Welcome to The Listening Room, your weekly survey of what your BC Magazine writers have been listening to for the past week.
This week's mix of styles is a little more diverse than last week's, likely attributable to the fact we have more writers than ever taking part. I think I am going to have to ask management for bigger facilities.
These may not be the best songs ever, they may not even be our favorites, but they kept us entertained last week. You could do worse than to try a few of them out and see what they do for you.
I know… I'm on about Guster again.
There is an actual reason for this, and it's something I will get in to in more detail in the coming days. I wrote about this song specifically in August of last year. I don't have much to add to what I said then, other than it's five months later and it still has the same traction, the same pull as it did then.
I know some of you are tired of my Guster cheerleading, but if you haven't checked out Ganging Up on the Sun, you really are missing out something wonderful.
A. Hathaway: "Whatever I Fear" from Coil by Toad The Wet Sprocket
"Whatever I fear the most is whatever I see before me.
Whenever I let my guard down.
Whatever I was ignoring."
Words I could live by. Words that describe how I have lived. Even before I ever heard this song.
In June of 1998, I first heard "Whatever I Fear" by Toad the Wet Sprocket. I immediately connected with both the sound and the lyrics. I still do each time I listen to it – which has been most of this week. If I had to pick a theme song for my life, then this one is it. Now that I have exposed my insecurities for the mocking pleasure of cyberspace I will go on to say that if you can't relate to this song on some level, then I have to wonder if you have a pulse.
When I get stressed out I have a whole playlist of music I play to turn my mood around; much of it is comprised of Bowling for Soup. Though I'll usually turn to the outrageous and fun, this week I've found myself going back to "Belgium" over and over again.
You wouldn't know it by the title, but it's actually a sweet love song. "And now you’re halfway around the world/and I’m just a day behind/Nothing seems to fill the hole/That I have since you left my side." Not typical fare for these guys, but the mellow sound and the underlying theme of real love and desire has been just what I needed to hear.
It's the abstract rhythms in the electronic chaos that Autechre creates that draws me in. The beat lurches back and forth, fighting with itself, as if two drum machines are dueling over time. This is impossible dance music – no sane person could find a beat to center themselves around here, or, if they did, it would make for something humorous.
There are stabs of synth here and there, but the focus is on time and how it competes with itself for the little sensible space our minds can allow. The listener's payoff comes when bits of rhythmic predictability set in, little by little – chaos resolving slowly to order, layers of fragmenting drums giving way to a steady pulse. Left with a simple beat for what seems like an eternity, it's something oddly soothing and predictable from a group who so rarely offers anything of the sort.
The initial idea was to create a musical and spoken word recording based on Lee Cantelon's book The Words, a "plain English" rendering of the words of Jesus Christ. Rickie Lee Jones was brought in to read from a few chapters and managed to completely transform the entire project. Jones' idea was to improvise her part, based on the selected text, over the given musical track. "Nobody Knows My Name" was the first result and it is stunning. Over a steady (almost Velvet Underground-ish) chord progression, Rickie sings out the idea of an anonymous Christ walking on earth. Pretty amazing stuff, even for a non-believer.
I really thought I would be talking about a new Lucinda Williams song, but through a series of mis-adventures (wondered around the big multi-mart looking for Valentine's Day gift, but for some crazed, unknown reason forgot all about the new LW album; went back to the store the next morning specifically to purchase, and forgot my wallet) I am still without the new Lucinda album.
Instead I've been giving the relatively new Ben Kweller album repeated listens. I didn't pay much attention to it at first, but dang, it's crazy catchy. The whole dang album keeps sucking me in, but "I've Gotta Move" has been stuck in my head for days now. I wish it were summer so I could play with the windows down, cranked to 11.
I could listen to Steely Dan all day at work (and I often do). That sounds as if I'm calling them purveyors of elevator music, but that's not really what I mean. I love Steely Dan, and part of their appeal for me, especially for workday listening, is the way their music can just insinuate itself into the back of your mind without constantly pawing at your elbow for attention. The Royal Scam is a swell album, full of the edge and sardonic humor that makes Becker and Fagen such fine company, and this track is simply one of my favorites.
Magician Ricky Jay has collected 21 tracks of poker-related songs from a roster containing legendary musicians: Bob Dylan, Patsy Cline, Robert Johnson, and Anita O’Day. Yet, the highlight for me is by an artist who has also appeared on the infamous Golden Throats series of albums. Recorded during his tenure on the TV show Bonanza, he doesn’t sing so much as he talks his way through "Five Card Stud," the story about a poker showdown between a stranger and a young cowboy. It makes me yearn for The Dr. Demento Show.
As I wrote in my album review this week, "…New Magnetic Wonder is a fantastic pop-rock record. 'Can You Feel It?' repeats the title of the song in the chorus and adds the line, 'It makes you feel so good.' It certainly makes me feel good when I listen to it…." From the electronica intro to the sing-along and totally rocked out chorus, every aspect of this song gives me aural pleasure. It has been a lovely bit of sunshine in this otherwise grey and overcast week.
In anticipation of the upcoming re-release of Sly's entire catalog in a few weeks — remastered with new tracks to boot — I've been revisiting much of that catalog, but always seem to come back to Stand!. There is just no way to understate how important this band was for it's time. Sly And The Family Stone influenced an entire generation of funk-rockers from Earth Wind & Fire to Prince (whose concept of a multi-racial, multi-gender powerhouse band was first done by Sly with this very band).
Stand! has plenty of better known songs than "Sex Machine," — "I Want To Take You Higher" and "Everyday People" to name just two — but this nearly side long, psychedelically wigged out instrumental shows just how tight this band really was. Anchored by Larry Graham's trademark bass-popping and some wild guitar work from brother Freddie Stone on the wah-wah (remember those?), the track builds in tension for nearly fourteen minutes before exploding in a crescendo of crashing drums and cacophonous horns at the end. If this don't get your groove on, nothing will.
Also highly recommnded are a couple of live shows from the Fillmore recorded during about the same period that are available now over at Wolfgang's Vault that are off the hook.
First, who can’t appreciate a man who was shot in the head and released from the hospital the next day?
Sometimes I feel nostalgic and want to listen to music from the early 1990s. “Walking In Memphis” always makes the cut. Something about a suave baritone voice singing over the smooth piano makes the song speak to my soul. Plus, it is fun to sing along and really find my groove. I can sing neither gospel nor blues, but “Walking In Memphis” lets me pretend I can sing a little of both. Knowing the story behind it adds to the soul of the song.
Marc Cohn was at an old slave commissary turned into a café called Hollywood. A woman was at a piano, singing spirituals and the like. Cohn spoke with this woman, each sharing their live stories. Their two spirits drawn to each other, she asked Marc Cohn to join her in singing “Amazing Grace.” Her name was Muriel.
Williams' final released single, no one at the time of its writing could have known the poignancy the song would take on. This is a song about living too hard, drinking too hard, and realizing there's only one way out at the end. A good Sunday morning, you drank too much the night before tune and one of my personal favorites of Williams'.
Michael Jones: "All The Things She Said" from Once Upon a Time by Simple Minds
I can remember playing the daylights out of my cassette tape of the album this comes off of. When I'd heard another of this album's songs playing on Sirius a while back, it immediately made me wonder why I'd never purchased this as a CD. I was floored… this was an album that I'd basically adored at one point, and I'd come to the point where I'd nearly forgotten it.
I'm sitting here listening to the song I chose, "All The Things She Said," and it all came rushing back. I can remember sitting on my bedroom floor with my cassette player, just listening and grooving to the music until I heard that harsh "click," which meant it was time for me to flip the cassette.
This is just a great song off of a great album, and it waltzed its way back into my life and heart by tempting me with the all powerful currency of memory. Now, s'cuse me while I close my eyes and remember asking my mom to borrow $10 to buy another copy of this cassette after I'd let the other one melt on the dash of her car one fine summer day…
Brian Garrepy: "Blackout" from Leading Vision by Gorod
In the spirit of breaking boundaries, pushing the envelope and pioneering a new era, technical death metal gurus Gorod have really stepped up with their latest installment, Leading Vision. In the same fashion as Opeth, they have shown their ability to journey through soundscapes that are not all that common to this genre while attaining a style that still has the soul and Human element to keep it from sounding clinical and sterile. The track "Blackout" is a great example from this CD that shows just how progressive they can be while still incorporating what has influenced them as death metal musicians.
What draws me to them week in and week out is how they keep it fresh and exciting. Leading Vision as a whole doesn't drudge on and has enough twists and turns for the ADHD in all of us.