Latchstring Catchphrase: Jeff’s Fall 2020 Songpile

Alright…’ere it is, a little number called…LATCHSTRING CATCHPHRASE.

The usual: new-to-me songs that have come my way over the last three months, poised, delicate, carefully refined and segued together.

Part 1:

  1. Black Pumas “Black Moon Rising” (0.00)
  2. Songhoy Blues “Worry” (3.39)
  3. Lake Ruth + Listening Center “Law and Disorder” (6.41)
  4. Nation of Language “Automobile” (10.02)
  5. Menace Beach “Sentimental” (14.32)
  6. Winterpills “Golden Waves” (17.03)
  7. Jorge Elbrecht “Ancient Grief” (21.10)
  8. Vinyl Williams “Lady Tiger” (24.24)
  9. Elvis Costello “No Flag” (27.23)
  10. Sampha “Without” (31.15)
  11. Gold Connections “Iowa City” (35.01)
  12. Blesson Roy “Soothe” (39.33)
  13. The Asteroid No. 4 “The After Glow” (42.15)


Part 2:

  1. Shamir “On My Own” (0.00)
  2. Algiers “It All Comes Around Again” (4.10)
  3. This Is the Kit “This Is What You Did” (7.15)
  4. Alex Lilly “Amuse Me” (10.24)
  5. The Rosenbergs “Houseboat” (14.15)
  6. The Spires “My Favorite Cigarette” (18.40)
  7. Bob Mould “Forecast of Rain” (21.58)
  8. W.H. Lung “Symmetry” (24.22)
  9. The Dovers “About Me” (31.13)
  10. Robert Harrison “Candy Lilac” demo (33.11)
  11. John Hiatt “All the Lilacs in Ohio” (35.26)
  12. Kate NV “Plans” (38.58)
  13. The New Division “Special” (44.35)
  14. — (49.29)

You may be wondering, why are there 26 songs (and a bonus track) rather than the usual 25? And the answer is: because I cannot count.

You may also be wondering, “what’s a ‘latchstring catchphrase’?” It’s a phrase made of the two words with the most consecutive consonants in the English language, that’s what it is.

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Too much smoke for the snake to pass…

This is a long, self-indulgent post about the lyrics that somehow arrived in my brain for my re-visioning of the unrecorded Wire song I covered (music addressed in previous post: here’s the recording). On second thought, less “self-indulgent” really…because what really goes on in my head is more like recognition or discovery, a realization that these things go here, than the sort of deliberate thought process for which it’s reasonable to take credit. I’m more fascinated by the workings of language in the unconscious than in what a boringly conscious brain might do… Anyway:

First, the lyrics themselves:

Too much smoke for the snake to pass
Harry Houdini is cut down at last
Unable to escape or evade his past
He’s nailed up his gallows and swings from the mast
 
[chorus]
In one act polite and spotless
In another bedraggled and toothless
In one act polite and spotless
In another bedraggled and toothless
 
A dubious sleuth loose in black cotton shoes
I’ll drop by to pose all my scatterbrained clues
We’re troubled in debt to philosopher creatures
Convicted in absentia, silence the preacher
 
[chorus]
 
Hard-riding man hardly filling his breeches
Indifferent to seeing his major bewitchèd...
 
Pull back the salt leather, subtle promise of spring
The least honest devil still can take to the wing
They’re staked to the air like a light in a tent
Then to fill an upper room with False Thomas’s scent
 
[chorus]

As I mentioned, I came up with these by, first, attempting to transcribe what Colin Newman was singing in the live version on that CD from Wire’s Legal Bootleg series…and then either shifting things toward sense or, more often, committing “forced errors” where I knowingly twisted the sound punningly, sonically, in order to see what sort of ideas or connections popped up subconsciously.

(An aside: the way I most like to write lyrics is: I come up with a phrase or phrases. Often, I have no idea really what the phrase might mean…but gradually, if I put it alongside other such phrases that pop into my head, ideas begin germinating. Eventually, I might have a general idea of the song is “about.” The lyrics then often end up being a series of snapshots, unrelated to one another, certainly not a narrative, but all orbiting around the same general idea or set of associated ideas.)

In this case, with no real evidence whatsoever, I began with the notion that the opening lines of “Harry Houdini” (which are fairly close to what I ended up using in “Harrier”) referred to the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” Why? No idea…but, having thought of it, the question became: what did that incident have to do with Harry Houdini? The Holmes story features one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most disturbing villains, a ruthless and violent stepfather who plots to murder his stepdaughter to gain access to her mother’s inheritance. The “smoke” in question is from a candle Holmes lights, which causes the snake to reverse direction through the ventilator between the villain’s room and his stepdaughter’s, and strike the villain instead. Two ideas of this story and incident are reversal of expectation and effect. A man who should love his stepdaughter instead plots to kill her; his efforts to kill her instead kill him.

The “Houdini” of this song (lyrics fairly close to what Newman sings…although I am a lot less certain) kills himself, in a manner evoking both crucifixion and sailing, because he cannot escape his own past. What that past may be is unclear…but the contrast between Houdini the escape artist and being unable to escape echoes the reversal/contrast of the Holmes story. (In real life, of course, Houdini was unable to escape his hubris, dying, the legend has it, after goading a fan into punching him hard in the stomach, believing himself capable of withstanding any such blow.) I’ll note also the irony of “cut down” (as in “killed”) with hanging (in which the sudden suspension, the refusal of the rope to be “cut” by the weight of the body, is what kills).

The chorus is, as far as I can tell, exactly what Newman sings (except he might be saying “toothy” sometimes). This chorus is one reason I thought of the Holmes story: Holmes is intensely theatrical, often relishing disguises, costume changes, etc. The reversal imagery is clear…and for me, somehow the stage imagery glues together the religious and nautical registers of “Houdini’s” death. It also brings in the second key set of ideas of the lyric: fortune and reversal.

Here I should pause: it’s much easier to describe this as if I “thought of” these things…but in fact, that’s not at all how the process works. In this case, on the one hand I’m trying to interpret what another singer sang, and the murkiness of the recording forces me to shunt the words into the seemingly nearest available area of meaning…but what seems “nearby” obviously is what resonates, unconsciously, with whatever ideas, preferences, obsessions, and so forth, that happen to be percolating through my brain at the time. It’s very strange…I do not feel as if I’m discussing a thought process I engaged in so much as a series of discoveries I happen to have made. And sometimes (as with the last verse), I did not even know I’d made them until later.

Continuing: The second verse presents either Holmes again, or an imposter. Is Holmes “dubious”? Is his whole performance an act, a desperate stitching-together of disparate threads that fools others because we all crave coherence, a sort of narrative pareidolia akin to seeing a face on the surface of the moon? (which heavenly body shows up but doesn’t in the third verse…) Is the narrator attempting to expose the sleuth’s “dubiousness” by intentionally feeding him “scatterbrained” clues, which the sleuth will, obsessively, assemble into something resembling coherence? (And me, just now: uh…that’s kinda what I did with these lyrics…)

The second half of this verse plays further with the notion of appearance, misperception, reversal. There’s also an homage to Graham Lewis’s lyrics, specifically the ones I refer to in the previous post, with a pun on “doubles and trebles” (from “Ally in Exile”/”Doubles & Trebles” by Wire: “troubled in debt to”). In particular, this sort of sonic transformation is a German mixup/Mormon jigsaw (to borrow from Firesign Theatre) similar to Lewis’s “by the best of good fortune”/”buy the best, have good fortune” or “doubles then trebles”/”no trouble, it doubles” from the “Ally in Exile”/”Art of Persistence”/”Doubles & Trebles” triad. And yes, “philosopher creatures” is a pun on the Walker Percy essay “The Loss of the Creature,” whose central focus is the way expectations fox experience: Percy’s opening scenario is the way we fail to see the Grand Canyon in lieu of fruitlessly attempting to match reality to our mediated expectations. (Real-life comparison: years ago, my wife Rose and I toured Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. One man on the tour spent its entirety attempting to position himself to reproduce on his camera photographs of the house he’d seen in a favorite book. I doubt he actually saw Fallingwater at all.) The pun isn’t just arbitrary: of course, it’s “philosophy” which often stands in the way of unmediated perception…which prevents us from being embodied “creatures.”

Reversal, disguises, expectation, loss…show up in the last line of this stanza as well. “Convicted in absentia” is obvious, and a silent preacher is (perhaps) no preacher at all. (I should note that this verse is probably the most distant from whatever Colin Newman sang…sound substitutions and “forced errors” abound.)

The preacher also repeats the religious imagery summoned up by the crucifying gallows of Houdini’s death in verse 1…imagery which will dominate the third verse.

The bridge is simple (and, I think, direct from Newman’s vocal in the source): “Reversal” and irony are obvious in the “hard-riding man hardly filling his breeches.” The sort of Victoriana implicit in “riding” and “breeches” aligns with Holmes as figure of ambiguous “reason”: in one act, alight with reason, in another bedraggled by obsessive association, and truthless.

The third verse…well, this is really strange. The meanings that ended up cohering here came from nowhere in particular…or so it seems. Anyway: I think what Newman’s singing in the first line is “pull back the soft leather.” At any rate, that was my first guess. It’s not all that interesting a line, but I left it as placeholder for a bit. The rest of the line I heard as something-“promise of spring” or perhaps “promises bring.” The next line seemed fairly clear…and I liked the idea of “the least-honest devil” (who would, I suppose, be the best devil…). I used the Mormon jigsaw to force the error of “a light in a tent” from what is more obviously sung as “light intent.” The last line changed quite a bit: at first, I thought it was something like “pull another moon with false promises sent.” Wire had played with “moon”/”room”/”new” before (in “A Mutual Friend”…which also rhymes “troubles” with “doubles”…), so I followed suit and played around with that for a while (“fill another room”? “put another new”?) but was…still a bit unsatisfied.

The breakthrough came when I intentionally changed the first line from “soft leather” to “salt leather.” That latter phrase immediately suggested the idea of dessicated flesh: a corpse. Why would anyone be “pulling back” such flesh? Well…perhaps to verify the nature of a wound the body received in life. Such as a spear to the side: we’d already had Houdini’s self-crucifixion and the silenced preacher, so a religious register was ready to hand. (And, stretching a bit, it’s there already in the first line’s “snake” and the supernatural “bewitched” in the bridge.) I think, too, that it just “felt right” because religion is an excellent example of both the sort of will-to-sense, the narrative pareidolia I mentioned earlier, and the “forced error” idea I’d played with in this lyric (although with vastly different results, at very different scales). It’s also a disguise of sorts, calling back to the Holmes idea: Jesus a god “disguised” as human, “whenever you acted thus to the least of men, you acted thus toward me,” Christ as beggar-king…. So instead of a Doubting Thomas demanding proof that the living man before him was the Jesus who was pierced in his side with a sword, we have someone else, examining perhaps the same wound but on a dried-up corpse. “Doubting Thomas” had, of course, appeared in a Wire lyric before: specifically, the mysterious “Pieta” (which, I was truly disappointed to find, does not refer to a suave man-about-town named “Dalton Thomas” but just straight-up “Doubting Thomas”…). So “false promises sent” turned into “False Thomas’s scent,” “False Thomas” being another way of saying “Doubting Thomas”…or perhaps, “Thomas” meaning “twin,” a twinning imposter to the real Thomas. And “another moon/room”) became “an upper room.”

And that is the most curious coincidence. Having come up with that phrase, a little niggling hook began wriggling in the back of my brain…probably an aged remnant of childhood Bible studies, but…I looked up “upper room”…and found that “the upper room” was a traditional phrase for the site of the Last Supper. And suddenly, in the last verse we have some sort of plot, with a corpse instead of a resurrection, and false clues laid down to suggest an imposter…alongside flying devils and “a light in a tent.”

There’s something mysterious about a “light in a tent.” The whole structure is illuminated…but also contained, confined: “staked” is a pun here, another forced error (on “take to the air”), but it suggests a limiting, a tying-down: the light is confined to the tent, staked to its confines…and the other pun is, of course, “stakes.”

I can’t pretend the whole thing “makes sense”: I’m certainly not making any kind of statement. But I like the way the lyric ends with an ambiguity, in that the religious register combines and culminates the other, included common registers of reversal, disguise, intent, and willfulness…

So: I have no idea what the song is about…yet it coheres sufficiently to suggest meanings, just out of reach…a rope on the border…

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Bedraggled and Toothless

So here’s the long-absent Monkey Typing Pool, with a cover of a Wire song. Sort of.

Monkey Typing Pool “Harrier”

First, I need to thank Edward of Sim (Edward Thomas Keller to the legal authorities) for kicking my butt. He’s coordinating a recording project that should see light a bit later this year…but by expressing keen interest in hearing something from me, he got me inspired to actually dig up (and upgrade) my recording setup…so this is the first in what I hope to be a far more regularly scheduled set of appearances by the dubious Monkey Typing Pool….

So: as part of their Legal Bootleg series, Wire released a recording from July of 1985 featuring a song—otherwise unavailable in any form in their catalog—titled “Harry Houdini.” Apparently the band abandoned it shortly afterwards, thinking it lacked potential.

For whatever reason, I became intrigued with the song…and at some point, I came upon the idea of “covering” it…less as a straight cover of this live version (which you can probably find online by googling) than as an exercise in imagining: where might this song end up had Wire chosen to develop it? That idea is still somewhat present…though I quickly realized that I wouldn’t get very far trying to imagine what Wire would do, of all bands, since what Wire usually does is whatever you wouldn’t expect Wire to do.

Anyway: I got as far as putting together some percussion sketches (just three components: a kick drum, a snare, and a hi-hat, borrowed from I no longer remember which Wire track…but it was era-appropriate). And then…it sat fallow for a long time.

I also wrote up some lyrics…which was more interesting. First, I’ve never seen any rendition of the lyrics online, and I had to guess what Colin Newman was singing. Some lines seem quite clear…while others I can’t really make out at all. I quickly decided to make a virtue of this potential flaw…and borrowed an idea that, as was later seemingly apparent, Graham Lewis often used, which I’ll call a “forced error,” a knowingly “wrong” reinterpretation of a lyric that attempts to lead one elsewhere. An example: in the Wire catalog, the songs originally slated for their follow-up to 154 appeared in various live versions, redone on then-ex-members’ solo albums, and still later, rearranged and redone by the band: in their 21st-century live reunion shows, and on the two “remake/remodel” albums the band’s put out since then: Change Becomes Us and this year’s 10:20. The clearest example is a line from “Ally in Exile” (“by the best of good fortune”) which gets transmuted in “The Art of Persistence” to “buy the best, have good fortune.” The follow-up post will be all about the lyrics: suffice to say that some of the chance gifts that came my way from this method were very surprising!

The basic structure of the song was in place in my mind for quite some time: using the bridge as a coda, and shifting around a few rhythmic accents to create an asymmetrical phrase. And using the first line of the chorus as a repeating hook in that coda was also in my head for quite some time. But…two things happened during this recording that changed its final result considerably. The first was, originally there was going to be a lot more of me actually playing instruments. The bass is played and altered (on a soft-synth keyboard), and I was going to record several guitar parts…but in coming up with them, one riff I wanted to play suddenly revealed itself as close cousin to the opening of Wire’s “40 Versions.” And suddenly…it was back to the ol’ sampling board, in a process I’d used before…so much of the song is built from samples from (mostly) period-appropriate Wire songs, altered, edited, and generally run through the Fuctwithizer™. The second thing was that I apparently utterly lost my mind and decided to extend the coda to include…whatever the hell it is that’s going on there now. 

I think the inspiration for that, in turn, was what I ended up doing with the “in one act polite” hook. First, the rhythm of that phrase gets passed around various instruments throughout the song, seeding a bit of unity…and then in the coda, it becomes relentless. The first thing I did was record the “sung” part (all on one note) which, as I was recording it, I increasingly tried to sing as robotically and mindlessly repetitive as possible. I’d already thought of doubling that sung part with a spoken version…and, perhaps by contrast with the maddening calm of mechanical repetition, I took the opposite approach: beginning by speaking the phrase in a relatively subdued manner, but gradually increasing the intensity until, at the end, I was shouting like an insane person. Nice fortuitous bit here too: I’d bought a new microphone, and I’d set it up so the gain etc. worked well with my singing on this track…but of course, yelling madly is a whole different thing. So it ended up having some rather nice distortion on it. I wasn’t sure, in the coda, whether I was going to build to that crescendo, then go back down, or what…and then I thought: hey, let’s do both! So I then recorded myself whispering “in one act polite”…and I faded up the whispering while fading down the shouting. Is obsessive whispering more or less disturbing than shouting madly? 

At the same time, the musical backing of the coda developed from some ideas I’d been thinking of all along…partly inspired by having done a very Beatles-influenced song recently, but also having read an article in The Quietus positing similarities between that band and Wire. It was a bit of a stretch…but it is fun to try to draw parallels with any four-person band and the Beatles in terms of musical function and personality.

The most important parallel, though, was the way both Wire and the Beatles varied their arrangement ideas during a song to create variety. Quite typically, the musical setting for each verse of a song might be different. One way to achieve that is to simply come up with a whole bunch of different parts, but fade some out and some up in various verses. That was the original idea for the arrangement: I’d just record a mess of different parts, then play with the faders to come up with the actual arrangement. In the end, I was a bit less Cagey…but I still did end up working by subtraction quite a bit. 

That idea plays out in the coda: both the bass and the percussion (kick and snare: I kept the hi-hat because otherwise, the beat evaporates) gradually lose notes, measure by measure, until they’re nearly gone. 

I’d also come up with a handful of weird noises, sampled from a bunch of different places (mostly not songs at all). I ran those through the Fuctwithizer, and at first, I thought I’d never use them…they just weren’t sitting right in the song. And indeed, they do not sit with the song for the most part…but I was playing around with three or four of them until I found a pattern of them that I liked. Sorta…funky factory, or Autechre relaxing on a metallic beach. And then I thought…what if the “music” faded and the noise just took over? And thus it was: a man appeared to me unto a missing chair and said, “Wire without an e…” No, wait: I’m confused.


Too much smoke for the snake to pass
Harry Houdini is cut down at last
Unable to escape or evade his past
He’s nailed up his gallows and swings from the mast
 
[chorus]
In one act polite and spotless
In another bedraggled and toothless
In one act polite and spotless
In another bedraggled and toothless
 
A dubious sleuth loose in black cotton shoes
I’ll drop by to pose all my scatterbrained clues
We’re troubled in debt to philosopher creatures
Convicted in absentia, silence the preacher
 
[chorus]
 
Hard-riding man hardly filling his breeches
Indifferent to seeing his major bewitchèd
ah-ha ah-ha ah-haaaa!
 
Pull back the salt leather, subtle promise of spring
The least honest devil still can take to the wing
They’re staked to the air like a light in a tent
Then to fill an upper room with False Thomas’s scent
 
[chorus]

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Bury the Bell: Jeff’s first 2020 Covers Songpile

What it says on the label.

part 1:

  1. Hal Ketchum “Five O’Clock World” (The Vogues cover, 1991) 0.00
  2. Whyte Horses & Badly Drawn Boy “Satellite of Love” (Lou Reed cover, 2019) 2.59
  3. Elvis Presley “Too Much Monkey Business” (Chuck Berry cover, 1969) 6.05
  4. Mikey Erg “Mother Nature’s Son” (Beatles cover, 2020) 8.35
  5. Wren Kitz “Cortez the Killer” (Neil Young & Crazy Horse cover, 2020) 10.58
  6. Beauty Pill “JTS Study No. 1” (David Bowie “Jump They Say” cover, 2020) 18.43
  7. Keziah Jones “Golden Brown” (The Stranglers cover, 2017) 24.08
  8. Fusion Farm “Hollis Brown” (Bob Dylan cover, 1971) 27.29
  9. Fuck You, Tammy! “True Love’s Flame” (David Lynch/Dean Hurley cover, 2020) 34.40
  10. The Speed of Sound “I See You” (The Byrds cover, 2020) 39.17
  11. Peggy Sue “Point of No Return” (Gene McDaniels cover, 2012) 42.03
  12. Jawbox “It’s Expected I’m Gone” (Minutemen cover, 1984) 44.01
  13. Tennis “Guiding Light” (Television cover, 2012) 46.27

part 2:

  1. Parks & Recreation “All My Love” (Led Zeppelin cover, 2010) 0.00
  2. Eastern Lane “Fa Cé-La” (Feelies cover, 2003) 4.54
  3. Zeus Springsteen “Madman Across the Water” (Elton John cover, 2020) 7.13
  4. Nilüfer Yanya “Hey” (Pixies cover, 2016) 13.09
  5. Molly Tuttle “Standing on the Moon” (Grateful Dead cover, 2020) 15.51
  6. Ty Segall “Gotta Get Up” (Harry Nilsson cover, 2020) 20.17
  7. Kelsey Lu “I’m Not in Love” (10cc cover, 2019) 22.41
  8. The GOASTT “Long Gone” (Syd Barrett cover, 2014) 29.24
  9. Fu Manchu “Takin’ It to the Streets” (Doobie Brothers cover, 2020) 33.18
  10. Spotlights “All I Need” (Radiohead cover, 2020) 38.10
  11. Tanya Donelly & Gail Greenwood “Sweet Ghost of Light” (Robyn Hitchcock cover, 2020) 43.22
  12. The Spires “Exit Flagger” (Guided by Voices cover, rlsd. 2020, recorded 5-10 years earlier) 46.39
  13. + 49.05
  14. ++ 51.40

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Sophocles’ Monocles (Jeff’s Summer 2020 Songpile)

Once again, a pile of (mostly) new(ish) songs that came my way and caught my ears over the past few months, carefully segued into an audio extravaganza. Or something like that.

(Note: for some reason, the links do not open properly in Mac Safari. Please right-click and select copy link, then open in a different browser.)

part 1:

1. Spygenius “Heaven Is Blue” (b-side, “Spite” single, 2020) 0.00

2. Jorge Elbrecht “Tuesday Morning” (single, 2020) 4.13

3. Cass McCombs “The Wine of Lebanon” (single, 2020) 7.14

4. Laura Mvula “Green Garden” (Green Garden, 2013) 10.55

5. Agony Aunts “Countless Psalms” (split single with The Corner Laughers, 2020) 14.32

6. Cornershop “St Marie Under Canon” (England Is a Garden, 2020) 16.48

7. Lucille Furs “Paint Euphrosyne Blue” (Another Land, 2019) 20.56

8. The Beths “Dying to Believe” (single, 2020) 24.12

9. The Lickerish Quartet “Lighthouse Spaceship” (single, 2020) 27.40

10. Vinyl Williams “Soft Soul” (Azure, 2020) 33.57

11. Beauty Pill “The Damndest Thing” (Please Advise, 2020) 37.57

12. Lafawndah “Uniform” (Ancestor Boy, 2020) 43.01

part 2:

1. The Asteroid No. 4 “Under My Umbrella” (single, 2020) 0.00

2. Paula Carino “Door” (single, 2020) 3.38

3. Wilco “Tell Your Friends” (single, 2020) 7.18

4. Swervedriver “Winter Depths” (single, 2020) 12.41

5. El Goodo “I Sit and Wonder” (By Order of the Moose, 2017) 18.24

6. Hayley Williams “Roses Lotus Violet Iris” (Petals for Armor, 2020) 21.16

7. FKA Twigs “Mary Magdalene” (Magdalene, 2020) 26.29

8. Blesson Roy “In Tune with the Moon” (single, 2020) 31.47

9. Albert Hammond Jr. “Had to Try” (Etchings from Francis Trouble, 2018) 35.38

10. Chicano Batman “Pink Elephant” (Invisible People, 2020) 39.20

11. Samantha Crain “Garden Dove” (single, 2020) 42.30

12. Dolph Chaney “Automatic Caution Door” (b-side, “The Handling” single, 2020) 46.17

13. Jade Hairpins “J Terrapin” (Harmony Avenue, 2020) 48.16

+ 50.18

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Senseless Destruction

For no good reason, every line from every Monkey Typing Pool song I’ve written (including many never recorded and which probably won’t ever be), broken up in alphabetical order:

  • A catalog of dust with a spotless index
  • A charred memory improves a bent wheel
  • A dubious sleuth loose in black cotton shoes*
  • A flight of stairs, a broken clock,
  • A hero to cabbies…engineered rhythm power.
  • A pen erasing, tracing lines,
  • A piece of driftwood floating in a stream
  • a rhyming dictionary, and an old brown coat.
  • a silhouetted window strung
  • A statue of a man on horseback
  • a switchblade ego, a turnpike mind,
  • a ukulele on the wall, a strand of rope.
  • Administer the brooch beneath the rose
  • Air to blur and settle
  • Alchemic
  • All anxious dreams festering, sprung in skyward trajectory
  • All entries sequestered in the Pelican Directory.
  • All maps and plans gesture, legends murmur his treachery
  • Almanac cracker!
  • An apple’s only still when falling,
  • an appled oranger
  • An empty glass, an ashtray full…
  • and all my moments were second-hand,
  • And aspirin, and anomie, and Judas Priest, and possibly alcohol
  • and combs and insolent hygiene.
  • And dressed in shadow, half-light, and in gray
  • And I pull another moon, false promises sent*
  • and it also ends.
  • and loaded us in a truck
  • And my Daddy’d come home achin’
  • And my hopes are surely sinkin’
  • and prepare
  • and sent us out of Beverly.
  • and slate removed
  • and smells of burning matches—
  • And the smell of sizzlin’ bacon in a pan
  • And then one day we was stirrin’ up the crude
  • And they’ve got just anything in life they need
  • And when you google your name in the future,
  • And yesterday’s news is covered up with rotting food
  • Annotate the capstone
  • another hundred songs…
  • another jukebox echo lost in smoke and haze.
  • Another match is burnt to ash, another weakened cocktail drunk,
  • Answers fall as the wind dies down
  • As Enophile connoisseur voices pile on as your…
  • as something as your something else.
  • As spirits are raised, drained, and
  • As the father of traffic laws, the eminent William Phelps Eno:
  • As their ghost pixels fade away, like a turned-off TV,
  • Ask which
  • At home we find it best to try to keep them in line
  • At least he not dare for him to take to the wing*
  • At night she glistens like a sword
  • baffled by syllable
  • banjo fence
  • barrel a peck and
  • be all he can be
  • be team player
  • be wherever you belong
  • be zestfully clean!
  • beat the drum?
  • Been there fifty or a hundred years
  • belong wherever you are missing
  • Bits flame if you name the Wrong Eno!
  • Black pooling wax, undying stain
  • blue becalmed confine
  • Bronzed faith dwarfs margins of error
  • build a tower underground
  • Bury armies
  • But don’t mind Jim, so secretive and grim
  • but he can’t make us eat it.
  • But I ain’t much good at thinkin’
  • But which
  • But you can protect yourself from supervision
  • But you can’t swallow a cage (can you).
  • calving ice shelf
  • Camo snuggie on the couch, no heat, chipped plaster on the wall
  • Captioned in emaciated numbers
  • Cars all around.
  • Cart before
  • Caught a cold laid me up for a week, popping Ricola and zinc
  • ’cause his knees aren’t so pretty—
  • Chimney-pots
  • circumpolar
  • cite artistic difference
  • Civil twilight
  • Clandestine
  • Clipped wings and a nice little perch will be fine
  • coding a website for you.
  • cold-war border, white night spring light
  • Counterfeit cretin bootlegger
  • Daddy’d drain ’em one by one
  • Dark candles burning in my brain
  • Dark minister
  • delegate authority
  • Depth and volume define
  • desert and skies blue
  • Dim moon in crescent
  • discard bad data
  • Don’t leverage souls till they’re hatched
  • dressed Wattenburg delinquent
  • Drink ’em down, God’ll bless you when the day is done
  • Each compass point and knotting
  • Each curse, each spell, each pleading
  • Each prayer, each hope, each bleating
  • Each trace, each line, each plotting
  • eat low on food chain
  • Edsger rabbits parceling puzzled missive
  • engraved, laid paper memorial,
  • evaporated
  • Even where it’s night, some lovers long to shout for June—
  • Expressed in codes and graphs that chart the way
  • Feel like a castle upside-down
  • flow and thaw clear sky
  • form focus group
  • frozen solstice moments by
  • Fur hats, a soft leather suit, promise of spring*
  • give one-hundred-ten percent
  • going vague in a Vegas casino
  • Goldstine exhaled rainiest turkeys
  • goodies slept coons adhere crunches
  • Gravity says.
  • Hard-riding man hardly filling his breeches*
  • Harry Houdini is cut down at last*
  • Harvest fountains
  • He carries compasses
  • He hasn’t moved at all.
  • He led us to a fork in the road
  • He left a burnin’ cigarette
  • He nails up his gallows and swings from the mast.*
  • He rides a donkey
  • he smashed all the windows.
  • He wears trousers
  • He worked so hard but knew to take it like a man
  • He’s anointed the bank vaults in his castles in the sky
  • hears the cypress shiver,
  • Here’s one I bet you wouldn’t want to meet in the wild
  • Heuristic matrices drawn tight around the throat
  • His tired old back was surely breakin’
  • Hotel Aramon
  • Hurry up, fleecy perverts
  • I can study rain
  • I could never fall.
  • I filled a man with sand
  • I fucked the chief of police—it was my birthday
  • I remember Mama’s apron
  • I remember what he’d always do to drive away his frown…
  • I saw Montgomery wince
  • I’ll drop out to pose all my scatterbrained clues*
  • I’ve got an infinite number of monkeys
  • If I look at you long enough,
  • If I never stood up,
  • In another bedraggled and toothless*
  • in canvas, curduroy…
  • in leather satchels,
  • In one act polite and spotless*
  • In quicksand and answers he silently preaches*
  • in swerving traffic
  • Indifferent to seeing his major bewitchéd*
  • into the light
  • It begins with itself.
  • It never bothered to call.
  • It was the worst band I ever heard, so maybe it was their fault,
  • Just an island in the middle of the flow
  • kangaroo cites baselines
  • Kermit Tarrytown climbers
  • know in his heart
  • knows the stones, coast to coast
  • Lance Crocker
  • Leaves fall
  • Leavin’ me and Mama all alone.
  • Leaving there, it’s light, and others throng about too soon—
  • like ghosts in Victorian photographs,
  • longitudes converge to rhyme
  • Loose data sprouts wings but squats
  • Lord, they always tell the truth
  • Makes them forget they’re already dying
  • Mama ‘n’ me got out just fine
  • March to grotto
  • Maybe the battle went on,
  • Mercy is sadism in dress clothes
  • milk scattered cows
  • mis-sing the anthem
  • Monkey typing pool
  • My heart untethered and unmoored
  • Nail the wind to the water
  • Neurotic
  • never bleeds—angel seeds
  • No light, no sound, no atmosphere, no word or reply
  • No sin to serve the coachman’s guide, the crows!
  • No something could be one thing
  • note to no one, signed, someone’s sincerely…
  • October 19
  • ocean static
  • of one glove clapping.
  • Of puzzlement will quiz all
  • of still streets.
  • Oh Mr. Perkins, you’ve such a glaring white smile
  • on a pad of hotel stationery,
  • On an island in the middle of the road,
  • On that farm outside of Macon
  • on the shattered
  • Or could be God, or the rain, or the zodiac, or the tarot, too.
  • or stay here, now?
  • or time had stopped instead,
  • Oslo also, arctic time zone
  • our shit was getting tossed
  • Pain carried out to raw decimals
  • past oil derricks,
  • Perfumes and strategies, and systems of bells
  • Plays based on nothing, magnets thrown down a well
  • Please reform your poor form before we know
  • Poor Daddy, musta been his time
  • Praise the vectors of vapor chased through the dimming sky.
  • Pray name them correctly…or prove you a naïve bambino!
  • Present and still, this is it:
  • Psychotic!
  • random code set in bold Palatino
  • Rat for bassinet sonata
  • Read HOW
  • reads the words the keen wind writes
  • Ready to charge
  • replayed, rewound:
  • resent the shadows
  • residence vetoer grandpa
  • Retracing names of prior occupants
  • Room 121
  • rooted sneakers managing
  • Roped precision hung from dullest knife
  • say, “I do”
  • Sea mist ice floe
  • Semiconductors, mixing, Wurlitzer, too—
  • Set fire to the sheets, the bed, our home
  • She is the icing on my crown
  • She’s an…alchemic
  • Sheila pondering rawer porcupines
  • Sibling assembling random tones by the hour
  • Sign your name
  • signify to the water
  • sings a Geiger counter
  • Sinister
  • Sirenic
  • Slavering over a shivering child
  • slip on the peel
  • Slower midnight, polar daylight
  • Smoked dope with a cabbie from Albuquerque
  • So he boarded ’em up
  • So he’d sit right at the table and he’d rest his body down
  • so much better than the truth
  • So you ask me what I’m drinkin’—yes, indeed…
  • Some jingling coins and some velvety loins
  • spilling coffee grounds and rinds.
  • sprout from dusty cowboy sounds
  • steam whistles, rainfall pelts—
  • Stephin Merritt writes another song about the moon.
  • Strapped in, we must have faith in airplanes.
  • Stubby brown bottles
  • Summoned in praise, strains
  • super placid in acid amino
  • Sure do hope God’ll bless me—my day’s surely done.
  • swept behind
  • take ice, just add time
  • take me back to my youth
  • teacups, Chinese gongs,
  • test hypothesis
  • Testified to the puma
  • testify to the ground
  • The dead Bob Dylan
  • the dictionary
  • The game of the curious surname of Eno.
  • The kitchen clock had stopped again—
  • the ransom bought?
  • the results will be nothing but links back to you.
  • The same evokes ghosts, a view lingers.
  • The scent of raw meat between the politician’s teeth
  • the sugar of lead technology refines
  • The times are unchanging now
  • The weather started getting rough,
  • Then one night I can’t forget
  • There was a band on the lawn, covering Marley and Hüsker Dü
  • There’s Brian and Roger, and Will, and Jim, plus the ghost we know
  • They take to the air like a light intent*
  • they won’t give me back my youth
  • This monkey
  • This name
  • three days’ walk through the city—
  • Tie the flame to the ground
  • tilt ecliptic line
  • Time flowing out a shattered tun
  • Title and deed, indeed a season of flu…
  • to his Uncle Eric’s.
  • Too late, it’s already begun
  • Too much smoke for the snake to pass*
  • Tumbling around.
  • Unable to escape our evasive past*
  • under bridges
  • under the old
  • under the old state
  • under the old state who?
  • Underneath a setting sun
  • understate
  • understate the frequency
  • undraw a sanded line
  • Unembarrassed to work with that harmonica dude…
  • Used to blow the euphonium…could not drive but still you’d
  • visibility Sargent
  • watch me drain ’em one by one
  • Watched kettles, bought umbrellas
  • We amortize the sun and depreciate the dirt
  • We got put on trial for selling mouthwash
  • We just told him to beat it.
  • We sold off our tails and bought us some designer jeans.
  • We swam in the pool without a lifeguard,
  • We’re booked on a slow-moving creature*
  • Well, some men they drive a Lincoln
  • What a thriller! Hear the sound
  • what monkey?
  • When God slammed the door
  • when up popped a monkey singin’ “Hey Jude.”
  • Where those neon lights are blinkin’
  • Who needs calamine?
  • who will beat who?
  • Whose face on the coin
  • whose slow peaks graph falling night
  • With a sleight of wrist and the invisible fist
  • with lights from outside; blocks away a stray dog bays.
  • Won’t switch at the transfer of fingers?
  • wooded redneck grandeur insurance
  • Words written in blood are rarely legible
  • Would I restart,
  • You can cage a swallow (can’t you?)
  • You sent me recipes for water:
  • you will disappear
  • You won’t smell it if you just keep on buying
  • You’ll have alligator shoes in a while
  • You’re a poseur who chose the Wrong Eno!
  • You’re a scam at your amateur plea, no…
  • You’re in DANGER now!
  • Your computer has been watched!
  • Your email was taken from FBl email database!

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The Infinite Scroll: Spring 2020 Songpile

The usual collection of new-to-me tracks for the first three months of 2020, arranged in aurally pleasing sequence and cunningly segued.

Part the First:

  1. Robert Harrison “Great Auk Stories (New Year’s Eve 2019)” 0:00
  2. Nilüfer Yanya “In Your Head” 3:30
  3. The Heliocentrics “Burning Wooden Ship” 6:55
  4. Trolley “I’ll Never Tell” 12:28
  5. Beach Bunny “April” 15:42
  6. Jay Som “A Thousand Words” 19:00
  7. Lilys “Unheard Of Curiosities” 21:32
  8. Toy “The Willo” [Sonic Boom remix] 26:04
  9. Bark “Chimneyville” 33:58
  10. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever “Cars in Space” 40:34
  11. Wand “Airplane” 45:28
  12. Billy Gewin “Open Letter to Andy Partridge” 54:33
  13. Julia Jacklin “Head Alone” 57:12

Part the Second:

  1. Disq “Daily Routine” 0:00
  2. The Black Watch “Brilliant Failures” 4:22
  3. Boy Scouts “Momentary Love” 8:33
  4. Hypnotic Kingdom “As I Go (Out the Door)” 11:50
  5. Julian Cope “A Flick of the ‘V’s” 15:56
  6. Mitski “Cop Car” 20:26
  7. The Paranoyds “Carnage Bargain” 23:25
  8. Sharon Van Etten “Beaten Down” 25:56
  9. The Mutton Birds “No Telling When” 30:36
  10. Lake Ruth “Sad Song” 36:07
  11. Wye Oak “Walk Soft” 39:33
  12. Activity “Calls Your Name” 43:26
  13. + 47:26

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Songpiles Compiled

I thought I’d make a complete list of every track in my “songpiles” playlists for 2019, alphabetized by artist, title, album, year of release/recording… (Apologies: there was no easy way to construct and copy this list properly alphabetized by last names…)

2019songpiles

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Past Life Regression Analysis: a selection of songs from Jeff’s top 2019 albums

As I did last year, I couldn’t be arsed to actually choose particular tracks…and since the whole point of these selections is that the albums they’re drawn from are solid, it shouldn’t make that much difference which track I choose. So, indeed, using a secret, super-scientific selection method (and then using different tracks when I felt like it), here is a selection of songs from my favorite records. As always, I exclude from this list EPs, live albums, reissues, albums consisting entirely of cover songs, etc. The song sequence is musically determined and does not reflect any attempt at ranking the albums the songs are drawn from (because: no.) So here we go! Afterwards, some comments on these and other 2019 releases.

Part 1:

  1. Pernice Brothers “Mint Condition” Spread the Feeling 0.00
  2. The Paranoid Style “A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life” A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life 3.05
  3. The Armoires “Alesandra 619” Zibaldone 6.19
  4. Cass McCombs “I Followed the River South to What” Tip of the Sphere 9.51
  5. Omni “Flat Earth” Networker 17.25
  6. Pixies “St. Nazaire” Beneath the Eyrie 20.16
  7. The Dream Syndicate “Space Age” These Times 22.40
  8. Salt “Some Strange Vision” The Loneliness of Clouds 25.45
  9. Clinic “Laughing Cavalier” Wheeltappers and Shunters 28.40
  10. Chris Cohen “Heavy Weather Sailing” Chris Cohen 31.10
  11. Alex Lilly “Hypothetical” 2% Milk 33.29
  12. Barry Andrews “Lollipop Bomb” Contaminated Pop 36.14
  13. John Vanderslice “Henry Ford Gymnasium” The Cedars 39.57
  14. Thom Yorke “Runwayaway” Anima 44.09
  15. The Black Watch “Oh Mary” Magic Johnson 50.01

Part 2:

  1. Wreckless Eric “Creepy People (In the Middle of the Night) Transience 0.00
  2. The Mekons “After the Rain” Deserted 4.45
  3. Sharon Van Etten “Hands” Remind Me Tomorrow 9.36
  4. Angel Olsen “Summer” All Mirrors 13.34
  5. Joyero “Time” Release the Dogs 17.33
  6. The New Pornographers “Higher Beams” In the Morse Code of Brake Lights 20.16
  7. Piroshka “What’s Next?” Brickbat 24.19
  8. Guided by Voices “The Hearing Department” Zeppelin Over China 28.58
  9. Pixx “Hysterical” Small Mercies 32.15
  10. Robert Forster “Life Has Turned a Page” Inferno 35.32
  11. The Verlaines “I Am” Dunedin Spleen 40.12
  12. The Minus 5 “My Master Bull” Stroke Manor 43.26
  13. Swervedriver “Good Times” Future Ruins 45.54
  14. DIIV “Blankenship” Deceiver 49.01
  15. Toy “You Make Me Forget Myself” Happy in the Hollow 52.51

First…the Pollard Problem: as is seemingly always the case, Robert Pollard and company released several records…and honestly, I never have time to actually weigh them against one another and determine favorites. I just know that I like them, even though this year’s trio of GbV records are quite distinct (Zeppelin Over China is epic, their “White Album”; Warp and Woof is a toybox sculpture of diverse, mostly very short songs; and Sweating the Plague is the most “normal,” rock record of the three). I just put all the tracks longer than two minutes from all three records in alphabetical order, and chose the 9th one.

Welcome returns: the Pernice Brothers, the Dream Syndicate, Clinic (the scattered cover songs of the past few years were mostly pretty dire, so I was concerned…), the Verlaines… and of course, Scott McCaughey from the Minus 5, back after a near-final stroke (which informs the title and subject matter of his record: he took notes during his recovery, some of which were rather disjointed, and adopted lyrics from them). Joyero is Andy Stack, the half of Wye Oak who’s not Jenn Wasner (this track is a bit atypical, being less electronic…).

Some other fine releases that didn’t quite make my top tier: Jenny Lewis On the Line, Jason Morgan (the Spires) Voices in My Head Add Atmosphere, Kim Gordon No Home Record, Kendra Amalie Intuition (local release…which I only heard about in a British music magazine), Sparrow Steeple Tin Top Sorcerer, Jorge Elbrecht (ex-Violens) Coral Cross 02Gloss Coma 02, the Mike Benign Compulsion Bygones, Pere Ubu The Long Goodbye (CD included a live recording of the entire album, which is much better than the rather staid studio versions), You Tell Me (self-titled; Field Music spinoff), The Rallies Upside Down, Stephen Malkmus Groove Denied, Cherry Glazerr Stuffed & Ready, Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride, Momus Akkordion, Big Thief Two Hands (their second of 2019: haven’t heard the first yet), Filthy Friends Emerald Valley, and Ex Hex It’s Real. I kinda liked Western Stars by Bruce Springsteen and appreciate that he’s willing to do something different. Both Wilco’s Ode to Joy and Jeff Tweedy’s Warmer suffered a bit from a lack of energy…maybe I’ll enjoy them more upon repeated listens. I also enjoyed listening on Spotify to California Son…but I really did not want to buy any Morrissey product since he’s become such a repugnant tool. I was a bit disappointed in releases by Sleater-Kinney (The Center Cannot Hold: I like S-K and I like St. Vincent, but the blend didn’t work that well for me), Beck (Hyperspace: a bit samey), Bob Mould (Sunshine Rock never quite gelled for me) and the Figgs (Shady Grove: too long). Two releases I just bought, from opposite ends of the old/new spectrum: Nashville’s Faux Ferocious’s Pretty Groovy is exactly that, based on first listen…and the Who’s Who is surprisingly, well, Who-like, especially its first half. The second half is a bit more diverse if not slightly experimental…but it doesn’t sound phoned in.

By far the best EP of the year was the Andy Partridge/Robyn Hitchcock collaboration Planet England: the two are working on a full-length, and the positive response to the EP seems to have spurred them on to try to complete the album quickly. I also liked Ohio River from Caroline Says, Cate Le Bon’s Reward, and Fitted’s First Fits…which is Graham Lewis and Matt Sims of Wire, with Mike Watt (?!) guesting on a few tracks. It’s an odd mix…I’m guessing that Lewis and Watt found one another’s (very different) lyrical approaches equally amusing…

I enjoyed Medicine’s Scarred for Life, Chrissie Hynde’s Valve Bone Woe, and Gretchen’s Wheel’s Moth to Lamplight: A Tribute to Nada Surf among the dozen or so all-covers releases I listened to this year. The Hynde is worthy of special note: it’s a jazz album with electronic touches, or maybe it’s an electronic album with jazz touches…interesting, if nothing else!

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The Guilty Inclusion (second covers songpile of 2019)

Second of three year-end “songpiles” that have become traditional around these parts…this one being favorite covers that came my way or otherwise reminded me of themselves in the second half of the year. (The third one, next week, will be songs from my favorite albums, for those incurably nostalgic for what everyone wants you to believe to be an outmoded format.)

Part 1

  1. Sinkane “Come Together” (The Beatles) 0.00
  2. Redd Kross “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’?” (Sparks) 6.10
  3. Medicine “Listen to the Band” (The Monkees) 10.07
  4. The GOASTT “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (Roky Erickson/13th Floor Elevators) 13.12
  5. Gretchen’s Wheel “Stuck on You” (Failure) 16.50
  6. Thurston Moore “Leave Me Alone” (New Order) 21.18
  7. Jamestown Revival “California Dreamin’” (The Mamas & the Papas) 25.54
  8. Johno “Country Road” (John Denver) 29.24
  9. Nouvelle Vague “In a Manner of Speaking” (Tuxedomoon) 34.00
  10. The Bad Shepherds “The Model” (Kraftwerk) 37.54
  11. Chop “She’s as Beautiful as a Foot” (Blue Öyster Cult) 42.10
  12. Jim James “Why Can’t We Live Together?” (Timmy Thomas) 45.07
  13. David Fonseca with Ana Moura “The Man Who Sold the World” (David Bowie) 48.31

Part 2

  1. My Darling Clementine “Stranger in the House” (Elvis Costello) 0.00
  2. RVG “Dying on the Vine” (John Cale) 3.35
  3. Everything But the Girl “Kid” (Pretenders) 8.26
  4. Angie McMahon “Knowing Me, Knowing You” (ABBA) 12.08
  5. Steve Goldberg and the Arch Enemies “When It Hits My Blood” (John Vanderslice) 16.07
  6. Swervedriver “Reflections” (Diana Ross & the Supremes) 19.25
  7. Yes “Everydays” (Buffalo Springfield) 23.12
  8. Fairport Convention “Chelsea Morning” (Joni Mitchell) 29.19
  9. Arc Iris “Friends” (Led Zeppelin) 32.21
  10. Lana Del Rey “Season of the Witch” (Donovan) 36.12
  11. Hem “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” (R.E.M.) 40.07
  12. Nine Inch Nails “Dead Souls” (Joy Division) 43.10

+ 48.09

A few comments: the Sinkane track is from the estimable Aquarium Drunkard Lagniappe Sessions…the Medicine song is from one of those increasingly common single-artist, all-covers records…Johno turns Mr. Denver’s somewhat sentimental ode into a rapid romp in 7/8 time, while the Bad Shepherds relocate the Kraftwerk tune from a Düsseldorf factory to an Irish farmstead…My Darling Clementine makes Elvis’s country song even more country and recasts it as a duet…Arc Iris thinks Led Zeppelin is a sort of jazz-inflected prog (well, why not?)…and somewhere in northern Africa, Beethoven is reincarnated…

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