Monday, January 01, 2007

Songs I'm Listening to Now

Star Witness by Neko Case. This song is a dreamy waltz from this singer who is associated with alt country. Nothing I’ve heard from her sounds particularly country, though. This song has a melancholy, nostalgic feel that could break your heart.

Wishing All These Old Things Were New by Merle Haggard. Another nostalgic song, but with Haggard’s particular sense of perversity—he wishes he could still snort cocaine, thinks about his old days in prison, and longs for the time when he could smoke without anyone disapproving.

The Laws Have Changed by The New Pornographers. Neko Case reappears on this list as a singer in this big rock band. This song in particular features multiple singers singing great lyrics like, “Introducing for the first time / Pharaoh on the microphone.” The really full powerpop of this group reminds me a bit of Electric Light Orchestra, weirdly enough.

Ainda é Cedo by Legião Urbana. This was an incredible band that appeared in Brazil’s second rock period of the 80s (rock was popular there in the 60s, went mostly underground in the 70s, and re-emerged in the 80s). This is from their first album, and you can hear the U2 influence that permeates their early work. But even if the guitar-playing has a U2-ish sound, this song has a real urgency and propulsiveness. The title translates as “Still It Is Early”—and indeed a sense of foreboding hangs over the song. The leader of the band, Renato Russo, would later die of AIDS, so perhaps his foreboding was justified…

Eight Miles High by Husker Dü. This cover of the Byrds classic was a revelation when I heard it in college. I had always revered 60s culture and music, and this was the first song that I heard that seemed to be critical of that legacy. Their version of this expansive, optimistic song is so angry—at the time I read it as betrayed. I was starting to feel that way, too, in the mid80s. But when I listen to it now, I hear a soaring anguished psychedelic sound—not so much an expression of betrayal as a reimagining. It’s a perfect cover.

Another Sunny Day by Belle & Sebastian. This is s typical Belle & Sebastian tune. One unexpected feature is the descending, bell-like instrumental passage that gives it an unexpectedly Christmas-y sound.

Cherish by Renato Russo. This completely unexpected cover of the Madonna trifle is so charming and beautiful. Just Russo’s baritone voice and acoustic guitar. This one is from the Legião Urbana frontman’s first solo album, the very gay Stonewall Celebration Concert. It’s an eccentric masterpiece of covers of pop, folk, and classic show tunes. It's been a favorite for many years.

Hello Heartstrings by The Moonlighters. This modern band performs in a 20s jazz style. I don’t know if this is a cover or an original pastiche—it doesn’t matter, because in either case, it’s a lively, amusing song. The singer (overdubbed to harmonize with herself) is Bliss Blood, formerly of the somewhat scary industrial band, the Pain Teens.

And Your Bird Can Sing by the Beatles. I have loved this song for decades. The swirling guitar figure (played by George?) has always intrigued me; are those chords? It seems like it would be a hard song to play on guitar. Listening to it now, I am struck by the excellent baseline laid down by Paul. This is one of those songs where the upbeat music clashes ironically with the angry lyrics.

Crazy by Gnarls Barkley. This pastiche of 70s soul is so good, I can’t believe it’s actually popular. I would never have expected a song like this could connect with kids today. But I guess that’s why I would be a terrible A&R man…

Desculpe Baby by Os Mutantes. The song title translates as “I’m Sorry Baby” or “Excuse Me Baby.” It has a wavery, apologetic, psychedelic sound. It’s from their great 3rd album, A Divina Comédia ou Ando Meio Desligado.

There’s a Light That Never Goes Out by the Smiths. I first bought this album The Queen Is Dead on cassette in Rio de Janeiro. The song is both filled with emotion and clever. That lyrics as funny as “And if the double decker bus / crashes in to us / to die by your side / is such a heavenly way to die / And if the ten ton truck / kills the both of us / to die by your side / well the pleasure, the privilege is mine” are sung with such obvious emotion is an irony to be savored. And I have since 1987.

Lose That Girl by St. Etienne. This band has been around since the early 90s apparently, but I only recently became aware of them. This song reminds me, weirdly, of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. It has a kind of urgency tinged with regret.

These songs all have feelings of irony, nostalgia, regret, urgency, anxiety, and melancholy. Make of that what you will.

p.s. Never post blog entries after drinking.