10 Songs – what do you mean, those Totoro shirts are 30 bucks?

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01. Camera Obscura – “My Maudlin Career

“He kissed me on the forehead and his kisses give me concussions” is a good couplet to start off a song. This is the kind of thing thats easily described as “music to slit your wrists by”, the same way that anything thats sorta languid is classified as “heroin music”.  I know there’s someone out there that’s able to read into a song like this layers and layers of depth, like the Smiths and Belle and Sebastian, I have difficulty with taking them any way but at face value. Her voice is amazing, the piano trailing behind everything else, the fuzzy sixties pop design to it all – it’s music that isn’t trying to escape the awful parts of life, but at the same time is aiming for a bliss-out in Spector guitar solos on the fade out. Still feels kinda insubstantial, though.

02 . Doves – “Jetstream

Doves are one of those bands that disappear from memory easily, but on examination have never been anything less than stellar. And yeah, they haven’t had an album in forever, and they’re releasing a single free on their website and talking about Blade Runner in the description. I did get kinda psyched when I heard. And in execution… it’s okay. Actually it’s really good. But there’s something lacking. It’s a little too on the nose with Vangelis’ score – down to the flowering echo effects. It’s amazingly well put together. There really aren’t many bands that understand how to move through a song like a well oiled machine – there’s an ease to eveything the Doves has ever done. It’s always subliminally telling you that this is the work of people who enjoy playing, who already have things like pacing and song structure hardwired. So yes, this a great song. The bridge is amazing, the layering is evocative, the cool sound effects work better than they do in the movie, the vocals are organic. But is it the greatest Doves song? Nah.

03. Lily Allen – “Womanizer

From the sublime to the ridiculous, here’s the most interesting pop star covering one of the least interesting. Britney is flat, even though this song is supposed to personal (I’d bet ten bucks she’s in scientology within 10 years. She’s someone in a high pressure situation with no way to express herself and scads of cash, you’re goddamn right that’s their target demo). Lily Allen on the other hand is clearly a human being, with human failings and highs, and who seems to be in control of her own life for good or ill. So this is really more a Lily Allen song. The piano and guitar arrangement gives her some space and the non-starter non-hook of the original is kind of hooky in this version.  Sure the lyrics are garbage, but she’s selling them. She’s clearly not happy but still singing cheerfully, sour grapes is a lot more interesting with an English accent and less simmering desperation.

04. The Kleptones – “Who Cares? (Bale Out Mix)

So the Kleptones are throwing their reputation away to do a parody record. Once again, this is a case of skill making up for a dodgy premise, execution in place of sheer quality. It’s the Dirty Jobs theme song with the Christian Bale Terminator 4 meltdown played over it. It’s the best of these last minute of-the-moment mashups of something that’s really funny, but is going to be dated in about three days. I mean, it’s Christian Bale! The last time he played a character that wasn’t a ball of stress and psychoses was… Velvet Goldmine? Really, the guy from The Machinist is going to get angry if your walking around during his big emotional scene? I would have never thought. The guy who sold us on Borden? You know, there’s always a clueless guy on any sort of film or tv set. Hell, I was that guy a couple of times. Those guys are fucking annoying, and he’s intense. No shit he got mad. It’s funny to hear Batman yell at some guy, yes. But why the fuck are people smart enough to make a mashup record that actually works as a moment-to-moment emotional journey of a single day, putting this over songs that aren’t very good in the first place?

05. Death – “Politicians In My Eyes

I found about this band from the guys sitting next to us in the NYCC Venture Brothers panel (who ended up being from The Art of Storytelling and were cool as hell), and from the sound of it – this had to be the best thing ever or the biggest disappointment. Actually read their piece on the band for the story but essentially – a funk band heard the Stooges and the MC5 and formed the Bad Brains ten years too early. It is FUCKING ASTOUNDING.  It’s everything you want a band like that to sound like, it’s all hi hat and bass and choppy guitars – it’s punk and hardcore without being restricted at all. It’s six fucking minutes long, and it’s immediate classic status. Here’s hoping it’s not like Creation or ? orthe Mysterians and the rest of the album is this amazing.

06. Fever Ray – “If I Had a Heart

The video for “If I Had A Heart” has one lasting image that stuck with me – Karin Dejner’s face painted in stark Dia De Los Muertos makeup – a full skeletal jawline and black empty eyes staring out at you. It’s not a pleasant image – the video is children traversing their way through a world where everyone is dead – possibly from plague. There’s even a shot of an empty pool full of corpses. But it’s Dejner – who is clearly someone dressed as death, not death itself. I think that’s whats unsettling about it. And that image is a great distillation of the song – the effected voice is intentionally off and clearly effected. But it’s because it’s one voice disguised and mutilated, acting as a choir, it’s a sound that fits together well but feels wrong. There’s something off about the entire thing, attempting to be something alien and clearly failing. It’s more effective than if it was a success.

07. TV on the Radio – “Heroes

So here is TV on the Radio with one of the best songs. “Heroes” is fucking teflon – the Bowie/Eno/Fripp/Visconti original is flawless, the fucking Wallflowers couldn’t hurt it, Aphex Twin and Philip Glass couldn’t get it to contort to unrecognizability. Like the best songs its always going to be itself. Shit is universally recognized as unimpeachable (and if it isn’t, if fucking should be) So that leaves TV on the Radio in a weird place. They can do whatever they want, because the song is elastic, but in final approach they keep it very faithful. Sure it’s all new synths and echoes and Tunde and Kyp’s vocals are so uniquely their own. It’s Dave Sitek’s production, without a doubt.  But really? It’s 100% the original song. It’s not even something like Bjork’s “You Only Live Twice” where minor changes completely rewrite the song’s meaning. No it’s like using a space shuttle to get to the antarctic. Did you really need to do that? I mean, dude, you did it and no one can take that away from you. But you’re not the first one to do it.

08. Metric – “Help I’m Alive (acoustic)

Emily Haines said this song is about being afraid. There’s a serenity to the acoustic version. “My heart keeps beating like a hammer” against an easy piano and guitar – it feels more like easy breathing. It’s a mantra. It’s a dissociation from fear, a celebration of getting through it. It’s got the trapped-in-my-own-body fear throughout, but it’s external – it’s legitimate paranoia. It’s fear of what’s within and what’s without, because they are the same thing (and people say Cronenberg is cold?).

09. Metric – “Help I’m Alive

The studio version isn’t serene, though. It’s pulsing and Haines’ voice only breaks though uneffected halfway through. It’s never resting, always uneasy – it’s a constant throb, it feels like a heartbeat racing and slowing. The uneffected parts are probably the best Haines’ voice has ever sounded on record, and it really nails down how elating and terrifying life can really be. All anxiety, all stress is internal and this song clearly shows how the outside and inside are the same – the body and the world outside, the sick feeling in your stomach and the weightless feeling of endorphins. “Help I’m Alive” is the rare song that can be a mission statement and and a remedy.

10.  Radiohead w/ USC Marching Band – “15 Step

So if you’re like me, you’re thinking that Radiohead hate the Grammys. Because Thom Yorke has said so, multiple times. Johnny Greenwood said it just today. And then you hear that they’re playing and you think, aw damn. But you watch it anyway because it’s fucking Radiohead and I watched the fucking MTV awards years back when NIN played, didn’t I? And then Gwyneth Paltrow walks out and introduces “15 Step”, even reads some lines from it and pretends that Radiohead are her favorite band. And that they’re the “most innovative and influential musicians” of her generation. Because she’s not married to that fuck from Coldplay or anything. And it’s Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood and the USC marching band.

And the marching band is amazing, chopping up the beat to what was a very small song on record into something huge. If you watch the youtube, it’s really missing something. There was a huge low end to the drums thats just not there in .flv format. If My Morning Jacket and Spiritualized are destined to just do shows with full orchestras, then Radiohead are destined to do a lot more shows with marching bands.

Did anyone listen to the lyrics of “15 Step” beforehand? They seemed to have appropriate graphics for Lil Wayne, so they sat down with his almost unintelligible words. Thom Yorke just got paid a ridiculous amount of money to call out the entire Grammy audience and get a standing ovation for it. “You used to be alright. What happened? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. ” He sneers right at everyone sitting in front of him. “How come I end up where I started?”. Yes, he’s talking to you and himself, everyone sitting there who’s chasing your goddamn tail through artistic backwaters. Yeah, you – Jay Z, Robert Plant, Herbie Hancock, Al Green, pretty much everyone who used to be great – it’s about growing old and turning shit and losing it all and finding yourself in the audience at the fucking Grammys waiting for them to reward your bloodless faux-americana blues record multiple times over. Wanting to have them pay tribute to you on that fucking screen – taking the heart and soul out of actual artists and turning them into meaningless names for celebrities to clap blithely for. “15 Step”  is about failure, about allowing yourself to atrophy while you convince yourself you’re moving forward, admitting past defeats in order to pass over current realities. It’s about being stuck, being old, being worthless, and being scared you just don’t have it in you anymore. And it’s hating everyone else because you see it in yourself.

Fuck a Grammy.

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About sean witzke

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2 Responses to 10 Songs – what do you mean, those Totoro shirts are 30 bucks?

  1. larzini says:

    I distinctly remember the first time I heard Heroes. I was sitting at a traffic light on an extremely windy day in my Volkswagen Jetta waiting to make a left turn. The wind was whipping around that traffic light like crazy, but crazy really doesn’t describe the whipping around of an object that is larger and heavier than it looks from your viewpoint down on the ground, and would kill you or at least damage a few internal organs, not least of which your brain, if the chain suspending it was ever to give way.

    But yeah I was just staring at that light while leaves whipped by, not quite as fast as the blur of the cars in my line of sight, but Heroes was the perfect soundtrack to this moment, where I never really cared whether the light turned green or not, because I never wanted the song to end.

  2. sean witzke says:

    That’s a great encapsulation of that song, man. Wow.

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