This is the first in my series of year-end music recaps with accompanying playlists. The first two (including this one) assemble free-range music that came my way unencumbered by that twentieth-century phenomenon known as “the album” (as I pointed out last year, “album” simply means “a collection of songs” and has nothing to do with the physical format that collection takes). As someone who occasionally blogs about music, I receive lots of links to mp3s: I am apparently a valuable corrosive in the plumbing system of the music industry, presumed to have a certain power to burn through the various assembled nasties that prevent music from flowing freely through the sewage system of the music industry, only to be discharged in a fetid rush, in the middle of the night, via some unauthorized conduit, on property of mysteriously tangled ownership, whence its fertile effluvia might cause the flowers of commerce to bloom in profusion. I’m guessing the industry would rather the plumbing metaphor be run in reverse, with profits flowing fresh as water through its carefully maintained faucets…but (as the philosopher Ice-T once said) “shit ain’t like that.”
Anyway: here’s the first playlist, carefully assembled to provide all essential nutrients and a carefully calibrated bouquet of aural efflorescence…
Ringtone Tycoon: German Mixup?
1. Statues “The Last Stand”: Begin with the rock, son. Begin with the rock.
2. 18th Dye “Backdoor”: I think the lines about the mom and the dog are really about the cartoon “Marmaduke”…
3. Duchess Says “Ccut Up”: Hey! You got guitar in my synthesizer! But you got synthesizer in my guitar!
4. An Horse “Warm Hands/Scared as Fuck”: Via Said the Gramophone…whose writer (too lazy to check which one) noted a titular ambiguity – I preserve the perhaps mythical “Scared as Fuck” part simply because it’s a beautiful contrast with the chorus affirmation “I’m not really scared” (whose “really” already brings us halfway there, of course).
5. Crystal Stilts “Crystal Stilts”: I like bands that write songs named after themselves (or bands that name themselves after songs they’ve written). ‘Scuse me while I wash off this reverb.
6. Eugene Francis Jnr & the Juniors “Poor Me”: I like the circling keyboard part, and the way the guitars get a little woozy, and the general air of this one…although I find it’s one of those songs I somehow fail to be able to get very specific in writing about. Oh wait – is that mandolin in the background? Nice!
7. Bob Hund “Reinkarnerad exakt som förut”: This track was linked at The Sugarplastic‘s website…and at first I thought it was a joke: really Ben Eshbach recording under a different name…except I found independent mention of this album and artist elsewhere. Anyway, it’s unsurprising that Eshbach liked this one.
8. Camphor “The Sweetest Tooth”: There’s still room for nicely arranged, tuneful, even “adult-orientated” (a la Stereolab) pop music. Isn’t there?
9. Devotchka “Transliterator”: I believe this track was one of Stereogum‘s “‘Gum Drop” tracks of the week – anyway, I’d earlier dismissed these guys as one of those annoying “gypsy rock” bands that cater to former frat boys grasping after sophisticated occasions to overdrink…but there’s way more going on here than that. In fact, that is not going on here at all.
10. Monkey “Heavenly Peach Banquet”: You know, I can’t really imagine monkeys cooperating overmuch at a “peach banquet.” I’m guessing they’d just start throwing them around, overturning tables, scampering around, and generally behaving obnoxiously. Sorta like Oasis. But then, this is actually Damon Albarn from Blur, with collaborators…he’d probably be perfectly capable of appropriate peach banquet behavior.
11. The Grizzly Owls “What’s a Girl to Do?”: Apparently, my new hobby is collecting songs called “What’s a Girl to Do?” – first, in 1994 or whatever, there was the Wrens; then last year or so, Bat for Lashes had their/her song of that title…and here’s the Grizzly Owls, with yet another song of that title, which both wins the earworm award for this playlist and confirms that indie rockish folk still haven’t finished with the damned “name your band after animals” trend (to rather absurd ends, here).
12. 13ghosts “Riverside”: Another haunting track…isn’t there a reference to feeding swans on the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle?
13. Phonograph “Paper Bag”: Country and lunar. From a Daytrotter session.
14. HIJK “Paper Boat”: This is one of those songs for which neither band nor title sticks (not that they’re inappropriate) but then, once I hear the song again, I go, oh yeah: that one! (Pretend this track’s entry has content.)
15. Diet Cola “Wicked Witch of the Northeast”: The nice thing about these listening diaries (and indeed, about the ongoing mp3-ization of music listening) is that it returns us, to an extent, to pre- album-era rock, when a band could get a nice buzz just on the basis of one song, and that one song might be primarily a matter of one very cool guitar sound or something. Is that a career? Who cares? It’s a great noise this song’s got.
16. Josh Ritter “Wildfires”: Okay, yes: I followed up the noisy track with the sensitive, acoustic-guitar -based track. So sue me. Anyway, Ritter subtly varies his guitar playing here…the change in tone and texture from the opening to the song’s ending is a case in point. (When I make these mixes, I’ll listen only to the ends and beginnings of songs to decide on transitions…so such differences become striking).
17. The Harpeth Trace “Who Knows Where You Are”: Sometimes, you wake up and you’re sure you had this dream…but all you remember is one curious detail, like bits of a feather stuck underneath a carpet. Yeah, it’s one in the morning, so?
18. Figurines “Hey, Girl”: You gotta give this band credit just for calling a song “Hey, Girl” – doing so speaks to a real confidence in the song itself, since no one’s going to remember the title as anything distinctive. And indeed, this is (along with the Grizzly Owls’ track above) the second-most persistent earworm in this mix. Something about the way that melody hooks and reaches around reminds me of Rollerskate Skinny (and I know: that probably strikes most people as saying something like, you know, this building reminds me of Yetzske Office Supply headquarters in Deadoak, Idaho – but in fact, if you’ve been to Deadoak, Idaho, you’ll know what I mean).
19. The Sadies “Translucent Sparrow”: Remember that song in which Camper Van Beethoven talks about giving some cowboys some acid? The cowboys went and gave that acid to the Byrds and a passing mariachi band.
20. Passion Pit “Sleepyhead”: I wouldn’t want to break the mood. And I don’t mean the mariachi mood.
21. DM Stith “Just Once”: Let’s say you took some colored ink, and you mixed some ground-up iron filings in with it. Then you filled a metal tank with water, put a few lights overhead, then slowly poured in some of that ink. Oh, and then you turn on a bank of very powerful magnets you’ve installed in a band around the outside of that tank, and crank the lights up to absurd candlepower. This song has a middle section that’s kind of like that.
More tomorrow (or later today, if you prefer).