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Excalibur 2.5.1

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I didn’t actually intend to make this a regular Friday feature, but it’s a reasonably good frivolous weekend thing to post, so I’ll do another mix tape post while I keep an eye on the electronically-submitted lab reports trickling in.

This is one of a pair of tapes I made to listen to while working on my PhD thesis. The title here comes from the LaTeX spell-checker I was using at the time– I’m inordinately amused by the name. It’s as if the Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in purest glittering samite, reached up out of the water and lobbed me a bug-fix, signifying that I, Arthur, was to rule Britain somewhat more efficiently, without the rare bug that caused saves to fail under system 6 while running over an AplleTalk network.

Side One

  • “This Time,” The Verve. Off Urban Hymns, an odd little tune with weird bleeps, synthesized drum beats, and echo effects on the vocals. Weirdly catchy all the same.

  • “Rebirth of Cool,” the Afghan Whigs. This is the extended remix version off the Uptown Avondale, not the hidden track on Congregation. Mostly because the bass riff on this version R00LZ.

  • “Make It Always Be Too Late,” Del Amitri. A creepily atmospheric song, that really doesn’t sound like any of their other stuff. The “tape running down” effect at the start makes a nice segue from the drum-machine-o-rama of the preceding tunes.

  • “Lullabye,” Shawnn Mullins. The song with the half-spoken verses and the soaring falsetto “everything’s gonna be alright” chorus. Yeah, it’s cheesey.

  • “The Sweetest Thing,” U2. The obligatory previously unreleased track stuck on their greatest hits package, which reminded everyone (including Bono) that U2’s whole strength as a band lay in being painfully earnest. The whole postmodern ironic thing was just really unfortunate.

  • “Singing in My Sleep,” Semisonic. This was new-ish when I went to Japan, and it’s one of those songs I’ve come to associate with being in a cramped little apartment in a foreign country. occasionally pausing to wonder just what on earth I was doing there.

  • “Gravity Fails,” the Bottle Rockets. Off The Brooklyn Side, a more or less straight-ahead rock song, with lyrics that almost sound improvised. It should’ve sold a million copies, but that’s the music business for you.

  • “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” Kenny Rogers. Yes, that Kenny Rogers. Who knew? The bowling-alley dream sequence in The Big Lebowski is one of the funniest things ever, so I needed to own the song.

  • “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” the Beatles. One of the few songs from the second side of Abbey Road that can stand by themselves. The lyrics hover on the edge of actually meaning something, but always slip away at the last moment.

  • “Window Seat,” John Wesley Harding. The best singer-songwriter ever to name himself after a Dylan album. I saw him play this song (among others) in the basement of the Borders in Gaithersburg, MD, and was sold.

  • “Without You,” the Pietasters. Happy, bouncy ska. Just because.

  • “Dance the Night Away,” the Mavericks. Slightly skewed country music, dressed up with mariachi brass. It works much better than you might think. Also, one of the band pictures looks an awful lot like a Steven Brust author photo.

  • “Bring it on Home to Me,” Sam Cooke. Kate finds the lyrics creepy, but I really like this tune– a wonderfully spare arrangement, with Cooke’s unmistakable voice front and center, pleading for a lover to return.

  • “Hang Down Your Head,” Tom Waits. From one of the best voices in the business, to one of the worst. Though he’s actually fairly tuneful here.

Side Two:

  • “I Wanna Come Home,” the Bottle Rockets. Should’ve been the follow-up to “Gravity Fails,” and also should’ve sold a million copies. A terrific sing-along song, because you just have to do the accent…

  • “I’ll Be That Girl,” Barenaked Ladies. A review of this album dismissively described this song as “Morrissey light.” Which is fine by me, as I don’t really like Morrissey.

  • “The Man in Me,” Bob Dylan. The opening theme from The Big Lebowski, and worth it just to hear Dylan croak his way through the dippy “la-la-la-la-la” chorus.

  • “I’m Staying Here and I’m Not Buying a Gun,” John Wesley Harding. The moving story of a man who refuses to be moved, but won’t purchase any firearms.

  • “Broadway,” Goo Goo Dolls. I actually bought this album while I was in Japan. I waffled for a while about whether to get one with the Japanese liner notes, but chickened out and went for the English version.

  • “Angel On My Bike,” the Wallflowers. Indifferent verses, but a wonderfully singable chorus.

  • “Nostalgia,” Cracker. Pretty much everything you need to know about Cracker is summed up by the fact that Kerosene Hat, from which this was taken, has 99 tracks on CD, with all but fifteen of them being three seconds long and silent. One of the others is actually just a recording of construction noises.

  • “Crazy,” the Afghan Whigs. One of the slower tracks off 1965, with Greg Dulli drawling his way through some very sharp lyrics.

  • “Brokedown Palace,” the Grateful Dead. Best song ever named after a Steven Brust novel. Or vice versa. Wonderful harmonies on the choruses, and the best use of Jerry Garcia’s plaintive warble on American Beauty, and possibly in their entire catalog.

  • “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” the Beatles. Somebody should tell John Wesley Harding.

  • “Long As I Can See the Light,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. I split them up on the tape, but this song is linked in my mind with “Bring It On Home to Me”: Sam Cooke is singing his heart out, begging a lover to return; John Fogerty is screaming his voice away trying to reassure a lover that he’ll be back.

  • “Warm Fuzzy Feeling,” Fastball. This was one of those disposable alterna-pop albums that pop up from time to time to provide a wealth of short filler tracks for mix tapes.

  • “What I Think She Sees,” Del Amitri. A fairly creepy song, really, with spare but sinister instrumentation, and lyrics that absolutely define self-deception.

  • “Daylight Fading,” Counting Crows. I had had this on another tape, which then went missing. I like the tune, so I worked it into a new tape.

  • “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” the Pogues. Not even close to being a happy Irish song. I really like the big sound they manage, with something like a dozen people providing layer upon layer of strings, and pipes, and whistles, and miscellaneous noise. I’m fond of the general Celtic music form, but too many bands skip the “what the hell, bring the kitchen sink while you’re at it” instrumentation that make the Pogues so much fun. They probably record while sober, too.

  • “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” Tom Waits. This is one of those songs that exists to make you feel good about singing along with the radio. No matter how bad your voice is, it can’t sound more broken than Tom Waits on this song.

This is a bit more random than my usual, but I needed a broad range of songs for these tapes, as I was listening to them over, and over, and over while writing my thesis in the dead of night. The other one is even weirder, but that’ll wait for another weekend.

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About Chad Orzel