the bits blow forward and the bits flow back

a/k/a The Year in Music: Part 2 – The Shlingles

Here are some highlights of the various tracks that found their way into my computer this year.

Envelopes “Sister in Love” – Take the off-center three-bar guitar part from Eno’s “The True Wheel,” add a circular organ part, and some group vocals, and you get this Swedish band’s insanely catchy little number here. There are moments where the singer sounds kinda like the guy from the King of France (an underrated band that I think I’ve blogged about before), in that sort of nasal, wheedling way that’s just short of annoying yet somehow intriguing.

Ben Folds “Such Great Heights” – Here’s Ben Folds in the studios of Australian radio station JJJ, covering the Postal Service’s hit with nothing but a couple of percussion players and some nuts and bolts and the like stuck inside his piano.* Essentially Folds has made his piano into a handful of different instruments of differing tonal and textural qualities. Plus…evil ringtones! (Geeks will have heard the voice of Viv Stanshall on that last line…)

* emendation: The Council on Grammar Relations has pointed out that, if this sentence is literally true, Mr. Folds is guilty of heinous abuse of percussion players, since the Geneva Convention specifically prohibits sticking percussionists inside pianos, accordions, sousaphones, and trombones. The sentence should read: “Here’s Ben Folds in the studios of Australian radio station JJJ, covering the Postal Service’s hit with nothing but (1) a couple of percussion players being pistolwhipped by a gazelle and (2) a piano into which Folds has forced his henchmen to insert nuts, bolts, and several percussionists’ fingernails.” I hope this is clearer now.

Dymaxion “U.S. 80s-90s” – Covering the Fall is harder than you think. Sure, most the songs are just based on riffs, and you’d think that if you just brought home those riffs and then shouted over the top, you’d be there. You’d be wrong, though – aside from the not-so-secret ingredient of Mark E. Smith’s voice’s unique timbre, there’s the fact that even the simplest Fall songs often bring along some textural and structural oddities that tip the balance of the song just enough to make things interesting. (That might also explain why Fall fans like me can listen to 7,000 albums of songs that the average listener probably thinks are all the same.) Anyway, what Dymaxion does here is retain little but the riff (that bassline) and add gobs and gobs of odd noises and samples: a string chart that might be from “Glass Onion,” a disconnected phone tone, a ba-ba-bah-dah backing vocal track, a horn chord that almost certainly is from “Spinning Wheel” by Blood Sweat & Tears (!) – and cohere them into something that, offputting at first, ends up maddeningly catchy. (At least for me – the damned song sticks in my head for days at a time and is dislodged with extreme difficulty.)

Daylight’s for the Birds “To No One” – The band’s promo folks sent me two tracks – this one and one other – and I was actually inspired to buy the album (okay, from eMusic – but someone’s getting paid, right?). There’s a sort of shoegaze-y thing going on here (which I’m always a sucker for), plus some Kraftwerk-y elektronische strings, and a bit of Stereolab Euroformalism…works for me anyway.

John McGlinchey “Spider” – This is from very early in the year. During the year I regularized my file-formatting system (bear with me) so on later tracks, I can tell where a song came from. This one, I’d forgotten – so I had to Google it to find out. No surprise: it came from the estimable Said the Gramophone, which posts a lot of these odd little, folkish but vaguely psychedelic numbers that seem somehow to bear traces of the dirt of unknown nations.

Jonathan Coulton “Skullcrusher Mountain” – I’d heard one or two of Coulton’s tunes on other people’s mixes before, but what sold me on him was seeing him as John Hodgman‘s accompanist at one of Hodgman’s readings this past fall. And what specifically sold me is realizing that, goofy quasi-folkie or not, the man writes catchy, clever songs. And for me, at least, they’re funny as hell too. There are at least two lines in this one that made me laugh out loud the first time I heard them. Plus, I think there are any number of songwriters who’d kill for that chorus – put “normal” words on it and you just might have a hit.

emendation the second

To recap:

Envelopes “Sister in Love”
Ben Folds “Such Great Heights”
Dymaxion “U.S. 80s-90s”
Daylight’s for the Birds “To No One”
John McGlinchey “Spider”
Jonathan Coulton “Skullcrusher Mountain”


1 Comment

Filed under noise, noiselike

One response to “the bits blow forward and the bits flow back

  1. Joe

    Jonathan Coulton is also responsible for one of my favorite songs from this year, “Shop Vac”. It’s available from his website.

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