my extensively in-depth interview, and my embarrassingly gushing live review, and, well, from just about everything I write, I am a big fan of The Wrens. Not in a “their album art is tattooed on my chest” way, but more in the “I know all their B-sides and I use their album art as a screensaver” sort of way. Actually that sounds fairly creepy too. I mean, I’ve played with them on stage, and I follow them on twitter, it’s not like I know what sort of shampoo each member uses. Oh God, I’m just digging myself in deeper. Uh, hey, Charles, if you’re reading this, it’s all just part of the gag, you know, like I’ve been doing gags for every track I’ve done so far on this list. It’s, uh, meta humor…ha…haha…See? We’re laughing, everyone’ s laughing, we’re having a good time, they’re a good band, okay, let’s just leave it at that.
I’m not helping my case with this description, but as one of the band’s member’s message board posts related the sentiment of a friend of his, “I’ve Made Enough Friends” was the sex song of the 1990’s. Possibly the most immediately accessible song on the 1996 masterpiece (Yeah, masterpiece, I went there, deal with it) Secaucus (it’s named after New Jersey you guys!), “I’ve Made Enough Friends” is a refreshingly earnest, straightforward tale of blossoming…well, love sounds too idealized for the song, but at least lust. Clocking in at 2:47, the track doesn’t waste much time with languished metaphors or plodding instrumentals, it just treats you to a story of a first physical encounter between two people.
“A rush of wonder this spell I’m under might last,” Charles Bissell croons (“…croons? Someone wants to use their thesaurus today, huh?” Shut up, reader, you’re messing up my rhythm. “Can’t mess up something that’s not there.” Shut the hell up I said!) as the music rises in intensity to mirror the passion of the song’s two characters. As the song builds up and blasts away, “Undo your buckle while you bite at my neck, I’ve waited no end, I’ve made enough friends” is almost gleefully exclaimed, all build and energy and harmonies. There is no room for a letdown in this song, it’s almost delicately crafted within its short time frame, with the song ending abruptly when there is nothing else left to be said.
By this point, it’d be easy to keep the mix going on this course, playing an up tempo song to match the high energy that “I’ve Made Enough Friends” ends with, but a truly good mix should be more like a sine graph (“sine graph? Math is stupid.” Fine, a roller coaster. Ugh. You suck so hard.) A rising and falling tide receives more attention than still water, so I’m taking things down a little with the following track…
Track Seven: Spoon- Paper Tiger
I don’t know why I associate Kill the Moonlight with Spoon doing experimental percussion work, but I do. It’s an entirely inaccurate assumption, as if all previous and following Spoon albums used a goddamn drum machine while this one album used like, I don’t know, a space robot drummer (…holy shit that’d be the coolest thing ever). I mean, in Soft Effects they had a song that used a fucking shoe for percussion. That’s not even a joke, they took a shoe and smacked it on like the floor or whatever, and decided, “Yeah, this’ll be good for our instrumental interlude!” Remember that obnoxious as hell “sheeewwwssss” video about shoes? No? Well good for you, I won’t link you to it because it’s awful, but basically it’s as if Spoon was in the recording studio and thought, “How can we liven up this song?” and that obnoxious dude in the wig appears and is like “Oh. My. God. Sheewwwws.” And the band tossed up their hands and said “Why the fuck not?”
Ugh. This video. Ugh.
Spoon gets inventive with their percussion is what I’m saying. I honestly haven’t been able to find/am too lazy to really do intensive research regarding the source of the strange, plastic-in-a-good-way sounding percussion base that “Paper Tiger” uses, which sounds like part drum, part vacuum-of-space, but it distinguishes this otherwise good-and-pretty-sounding-but-fairly-standard-song and makes it unique. A lesson in minimalism, there’s the echoing, for-some-reason-futuristic-seeming percussion mixed in with some very light drums, softly hesitant synthesizer notes, and the occasional instance of Britt Daniels endearingly-strained falsetto, and…that’s about it. This song uses strange percussion sparingly, but that’s still half of the instrumentation in the song.
As a stand alone track, or even as part of Kill the Moonlight (which, if you haven’t heard, was when Spoon decided to do experimental percussion, which they never did at any other point in their career) is a pretty song, one worth listening to, but not something that demands your attention as much as other music surrounding it. Spoon barely touches it now when they do live concerts. But for this mix, it’s a nice way to cleanse the palate, sort of like the ginger that goes along with sushi.
This song is the ginger, and the next track is the sushi, is what I’m trying to say.
Track Eight: Ola Podrida- Cindy
For starters, I’m just going to call bullshit on the fact that Ola Podrida doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. Not all of us get your fancy press booklets, Mr. Wingo, and you’d have to assume that a band that’s managed two 7.8-and-higher rated albums on pitchfork would at least have a damn wikipedia page. Seriously, there are artists who are on wikipedia who are listed as having “played with Ola Podrida” yet Ola Podrida doesn’t have it. Anyway, Ola Podrida has David Wingo, who is a film composer. It’s easy to make a blanket statement of him using that mindset with his music, as “Cindy,” a beautifully tragic, soaring affair, sounds like it should be the background for an emotional crescendo in some Wes Anderson film. But that’s just lazy writing, and I have never ever been a lazy writer.
Pictured above: My research method
“Cindy” doesn’t necessitate any lavish visual backdrop, mainly because it’s rife with its own theatrics. In case you haven’t picked up the pattern yet, most of these songs are going to start off pretty soft, and then build to dizzying heights by the time the song is over. That’s going to happen just about every goddamn time, and you’re going to take it and like it, you hear me?
“Don’t talk to me about fucking cadence, I fucking INVENTED cadence.”
“Cindy” is a film upon itself, describing a girl (going on a limb and saying her name is…Cindy?) who burns down…well her life. She burns her house down, burns her diary, “She burned everything, except for her wedding ring, because she threw that in the sea.” As the fire builds lyrically, so too does the song, plot and instrumentals holding hands and looking both ways before sprinting across the street. What started as soft plucked guitar ends with an inferno of rapid fire double stops before the song uneasily rests, like the embers left after an inferno.
Ola Podrida’s seminal track (eh, that may be a bit hyperbolic) follows a similar sonic structure as the following song, which you probably have heard of…
Track Nine: LCD Soundsystem- New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down
“Oh LCD Soundsystem, isn’t that like, a cliché at this point? They’re so popular that everyone knows someone who lied about seeing their final MSG show,” you might be saying. “I like that song, ‘Daft Punk is Playing at My House,’ and ‘Someone Great’ is really good too. Let me click this link to refresh my memory on how this song goes,” you’ll likely continue.
“HOLY SHIT JEFF WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THAT KERMIT WAS INVOLVED!?”
“Hi ho, maybe your mother loves you too.”
“New York I Love You” is easily the least LCD Soundsystem…erm…sounding track that has been recorded by LCD Soundsystem. Where are the muted disco beats and seven minute songs with slightly fuzzed guitars? Where are the drunk girls? WHERE ARE THE DRUNK GIRLS!?
Now’s a good time to do the customary “James Murphy dresses ridiculously” joke, as is custom.
Soft piano chords, whispers really, begin the track, which begins with very little separating the listener from Murphy’s anguished earnest lyrics. A bittersweet love ballad to the city that holds you, Murphy scatters some brilliant lyrical moments throughout the song, which is nothing but piano, light drums, and the occasional bass. “You’re still the one pool where I’d happily drown,” Murphy muses. “But they shuttered your stores when you opened the doors to the cops who were bored ocne they’d run out of crime,” he meditates. A capable, straightforward piano song for the majority of the track, the song erupts at the 3:20 mark with thrashing guitars, hard piano chords, and belted vocals. And of course, GUITAR SOLO!
GUITARRRRRRR SOOOLLLLOOOOOOOOO EEEAAAAOOOWWWWWWW
It’s honestly an unlikely addition to the LCD Soundsystem canon, but it’s easily my favorite track they’ve done. Besides, it fits in better with this mix than any other LCD Soundsystem tracks. Which brings us to…
Track Ten: Tartufi- Window Machine
Before Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, Tartufi had a third member, and a CD featuring that third member. So We Are Alive sees less sonic exploration than UUBUU (hehe, uuuubuuuuuu) and a more straightforward power pop direction. It also established the tradition of getting weird results when you search for it on Google.
Erm…okay. Duly noted, facebook group.
“Window Machine” seems like two songs combined, or at least an interlude going into a real song. The first half is a pretty, light instrumental, while the second half actually features things like “vocals” and “lyrical structure.” I know, crazy. Again, this song is a ginger song (I like that term, I’m going to use it, offended redheads be damned), to clear your palate for…
Track Eleven: The Wrens- She Sends Kisses
Oh, don’t give me that look you guys, I’ve already filled my quota of borderline stalkerish sounding jokes about the Wrens. “She Sends Kisses” is rarely the first song that people obsess about the first time they listen to The Meadowlands, but eventually just about everyone lists it as their favorite Wrens song, or easily in the top five. I’d talk about how great The Meadowlands as a whole is, but I’ve used up all my hyperbole for the day, and the Hyperbole Bank is closed for the day with a sign on it that says “We have used up all the hyperbole that has EVER EXISTED, will open tomorrow which will be the BEST DAY EVER.”
“Jeff will NEVER be able to write a SINGLE WORD EVER AGAIN without me!”
Needless to say, The Meadowlands, an album that delves into topics that range from betrayal to simply…well, growing up, is a masterpiece, and appears far lower than it deserves to be on many “Best albums of the Aughties” list. Of the numerous incredible tracks on the record, “She Sends Kisses” stands out five minutes of pure build, like bathtub slowly filling with intensity. And bubbles. Because bubbles are awesome.
“Sheeeee seeeeeeennnnnddssss *breath* kisssssessssssssssss”
This song discusses a chapter in the mini-plot within the album that hasn’t been named by any source I’ve seen, so I’m just gonna give it the fairly unimaginative name of “The Ann Saga.” For those of you taking notes…stop it, this is the internet, put that notebook away, you look ridiculous. But for those of you who are curious as to what the Anne Saga on The Meadowlands would entail, it’s basically a three part song series. Which I will map out below.
Part 1: “She Sends Kisses” tells the story of Charles (a fictionalized version of Charles Bissell) starting a relationship with Beth (a hypothetical love interest) through flirtatious love letters. I guess I’ll go into depth with this one since I’m writing about the fucking song. Beth is “tres involved” (French for “totes seeing someone”) and Charles “Wrote back, good luck.” The song ends with an assumption that he will start seeing Beth.
Part 2: “Ex-Girl Collection” takes place after Charles has been sleeping with Beth, but he happens to be in a serious relationship with Ann (a hypothetical girlfriend). This song shows Ann finding out about Beth, being both distraught and angry about it, while Charles remains bemusedly ambivalent.
Part 3 (sort of): A bit of a stretch, but “Per Second Second,” with largely inaudible lyrics, shows a sort of freefall post-breakup mindset, as kicked off by the line “I had this dream again Ann shot me, per second second faster from the winner’s line.”
And thus ends Professor GoodSmith’s enthusiastic attempt to misinterpret Wrens lyrics.
This joke is for the zero readers who have met me in real life and who have also seen the movie “Funny People.”
This song is possibly the crux of the entire mix. It’s arguable the best song you’ll see in this list, and it’s in the middle, towards the end, to encourage the listener to keep on listening to the remainder of the album. That way you get to hear bands like…
Track Twelve: Badly Drawn Boy- Say It Again
“Oh yeah, this band seems pretty familiar. Didn’t you write an article about how this dude sucks at music now? Also, I don’t mean to be hypercritical, but you seem to be overusing the crutch of starting these bits with a hypothetical reader telling you something sort of sarcastic, and then you yell at the hypothetical reader and call him or her stupid…Are you doing to start being more original, or are you stuck in a creative loop?” Hey, shut up stupid, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
“AND THEN YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A PICTURE OF SOMEONE YELLING AND A CAPTION OF THEM YELLING! YOU ARE MORE PREDICTABLE THAN COLDPLAY’S LYRICS!”
But yes, Badly Drawn Boy has a career trajectory that starts off incredibly high (how good was Hour of the Bewilderbeast? SO GOOD!) to still pretty high (the About a Boy soundtrack was… it was good) to…
If a picture says a thousand words, then all of these words are “AGHHHHH.” I’m trying to say that new Badly Drawn Boy is…not good.
But this is from a happier time. A better time. A less “name dropping of Madonna” time. “Say it Again” is uplifting, catchy, beautiful, and eagerly uses a horn section, and it blends in nicely to the next track, which is COVERED IN BEES!
Track Thirteen: Menomena- Evil Bee
What do you want from your non-muppets-related Menomena songs? A crisp-yet-murky quality that you have a hard time putting your finger on? Engaging vocals? Grand piano instrumentation? Saxophone solos? Bees? BEES!? BEEEES!?!?!?!?
Well this track’s fucking got it. For a nearly five minute song that feels like it’s chalk full of psychological depth, it basically only repeats the line, “O to be a machine, to be wanted, to be useful, oh to be a machine.” Which of course, puts “Evil Bee” on a short list of most cringe inducing title puns you’ll find in Indie Rock (get it? To BEE a machine? BAHHH HAHAAA!). As a general rule, you know your mix is going to be in decent shape when the thirteenth track on it is the best song from the 6th best album of 2007 (which was the best year for music since 2003). While this song feels…dark, the track it leads into is extremely sunny in comparison.
Track Fourteen: Biirdie- You’ve Got Darkness
This song is a pain in the ass to find online, so I’m putting it online. Whatever. You’ll listen to it and you’ll like it (or you’ll laugh at the part where they go “Did you go out and kiss your friend” and call that particular lyric “trite” like a few of my friends may or may not have done). That said, there’s a lot you can make fun of Biirdie for, mainly if your definition of “a lot of things” is “they spell their name with two I’s and that’s stupid.” And that’s my definition, so I’ll just lump you guys into the same category as me. You don’t mind, do you?
Of course not.
So, the song. We’re in the homestretch people, and this epic splattering of musical meandering has just three more tracks, including this one. Biirdie (pfft, two I’s, get that shit out of my house) combines soft and warm male vocals with female backing vocals, and they even through in a bit of a “everyone’s harmonizing while singing different things” thing at the end of it, which happens far less often in music than it should.
We’re five thousand words into this piece. This is a mix CD that has a lengthy short story as its liner notes. So I’m gonna try to take this home somewhat succinctly. First, I’m going to go into a description of how to properly end a mix.
“Oh shit, yo teach is gonna lay down some knowledge!”
Many albums are set up with a similar mindset as most semi-successful comedians: You want to start strong, and you want to end strong, because like birth and death, the start and the ends are usually the most memorable part of any given artistic endeavor. That’s why, just as I started this mix with two tracks that were the opening songs of their respective albums, I close out with a classic album’s first song, followed by an incredibly obscure album’s closing track. So fasten your safety belts, I’m going to avoid a reference to a classic Hollywood film/shitty Broadway version of a classic Hollywood film.
Track Fifteen: Wilco- Misunderstood
The difference between Wilco in 1996 and Wilco in 2006 is striking. An unfortunate cliche, or at least hipster assumption, is that success breeds contentment, which breeds mediocrity. When Weezer sang about being tired of sex in Pinkerton, it was bold, it was brash, and it was sung by people who weren’t quite yet millionaires. But you compare that to Make Believe, which was nine years later, and suddenly it’s the Harvard graduate singing “It’s just something that you’re born into, and I just don’t belong” in front of the fucking Playboy mansion. While the Indie stereotype is that Hipsters begrudge their bands becoming famous out of some sort of narcissistic desire to claim ownership to these bands “before they got big” that’s actually not the case. It’s just that for every Bruce Springsteen (read as: someone with a large underground fan base that put out classic work after becoming mainstream) there are dozens of Post-Reunion-Smashing-Pumpkins or Post-Yankee-Hotel-Foxtrot-Wilcos .
The Beatles tried to push the envolope with a completely blank album cover. Spoiler alert: Replacing that concept with “A headshot of a character from Lost” does not seem to have the same artistic integrity.
We’re not saying that once Wilco started consistently getting top 10 albums, they became a shitty band, but that’s exactly what happened. Which is why “Misunderstood” is such a breath of fresh air. Nothing about this song demands mainstream success. This was never a song that would be considered for even an adult contemporary station. Starting with jarring, aggressive, screechy violin and deep kick drum, this six-and-a-half minute track abruptly switches into soft piano and sad reflective lyrics (“you love her but you don’t know why”, “you still love rock and roll, you still love rock and roll”) before letting the distorted guitar and drums show up again.
And despite appearing in several other tracks, Jeff Tweedy’s use of “I know you got a God-shaped hole” reeks of a desperate earnestness that the band has never been able to replicate. Being There was Wilco’s second album, a moderately popular Indie alt-rock band’s gutsy decision to release a lengthy 19 track double album as their Sophomore effort.
And now, he looks like an extra for a Geico commercial
You never know what to expect from the song, as it oscillates from abrasive to soothing, as evident by the final two minutes, where the band lets go of all inhibitions, eventually screaming, “I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all,” with a sort of raw emotion you don’t see from the band anymore. And I miss that aggression. It makes for beautiful music.
Track Sixteen: SeaRay- Hall of Fame
It’s fairly likely that you’ve never heard of this band. To dust off an old chestnut that has become a comforting friend over the course of this soon-to-be six thousand word article, you, the hypothetical reader, are likely saying, “Oh yeah, I know Wilco. They’re like super famous. But SeaRay? Isn’t that like, a jet ski or something?” God, you’re so stupid hypothetical reader who I insult frequently in this article. But you do make a point. SeaRay is a band so obscure that I personally own the physical copies of both of the full length CDs the band ever released before their 2004 break-up… and they’re imported to itunes with different spelling of the band’s name (Sea Ray vs. Searay).
Like this, but not a video game
“Hall of Fame” is a track that appears on both full length SeaRay albums. The difference between the debut Sea Ray and the final album Stars at Noon are massive, but two-fold. First of all, between the band’s first album and the second, the singer learned how to sing. That might sound catty, and I can’t back that up because it took me 30 minutes just to figure out how to get the good version of this song available to stream online, but trust me on this point. The lyrics are the same, the melody is the same, but the vocals sound like they’re sung by a 22 year old who never had voice lessons and hasn’t sung in a public setting for the last four years (I can pretty accurately spot that as my itunes is full of several dozen songs of a 22 year old version of me singing in a similarly cringe-worthy way). You’re listening to this version and going, “But the lead singer has pretty good vocals.” And you’re right. He does. But he didn’t when the band released their debut in 1997. Remember that whole “time makes fools of us all” thing I was hinting at with the last song? Yeah, it works in the other direction too. 1997 Sea Ray was kind of cringe-worthy. 2003 SeaRay was…great.
Which brings me to the second point. They added a cello. That’s huge. All the best bands use cello. Now’s as good of a time as any to give my limited attempt at a history for the band. I was introduced to them while seeing a Metric/The Stills concert, where SeaRay was the opener. They released an album in 1997, an EP in 1999, and Stars at Noon in 2003. They broke up soon after that, unfortunately. Seriously, I can’t stress how unfortunate that was. Stars at Noon was a soaring, beautiful album. Soft yet engaging, background music you want to pay attention to. Which is surprising since their live performance was incredibly high energy. We’re talking a hot chick playing cello as the drummer is throwing his drumsticks ten feet in the air and the band’s manager/album artist/keyboardist/etc. plays piano with one hand while playing trumpet in another.
This is all I can find to confirm this
There’s an unwritten rule in Indie rock that is rarely followed, mainly “If you’d like to sleep with a band’s cellist, that band deserves to be famous.” Unfortunately that was never in the cards for SeaRay. So this is my attempt to help them live on. “Hall of Fame” is a logic-defying thing of beauty, a combination of confident vocals, lyrical acumen, and a wondrously cacophonous closing point where drums, keyboard, strings, and just about every instrumental melds together in a way that defies logic by coming off harmoniously.
What we’re left with is a song that soars to dizzying heights before fading away unexpectedly, leaving us exhausted, satisfied, and cognizant that we’ve witnessed the end of a musical endeavor. And while an ill-fitting, hurried eulogy for a band long dead might not be the most effective way to acknowledge a band’s past accomplishments, its tracks like this that can help enforce that there is great music out there we’ve yet to encounter. Even as we use them to close out our obnoxiously long articles about mix tapes that were made years ago. Sure the latter is an easier, cynical route to take. But doesn’t the joy of music lie in the discovery of new music?
…okay, unless you’re discovering a piece of shit like Creed… because there’s no joy to be found here. None. Ugh.