everything shorter than everything else

Occasionally, for whatever reason, I’ve opened up the editing box to mess with the titanic classics of yore, asking the question: what would happen if this-or-other lengthy prog epic were…considerably shorter?

I’ve done this not because I think the actual versions are long-winded or full of filler (not usually anyway). It’s more a question of imagining that some of the same musical ideas instead got expressed in slightly different musical contexts that led to different (and shorter) results.

I’ve grouped these songs under the heading THE SHORTNER and…here are the ones I’ve done so far, with some notes.

Pink Floyd “Dogs”

I think this is the first one of these I did. I modeled the edits on the version Scott Miller describes in his fab Music: What Happened? selection of his favorite tracks each year. He says he shortened the original “Dogs” to 5:45—I couldn’t quite get there, but this version is only 15 seconds longer. Some of the edits are a bit rougher than in later shortenings…I got better.

Yes “Close(r) to the Edge” 6-minute versionsub-5-minute version

I made two tries at shortening “Close to the Edge”—there are some parts in the shorter of the two that aren’t in the longer, but I think the editing in the longer is a bit better. Which one works better? You decide… The idea here was that this was one of those late-’67/early-’68 psych tracks crammed with about a hundred ideas in five or six minutes…really, the sort of thing some of the bands Yes members were in beforehand (Tomorrow, The Syn, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop) actually did do.

Yes “Moment”

This (and the next one, its virtual b-side, “Relayer”) are a little different. I did not try to capture all the key moments in the longer source (in this case, side one of Tales from Topographic Oceans) but instead worked to put together a cohesive 4-minute song, as if the idea were to create a viable single release from the album. (The last reissue of the album actually included some reductions that were intended as singles but…frankly, I didn’t think they worked very well.)

Yes “Relayer”

The b-side is based on largely acoustic material from “The Remembering,” with the more electric chorus (the “relayer…” section). I’m not 100% sold on the transition back to the verses but…I suspect it would work better if one could manipulate the actual stems rather than trying to mess with the full track…

Pink Floyd “Echoes”

This is the “song” parts of “Echoes,” with some of the abstract parts largely hinted at. I really miss Gilmour’s “nautical” theme before the last verse but…between a modulation and self-imposed goal of definitely under 5 minutes, it had to go :-(

Genesis “Supper’s Ready a Bit Sooner” pt. 1pt. 2

Some prog epics get long by extending and developing parts. Other ones essentially link together what likely began as separate songs and fragments. “Supper’s Ready” to me feels very much like the latter. Of course the band came back to a few themes and, lyrically, it’s clearly a single piece (except for “Willow Farm”)…so it was harder to find key and characteristic parts of the whole piece to isolate (compare “Close to the Edge”).

Instead, I thought of one of those tracks split into two halves of a single that you saw in the sixties and seventies…so when I initially boiled the track down to just under ten minutes, I thought…okay, where’s a good break? And as it turned out, there’s a long organ chord a little short of halfway through the nearly-ten-minute version: I just faded it before the next part started (end of part 1), and started part 2 when the next section began. (If you let part 2 slightly overlap the end of part 1 before it starts to fade, you’ll largely have the original edit I did…less maybe half a second that was not faded in the original reduction).

Chris Squire “Safe”

The original is the closing epic on Squire’s excellent solo album Fish Out of Water…I’ve dropped the “Canon Song” subtitle because I’ve dropped the canon. This is mostly just the “song” part—some rather subtle edits here (see if you can find them). Again I was thinking, “what if Squire wanted to make a radio-sized single of this track?” Slightly unusual in that it sort of ends twice: any actual airplay probably would have omitted the quiet coda…but musically I think it works better including that part.

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The Elder Hook (covers songpile for first half of 2021)

The usual bit where I’ve put together a sequenced, segued playlist (two of them, actually) of my favorite covers (new, new to me, or just newly reminded of) of the first half of the year.

Part 1:

  1. NPFO Stratagem “Back Off Boogaloo” (Ringo Starr cover) 0.00
  2. Torres “Wandering Star” (Portishead cover) 3.38
  3. Brandi Carlile “Black Hole Sun” (Soundgarden cover) 7.20
  4. The Galileo 7 “Tattoo” (The Who cover) 13.28
  5. Swervedriver “Jesus” (Velvet Underground cover) 16.14
  6. Rosie Carney “Planet Telex” (Radiohead cover) 20.29
  7. She Bee Vee “Big Boring Wedding” (Guided by Voices cover) 24.00
  8. The Minus Five “Some Grand Vision of Motives and Irony” (The Loud Family cover) 28.05
  9. Naeem “You and I” (Silver Apples cover) 31.17
  10. The Wrens “The Seventh Stranger” (Duran Duran cover) 33.49
  11. Robyn Hitchcock “You Are the Everything” (R.E.M. cover) 38.46
  12. The Breeders “The Dirt Eaters” (His Name Is Alive cover) 42.01
  13. The Lone Bellow “Pink Rabbits” (The National cover) 45.30

Part 2:

  1. Jeff Parker & the New Breed, with Ruby Parker “Soul Love” (David Bowie cover) 0.00
  2. Eyelids “Enjoy the Silence” (Depeche Mode cover) 4.42
  3. Twofer “Go a Go-Go Time” (Plasticland cover) 10.16
  4. Real Estate “Please” (John Cale cover) 13.55
  5. Margo Timmins “Walkin’ on a Wire” (Richard & Linda Thompson cover) 17.49
  6. The Ukrainians “California Dreaming/She’s Lost Control” (The Mamas & the Papas/Joy Division cover) 22.10
  7. Michael Nesmith & the First National Band “I Looked Away” (Delaney & Bonnie/Eric Clapton cover) 26.09
  8. Christian Lee Hutson “Why Can’t I” (Liz Phair cover)* 29.19
  9. The Free Design “Light My Fire” (Doors cover) 33.31
  10. Sounds Nice “King Kong” (Frank Zappa cover) 38.02
  11. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings “Abandoned Love” (Bob Dylan cover)** 41.20
  12. Vapour Theories “The Big Ship (Brian Eno cover) 45.04
  13. +

*From his collection of covers titled The Version Suicides, Vol. 2—best title of a covers album this year…

**Yes, it stops dead in the middle of the verse as if they ran out of tape. I faded it but you can still hear it…

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The Crying of Revolution 49 (Summer Songpile)

Here’s a carefully sequenced and segued playlist of 25 songs that came my way during the last three months—some new, some older but new to me—which are among my most favorite of the music that I’ve encountered during that period.

Part 1

  1. Liz Phair “Spanish Doors” (0.00)
  2. Bubble “Mail Order Submarine” (3.54)
  3. The Orange Peels “Human” (6.55)
  4. Vinyl Williams “Precious Star” (10.02)
  5. The Cool Greenhouse “Alexa!” (15.06)
  6. Pardoner “Weightlifter” (18.58)
  7. The Scientists “Outsider” (23.09)
  8. Flock of Dimes “Price of Blue” (26.30)
  9. Michael Chapman “Stranger in the Room” (32.52)
  10. Robyn Hitchcock “The Man Who Loved the Rain” (38.22)
  11. The Joy Formidable “Into the Blue” (42.03)
  12. Bob Weir “Only a River” (45.47)
  13. Kirsty MacColl “What Do Pretty Girls Do?” (51.09)

Part 2

  1. Yard Act “Fixer Upper” (0.00)
  2. Clinic “Fine Dining” (2.53)
  3. Lana Del Rey “Dark but Just a Game” (5.25)
  4. Simon Dupree & the Big Sound “Kites” (9.12)
  5. Dengue Fever “One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula” (12.52)
  6. Smart Went Crazy “Funny as in Funny Ha-Ha” (19.30)
  7. Mew “Am I Wry? No” (24.22)
  8. Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen “Like I Used To” (29.01)
  9. Anton Barbeau “Julian Cope” (33.20)
  10. Elroy “Lost Our Mystery” (36.07)
  11. Mr. Fox “Mr. Fox” (41.07)
  12. Future Clouds and Radar “Quicksilver” [acoustic] (45.59)

    As always, enjoy but consider supporting these artists (and others) by buying their stuff from Bandcamp and other sites…including, if you’re fortunate to have one and now that they’re functioning again, your local record store.

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Money Tying Pool

“Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Money”—Monkey Typing Pool (full version / “silver lamé” version)

This might be the fastest I’ve put together an original song (as opposed to the one-day cover of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ” I did for a friend’s birthday a few months back): three days from apparently being hit in the head with the title to the complete song.

Once again I forgave myself snark by inhabiting a (cartoon version of a) character very different from me. That notion flowed pretty clearly from the title—who else would feel that they’re certainly not about to hide their vast, bulgeingly protuberant wallet? My first thought about the music, before I wrote any lyrics, was that it should sort of slither in—I had the maracas/cabasa sound in mind, as well as the chromatic (reversed) bass bit, although the specifics took a while. I wanted the beat to sneak in as well: it’s hard to tell where the “1” is until the full bass part enters (it’s on the first of those two 16th notes that recur). Having begun with the cabasa (usual disclaimer that aside from the vocals, nothing in this track is remotely “acoustic” in origin), I rooted about in the “Latin percussion” area of Logic Pro and constructed a complex, idiosyncratic, and no doubt entirely inauthentic Latin groove. I added and subtracted bits in different sections and different recurrences of sections to make the thing less monochromatic. The Wurlitzer sound was also in my mind, again nearly from the start. (By the way: have I mentioned that I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff from 1971 lately? I think that shows up here…)

The main piano lick is a version of the last few notes of the guitar part from the near-titular Beatles song…and in the third bar of every verse, on the different chord (C, the III of Am), that’s a variation of the version. At some point, I came up with the idea to repeat the “tree falls” bit from the bridge as an outro/coda…and then the idea of a solo of some sort to add interest showed up in my head. I actually spent more time figuring out that part than anything else. At first, it was going to be a spiky, jumpy, near-random-note guitar solo, heavily distorted…but I just couldn’t come up with the right flavor.

I was bumming…until it just so happened that I ran into who else but Mr. Rick Wakeman at a miniature golf course. He very kindly agreed to drop by and lay down a wicked keyboard solo for me.

The preceding paragraph has not been rated by Snopes.com at this time.

Anyway, still looking for “random” and “spiky” in the synth solo…but it never quite fit. I even borrowed an idea from Mr. Zappa and did a bit of “xenochrony”: I made a rhythm snippet in 11/8 with one bar of that equaling one bar of the regular track’s 4/4. Of course, I was playing stupid-crazy rhythms (note: keyboard recorded at half speed—I’m not that competent), so it’s not as if you can actually tell. But that solo was just too proggy…even after I flanged and chorused it within inches of its life. So I thought…let’s just do noise. I recorded a power drill and a kitchen blender (she really worked me over good)—but I don’t think my mic (or recording technique?) is that good, and it was…the wrong kind of noise. So I sought some sound-effects recordings…and using the Digital Fuctwithizer made them sound even noisier. But now it was maybe a bit too abstract…. It finally worked when I brought the keyboard solo back in, semi-low in the mix. (In the meantime I’d sort of warmed to the solo…so the alternate mix—for those who do not dig the noisy but do dig the sound of glittery capes—highlights the synth solo, sans industrial noisescape.)

I was trying to figure out how to do the vocals…when my shuffle brought up a Curtis Mayfield track. Unfortunately, Mayfield’s dead (that’s what I said), so I couldn’t get him on the track…so I sang the falsetto vocal. I wasn’t sure about how it sat, by itself (I’m getting better at singing but…)—and I came up with the Bowie/Squeeze idea of doubling that part an octave lower. That works pretty well…and, conveniently, sort of works with the megalomania of the narrator (he’s so special he has two voices!).

I think it turned out pretty well.

Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Money
Let me tell you how it will be
All of you is microdecimals of me
I am your alphabet, your omegavitamin
All your base are belong the golden site I'm in

Dare to tell me what you want me to hear
Stuff my gullet with interest, if I lend an ear
Weigh and measure, see where the marketvane leads
Flow to my treasury, compounding interest breeds

If a tree falls in a forest and it's unmonetized...
What's the sound of one hand clapping...if it's cash-shy?
Your value's like a cat in a Schrödinger cage
You only live or die depending on the whim of my gaze

You wanna take but you can't take until I
Deign to make and bake an allofit pie
One slice for me and—no slice for you
Maybe after you're dead, we'll melt your bones into glue

If a tree falls...
If a tree falls...
If a tree falls...
If all the trees fall...
(Here comes the woodchipper!)

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Ray Verlaine?

I was making a mix a while back when I couldn’t remember whether a particular cover was a version of “Days” by the Kinks or “Days” by Television. This got me thinking…there are actually a number of similarities between the two songs: they’re close in tempo, they’re in related keys, and lines from one song could be imported into the other without doing drastic violence to the overall lyric…since both are retrospective, bittersweet, and so on.

So I worked up a mashup cover that incorporated elements of both songs in one. The Television version predominates…but I gradually incorporated a number of references to the Kinks song. To start with, the last 2 beats of every other bar during the verse have the melody of “I’m thinking of the days…” in the bass. I also quote a variation of the melody of “I’ll remember all my life” in the guitar tag at the end of each verse. Most obviously, the chorus uses the words and a similar melody from the bridge of the Kinks song. I also added some backing vocals that come from verses in the Kinks song…and an entire bridge borrowed from the Kinks.

Amusingly, because a section of that bridge oscillates between A and Dm, I was reminded of Tom Verlaine’s song “Without a Word.” While in the Kinks song those chords are V and i, in Verlaine they’re I and iv…but I quoted the guitar melody of “Without a Word” between lines of the bridge—only to realize that that melody is the same, except for some rhythmic differences, as “I’m thinking of the days…” from the Kinks song!

I think it turned out reasonably well. As usual, edited and comped like crazy…although since I’ve singing and playing guitar more recently, I’m playing a bit better than I was a few months ago.

Monkey Typing Pool “Days” [now, with Functioning Link Power!]

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All entries sequestered…

A while back, I received the thrilling news that a very rare and sought-after recording of the late-sixties American psych scene, UVWXYZ’s “Alchemic Neurotic” single, was due to be reissued by a small Dutch label, Alwin Lodenpijp’s Cinch Records. Lodenpijp was of course the founder of the famed sixties underground paper De Interstellaire Fiets (“The Interstellar Bicycle”) and later the Dutch website Karmozijnrood Maan which resuscitated the careers of several obscure prog-rock acts, including Queanswode-Manley Plough (of whom more later…).

The master tapes for this, the only known recording by the “Ultraviolet Witches” (as the band pronounced its moniker), were long presumed to have been lost ages ago—but in a stroke of fate, a Connecticut couple remodeling their old farmhouse discovered a steel chest full of UVWXYZ memorabilia…including, improbably, a production master of both sides of this single (its b-side is a swirlingly dark number called, mysteriously, “The Pelican Directory”).


Very little is known of UVWXYZ. It appears the band was formed when two of its members (bassist/vocalist Godfrey Monk and keyboard player James “Tighe” Poole) met in a commune in rural Michigan in late 1966. Sometime during 1967, both players relocated to a second commune in northern Indiana, where they met guitarist Colin Pope and drummer Lorne “Leddy” Epsom-Dollar. Through an unknown series of events, the band traveled to England and met up with the members of Queanswode-Manley Plough (the psychedelic act that would develop into the prog band responsible for the 1973 connoisseur’s classic Forever Endeavour a Man). This accounts for the fact that that band’s multi-instrumentalist, Clive Humber, produced the single (the rest of that band, its future publicist, and its bassist Arthur Strothclyde’s wife Fiona are thanked on its sleeve). The tracks were released on New England impresario Norb Kallen’s Kauldron Records…unfortunately, only weeks later, Kallen was killed in a tragic fire that also destroyed Kauldron’s entire inventory (at the time, 15 single releases and 5 LPs).

The band members themselves appear to have rapidly retreated into obscurity after this tragedy. There is, in fact, only one known photograph of the band, reproduced in murky half-tone on this single. The four men are seated or standing in front of what looks like a weathered barn or rural house. Godfrey Pope is at top left, surrounded by a wild halo of curls, staring off dreamily into space. Next to him, Tighe Poole presents a more grounded image, looking both earthier but with something in his carriage suggestive of a glinting wit. By contrast, Colin Pope (by all accounts, the most gregarious band member) is the only member to engage the photographer, grinning in a bowler hat, with his finger pointing amusedly at…something drummer Leddy is wearing or holding, but the picture is too distorted to tell what that might be. Leddy himself, a powerfully built man with a square jaw and floppy hair, broods into the same middle distance Pope stares beatifically into.


Arthur “Ping” Drecker was an artist and graphic designer who lived at the commune with the band. As the only close associate of the band still living, his recollections are our only guide to the band. “They were an interesting bunch of cats. Godfrey…well, I remember one time Nick [Colin’s nickname] referred to him as ‘Professor Moonbeam,’ which drew the sort of laughter from the rest of the band suggesting the joke was not new. It fit—he’d go on about shit, and half the time we had no idea what the hell he was saying! Usually, he was kind of wide-eyed, glowing…but there was a darkness underneath that that came out once in a while. One time Tighe was saying to Colin that he didn’t believe in that astrology bullshit—and Godfrey just got up, left the room, and didn’t come back for hours. A moody guy.”

Drecker notes the band’s curious chemistry. “It was easy to see why Godfrey, Colin, and Tighe got along—each kind of filled in the others’ blanks. Tighe was the most level-headed guy in the band—growing up black in Chicago in the fifties and sixties, he had to deal with more important shit than, well, moonbeams. Colin was a full-time jester—nonstop, puns, practical jokes, seemingly always in a good mood. The mystery, at first, was Leddy. Even though he clearly got along with everyone, he hardly said anything—a sort of bulky, looming presence. I was pretty obtuse—it took me quite a while to catch on that Leddy and Colin were a couple. People had to be a lot more subtle in the sixties. I mean, hippie communes had the reputation of being all open-minded and shit…but I know for a fact that people there were not always cool about things like that or even about race. I think the four of them were drawn together in that way, too—all of them were sensitive to—and really annoyed by—that kind of crap.”

Drecker put together the single’s unusual packaging—an outer sleeve that opened to double width, with an inner sleeve holding the actual single. “I don’t know how they got Norb [Kallen] to sign off on that,” Drecker says. “I mean, it was an expensive package…for a debut single from a band hardly anyone had heard of. But Norb believed in the band, he was kind of an eccentric, and he had a lot of money. Damned shame what happened to him. Plus he knew that labels were scrambling around trying to sign every ‘psychedelic’ band there was…even though the scene really had mostly evaporated by then. The guys’ living in a rural midwestern commune probably isolated them a bit—at the same time, they were kind of ahead of the curve in bringing in some of the darkness that would show up more in ’68 and ’69.”

The sleeve is all-too-typically dayglo, a garish sylvan scene giving way in places to a murky backdrop which, upon examination, proves to be a Ouija board. In the middle of this forest, someone has placed a standing mirror, in which we see an unclear image, probably an astronomical photograph, but also resembling a…wizard? “That’s Roos [Zeebloem], my assistant at the time,” says Drecker. “The band said something about ‘cosmic’—which was hardly a brief at all, in 1968: I mean, who the fuck didn’t want ‘cosmic’? Anyway—I asked Roos to find some good ‘cosmic’ imagery. She was looking in a book of star photographs and found something called the ‘Wizard Galaxy’ or ‘Wizard Nebula’—and when I sent a batch of photos to the band, I think it was Godfrey who phoned back, excitedly, babbling about ‘the wizard—it’s gotta be the wizard.’ As usual, he’d called and started talking without any context—at first I just figured he was tripping balls, but gradually I realized, he was talking about one of the images Roos had sent. So we comped the galaxy thing into the mirror…and there we were.” 

The inner sleeve’s backdrop is that queasy gray-green Ouija board backdrop that pops through the front cover image. The band’s name is highlighted on the board’s alphabet, and lyrics and credits are printed on that background.

We do get some idea of the band’s sound here: the darkness, the power, but also the weird refracted light shining in fits and starts as if from a new dimension struggling to be born. “Alchemic Neurotic” storms out of the gate, an aggressive bass guitar first wandering searchingly and then settling into a pumping part reminiscent of (okay: stolen from) the Red Krayola’s “Hurricane Fighter Plane.” An arching melody presents a Poe-like obsessive narrator—is he talking about an inamorata or a demon? The chorus turns gibbering: he might think the “neurotic…psychotic” in question is that woman or demon but…sounds a lot more like it’s him, doesn’t it? “The Pelican Directory” arrives on a baleful undercurrent, a harmonium drone and a keening, fanfare-like melody, drawing from “Venus in Furs” and “The Inner Light”—with an extremely distorted bass solo curiously reminiscent of some of John Cale’s bass work on Nico’s “Evening of Light” from her astonishing record The Marble Index…which was not recorded until several months after this single’s release. Coincidence, surely. A wave of sound effects (seashore, birds, bells, chanting monks) leads to a discordant, crashing climax.

It’s a shame this is the Witches’ only recording—there’s no evidence they even demo’d any other songs—as the band doesn’t quite sound like anyone else at the time, even with its clearly audible influences. But thanks to Cinch Records, at least we can hear these two songs.


Credits:

UVWXYZ: 

GODFREY MONK bass guitar, upright bass, fuzz bass, dulcimer, devices, vocals

JAMES ‘TIGHE’ POOLE pianos, organs, harpsichord, harmonium, Mellotron, electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals

COLIN POPE electric and acoustic guitars, bouzouki, slide guitar, tape loops, backing vocals

LORNE ‘LEDDY’ EPSOM-DOLLAR drums and percussion, African drum, crash cymbals, timpani, congas, finger cymbals, devices

Lyrics:

“Alchemic Neurotic”

Feel like a castle upside-down 
She is the icing on my crown 
Dark candles burning in my brain 
Black pooling wax, undying stain 

Wine is red, a serpent in a bed of twine 
Eats the egg, bound to make you beg and whine 

Alchemic  
Neurotic 
Alchemic 
Neurotic 
Sirenic 
Psychotic! 

At night she glistens like a sword 
I’m unpitched, drawn to her discord 
When every road runs into one 
No forking paths, nowhere to run 

Need’s north, a compass drawn forth and bound 
Casts magnetic bait, a line that’s drawn straight and crowned 

Alchemic 
Neurotic 
Alchemic 
Neurotic 
Sirenic 
Psychotic! 

“The Pelican Directory”

Sinister 
Administer the brooch beneath the rose 
Dark minister 
No sin to serve the coachman’s guide, the crows 

Each curse, each spell, each pleading 
Each prayer, each hope, each bleating 
All anxious dreams festering, sprung in skyward trajectory 
All entries sequestered in the Pelican Directory! 

Clandestine 
And dressed in shadow, half-light, and in gray 
Dim moon in crescent 
Expressed in codes and graphs that chart the way 

Each trace, each line, each plotting 
Each compass point and knotting 
All maps and plans gesture, legends murmur his treachery 
All entries sequestered in the Pelican Directory!

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Woodward & Apollo: Jeff’s Spring 2021 Songpile

It’s the (slightly delayed) usual: 25 carefully segued tracks (new and older) that came my way and impressed me in the first three months of 2021.

Part 1:

  1. Pardoner “Donna Said” 0.00
  2. Iggy Pop “Dirty Little Virus 2.47
  3. Buggy Jive “Ain’t Going Anywhere” 5.31
  4. The Kats “Lost My TV Guide” 10.02
  5. The Cool Greenhouse “End of the World” 13.25
  6. Redshift Headlights “Or an Extended Metaphor, Like, If You’re the Planet I’m Your Satellite” 16.22
  7. Sunshine Boys “Infinity Girl” 19.50
  8. Dent May “Sea Salt & Caramel” 22.55
  9. The Orange Peels “Give My Regards to Rufus” 25.58
  10. Field Music “Orion from the Street” 29.11
  11. Lisel “Specters” 33.11
  12. Doug Gillard “Stealth Control” 36.33
  13. Alex Jensen “Miss Cigarette” 40.28

Part 2:

  1. Nada Surf “Song for Congress” 0.00
  2. Stephen Malkmus “Juliefuckingette” 3.54
  3. Kiwi Jr. “Undecided Voters” 6.54
  4. Big Troubles “Phantom” 9.22
  5. Yves Tumor “Medicine Burn” 11.48
  6. Slow Pulp “Idaho” 15.47
  7. Tanukichan “Like the Sun” 19.50
  8. Slapp Happy “Scarred for Life ” 22.38
  9. Dolph Chaney “Now I Am a Man” 25.56
  10. Loma “Ocotillo” 29.11
  11. Beabadoobee “Care” 33.58
  12. Lucy Dacus “Thumbs” 37.15

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Apparently, I can do that…but should I have?

Monkey Typing Pool “One Hundred Years (You Can’t Do)” —mono mix“vintage” stereo mix

About a month ago, a friend idly posted on Facebook something to the effect of “I wonder what the Cure’s ‘One Hundred Years’ would sound like if it had been a Beatles song on A Hard Day’s Night.”

Hold my beer.

I’ve done this before…where someone makes an offhand remark about a song (a dream, a bizarre concept, a joke) and I somehow go on ahead and actually make the idea into an actual sound object. So this is the third or fourth in what turns out to be a series…

So, the first question was…which AHDN Beatles song? Since the Cure song drones on and on on two chords for most of its length (with a third chord at the end of the verses, and the fourth chord showing up only near the very end), it was a bit challenging: 1964 was a bit early for full-on drone explorations in Beatles world…but we came close, with the obsessive (mostly) blues sequence of “You Can’t Do That” (I was also attracted to the non-stop cowbell as rhythmic conceptual doppelgänger to the drone). So that song became my template. The Cure song is emphatically minor-key, whereas the Beatles song is built on a fab riff that throws in bluesy minor thirds while Lennon’s vocal mostly uses the major third. I “translated” the Beatles riff to a minor key, first off then.

So we had the “first” chord, in both cases being a minor chord. (The Cure track is in C minor, the Beatles in G…I didn’t think I could plausibly sing the whole thing in Smith’s register (although I maybe could if I did an extremely affected Robert Smith impersonation…but I steered away from such ideas). The second chord in the Cure song is kind of weird and complex: online chord sites invariably get it wrong. At first I think it’s just a simple B minor…but between a lead guitar line with a striking G natural in it, and a lot of other notes that ended up in the mix, it ends up feeling a lot more like a B diminished 7th–maybe even that chord atop a G (which is to say: a G7-flat9). Whatever it ends up being, it’s not a chord that would have been in the Beatles’ harmonic vocabulary in 1964…so I simplified and just made it a D7 but with the bass being always an F#.

The third chord in the Cure track at the ends of verses is a B-flat, a whole step down from the main chord. It’s also got a strong 6th flavor with the string synth hanging on to its G. The harmonic side-stepping, again, was not a thing the Beatles would have done in 1964—so the third chord became a C7 (in other words, so far the “Beatles” version is entirely standard blues chords).

The fourth chord in the Cure song (remember, coming in only near the very end) is out of left field: an F#, a tritone away from Cm. That’s harmonically pretty much as far away as you can get… Here, for no logical reason I could discern, I chose an E-flat-m7…which was sort of prepared for by my having turned one of the Cure’s many (many) verses into a bridge, with a sequence going E-flat, F, B-flat, D7. (That B-flat-to-D7 move is borrowed from Lennon’s bridge, which similarly goes from G to B7.)

The other striking thing about “You Can’t Do That” harmonically is the discords that come as the chords change but Lennon’s (and Paul and George’s backing vocals) stay put: in the chorus, the band hammers away at a D7 chord, while Lennon sings an F natural (same as E sharp if you wanna spell that D7-#9)…and then the band plays a C7 while Lennon remains vertiginously on that F. (“Drive My Car” features some similar outré chords derived from blues scales clashing with major-chord-based harmonic progressions.)

Anyway, so I indulged a bit here: the three (cheater!) backing vocal parts first just stick with the basic notes of the E-flatm7 chord, but then the top two voices move down a half step…so it’s actually an E-flatm6/9…and then, while that vocal part is going on and the guitar part is playing the top 3 notes of the E-flatm7 chord, I stuck an A-flat in the bass for four notes. So sue me, the resolution to the G-minor riff comes by way of an A-flat13. Maybe George Martin was in the studio having just listened to some jazz.

In terms of some of the parts: I of course faked George’s Rickenbacker electric 12-string (by octave shifting the guitar part I played except muting anything on the top two strings). G minor’s a weird guitar key: it’s E-minor-based chord voicings with a capo on the 3rd fret (except—CHEATER!—I removed it when playing the “chorus” bit—I’m calling it a “chorus” even though it occurs only once and at the very end because it’s where the title hook comes in. Therefore, initiate legal proceedings against me.)

I also was like, wait a minute: I can’t use all the different fake toms in Garageband: Ringo’s kit was pretty small in 1964. Indeed, I actually looked it up…and tried to choose the toms to sound about right. I also had fun with Ringo’s early habit of riding an open hi-hat—noisy! And of course: COWBELL. (I actually have more variety in the cowbell part than “You Can’t Do That” does…it’s just BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG…)

So that’s the silly experiment then. Basically wrote a new song that resembled a different old song to set the lyrics (ALL THE LYRICS GOOD GOD ROBERT SMITH HOW MANY VERSES) in an almost-new song that’s sort of typing monkey’s uncle to the original(s).

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What’s that you’re drinking?

New song.

It’s called “Bury the Bell,” and I wrote it last summer (the lyrics may or may not make that apparent). Some friends had organized a project within a Facebook group dedicated to a particular musician (Robyn Hitchcock) wherein a group of us would demo a song to be recorded by another person in the project. Participants ranged from people with half a dozen albums to their credit to rank amateurs (raises hand). I was assigned to write for a guy whose music I barely knew—which was actually freeing, in that although I obviously enjoy trying to write in particular styles, that works when I’m quite familiar with the style…and so instead of trying to write for the guy based solely on the one or two stray tracks I had (along with a CD which he graciously sent to me), I’d go for a lingua franca based on our mutual Hitchcock fandom. So of course, Hitchcock has worn his own influences like his trademark polka-dot shirts: everyone who knows his music knows that Dylan, Barrett, Bowie, and the Beatles are huge influences.

I went with the Beatles…as will be immediately obvious upon listening.

The demo has the bass and keyboards and much of the vocal arrangement (although different vocals). When I decided to flesh it out on my own through sheer impatience (as you’d imagine, the project—which is still live—is taking quite a lot of time!), I just went full-on late-’66/early-’67 Beatles: weird-noise coda, vocal harmonies, curious orchestral touches (how I got an orchestra in my Garageband I’ll never know).

One thing I’ve been spending more time on lately is working with EQ, levels, compression, and stereo placement to make my mixes sound more coherent and open. I think that’s starting to pay off: these and the last two recent new mixes of newish songs have sounded better and begun to solve the mysterious “this just doesn’t sound right” thing that sometimes plagued earlier recordings. (Aside from my usual complaints re my own technical and performance limitations, of course: blatant manipulation and fakery abound.)

The phrase popped into my head a while back (already used for one of my mixes), and then I had to figure out what it meant. I bypassed interpretations that would lead me to Zappaworld (ahem)—and landed where I landed. Plus which, quotes and allusions to Radiohead, Jonestown, Isaac Newton, Repo Man, Sparks, and…well, I wrote it last summer.

Bury the bell—
What if it's ringing?
No alarms, and no surprises…

Lead in the well—
What's that you're drinking?
Raise a toast to your half-lives.

Because…if I go further than others,
it's from kicking the balls of those giants,
so they fall by the side of the roadway.

They think
that their brains
run so much smoother
and then quote
some asshole named
"Dunning Kruger."

Bury the bell—
(sink sink sink sink sink sink…)
What if it's ringing?
(oh well)
No alarms, and no surprises…

Lead in the well—
(drink drink drink drink drink drink…)
What's that you're drinking?
(so kool)
Raise a toast to your half-lives.

My GPS says turn right here
Beautiful evening…
and drive off the cliff
you can almost see the stars

These pants ain't big enough for the both of us,
so I'm wearing them—cover your assets.
Forward! Full-speed, torpedoes and angels

scattering,
rushin' in
fear from those snowflakes
melting down.
Everyone knows news is fake.

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I know, she knows…but what does ‘e know?

Another new song. [UPDATE: that’s the original mix. The new one–with, I think, better balance from messing with the EQ and compression–is here.]

Here’s a blog post of mine from August 2007 (to give you an idea of how long some dumb things percolate in my brain):

For some reason, it recently occurred to me that there’s a bunch of mostly non-related, semi-famous guys named Eno. I am not entirely certain what to do with this information.

Our Five Guys Named Eno are: Brian (“non-musician,” “sound landscaper,” theorist, and known bald man), Roger (a/k/a “Brian’s younger brother” or “the Eno with hair” (??)), Jim (Spoon’s drummer and a record producer), Will (the playwright), and William Phelps Eno (a/k/a the dead one).

One possibility is to make up a quiz testing one’s knowledge of all things Eno. I figured it’d be more fun if two people competed, and then when one person gets an answer wrong, the other one can shout “it’s the wrong Eno!” really loud.

Another idea is to pitch a sitcom. I’m thinking something like…Brian’s in New York City giving a lecture on, I don’t know, the effects of tape-delayed bell tones on people’s perceptions of perfumes, for which Roger has agreed to provide the music. Jim’s in town because Spoon has a gig the same night, and Will’s attending opening night of a new play. As it happens, after all these events conclude, the various Enos coincidentally end up at the same bar when – the co-presence of so many mostly unrelated Enos calls up the ghost of William Phelps Eno himself. Wacky hijinks ensue, from which various Enos might learn something or other.

Took me long enough…but eventually, I made a song of it. Lyrics have (mostly) been around forever, as are most of the musical ideas. I did steal a few ideas from the most prominent Eno of the bunch…some are obvious if you listen, some less so…such as the fact that with the exception of a few vocal tracks, this is really two different versions of the same song, one in the left channel, one in the right channel. There’s a cut-and-paste sax solo counterpoised to sound effects, and I spent a fair amount of time massaging a sound into something that plausibly could have been a Well-Known Eno Guest of the era on the guitar solo…

The lyrics follow: they’re basically a variation on the sort of dance-craze song that describes a particular dance and encourages you to do that dance (Eno rang some changes on this in “Kurt’s Rejoinder”), only it’s about the rules of this trivia game (which, in keeping with the dark wit of early Eno, involve a rather severe penalty for losing, in the bridge there…). I therefore felt entirely justified in composing lyrics-by-Wikipedia: random facts about various Enos make up most the lines. That and cramming in as many internal rhymes and assonance as I possibly could. The busy countermelody in the bridge is me being dissatisfied with the textural/harmonic sameness of the song…so I decided I’d rig up some nonsense in a tricky rhythmic pattern built on words with short “e” and short “o” sounds. (Which are Eno’s vowels, shortened—which I just realized now.)

It’s rather goofy, really.

Perfumes and strategies, and systems of bells…
Plays based on nothing, magnets thrown down a well…
Sibling assembling random tones by the hour…
A hero to cabbies...engineered rhythm power.

But which
won’t switch at the transfer of fingers?
This name
the same evokes ghosts, a view lingers.
As spirits are raised, drained, and 
summoned in praise, strains
of puzzlement will quiz all
present and still, this is it:

The game of the curious surname that is Eno.
There’s Brian and Roger, and Will, and Jim, plus the ghost we know
as the father of traffic laws, the eminent William Phelps Eno:
Pray name them correctly...or prove you a naive bambino!
 
Semiconductors, mixing, Wurlitzer, too—
Unembarrassed to work with that harmonica dude…
Title and deed, indeed a season of flu…
Used to blow the euphonium...could not drive but still you 
 
Will play the game of the curious surname that is Eno.
There’s Brian and Roger, and Will, and Jim, plus the ghost we know
as the father of traffic laws, the eminent William Phelps Eno:
As spirits are drained, crazed, as tumbling strays pray,
as Enophile connoisseur voices pile on as your…
 
Bits flame if you name the Wrong Eno!
Did you get it? If not it’s exotic, but it’s not a set-up
Please reform your poor form before we know
thought, but a lot of what gets unknotted ought to be thought.
you’re a scam at your amateur plea, no…
Let it upset its setting, better bet it gets a guess then
You’re a poseur who chose the Wrong Eno!
vet it, or rot it: yes, it’s set, not stopped at bottom.
 
Play the game of the curious surname that is Eno.
There’s Brian and Roger, and Will, and Jim, plus the ghost we know
as the father of traffic laws the eminent William Phelps Eno:
Pray name them correctly...or prove you a naive bambino!
 
Random code set in bold Palatino…
Going vague in a Vegas casino…
Super placid in acid amino…
No remorse quick divorce in old Reno…
Beta decays: hooray, a neutrino…
All aboard Stan’s old Ford Gran Torino…
Fast asleep wearing cheap fake merino…
Sing some lines whose words rhyme, end in “Eno”…
 
 
 

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