Eminem – “Without Me”
When I first started paying attention to music, it was music on the radio – the top 40 – that I payed attention to. There were lots of things I didn’t like, but that was immaterial given that I was more or less guaranteed to hear songs I had been dying to hear. Guaranteed, because that’s how pop radio works. And dying to hear, because that’s how pop radio works. You know your song’s going to come up, but not exactly when, so hearing it becomes that much sweeter.
I forgot about that thrill somewhere along the way. I can think of some similarities. There’s always some kind of kick in hearing a favorite song on the classic rock station, or a modern rock one, or even the oldies station. There’s also that someone-else-out-there-knows-about-this feeling that comes from hearing something “obscure” (maybe even without the scare quotes) on college radio. But it’s never the same.
On classic rock and oldies stations, the endless repetition of the same 500 records they always (and only) play kills most of the surprise. There are also really no new records, so it can never be something you get caught up in – and no reason for them to suddenly be interested in playing that one song a whole bunch for a few weeks, so that you can expect to hear it again in an hour or two at most.
Modern rock (“alternative”) stations only get halfway there, because they’ve always got one foot in the present and one in the past. The pervasive sense of the new of pop radio is diluted by the inclusion of “classic” tracks that are anywhere from six months to ten years old (or more!). Everything is thrown off. The shiny new songs compete with ones already piled over with dust, and the dust gets everywhere.
Never trust anyone who talks to you about how such and such is the sort of thing that we should be hearing on the radio, instead of this pop crap. Chances are they want a classic rock station that sounds like what they listened to in college, or high school. They may not even remember what it’s like to sit by the radio, hoping for that feeling to hit again.
Yo, Simon Reynolds! He’s kinda got a point, eh?
motion review: Urawa. Noted here not for the review itself (looks to be typical motion content – weird music, good review), but the slight digression at its beginning regarding the sub-independent level of music production: formerly tapes, now CDRs and (they don’t say so, but…) MP3s, of course.
I still find it an odd thing, reading through old discographies to see “tape-only release.” I still, despite my love for things independent, equate (just barely) “tape-only” with “we dubbed this ourselves because, uh, no one would release it for us.” Understandably, I don’t hang out on mp3.com a lot either.
THELONIOUS MONK – “This is My Story, This is My Song” (from Straight, No Chaser)
When I read the name of the song on the CD in the store I’m not sure I really made the connection, but it hit me immediately, profoundly, once I heard it. This is a fairly free – as in “at the performer’s discretion,” not “free jazz” – rendition of a church hymn.
Perhaps there was a time, when I was young enough, that I liked, or at least didn’t mind, going to church, but once (a) boredom, and (b) doubt set in, attending service was always unpleasant, at the very least. I was raised Methodist. I’m not sure whether that meant we sang more hymns than some others, or fewer, or about the same, but it seemed to me we spent a lot of time singing – plenty of old chestnuts including “Story.” As I grew more and more interested in music, my aversion to hymns grew in kind – which I think is entirely reasonable, given that most people can’t sing or keep time, and even worse, tend to mumble their way through the typical hymn. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there were also some pretty good songs in there among the dreck, which makes it all the worse, the way they were treated.
“Story” sounds now, to me, as if it was one of the good ones. Or is that just nostalgia? At base it’s simply a strong melody, all a good hymn really needs to be (especially if it’s going to be performed by musical illiterates). Monk’s rendition subverts the song I remember, though, in ways utterly in keeping with any of his more properly “jazz” performances – i.e. the time is jagged, and the dissonances ring loudly and clearly. And you know what? The song is more powerful because of it. This is the power that experimentalism of all kinds has, at least potentially: though most congregations would react to this with a raised eyebrow (though they can’t sing they’d be able to tell something sounded “funny”), it’s a performance that could genuinely inform and better their appreciation of the song.
And all this in only 1:42 of solo piano!
And coincidentally, it occurs to me that I have no idea whether Tom might have linked to this before. Am I non-lazy enough to check, even with Blogger’s search feature?
No. I am not.
Both songs are in waltz time (3/4, or at least 6/8, but close enough) – but it took me until this week to realize it (typical). Any odd time signature is a funny thing – for whatever reason, we’re so accustomed to 4/4 and similarly even times that the odd ones seem off-kilter, sometimes clumsy (though some, like Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” (from the album of odd-meter experiments, Time Out) in 5/4 time, are eminently swinging; some like Herbie Hancock’s “Hidden Shadows” (from the otherworldly Sextant) use something ungodly like 19/8 and turn the clumsiness into deep, deep funk). I think waltz time is different, though, because it’s still less than four beats per measure – rather than being tempted to hear it as 4 plus some leftover beats, our natural expectations are thwarted, and we have to start counting all over again before we’ve “finished” (1-2-3-1-2-3…).
This is used to great effect in these two Spiritualized songs. In the first, the relatively straightforward 3/4 at the beginning is obscured by the round format, and the patented J. Spaceman kitchen-sink production. Thus the off-balance 3 is stretched out, fitting the song – everything’s off-balance, just sort of drifting about, trying to come into synch with everything else. In the second, the rhythm is more obvious, insistent even, from the bassline and the snare hits especially. The 3 becomes a buffeting 3, where we’re brought through 1, 2, 3, then when off-balance, thrown back into 1 again, violently. Just like Pierce’s production (drums low in the mix, earthly anchors left behind), the meters here help toss the ballast, sending the songs heavenward and beyond.
“Pitchfork Review:” us|against|them. OK, so (almost) nobody entered uat’s contest. Who cares, the winning entry is fantastic (scroll down a bit, there you go). I’m not even sure the reviewer being toasted didn’t secretly write this one, it’s so perfect an impersonation.
CHARLES MINGUS – “Ysabel’s Table Dance” (from the album New Tijuana Moods)
Mingus’s shot at re-creating his experience south of the border, during a “very blue period” in his life when he was “minus a wife,” this is, like much Mingus, alternately riotous and deeply grounded in the blues, and always passionate.
The song opens with the band in flamenco mode, with everyone driving the energy level higher: Ysabel Morel’s frantic castanets, Mingus’s bowed bass, the piano, the yells of “hey!” (maybe from Ysabel), the dark, forboding horns, and later Mingus’s picked flamenco lines. This is as charging and full-on as any of Mingus’s blues numbers from Blues & Roots, but in a completely different idiom – just another aspect of Mingus’s musical personality, and why he preferred “Mingus music” as a label over “jazz,” which was too confining.
As his songs frequently did, “Table Dance” alternates between moods. The blasting flamenco gives way, after the band seems almost ready to trash the studio a la early Who, to a swinging blues section with solo by altoist Shafi Hadi – which slides almost effortlessly, and completely logically, back to a brief flamenco interlude before the band plays in unison, in blues mode again. In fact, as the alternation continues, it seems to be a way to control the energy level – without the interludes, Mingus’s band would have nowhere else to go, as at their peak in the flamenco sections, they’re just on the good side of the line that separates jazz at its peak, from a cacophonous mass of noise. In that, as elsewhere, Mingus prefigured much of the free jazz movement still to come – this music was originally recorded in 1957.
MODEST MOUSE – “Dramamine” (from the album This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About)
Damn it, I like Modest Mouse now. Quite a while back, whenever it was I bought this oh a whim, I thought the elliptical, meandering songs and the whiny, barked vocals did it in. “Dramamine” opens with a gentle riff that make me rock back and forth, one that sounds as if it’s descending into the song, which lies in wait. Though they do sort of spastically attack later, it turns out the opening riff isn’t just an opening, it’s a foundation: it becomes almost mantric, anchored by Jeremiah Green’s shuffly, punchy drumming. As westernhomes points out, it’s as if they have some sort of “compulsive indie rocking disorder”. Nevertheless, it works, evoking both the long drives of the album’s title and the uncomfortable relationship referred to in the lyrics: “We kiss on the mouth/but still cough down our sleeves.”
I thought it prudent to help Tom snag some more readers by pointing out that there are a few others contributing here, though since this is Tom’s baby it’s strongly Tom-oriented. :) Along those lines if you’re from westernhomes and bummed out by any part of Tom’s list, compare to mine and see if it makes you want to stay.
BEST SINGLES OF TODAY
(I don’t think about singles as much as Tom, and thus I don’t keep a very long-term list.)
YO LA TENGO – “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got”
THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN – “The City”
LOW – “Do You Know How to Waltz?”
EMINEM – “The Real Slim Shady”
SPIRITUALIZED – “Stay With Me”
BEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME
(These don’t change much.)
LOW – The Curtain Hits the Cast
MILES DAVIS – Kind of Blue
MILES DAVIS – Bitches Brew
MASSIVE ATTACK – Protection
SPIRITUALIZED – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
Hopefully this will entice the rest of the nylpm team to join in (hint, hint)…