Oddball Theory #1: Our Only Chorus Lies In Lucid Dreams

20 02 2009

How about we try an experiment? If you’ve heard the new Franz Ferdinand album, this won’t work as well, but you can still play along.

Here’s step one (step two is below the jump):

Franz Ferdinand - Lucid Dreams (Pre-Album Version)Listen to the original, pre-album version of “Lucid Dreams” by Franz Ferdinand, which originally streamed on their website a few months in advance of the album:

Franz Ferdinand – Lucid Dreams (Pre-Album Version) (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/lucid-dreams.mp3″

Listen to it 3-4 times over a couple of days. Get used to it, like you might have over the few months between the release of the pre-album version and the release of the album. Sing along, get familiar with the way the song is put together. Come back and continue reading below the jump when you’re ready.

Read the rest of this entry »


Best Music of 2008, Part VI (Songs 11-20)

15 02 2009

I Can’t Stand the Useless Fools!

14 02 2009

I woke up this morning to a notice on my WordPress Dashboard that my ability to post had been temporarily frozen, and that I should contact support immediately. Apparently my posting of Sam la More’s remix of Empire of the Sun’s “Walking on a Dream” triggered a DMCA takedown notice to WordPress. The result was a relatively benign move by WordPress – the track was simply removed from the website – but it was accompanied by a vague and ominous warning that future DMCA notices could result in the blog being “permanently suspended.”

Now, this is not going to stop me from continuing to write music that I care about, and it isn’t going to stop me from sharing that music as context to my writing so that you, my readers, can evaluate it and support the artists you discover here. Being “permanently suspended” would be unfortunate, but it’s not a reason to permanently suspend the site on my own. It does, however, mean a couple of small changes in the way I do business.

1) I’m making backup plans: in the event that I’m suspended by WordPress, the blog will be moved to http://www.songsaboutradios.com. I’ve just purchased the domain name, though as long as things are ok here at WordPress, I’m not paying to host anything there. I can also be reached at songaboutradios@gmail.com in the event that this site disappears and you’re curious where to find it.
2) I’ll be regularly backing up the site now so that my content isn’t lost in the event that I get deleted
3) I’ll no longer be posting music from the British label EMI.

Why EMI? Some scratching around on the internet dug up several sites which agreed that they are responsible for the latest round of takedown notices on Blogger and WordPress. This seems to be corroborated by the fact that the only piece of music I’ve had to take down to date turns out to be the only piece of music I’ve ever posted from EMI. Okkervil River is also on EMI, but the track I posted comes from an early album released on Joust.

I’d love to let the Sex Pistols tell you how much they love EMI, but posting the song they dedicated to their first label that would violate my no-music-from-EMI policy, so you’ll have to follow this link to find it on Hype Machine.

Best Music of 2008 Part V (Songs 1-10)

12 02 2009

And you thought 2008 was over! It’s February already…

Well, for the past couple of years, ever since I started blogging about my top 20 albums of the year, I’ve also included an additional 30 songs, in no particular order, from 30 artists not already represented by my top albums. Sure, I’ve been a little slow this year, but that’s no reason to deprive my readers of some of the best songs of 2008.

Here are the first 10:

He Speaks In Tongues #2: Serge Gainsbourg – Cargo Culte

10 02 2009

Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire de Melody NelsonFor the second post in this series of translations, I switch languages to French and dig up a gem from Serge Gainsbourg’s perverse 1971 masterpiece, Histoire de Melody Nelson. Gainsbourg is the Humbert Humbert of French pop, and Histoire de Melody Nelson is his Lolita, the story of an affair with an underaged nymphette who Gainsbourg’s character meets when he nearly runs her over in his Rolls Royce. Melody Nelson is voiced by Gainsbourg’s wife, Jane Birkin, whose squeaks and squeals of delight provide an unnervingly erotic accompaniment to Gainsbourg’s lurid bass lines and luscious psychedelic arrangements.

“Cargo Culte,” the album’s finale, is staged as Gainsbourg’s response to Melody’s tragic death in a plane crash. The song attempts to summon her lost body from the sky like the wreckage of an airliner downed in the Pacific. The comparison to a New Guinean shaman completes the singer’s transfiguration by Melody’s bewitching power. Like Nabokov’s invocation of the musicality of the name “Lo-li-ta,” Gainsbourg’s choice of the name Melody here is no coincidence, leaving entirely unresolved the question of whether the erotic appeal of this music lies in Melody’s giggle or Gainsbourg’s melody.

Serge Gainsbourg, “Cargo Culte” (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/07-cargo-culte.mp3″

Je sais moi des sorciers qui invoquent les jets
Dans la jungle de Nouvelle-Guinée
Ils scrutent le zénith convoitant les guinées
Que leur rapporterait le pillage du fret

I know of sorcerers who summon jets
In the jungle of New Guinea
They scan the heights, coveting the wealth
That pillaging the freight will bring them

Sur la mer de corail au passage de cet
Appareil ces créatures non dénuées
De raison ces papous attendent des nuées
L’avarie du Viscount et celle du Comet

On the sea of coral, upon the passage of that
Aircraft, these creatures, not bereft of
Reason, these citizens of Papua await in swarms
The breakdown of a Viscount and of a Comet [*Two aircraft models]

Et comme leur totem n’a jamais pu abattre
A leurs pieds ni Bœing ni même D.C. quatre
Ils rêvent de hijacks et d’accidents d’oiseaux

And since their totem has never been able to pull down
To their feet a Boeing or even a D.C. 4
They dream of hijax and crashes with birds

Ces naufrageurs naïfs armés de sarbacanes
Qui sacrifient ainsi au culte du cargo
En soufflant vers l’azur et les aéroplanes.

These naive shipwreckers armed with blowguns
Who sacrifice thus to the cult of cargo
Blowing their weapons towards the blue and the airplanes

Où es-tu Melody et ton corps disloqué
Hante-t-il l’archipel que peuplent les sirènes
Ou bien accrochés au cargo dont la sirène
D’alarme s’est tue, es-tu restée

Where are you, Melody, and your broken body?
Does it haunt the archipelago peopled by sirens?
Or do you remain hanging from that cargo
About which the alarm siren is silent?

Au hasard des courants as-tu déjà touché
Ces lumineux coraux des côtes guinéennes
Où s’agitent en vain ces sorciers indigènes
Qui espèrent encore des avions brisés

Adrift in the currents, have you already touched
Those luminous corals of the Guinean coast
Where the indigenous sorcerer, still awaiting
Shattered airplanes, fidget in vain?

N’ayant plus rien à perdre ni Dieu en qui croire
Afin qu’ils me rendent mes amours dérisoires
Moi, comme eux, j’ai prié les cargos de la nuit

No longer having anything more to lose, nor God in whom to believe
So that they’ll give me back my pathetic passions
I, like them, have prayed for the cargos of the night

Et je garde cette espérance d’un désastre
Aérien qui me ramènerait Melody
Mineure détournée de l’attraction des astres.

And I keep that hope for a aerial
Disaster that will return to me Melody
Minor diverted from the pull of the stars

“Tu t’appelles comment ?
– Melody
– Melody comment ?
– Melody Nelson.”

“What’s your name?
– Melody
– Melody what?
– Melody Nelson

Songs About Radios #2: The Way an Unborn Baby’s Ear Unfolds in Your Belly

8 02 2009

Relax, no song is written
It’s nothing you thought of yourself
It’s just a ghost, came unbidden
To this house

This infection gets stronger every year
This seed in the water of your tear
There’s no escaping it

This seed in the water of your tear
the way an unborn baby’s ear
Unfolds in your belly

This infection gets stronger every year
This direction of a tear rolling down your cheek
And there’s no escaping it

There’s no escaping
The thing that is making
Its home in your radio.

—Okkervil River, “For the Captain” (Download)

Okkervil River - Stars Too Small to UseLook carefully under the title of Songs About Radios and you’ll notice that the site’s tagline is this quote from the mostly forgotten (and, otherwise, probably forgettable) 1999 sophomore EP by now well-established indie folk-rockers, Okkervil River. I’ve had trouble in the past communicating my love for this song, since the first aspect which my friends can’t help but notice is the truly grating quality of the vocals. So I’m going to use this second post in the “Songs About Radios” series to explain why I love this song, not just in spite of the vocals, but in large part because of them, and not just because Will Sheff’s occasional deviations from pitch are fairly forgiving of my own tone-deaf attempts to sing along.

The radio makes an appearance in “For the Captain” at a crucial moment in a chain of metaphors about the way an earworm, one of those maddeningly catchy pop melodies that you can’t get out of your head, is born. “Relax,” Sheff begins, “no song is written” – that is to say, you’re doing it all wrong: you can’t write a song, it can only unfold itself inside you, without your permission, like a ghost that “came unbidden.” It enters, abides as if in a home, unfolds (“the way an unborn baby’s ear unfolds in your belly”), grows stronger like an infection, leaks out like a tear when the fever breaks, and then makes a new home in your radio. The songwriter is not the agent of this growth, but merely the site where it takes place, with or without consent. The repetition of the metaphor of the home suggests a cyclical process: this thing that is making its home in your radio has a way of taking you over and transforming you into a host for the incubation of yet another thing.

The brilliance of this song, in other words, is that it makes all of us, even tone-deaf literary critics like myself, everyone who’s ever loved a piece of music and carried it around in his or her head on an endless loop of an invisible little gramophone, into would-be songwriters. That itching of the earworm inside your brain is the kicking of a new song yearning to be born. That joy and frustration are the awareness of an unrealized creative capacity which Sheff expresses through the literally pedestrian image of an organic beauty imprisoned under the impenetrable barrier of the pathways that make up our everyday life:

All your tiny flowers
They have sat under the sidewalk
They have waited for the pieces
Of the summer sun to show us
All that is your beauty
All and all that is your treasure

Sidewalk FlowersSheff’s delivery is perfect for conveying the emergence of these tiny flowers through the concrete. It strains and cracks as if inadequate to the task at hand, but propelled forward by an inner necessity. As the refrain about “the thing this is making its home in your radio” echos compulsively in the background, Sheff’s increasingly hoarse voice, like the house on fire at the end of the song, is gradually consumed by its attempts to exorcise the ghost.

Shameless Self Promotion (by way of promoting others…)

6 02 2009

Head on over to Zombie Public Speaking for a couple of quality Heaps recordings featuring yours truly on the keyboard/virtual Farfisa organ!

Meanwhile, Songs About Radios is happy to announce that my good friend, colleague, poker rival, and fellow blogger, Joseph Kugelmass, has recently started writing for the cultural criticism website Pop Matters, which, as far as I understand, is a pretty big deal. And how nice of him to use his second post there to promote Songs About Radios!

Pop Matters

So, I thought I’d return the favor and point you all back to Joe’s excellent first post, entitled “Tha Giggle: On Lil Wayne,” which attempts to answer the question “Why was Lil’ Wayne the single biggest musical phenomenon of 2008?” Here’s an excerpt:

Obviously, Wayne isn’t naïve; he just sounds that way. The centerpiece of his whole persona is his giggle, which he lets loose on most of his songs, and which fits in perfectly last summer alongside of Heath Ledger’s near-hero Joker. It’s another piece of anarchic, disruptive noise, and another instance of disbelief: how funny is it, really, that Wayne’s on top of the world? Eminem had the same reaction to his fame, but he took it seriously and it blew out his creative fuses. Eminem made didactic points about the schizophrenic existence of public figures, yearning to be authentic or at least smart enough to hold the strings, whereas Wayne glorifies the moment of looking in the mirror and wondering who he’ll be today

Lil WayneIf you suspected that my own brief write up of Tha Carter III was in dialogue with Joe’s, you wouldn’t be wrong. Both of us see the giggle as a symptom of Wayne’s more or less schizophrenic reaction to his own performance. For Joe, the key image is Weezy watching himself in the mirror while playfully trying on identities, taking pleasure in the freedom that his art gives him to fashion himself differently every day. The giggle is anarchic and disruptive, but, like Heath Ledger’s Joker, Wayne is still in command of when he lets it loose. For me, the key image is Weezy catching his breath. As I see it, speech isn’t a tool of self-fashioning, but a sort of out of control compulsion built into the words themselves. The giggle isn’t something Wayne does, but something that happens to him, a sort of nervous tick that interrupts his attempt to pretend that he’s in command, that he has any idea how or why he’s so good. In both cases, the idea of “authentic identity” gets disrupted, but in different ways: for Joe, because language gives us the power to endlessly reinvent ourselves; for me, because language, despite being our most personal possession, is the part of ourselves that least belongs to us.

You can check up on the latest Pop Matters posts of Joseph Kugelmass here.