So, I’d decided to leave off selections from my favorite 2022 albums songpile with tracks I’d previously featured in earlier songpiles…but I goofed up and excluded artists where I’d put on non-album singles or just somehow imagined I’d posted but had not.
So here’s a half-hour supplement—following with the idea of the main list Heaven’t (see yesterday’s post), I arbitrarily chose the 7th track from each of these albums (I particularly like the segue between the last two tracks). Conveniently, there were 7 such tracks…:
Following up from yesterday’s post, here’s a selection of tracks from my top albums. This year, I excluded from this collection albums that had already been featured on earlier 2022 songpiles—there’s a list of such (with links) at the end of this post, to get a fuller picture of the year. As always, I’ve sequenced these not in any sort of rank order but by what sounds good together, and I’ve worked to make effective segues and transitions between tracks. I chose the tracks—as I’ve done for the last few years with my “favorite albums” list—somewhat arbitrarily, on the grounds that if it’s a good album, that means nearly all its songs are good. This year, to go with the title of the playlist (Heaven’t), I mostly chose the 7th track on these albums. When that didn’t work, for whatever reason, I chose the 11th, 1st, or 4th tracks…or tracks whose titles somehow evoked “sevenness” (there are one or two of those).
2022 was kind of an odd year for me musically: not many records leapt out as being absolutely excellent, but there was quite a broad spread of records falling into the sort of second tier marking the sort of thing that I like quite a bit but which could, over time, either develop into something I’d put in the top level or sort of slowly descend into being somewhat forgotten.
So, what are those records? The ones I was certain of include:
Peter Matthew Bauer Flowers
Bodega Broken Equipment
Flasher Love Is Yours*
Robyn Hitchcock Shufflemania!
Interpol The Other Side of Make-Believe
Alex Lilly Repetition Is a Sin*
The Paranoid Style For Executive Meeting*
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Endless Rooms*
The Sadies Colder Streams*
The Smile A Light for Attracting Attention*
Spoon Lucifer on the Sofa (and its dub companion with Adrian Sherwood, Lucifer on the Moon)
In the next layer, I’d put the following: *Andy Bell Flicker (and seemingly 37 EPs), Elvis Costello & the Imposters The Boy Named If, Disq Desperately Imagining Someplace Quiet, *Dry Cleaning Stumpwork, Jesca Hoop Order of Romance, *I Was a King Follow Me Home, Kiwi Jr. Chopper, *Preoccupations Arrangements, Telefís A hAon (and its companion A Dó).
After that…well, here comes the flood: Alvvays Blue Rev, *The Asteroid No. 4 Tones of the Sparrow, Anton Barbeau Stranger (and Power Pop!!!), The Beths Expert in a Dying Field, Big Thief Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, The Bye Bye Blackbirds August Lightning Complex, Chronophage Chronophage, The Cool Greenhouse Sod’s Toastie, Destroyer Labyrinthitis, The Figgs Chemical Shake, Frontperson Parade, Guided by Voices Crystal Nuns Cathedral and Tremblers and Goggles by Rank, Aldous Harding Warm Chris, Johnny Marr Fever Dreams Pts. 1–4, Cass McCombs Heartmind, Momus Issyvoo (and Smudger), The Mountain Goats Bleed Out, *The Reds, Pinks & Purples Summer at Land’s End (and also another full-length and two EPs!), *Soccer Mommy Sometimes, Forever, The Soundcarriers Wilds, Thunderegg Helicopters (which basically means it has the same title as the Kiwi Jr. record…), *Wet Leg Wet Leg, Nilüfer Yanya Painless.
Not only but also! Brian Eno Foreverandevernomore, Father John Misty Chloe and the Next 20th Century, *Horsegirl Versions of Modern Performance, Cate Le Bon Pompeii, *Maple Mars Someone’s Got to Listen, Mitski Laurel Hell, Angel Olsen Big Time, Panda Bear & Sonic Boom Reset, Pixies Doggerel, Shearwater The Great Awakening, *Shriekback 1000 Books, Sloan Steady, Sylvan Esso No Rules Sandy, *Sharon Van Etten We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, Tom Vek Newer Symbols, The Veldt Entropy Is the Mainline to God, Wilco Cruel Country.
Best EPs from: the Black Watch The Neverland of Spoken Things, Cathal Coughlan (RIP) E.P. of Co-Aklan, Ted Leo For Coit and Killie EP, Split Single Callado.
* designates albums from which I’ve drawn selections in previous songpiles—I decided not to repeat artists in my year-end playlist (next post) as a result. You can find tracks from those artists in previous posts this year titled The Imaginary Continuo, Bishop of the Moon, Exhuming a Dead Herring, and Flexible Demising.
Most of them have very few and unnoticeable changes…but two tracks are newly remixed from anything I’ve previously published. By coincidence, both have very long song titles: “Little Audio Sparkler and the Slightly Scary Gentlemen of Rock” and “Stephin Merritt Writes Another Song About the Moon” (they’re both on an EP I’ve put together called An Impressionist’s Thumb).
(Everything’s pay-what-you-like, by the way. I anticipate that, over the next decade, the pennies will just come rolling in.)
Back in 2009, my friend James described a dream he’d had, in which Robyn Hitchcock appeared a television show and announced that he was about to do his new song, “(Here’s One I Bet You Wouldn’t Want to Meet) In the Wild.” James tried his hand at writing it but the rhythm of the title phrase wasn’t working for him…so I had a go at it.
I didn’t work too hard to make it seem like a Robyn Hitchcock song. The title phrase is a bit clumsy…but, barring a few extra syllables here and there, is basically 8 trochees…so the jumpiness of the missing offbeats after “here’s” and “meet,” and the extra ones in “wouldn’t want to,” naturally suggested the sort of rhythm that I sing it in (accented beats on quarter notes, unaccented on the offbeat eighth notes, with some sixteenth notes in the quick little bits). The other lines were variations on that sort of structure (if you wanna get slightly technical, the second line of each verse has 7 accented beats, the third one 6…with similar irregularities).
I’m not quite sure why this song suddenly popped back into my head…but when it did, it had grown a nice little drum part, heavy on the toms—which led me to dream up a bass part to go with it, and then off I went! I did some plastic surgery on the original 2009 recordings (two guitar parts and a vocal line, with some harmony near the end on a separate track) to correct various minor problems, then I added the “drums” and “bass” parts and the “wild, wild” backing vocals in the bridge and coda.
For the lyrics, I began with the notion of what sort of creatures you would not want to meet in the wild. That idea suggested the old Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom show…and the rumors that went around with it about nefarious goings-on and animal abuse (which are apparently true). That’s the reference in the bridge (to Marlon Perkins and his assistant, Jim Fowler).
I didn’t notice it when I wrote the lyrics, but the verses establish a pattern wherein odd-numbered verses depict “wild” creatures disguised as mild-mannered and tame, while even-numbered verses focus on coddling and domesticating certain creatures (perhaps creatures rather like us) from noticing the cruelty that surrounds them.
Also: back in 2009, my friend Rex was celebrating his then-impending 40th birthday by recording a new cover song every day for an entire year (if that sounds impossible, know that he did it…and recorded a few extra besides). One of the songs he did was this one…and while I didn’t listen to his version again before I made most of this one, once I did I remembered that I very much liked one particular addition he’d made to the song…which you’ll hear over the drum break before the last set of verses…
Here’s one I bet you wouldn’t want to meet in the wild
The scent of raw meat between the politician’s teeth
Slavering over a shivering child
At home we find it best to try to keep them in line
Some jingling coins and some velvety loins
Makes them forget they’re already dying
Oh Mr. Perkins, you’ve such a glaring white smile
But don’t mind Jim, so secretive and grim
You’ll have alligator shoes in a while.
Here’s one I bet you wouldn’t want to meet in the wild
With a sleight of wrist and the invisible fist
He’s anointed the bank vaults in his castles in the sky
Clipped wings and a nice little perch will be fine
Yesterday’s news is covered up with rotting food
You won’t smell it if you just keep on buying..
Here’s one I bet you wouldn’t want to meet in the wild…
Scritti Politti. The Human League. Ultravox. Orchestral Manœuvres in the Dark. Yep…I decided to just eighties the hell out of this one. I borrowed ideas and approaches from specific songs by those artists, and probably some others I’ve overlooked. But the origins of this one are…perhaps even more unusual than the usual unusual for me.
So, a while back my friend Rex reposted an image he’d put up a few years prior…which I helpfully reproduce here:
Well, that was enough for me, and so I wrote a potential lyric…and, as sometimes happens, my brain translated it into a musical idea.
The sound file here is a slightly edited compilation of the two noted above: I removed about 15 seconds of plunking as I was trying to come up with the next idea…and then there’s actual performance. It’s obvious I hadn’t yet figured out how the bridge (which became the prechorus) actually went, which is why the singing becomes particularly…”call of the wild” in that section.
Okay, so jokey lyrics in which faux-Morrissey sings about cannibalism does not seem like a promising start…but the damned chorus had grabbed my brain, and a few other melodic ideas seemed to have potential as well, so…what to do to make a real song out of it?
First, I decided that it was not going to try to sound at all like Morrissey (I dunno…did I excise his ghost completely?). Next the question was…okay, since strenuous denial of oneself being foodstuff was no longer the subject, what was? I didn’t want to sing “darling, darling” (I mean, really) but, since the melody had latched itself onto my brain like a science-fiction parasite, the sound had to be close. Ah-ha…”falling”—sure, that works! Of course, the stereotypical song that sings about “falling” probably follows that word with “in love”—which, again: if I’d just ditched “darling” why invite the subject back in through the side door again?
Of course, the logical answer was to write about Milton’s Satan, Original Sin, and nuclear apocalypse, as one does in light cheery pop songs.
Sometimes, even I am wary of being too pretentious and precious (“wary” ≠ 100% successful in warding off), so I decided a light, even comic tone was the best approach. First attempt foundered: kind of chatty, and vague, like some bad play in which the new neighbor turns out to be Satan and the audience is clued in because his name is Nick McLuficer or something… For some reason, the idea of Satan showing up on Earth, his flaming being setting fire to the carpeting, and his being a bit mortified over this clear social faux-pas: that was the way in. I did not think of the “pardon” pun at first…but of course, “pardon me” led directly to “have sympathy…” (and I echo the appropriate song in the pizzicato strings, in case you didn’t notice the lyrics: underlining!) I realized too late that if I’d adopted some sort of curious accent, I could have had an internal rhyme with “used” and the last syllable of “temperatures” (well, near-rhyme). You’re welcome.
I also ended up borrowing a few lines from the parody version—mostly by rhyming with them or changing one or two key words…as if this were the real song, and what I originally wrote was a Weird Al parody. (Given the Pynchon reference in this lyric, and Laurie Anderson’s fab conflation of the same image with Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, being blown backward through time, so, uh, Weird Al as the angel of parody I guess…)
I’m not sure if “undisheartening” is a word—and as I was singing the vocal track, I realized that “dropping her guard” sounds like “dropping her God.” Don’t you hate it when bad puns are too on the nose? “Forwent” probably isn’t a word either—but really: landlords just don’t want the hassle of tenants who insist on wandering around the garden in the altogether.
Had this been an actual song, the single version would probably fade out starting around 3:45 or so so the dead-stop ending doesn’t upset the ear. I had a lot of fun sculpting that ending…especially figuring out how to get only the vocal effects from the bus into an audio file so I could do the fancy tape-slowing thing with them. Logic Pro tutorials on YouTube are the bomb.
Well, that might be unfortunate phrasing given the last verse. I also confess that as I was working on this, I found myself thinking: shit, if Putin drops the bomb that will really fuck up my putting out this song.
Priorities, you see.
Pardon me (he said)—my flaming hooves
have set the carpet on fire.
Have sympathy instead—I am used
to temperatures so much higher.
Since I've fallen, they hate and despise me
more than rain on a wedding day,
But don't hope you can help to revise me—
no hope in hell that I'll just go away...
Out in the yard, she is gardening
and tasting some unknown fruit—
Dropping her guard, undisheartening
some salesman in snake-oiled boots.
Well I know I know when I'm dreamin'
and what's in my tree and such,
if it's high or low or broke even,
and which branches make a good crutch.
Sorry, madam and Steve,
you'll be needing to leave—
No it's not just the rent
or the garments forwent...
It would seem that we're
Falling, falling, falling...
It's the inevitable
Calling, calling, calling...
Still me and you,
we are nobody's fools.
Dominoes blink, the clock goes blank,
and silos' eyes open wide.
'Shipping this brink, we flock in ranks
to mass and flow, whirled in whirlwind tide.
Such joy and freedom, unrooted—
thought we'd never, ever be free.
Hear our songs, our glory saluted
in rainbows of brute gravity.
So I think you'll have guessed
with whose presence you're blessed—
All those fates cast to winds
and which answers are wins..
There's no question we're
Falling, falling, falling...
Calling, calling, calling...
From on high, we are
Falling, falling, falling...
Can't touch that dial, no
Calling, calling, calling...
Still me and you,
we are nobod—
Once again…a selection of songs (some new, some only new to me) that have come my way during the last three months, which I’ve segued into two playlists (because clyp has limits…or it’d just be one playlist!)
This is a semi-remake of a track I wrote and recorded in 2007. I always liked the song itself, but I was disappointed in the original recording results. The vocal was weak and strained, so I compensated by throwing on a raft of varied effects in an attempt to distract from those flaws…and the results seemed gimmicky and unfocused.
At the time, the only musical equipment I had was an acoustic guitar, a Yamaha keyboard, and couple of mics. (Not that I have much more now…but the whole soft-synth/DAW revolution has broadened the available sound library near-infinitely.) While on earlier tracks I’d pretended to have more than that through various tricks, here I sort of leaned in to the idea of those limitations, and wrote a song that was primarily acoustic guitars and synth bass and sounded like it. I liked the resulting texture—but then I went and complicated by deciding I wanted (something that sounded like) a string quartet on the bridge and outchoruses. Unfortunately the string patches on the Yamaha—while not terrible individually—collectively sounded nothing like what I wanted, way too “keyboardy”…so that was another aspect of the recording I was disappointed in.
So: here it is 2022, with more resources (and an improvement at least in some technical skills). I kept the bassline from the original, which was sequenced anyway. I replaced the original drums—tracking which at the time involved sampling the components of recorded drums from some favorite record (the beginning of Bowie’s “Soul Love” was a favorite) and then painstakingly placing each hit of the kick, snare, cymbal, etc. in the appropriate position. (To make this easier, I often began by setting the tempo at 120 bpm so beat intervals mapped to easy fractions of a second…and then altered the speed of the audio output to the tempo I wanted before doing the other parts.) I used a couple of the preloaded drum kits in Logic Pro (the metal percussion is a different set from the rest of the kit) and played around with the EQ until I got the sound I wanted (along the way changing a few of the parts I didn’t like). I redid the “strings” as well: while no one would mistake the results for an actual string chamber orchestra (the solo string voices were ineffective, the chamber strings for violin, viola, and cello much better), it certainly is an improvement over the original.
And I retracked the entire vocal (except for the snippet at the beginning). Although I did throw on some (faux) tape saturation to add texture to the lead line, it’s certain more present and immediate than the original vocal.
This version much more closely realizes what I originally wanted this song to sound like.
The structure of the song is a little odd: there’s an A section and B section of verse, but after the first set and chorus, I go to the B section and then the A section, making a little arch of the first few verses. After a short intro, the bridge is actually a verse but with parts compressed by overlapping their rhythms: 8 bars of 4/4 turn into a bar of 6/4, a bar of 4/4, and two bars of 6/4. Into chorus, repeat, add the little ending tag…and done.
You sent me a recipe for water:
take ice, add some time
Slower midnight, polar daylight,
longitudes converge to rhyme
Sea mist, ice floe,
blue becalmed confine
Calving ice shelf,
tilt ecliptic line
(something else is mine…)
It begins with itself.
arctic time zone,
frozen solstice, moments by
white night, spring light
Flow and thaw clear sky
(flowing thoughts, clear mind)
Watched kettles, bought umbrellas,
steam whistles, rainfall pelts –
No something could be one thing
as something as your something else.
Underneath a setting sun,
sunset all day long
Belong wherever you are missing,
sing wherever you belong
(sing this song)
It begins with itself
(and it also ends).
There’s a curious little story relating to the lyrics. The chorus phrase just popped into my head randomly. It was just sitting there, waiting for me to figure out where the little snippet might lead…but then, a few months later (this is back in 2006), I had a curious dream. I was meeting an old friend I had not seen for some time—the occasion was that he’d published a book. It was a large, coffee-table book, about 12×10, and quite thick, 500 pages or so…but I was surprised to find that most of it consisted of published versions of my friend’s blog, along with some of his letters, photos, drawings—a scrapbook, really. I thought it was peculiar that an actual publisher had decided this was worth printing (this was, though, in blogging’s first heyday), although I thought it was pretty cool. Also, I was jealous.
Anyway, his blog and the resulting book had the unusual name “Seal of Seals.” Back here in the waking world, that struck me as a curious phrase…so I googled it. Most of the results I found then referred to the sort of seals involved in verification and the like…but one result used the phrase as the translation of the title of a work by Giordano Bruno (Sigillus Sigillorum) whose subject was “noetic ascent.” I knew very little about either Bruno or “noetic ascent.”
So here’s where things get a bit weird: Looking up the phrase that had lodged itself in my head as the chorus of a new song, I found a reference to John Cardinal Newman’s Grammar of Ascent…where the phrase is used in reference to inference as contrasted with belief. Both sources have to do with theological philosophy and the psychology of faith, and the specific notion of “ascent.”
I did not pursue any of those ideas in the rest of the lyrics (which instead look at passing time, light, and seasons at the paradoxical poles…where, for example, our usual method of looking at longitude becomes nonsensical, especially as longitudinal meridians relate to time zones, since near the pole, we can walk through hours in seconds…). But then…I don’t know: is ascending north, to the polar regions where (in a sense) measured time disappears, maybe a metaphor compatible with the notion of faith?