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myTunes: Academy Fight Song, Accidentally in Love, Accidentally Like a Martyr, Accidents Will Happen, Accordian

19 Apr

‘Academy Fight Song’, Mission of Burma, Signals, Calls & Marches

I tracked this song down after reading Our Band Could Be Your Life, a very excellent book about some of the seminal bands of the 80s underground/alternative scene. Mission of Burma start with the generic 80s punk sound but utilize a good deal of feedback and effects work to give the sound a bit more depth. The song deals with some sort of relationship, the narrator looking down on someone who has in some way sold out for lack of a better term. He looks down his nose at people who need to inhabit this unnamed school, deriding it as underlit and urine-soaked. But the turn at the end, “I’m not judging you, I’m judging me” a narrator’s realization that he himself needs something, maybe that he doesn’t fit into anywhere like his subject does at the academy. It chugs along at perfect headbobbing tempo, doing nothing groundbreaking with the rhythm or arrangement (aside from the previously mentioned effects, which were created from the band’s live feed by sound engineer Martin Swope), instead just presenting a muscular, straightforward, highly effective punk song. Four stars.

‘Accidentally in Love’, Counting Crows, Shrek 2

Yeah, yeah, I know. I downloaded this soundtrack to put on an MP3 player I was giving to my little boy (I also downloaded the Chipmunks and Kidz Bop, but those were swiftly deleted afterwards) and a few of the songs have made it in into the library. This, of course, was the opening song of Shrek 2, and became just as ubiquitous as All-Star did when Shrek 1 was out (and the whole year or so before as well, damn I’m glad that song finally died). It was originally going to be a Weezer song during the opening credits, but Rivers didn’t want what was then an unfinished demo being featured in such a way. That song was the pretty awful “My Best Friend”, which we will get to much much much later. But on to this song, it’s just happy sounding, isn’t it? Very uncharacteristic for Counting Crows, who had previously dedicated an entire album to Adam Duritz’ break-up with Courtney Cox. No, this song is pure sunshine and lollipops, as befitting a children’s film. The lyrics are pretty sickly sweet, but there are a few little touches that at least make it tolerable. Keeping it uptempo helps a lot, as does the sort of silly habit of having the background vocals constantly echo the word love. There’s some subtle piano work and midrange guitar riffing adding some flavor to the arrangement, although the movie version adds in an acoustic intro and break that would have improved the album track. Ultimately, it’s hard to hate, but I have much better fluff to turn to when I need it. Three stars.

‘Accidentally Like a Martyr’, Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy

I had meant to do a review of this CD, to try and give it a little bit of love because I think it gets overlooked alot when in fact it’s pretty much Warren Zevon’s greatest hits. This particular song isn’t actually one of those hits, instead it was the pleasant surprise of the album. The lyrics are a bit repetitive, but what is there is golden. Zevon is of course best known for his more acidic or darkly humoured songs, but he was even better at these emotional pieces. The verses paint the perfect picture of someone who has lost someone dear to them, hinging on the brilliant line “Never thought I’d have to pay so dearly for what was already mine,” overtop of that most underrated of instruments, the slide guitar. When used improperly, a slide guitar just screams honky-tonk, but when used correctly, it conveys a mournful tone that no other instrument can really match. The texture for the refrain is homophonic, the piano chords stabbing on the beat and some of Warren’s hired hands supplying sweet background vocals. The real clincher of the track is the trick Zevon pulls after the refrain, slipping a simple mixed meter instrumental break into a pop song and letting it lead to a fuller sound in the second half of the song. And again, the mournful guitar runs throughout. An unfairly overlooked track. Five stars.

‘Accidents Will Happen’, Elvis Costello, Armed Forces

I have the Rhino issued Best of Elvis Costello 2 disc set, which for whatever reason does not have any sort of chronology to the arrangement of the tracks. In real life, this song came out in 1979, on Costello’s third album. The Attractions were operating at full power (this is the first album to actually by listed as Elvis Costello and the Attractions), and this is one of the songs where the musical performance totally overruns the vocal performance. Costello can always be counted on for incisive lyrical work, but the words are mostly drowned out in this piece. His guitar stabs precisely along with the drum beat, while the trademark Steve Neive carnival-style keyboard runs roughshod. Even the bassline gets a few places to stand out, instrumentally this is a great piece. The structure of the song, with a rising post-chorus leading into a sort of ambient break, is miles ahead of the usual punk fare that the Attractions would have started out playing with. Its only downfall is Costello’s vocal performance, which as I said before, is hard to understand, and what is there is nearly done in by his usual vocal tics being amplified for some reason. It’s enough to push it down from the ‘hope it comes on the shuffle soon’ category to the ‘have to be in the mood’ category. Three stars.

‘Accordian’, Madvillain, Madvillainy

We already get another appearance from Metal Face, in a much better effort than “ATHF”. Madvillain is a collaboration between MF Doom and Madlib, a stunningly talented producer and jazz arranger. This song is built on a looped accordion that’s not entirely playing on the 4/4 beat, giving the song a little bit of an off-kilter feeling while Doom does what he does best, which is spout total nonsense about how great he is, stringing together obscure references and put downs at a relative slow crawl. Other MCs try to impress with their speed, Doom just goes off on a free-associative stroll, not even stopping for a chorus. No homophobic slurs or misogyny in this one, no one getting shot, and only two expletives. Plus he pronounces “swords” like “swards” for rhyming purposes, which is a kind of endearing. Four stars.


myTunes: About Face, About Your Fame, Absence of God

15 Apr

“About Face”, Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest

Going in alphabetical order like this leads to funny little things like this: on the album Veckatimest, this particular song is placed on track 8, where it sticks out like a sore thumb to use an easy cliche. It’s the outlier, the track I would be least likely to point to as an example of the Grizzly Bear sound. No pianos, no clanging drums, and no choir boy harmonies, instead the song is built on a Radiohead-like guitar part (a fingered pattern with light distortion, punctuated by occasional blasts of metallic noise). But in this format, where it isn’t surrounded by the lushness of the rest of the album, you can appreciate the subtle inclusion of Grizzly Bear’s usual stylistic choices to evolve what could otherwise be a boilerplate “mellow alternative rock track”. The bass line is surprisingly jazzy in places, and there are some spurts of interesting syncopations and polyrhythms. Three stars.

“About Your Fame”, Apples in Stereo, Tone Soul Evolution

Like above, this song bucks the stereotypical sound of the performing band, but on closer listen reveals itself to fit well inside their repertoire. The Apples are actually probably best known for their song about the Powerpuff Girls (“The Signal in the Sky”), and it lays down the template for this Elephant 6 band (more on the Elephant 6 moment later, to be sure). Crunchy electric guitars, major key melodies, shouty background vocals immediately followed by sweetly sung background vocals, a hook that can easily be sung along with, and all at the perfect pogo-dancing tempo. But in “Heard About Your Fame” we have Hawaiian-style acoustic strum that is only doubled up with electric guitars during the refrain. The tempo is more suitable for a summer drive than a dancefloor, and the melody stays down in the midrange. Vocals are a little bit murky thanks to reverb, but the lyrics are lamenting an old friend who has started to appear on magazines and television, reminding the narrator that he misses them. It’s a bittersweet tune, perfect for a day spent laying in the sun and reflecting on the days gone by. A very pleasant experience. Four stars.

“The Absence of God”, Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous

You know how every once in a while one of your CDs randomly disappears? You didn’t leave it anywhere it could be stolen, you didn’t put it in a different case, you didn’t loan it to anyone, it just disapparates. So unfortunately, I don’t have this full album on my computer, but I did track this song back down again. This song is all 70s Ventura Highway style acoustic guitar hammer-ons and chiming keyboard sounds, giving a very sunny sound to a lyric that is actually a bit of a downer. This is, of course, one of the oldest tricks in the pop music book. Jenny Lewis’ vocals are characteristically sweet and confident as she seems to be debating with her friends (the lyrics pull references to “Rob says…” and “Morgan says…”) about just what the actual point of life is. Many references are made to misfortunes, (“we’re just recreation for all those doctors and lawyers”), as well as the general feeling that life requires learning from mistakes and finding love. But ultimately, the narrator is the final decider, and she rejects these opinions, citing her own destructive tendencies. It’s a perfect mix of sweet sounds and existentialism. Five stars.

myTunes: ABC, Abel, Abigail, About a Girl

7 Apr

“ABC”, The Pipettes, We Are the Pipettes

Ah, The Pipettes. Three lovely British lasses who are trying to keep the fun Motown girl-group sound alive. I’m pretty sure I got this album through SwapTree (a really cool online trading post, I’m not sure what I traded for it though). The song has a nice propulsive drum beat and a bell part that doubles the guitar line, the guitar itself has some classic 60s reverb turned on. The throwback sound may turn some people off, though the production is distinctly modern. In this song, the girls sing about a bookworm that they just can’t seem to get any attention from. The whole song revolves around a pun (He knows about ABC, but he doesn’t care about XTC/ecstasy), and the rest of the lyrics are very simplistic also. Three stars.

“Abel”, The National, live recording

I only have a few scattered tracks from The National, but I’ve been meaning to track down their full albums once I have album-buying money again. I’m fairly certain that they aren’t the kind of band who drastically alter their songs in concert, and the quality of this recording is pretty good though I can’t make out the bulk of the lyrics over the guitar and drums. It’s an uptempo piece with a busy, arpeggiated guitar line and repetitive beat. The refrain is an unintelligible bark. There’s good energy, and I could see a crowd of people jumping up and down to it, but the bark just gets on my nerves. Two stars.

“Abigail, Belle of Kilronan”, The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs II

This is only album I have by Stephen Merritt but I appreciate the man greatly. If there is anything in the musical world that I am a sucker for, it is the concept album. Firstly, it means that the artist intended people to listen to the entire album and didn’t just throw in a bunch of filler tracks around the two obvious singles. Second, it’s just silly fun. I’ve always intended that if I made any actual albums with my own songs, they would be conceptually based. All of The Magnetic Fields CDs have some sort of overarching theme, even if they are just a silly little thing like every song title starting with the letter I and being arranged in alphabetical order. 69 Love Songs was indeed three discs filled with nothing but love songs. Abigail starts right off the bat with a tambourine, a low-fi electric guitar, and Stephen’s distinctive reverb-drenched baritone. As the title would suggest, this is in the style of an Irish ballad, with wonderfully wistful lyrics such as “When I come home, if I come home, you’ll be a grown woman”. Within the last 30 seconds of the song, a cello springs up out of nowhere to bolster the repeated line “I’m off to the war but you can be sure, You’re what I know I’m fighting for”. It’s an example of how simplicity can still be stunning, and even Merritt’s deadpan vocal style can’t totally mask the emotion of the lines. Four stars.

“About a Girl”, Nirvana, Nirvana

I figured I should at least have the Nirvana greatest hits compilation for historical value. Grunge does nothing for me, it focuses too much on the ‘woe is me’ and ‘doesn’t life suck’ concepts and becomes very one-note. Nirvana, unnoticed as it may have been by the sea of sound-alike bands that still plague us to this day, really did try to push the boundaries of the genre they unwittingly formed. “About a Girl”, a simple two chord shuffle, injects a little bit of wryness and wit into the usual story of a boy pining for the girl who never notices him. I’ve always particularly liked the ‘I do hope you fit this shoe’ line, the narrator thinking that he’s Prince Charming, so why shouldn’t this girl want to be with him? Of course, the anguished howl of Kurt’s vocals add a different dimension, you could almost hear this as the rantings of a stalker. Intended or not, that little bit extra depth is what Nirvana’s followers failed to include in their own work. Three stars.

myTunes: ATHF, Abandoned Hospital Ship, Abattoir Blues

2 Apr

“A.T.H.F.”, Dangerdoom, The Mouse and the Mask

You’ll notice I don’t have much hip hop in my library, at all, and most that I do have features MF Doom. In case you don’t know, allow me to blow your mind. The MF stands for Metal Face, because MF Doom is a rapper who wears an awesome mask. You can guess where the Doom part came from. Dangerdoom is a team-up with DJ Danger Mouse, best known for the Gray Album controversy and being one half of Gnarls “Does That Make Me Crazy” Barkley. The album is sponsored by Adult Swim, so ATHF stands for Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The “stars” of the show open and close the track while the lyrics are all about the characters, so it’s pretty much the definition of a throwaway track. The music bed is nice though, with some wah wah guitars and slinky bass. Two stars.

“The Abandoned Hospital Ship”, Flaming Lips, Clouds Taste Metallic

You will be seeing A LOT of FLips in the coming months. This is actually my favorite one of their albums, even above the later masterpieces. It’s in a weird place, the last time they had a lead guitarist (who from all accounts just disappeared one day, even the band doesn’t know where he went). This is the first song on the album, and it sets the mood. It opens with just an upright piano and Wayne’s voice as he sings about scientists striving for something (a theme which would be more fully realized later) with everything else just serving as background sound effects. Then the guitar starts to copy the piano part leading into a full band freak out with trademark big booming drums and skittery lead guitar, literally bells and whistles, it may be the most perfect distillation of the Flaming Lips sound in that era. 5 stars.

“Abattoir Blues”, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Abattoir Blues

Let’s get this out of the way now so I don’t harp on it every time he pops up: If I get to heaven and God does not sound like Nick Cave, I will be very surprised. That deep, dark baritone just commands respect and attention. This track is built around a simple set of piano chords and a slowly evolving drum part. Nick trades off with some sweet female back up vocalists in a very interesting mixture of vocal timbres. The lyrics speak of desperation, which at points Cave barely chokes out. It’s a bleak and barren track, effective on its own terms but almost too low-key to make a lasting impression. 3 stars.

myTunes: A, A-Punk, A Touch Sensitive

1 Apr

A”, Barenaked Ladies, Maybe You Should Drive

Oh we are starting out hot. I don’t remember if this CD was given to me by my brother or if he simply left it behind when he moved out. I’m sure over the coming weeks/months/years(?) that this project stretches through, I will get to come to terms with bands that I have fallen out with. I really like BNL for a period, but I rarely listen to them anymore, and this song is a prime example of why (for both). The song has a nice, folksy, upbeat groove to it, reminiscent of Phish actually (which unlike my brother I never got into), so it’s easy to nod along with. The lyrics revolve around words beginning with the eponymous letter, which is just a license for forced whimsy like “A is for Adam, which is how I sometimes feel, like the only man on earth”. When you’re younger, you gravitate to “clever” songs like that, but closer listening reveals a clunkiness. 3 stars.

“A-Punk”, Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend

Speaking of grooves, this song (and most other VW songs) revolves around groove. The lyrics, what little of them are understandable through the singer’s affected vocals, make no sense. “Look outside at the raincoats, Come and say oh”? Is it about the government coming to get him? Hard to say, and there’s no real melody during the verses to hang onto either, so this song is really all about the clean, jangly guitars and propulsive drumbeat, which come together in a groove that just encourages mindless bouncing (you know, like how the Peanuts dance). Then the refrain drops the guitar part and replaces it with some mellow organ sounds and a afrobeat drum part which still encourage head bobbing. The song is nothing but happy sounds and exciting rhythms, and reminds me of summer. Four stars.

“A Touch Sensitive”, Super Furry Animals, Rings Around the World

This is one of those tracks I’ve probably never really heard, I borrowed this CD from the college radio station for pretty much one song (which we won’t get to in a long while). This is a dark electronic instrumental break. The Super Furry Animals had a very pronounced experimental side (I believe they used a loop of Paul McCartney eating as a percussive element on another album) so whenever they pop up during this project it should prove to be interesting. Like I said, this is an electronic composition, basically just an interlude, built up on synthesizers and some disco-worthy strings. It has a heavy Massive Attack feel to it, and would totally fit in a grimy crime drama or gangster movie. Actually, on a second listen, the bulk of it sounds like the scene from Office Space where they load the virus onto the computers (complete with clandestine floppy disk hand-offs). Four stars.