Songs About Radios #3: Airwaves Pull Your Eyes Towards Heaven

30 03 2009

“I’ve seen you fire up the gas in the engine valves
I’ve seen your hand turn saintly on the radio dial
I’ve seen the airwaves pull your eyes towards heaven
Outside Topeka in the phone lines, her good teeth smile was winding down”

—Soul Coughing, “True Dreams of Witchita” (Download) (Buy Ruby Vroom)″

“This kiss, unfinished, lips to receiver in the parking lot,
a pucker shot through a fiber optic wire
to an answering machine
toward switchboards and stations transmitting
in blips to satellites…”

—Mike Doughty, “From a Gas Station Outside Providence” Slanky (Download)″

Soul Coughing - Ruby VroomI think I’m finally ready to write about this song. “True Dreams of Wichita” is, in some ways, the beginning of my love affair with songs about radios. In the summer of 1999, the summer after I graduated from high school, I fell in love. In April of that year, I had slipped a note saying “will you go to prom with me?” into a copy of Soul Coughing’s then recently released El Oso that I was lending to a friend; she said yes; we didn’t begin to date until a week after graduation. At the end of the summer, I left the midwest for the east coast, and we spent a year falling in love over the phone before she eventually decided to join me out east. Freshman year of college, “True Dreams of Wichita” seemed the perfect embodiment of everything I missed about the midwest.

During that year, we discovered Soul Coughing, a Brooklyn based “deep slacker jazz” outfit, as frontman Mike Doughty once described them, best known for singles “Super Bon Bon” and “Circles.” We worked our way backwards from the drum and bass influenced El Oso to the more eclectic Irresistible Bliss to the almost “Vaudvillian”‘ (again, Doughty’s word) jazz of Soul Coughing’s debut, Ruby Vroom, before eventually hunting down the other odds and ends scattered through Soul Coughing’s catalogue, songs like “Unmarked Helicopters” from the X-files soundtrack. We claimed Soul Coughing as our own. They were the first band I really “got,” the first band I felt I knew better than anyone else I knew.

I remember, at a prospective students weekend for the college I eventually attended, telling a girl who’s wedding I attended this past weekend that I wished I could walk around with someone playing the upright bass behind me to punctuate my sentences. Man, I was a pretentious fuck back then. But something about the phrasing of Soul Coughing’s laid back grooves and Mike Doughty’s precise over-enunciation made me feel powerful.

“True Dreams of Wichita” was different, though. There was a folky sweetness to it that anticipated Mike Doughty’s solo work on Skittish. The combination of nostalgia for an imagined, idyllic midwest, with the powerful imagery of radio waves carrying dreams through the night sky endowed music with a transformative power. Radio brought things together, made Wichita a part of Brooklyn and Brooklyn a part of Wichita, made possible an intimate shared experience between people worlds apart. In Mike Doughty’s prose poem, “From a Gas Station Outside Providence,” this intimacy is literalized as a kiss transmitted over the phone wires. For Doughty, the transmission is always incomplete, interrupted: the signal gets lost in the satellite; the kiss is “a tinny phantom of the smooch like a smack on an aluminum can.” But the static is intoxicating. Radio waves signify, in Doughty’s work, the limits of what can be shared between two people, that which bridges but also defines the gap between subjectivities.

The degree to which I’ve internalized this metaphor explains, to an extent, the fact that I will forever associate music with intimacy, both in terms of close friendship and romance. I rarely feel closer to someone than when I discover that we both love the same song. I’ve kept up conversations with people I’ve only met once based on little more than a shared appreciation for girl groups, or trip hop, or Wolf Parade. That’s why Songs About Radios is a labor of love, and why I deeply appreciate your readership. I almost titled or subtitled the site something involving “airwaves pull your eyes towards heaven,” but couldn’t make it sound right. Still, if you hear something here that pulls your eyes in that or any other direction, I hope you’ll tell me about it.


My Trip to Boston (In Music)

22 03 2009

Posting has been a bit slow around here lately since I’ve been out of town the past two weekends. I’m not sure what it says about me that I’m generally busier when I’m on vacation than when I’m actually at school and working. Last weekend took me back to Boston to look at a potential law school for next fall. Here are a couple songs that came up for various reasons during my trip:

The Standells – Dirty Water (Download) (Buy It)″

“Dirty Water” is of course the quintessential Boston anthem. Gritty garage vocals meet a bouncy, almost Sesame Street-ish guitar riff that perfectly captures the feel of walking through Boston neighborhoods on a warm afternoon. As my plane touched down in Boston for the first time in six years, the first time since I spent four years there as an undergrad, I couldn’t help but recall this song’s refrain – “I love that dirty water / Oh, Boston, you’re my home.” Suddenly, and with an intensity that I hadn’t anticipated, I felt like I was back home.

Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road (Reposted from Parallel Lines #2) (Buy It)″

Saturday night I might some nice folks from Princeton and discovered over some drinks that the only music we could agree upon at all was Bruce Springsteen. But how can you go wrong with people that love “Thunder Road”?

Neko Case – Deep Red Bells (Download) (Buy It)″

Later that night, still trying to find people at the law school who shared my taste in music, I ended up in a conversation with a country music fan and tried to recommend some alt country. I feel like Neko Case has universal appeal, so she’s a great place to start in terms of building common ground between people with very different musical tastes. Anyway, the country music fan wasn’t interested in hearing any Neko, but it did spark another conversation when the girl sitting next to me said she had heard…I think she said The Tigers Have Spoken, or maybe it was Canadian Amp, either way, one of those Neko Case albums that I’ve been meaning to check out but haven’t yet. And then there was an interesting moment where someone asked if we were talking about Nico Muhly. So, at the very least, if there aren’t too many indie rock fans in Boston, someone’s listening to avant garde classical music.

I deliberately avoided choosing a song from Neko Case’s excellent latest album, Middle Cyclone because I plan to post on it later.

Destroyer – New Ways of Living (Notorious Lightning and Other Works version, with Carey Mercer from Frog Eyes) (Download) (Buy It)″

Monday after the law school admitted students program ended, I had a chance to make it into downtown Boston. I was hanging out by Faneuil Hall waiting for my former roommate Mike (whose apartment I was staying at) to get off of work, and decided to check out the CDs at the Newbury Comics that’s apparently moved into Quincy Market since I last visited. I wasn’t really planning on buying anything, but when I saw a used copy of Destroyer’s incredible EP, Notorious Lightning and Other Works, for only $2, I decided I had to have it. Notorious Lightning is 6 songs from the more or less boring LP Your Blues, stunningly rerecorded to feature the shaky guitar of Frog Eye’s lead man, Carey Mercer. I already have the EP as mp3’s, but this was a great find, and I love the album enough that I feel like I should legitimately own it.

The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound (Reposted from the Best of 2008) (Buy It)″

This came on the radio as Mike was driving me to the airport to leave Boston, and I insisted we keep it on. Mike kept repeating the part that goes “Young boys…”

Jumped the Gun…

9 03 2009

If I had posted my Coachella mix like three days later, it would have included this song:

Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun (Download) (Buy It)″

Guess I also gotta go check out this Etienne de Crecy with his giant cube light show, and the Orb, and keep my fingers crossed that maybe two of the three go Saturday night opposite the Killers and the hole left by Amy Winehouse’s cancellation (no loss!)

Update: Chem’s on Saturday! Etienne de Crecy and the Orb on Sunday – hopefully one or the other closing out the festival after the Cure/MBV (like Justice last year) so no more conflicts. Maybe the other opposite Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who I’ve already seen twice? Also, these were all apparently in the works before the Winehouse cancellation, so it looks like a replacement subheadliner may also be in the works.

He Speaks in Tongues #3/Aborted Concert Review: Juana Molina – Micael

9 03 2009

Juana Molina - SonAfter two years of being in love with Son, the third album from Argentine ex-soap star turned electronic-music pioneer Juana Molina, I finally found a chance to see her live: she would be passing through the Detroit Bar, one of the few decent music venues in Orange County. We got our tickets, and showed up early, in time to catch the tail end of the first opener, Laura Gibson, a pleasant singer-songwriter from Portland, who pulled off an enjoyable set despite the absence of one of the three members of her ensemble.

But things started going south as soon as Gibson left the stage. While I chatted with some people from my department who I had run into at the show, the second opener, Free Moral Agents, had begun to set up their equipment. Suddenly, our conversation was interrupted by a loud shouting match, apparently between one of the band members of Free Moral Agents and, well, everyone around him, but especially some sort of a manager who the band member accused of being sent by the label to “babysit him.” It sounded like he probably needed a babysitter. He threatened violence, of the “meet me across the street after the show” variety. Things eventually calmed down and Free Moral Agents finally took the stage, only to play one of the most unbearable sets I’ve ever heard.

Finally, we were ready to hear Juana Molina. The venue was fairly empty, so we were able to stand comfortably right in front of the stage. But after we had stood there for a few minutes, a representative of the Detroit Bar came on stage to make an announcement: due to unforseen circumstances, Juana Molina would not be performing that night. No explanation given. We were promised refunds. I back got the ticket price, but not the $2.50 ticketing fee.

Oh well, the tail end of Laura Gibson’s performance, plus a good story, were well worth my $2.50…

So, in lieu of a real concert review, here’s one of my favorite songs on Son, along with a brief translation:

Juana Molina – Micael (Download) (Buy It)″

Micael, seres luminosos, haznos ser
Valerosos, arcangel Micael.

Michael, luminous beings, make us
Brave, archangel Michael.

It Started With A Mixx #1: Dance Dance Dance – Matt’s Coachella Mix, 2009

7 03 2009

In April 2005, I attended my first Coachella. Some of my friends in grad school had gone the year before and had a great time, and though I didn’t know much at the time about many of the bands beyond Nine Inch Nails (who proved to be one of the highlights of the weekend) and Weezer, I was tempted by the sense of discovery, and decided I wanted in. Coachella 2005 was in many ways the beginning of my current love affair with music. In the weeks prior the concert, my much better informed friends introduced me to groups like the Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, the Futureheads, Rilo Kiley, and Wilco, at least two of whom would currently rank among my favorite bands. We began what would become, at least for me, a tradition of sort – we would each make and share a mix tape featuring the artists we were most excited to see. Of course, at the time, I didn’t yet know enough of the bands to put together a mix of my own, but when the same idea rolled around the following year, I threw together a mix called “Goldenvoice is Gonna Tell Me Where the Light Is: Clap Your Hands, Say Coachella 2006,” and I’ve kept the tradition going ever since.

Nowadays, I attend at least three music festivals a year (Coachella, Pitchfork, and Lollapalooza, plus smaller festivals like the Hideout Block Party), and I make it a point to make a mix tape for each one. It’s a way for me to get to know the bands, to share my excitement with my fellow concertgoers, and in some cases, to provide a useful reference point for when I want to insist we head over to see some band my friends have never heard of. It also means I have a permanent record of my concert-going history, in case I want to look back at 10 years and see who I was looking forward to seeing at Pitchfork Music Festival 2007, etc.

This year’s mix is, in my opinion, one of my best, though through no fault of my own: it’s easy to make a great mix when you have this kind of material available, when you can start off with the Smiths and end with the Beatles! I’m also proud of this post for a second reason: in the past 24 hours, I have conquered the internets in a battle of wills over whether it would be possible to post a playlist of streaming audio on WordPress. As my previous post indicates, I figured out how to embed an imeem playlist last night, only to discover that imeem only allows you to play 30 seconds of each song. After a great deal of searching, I finally found an alternative that didn’t require me to have somewhere to host a music player. The songs are all hosted on WordPress, so if you really want links to individual songs, leave me a comment and I’ll probably oblige. In the mean time, I’m just going to post the whole mix as a zip file, along with the playlist below. Enjoy!

[Download the “Dance Dance Dance – Matt’s 2009 Coachella Mix”]

Vodpod videos no longer available.


7 03 2009

The good news is, I’ve figured out how to embed an imeem playlist on wordpress using vodpod. The bad news is that in the process I accidentally created a post using a random imeem playlist that I found online and was using as a test. So if you’re subscribed to my RSS feed, nevermind the last post…and stay tuned for my Coachella 2009 mix, as soon as I work out a few technological issues.

Best Music of 2008, Part VII (Songs 21-30)

3 03 2009

Here are the final 10 of my favorite songs of 2008. New visitors, don’t forget to check out my top albums of 2008. 2008 is finally, officially, wrapped up at Songs About Radios: