Monday, March 18, 2013

February Mixtape

Highlighting the songs I've discovered, rediscovered, or repeatedly played each month. The order reflects an attempt to create a cohesive mixtape, not to rank the songs in any way.

This is unfortunately half-assed because there are too many songs this month and, surprise, surprise, I'm overloaded with work.

1. Elliott Smith - "Between the Bars."   For some reason, I always imagined prison bars when Elliott sings "I'll kiss you again / between the bars," but I recently discovered the more obvious image of the song: drunken kissing while walking from bar(/tavern) to bar.  Yet, unsurprising for an Elliott song, there are several layers to this line, like the musical pun: a kiss between the bars of the music.  Elliott's music is often about himself, and I suppose all three of these images (self-entrapment, like the awesome Arcade Fire song; alcohol-induced romance; and singing/songwriting) can be read self-referentially. I also forgot how wonderful this song is, how Elliott can sound both angelic and damned at the same time.

2. Radiohead - "Idioteque."  I listened to this after reading Chuck Klosterman's interpretation of Kid A as 9/11 prophecy, which helped me formulate a paper for Fordham's Memory conference.  It's been awhile since I've heard anything from this album, yet "Idioteque" sounds as haunting as ever.  I also really like the way Elliott's fragile voice and gentle guitars bleed into this song's jagged rhythms.

3. The Flaming Lips - "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part 1."  I was reading Pitchfork's news and saw that Justin Timberlake once randomly played rhythm guitar for The Flaming Lips on TRL (remember Carson Daly?).  Odd, yes, so I had to check it out, and I thought the performance was so awesome that I had to listen to this album (Timberlake, by the way, was shown like three times in the video and was pretty much irrelevant -- still cool, though).  I'm liking TFL more and more, but this song in particular caught my repeated attention; it's catchy, bouncy, and is full of the blips and glitches us post-Y2Kers adored.  What's not to love?

4. Kanye West - "Street Lights." I have a very vivid memory of this song.  A few years ago, I was outside my house shoveling snow at night.  It was late enough that there was no one around, and it snowed enough that cars weren't driving through my normally busy street.  Kanye's "Street Lights" came on, and for a minute I paused shoveling and simply watched the snow descend under the street lights.  I remember the stillness of the moment and how Kanye's evocative song pulled me into its frigid sonic world.  I intensely identified with the sounds, brooding like (or with, or as) its singer on a desolate, snowy street.  It was one of those wonderful times when the divide between music and reality disappeared.  I guess that's what people often call "cinematic" music -- sounds that imbue otherwise ordinary moments with intense meaning or emotional depth.   To preserve this special moment, I try to listen to this song only when it snows--and it certainly did this month.  Also, I know I'm biased, but I think this is one of Kanye's best, probably because it sounds and feels so sincere.

5. James Blake - "Retrograde."  Adding to this wintry month's mix with another wintry song.  But this one isn't as brooding -- in fact, it rocks.  I can't wait for this new album.

6. Passion Pit - "Mirrored Sea."  I still cannot stop listening to this track, especially after seeing it live.  Passion Pit were phenomenal at MSG and were totally worth risking my life for by commuting to NYC in a blizzard. Hey, if something has to ruin me, then let it be music.

7. Local Natives - "You & I."  I never got into LN's debut, but after Pitchfork's Ian Cohen endorsed this album, I thought I'd give it a listen. (Side note: Ian and I are best friends; he just doesn't know it yet.)  It's folksy, vocally reminiscent of some of Fleet Foxes' stuff, but the guitars generally have an "indie" sound that separates LN from other folk-rock groups like Of Monsters and Men, Mumford, etc.  The wind-chimey guitars on "You & I" spiral around the breezy vocals, making for a refreshingly mellow, almost hypnotizing listen.

8. Local Natives - "Heavy Feet." The National's Aaron Dessner helped out with the production to this album, and it's clear as soon as the drums begin "Heavy Feet."  It's hard to describe why the National's drums are so powerful; they're not mixed into the foreground, and they're never showy, but they still pack a visceral punch -- each strike really seems to matter.  This doesn't change on Local Natives's album, as the drums puncture the guitars' floating reverb.  I think it's one of the most distinct qualities on the song.

9. Bob Mould - "Shelter Me."  Spotify finally added Bob Mould's solo work, so I could explore more than the excellent song "The Silence Between Us."  I've spent considerable time listening to Mould's The District Line, and while it's a pretty strong effort all-around, "Shelter Me" stuck out as something unique.  It's sensual, sensitive, and dancable all at the same time, and the aquatic guitars and auto-tune-soaked vocals make the track seem submerged by water, building the poignancy of Mould's pleas for shelter. Somehow, Lyndhurst library had this album, so now I can listen in the highest quality possible -- and, of course, buy it down the road.

10. Wilco - "Ashes of American Flags." This month I argued in a short paper that Explosions in the Sky's Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever can be interpreted as a prophetic account of 9/11 and used to remember and memorialize the event.  The paper interested me in the other albums released around 9/11, and I found that Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was intended to be released that day but was instead distributed online (a rare occurence in '01) a week later.  The album is also hauntingly prophetic, from its suggestive album art with two towers, one lower than the other, and this song especially, where Jeff Tweedy mourns, "I would like to salute the ashes of American flags / And all the fallen leaves filling up shopping bags."  I went jogging a few afternoons ago and had this on, and when Tweedy started to sing those haunting lines and the music grew low, a plane flew over my head.  It was so incredibly eerie; I tried to run to escape 9/11 for awhile, but the music brought me right back to it.  (In a way, though, it helped to justify my argument.)  I never liked or really listened to Wilco before, but this album is excellent, and "Ashes," with its doomed Americana guitar and plodding drums, definitely is the standout.

11. Anne - "All Your Time."  Tim Belmont recommended this group to me, and I finally got to listen now that Spotify added them (yes, I'm helplessly dependent on Spotify).  I liked this album as soon as I heard it, though this kind of starry shoegaze is definitely my aesthetic of choice.  I played it a lot while I was in Niagra, drinking wine and watching one of the wonders of the world do its thing.  Wow.  February was a really long month.  Lots of stuff happened in 28 days.

12.  Kurt Vile - "Peeping Tomboy." So many people have recommended Kurt Vile to me, and now I know why: he does the whole singer/songwriter thing well.  As soon as I put on Smoke Ring for My Halo, I knew I heard this voice before, and it didn't take long until I connected him with The War on Drugs.  Great stuff.

13. Husker Du - "Terms of Psychic Warfare."  I didn't know Bob Mould was a part of Husker Du, and I didn't know these guys were that renowned or influential, either.  I always liked "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely" from the Adventureland soundtrack, but New Day Rising is really sticking with me, and this one has been my favorite for the month.

14. Fugazi - "Waiting Room." In a month of discoveries, this one is last but nowhere near least.  I hear so many of my favorite bands in this album that I don't even know where to start.  Now I see why Cursive reference themselves on "Sink to the Beat," when Tim Kasher sings, "they've got a D.C. sound / Shudder to Think, Fugazi."  I like how raw and unrefined these songs are, how they brim with intensity and explode by the end.

15. Fugazi - "Suggestion."  This song reminds me of the guitar work on Cursive's Domestica plus funky, hardcore punk.  It's a whole lot of good.  Yep, that's all I got left, folks.  A whole lot of good.

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