Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New to Me, No. 17: Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer/Foiled Again

Sometimes, a little boy has to wander very far from home before he realizes he’s lost…

Speedy Ortiz, Foiled Again (Which explains a double-dip.)

The Gateway Drug
Death Note,” I have no actual idea what this song’s about…I only know I love it.

The Backstory
To clarify the note above, it turns out that I know most of “Death Note’s” lyrics; it’s more that I don’t entirely know how to parse them. And, yes, I do think it’s significant that I keep typing “Love Letters” for the song title, and not “Death Note.” If nothing else, that little piece of confusion feels intentional, even central…still, I don’t think I’ll ever puzzle out the actual meaning of “these kids grow so fast/free passes don’t count for much anymore.”

To draw out the implications from the space above, this is just a good song in musical terms – great contrasts between the soaring vocals/guitar under the verses and the jerking/almost rock-kick guitar in the fills between verse and chorus; the rhythm section plays from the same sheet (I know; duh), and it has the effect of knocking the song off-stride…but it takes only a tic or two to right itself. If there’s a narrative to thing, it walks side-by-side with self-confidence. And those verses and choruses: very earworm-y. Unless you hate it, you will sing this song after hearing it.

Finally, vocal arrangements translate as very poetic – i.e., syllables and entire words break bars in a way, 1) that has a lot of fun with emphasis (even if, again, the ultimate meaning eludes); and 2) that makes the song really hard to sing along with at first. So…crap, if that doesn’t leave the end of the paragraph a bit misplaced – except for people of the disposition to love that kind of word/sound play enough to learn the timing. People like me.

Anyway, “Death Note” climbs the Pantheon of songs I’ve loved this year. It’s probably at God’s right elbow and heading toward the right hand by now.

The Album
As it happens, “Death Note” shows up on…an EP, and collection of singles (what are four songs?) titled Foiled Again, the 2016 follow-up/play on their 2015 full album, Foil Deer. Of which, Pitchfork ran a short (mysterious*) review of Foil Deer that happened to include a promotional comic that christens the album in a mythological context. Which is nicely ballsy.

(* Frontwoman/great big brain Sadie Dupuis said the following about…everything: “Listening to our old records, I get the sense that I was putting myself in horrible situations just to write sad songs.” There’s more to the quote, but, damn, if that doesn’t that kick off an itch to listen to the rest of their stuff. Also of note: that quote, in full, eats about a third of that review…mysteries remain, ones I’m not about to clear up either)

Wikipedia’s entry linked to another, longer, (much earlier) interview – another one from Pitchfork – that ran some possible influences past Speedy Ortiz as a whole (OK, names: Mike Falcone (drums), Darl Ferm (bass), and…Andy Molholt (who, apparently replaced the Matt Robidoux whose name appears in the, sigh…interview article/timeline I’m currently discussing)), and they coughed up at least one super-obvious predecessor: the inimitable Liz Phair (big fan over here, so…). They also mentioned Pavement/Steve Malkmus (which really digs at my (fucking) lazy habit of comparing bands with female vocalists/members to others of the same, rough construction), but the band members went on to volunteer a bunch of their own including: Unwound (who I simply don’t know), Sebadoh (yep), The Minutemen and (holy shit, YES) Dinosaur Jr. Speedy Ortiz can do a helluva lot without a guitar – more on that later - but, between the vocal/attitude echoes of Liz Phair and the guitar echoes of Dinosaur Jr., Speedy Ortiz was destined to slide right inside my personal wheelhouse (and deep, so deep). Better still, they put more than enough spin on those echoes to stand as something rare and encouraging. Take from that last adjective what you wanna.

To start with Foiled Again, I’ll float the personal theory that they got so excited about “Death Note” and “Emma O” – two great songs – that they couldn’t wait on writing a full album to get those beauties out into the world. Between the relative world apart of those two songs, Speedy Ortiz filled those with two remixes of a track off Foil Deer – “Puffer” is the track, and one remix comes from Lazerbeak (ft. Lizzo…don’t know either), and another by site-favorite Open Mike Eagle…which requires the site break from fandom/confession that I prefer the Lazerbeak remix. Full disclosure: it’s not even close…

“Puffer” opens onto Foil Deer nicely. Because, per New to Me protocol, I listened to Foiled Again first…only to decide against reviewing a paltry four songs; both you and I deserve better. Back to the song, you can absolutely pick out the tune (or just the structure for the lyrics) from the remixes that introduced you (or just me) to the song, but two things stand out: 1) at least one remix improves on the original (if I had to rank, it’d be Lazerbeak at the top, with Open Mike Eagle’s track duking it out with the original in the cellar); 2) “Puffer” sounds nothing like…fuck it, I don’t need to name any specific song; Speedy Ortiz has nailed the wonderful art of having “a sound,” while finding tons of space within it in which to play.

I have this instinct to reach for specific compare/contrast example, but that over-simplifies a distinction that bears remaining distinct: “Raising the Skate” sounds/feels different from “My Dead Girl,” sounds/feels different from “Swell Content,” sounds/feels different from “Homonovus.” Speedy Ortiz does amazing work with the palette on hand, and I haven’t even mentioned a personal, second-to-fourth (to-fifth) favorite, “Dot X,” a songs of reasonable narrative ambition (and I see that shirt, Ferm, in the live video), and, against the heavier noise of, say, “Raising the Skate” and some passages in “Homonovus,” a delicate piece of music…

…then again, I’m hanging off the crest in the song’s middle (I think exactly at the 2:00 mark), which feels lousy with dramatic/musical tensions (and volume; is that engineering, or something else?), and now I’m back on celebrating the narrative. And, while I'm here, I was just reminded of "The Graduates," a song worth including if only for the lyric, "I was the best at being second place/but now I'm just the runner-up." Moreover, how different does "Dot X" sound than, say, "My Dead Girl." (Personal note: "My Dead Girl" listens prettier.)

I’m happy to leave this post as one of my shorter ones. Foiled Again/Foil Deer (oh, the latter title comes out of “Dot X,” btw) are worth any…shit, I need a vocabulary for this kind of thing…or would that just ruin it? Speedy Ortiz, to me, ranks high in a group of bands that compose very deliberately and complexly, while still holding onto a clear “pop” sensibility. They’re up there with Menomena, Open Mike Eagle, even Elvis Costello, when it comes to raw musical talent/sensibility.

It only now occurs to me that I’m getting deep enough in all this – I mean, between Bins and New to Me, and all the other stuff – where it gets easy to lose track of metrics personal or otherwise. By that I mean the entire premise of who all the acts I love more or less dearly stack up in estimation, reputation, what have you. (Moreover, the underlying premise of the Bins stuff – e.g., these are all bands I liked enough to pick them up/pay for them – only muddies those metrics more). I guess I’d counter that impulse by defaulting to something natural: why the hell do I have to rank anything, never mind bands/acts that don’t compare at all, never mind readily?

And…keeping it short just ducked out the door. So, to sum up, and with some praise, Speedy Ortiz feels like a good candidate for the personal pantheon. They’re really, really good.

Songs Y’All! 10 18 2017: Spotify’s Quest Into My (Very) Mind(!)

Sometimes Discover Weekly (yes, it’s going to be one of those posts) hips me to neat details, like the fact that Mitski (who I’m still pushing) blessed her third studio album the magnificent title, Bury Me at Makeout Creek. (That revelation, for what it’s worth, came by way of the song, “First Love/Late Spring,' which sounds lighter/simpler than her stuff from Puberty 2 (see link above for review).)

Now, on to the main stuff.

If you check Discover Weekly often enough (say, weekly), you’ll find the service pushing some artists over and over – and with some justification. A guy named Jim James has popped up again and again, and he’s hung around my monthly playlists through the first couple purges. They tried again this week with a song called, “Hide in Plain Sight,” which I think was a wee step better than they’re first two attempts…neither of which I can recall at the moment. Still, he’s close to what I like…keep pushing Spotify; you might get him over the line one day.

They do the repeat push with hip hop, but with a wrinkle. For instance, I’ve only heard Jim James via Spotify, but the same doesn’t apply for the Wu-Tang Clan, or even a solo shot by GZA, both of whom I posted on (and built playlists for) in the now-distant past of The Bins Project (holy...they were Volume 1). This week they coughed up the Wu-Tang Clan’s “I Can’t Go to Sleep” and GZA’s “Liquid Swords” (with the thoroughly awesome spoken/narrative intro), both solid songs in my book (I’ll have to check later tonight to see if they made the cut in my Bins Project review (yes/no - it was no)).

For all that, I get the feeling Spotify’s still feeling out my hip-hop sweet spot – which explains the notable thematic/tonal gap between Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s “Huzzah” (that track as even a little tongue-in-cheek for anyone else?) and (the better one, for me) Samiyam’s “Mirror (feat. Earl Sweatshirt)” (which feels reasonably Odd Future-y to me).

Sound Checks
Another thing that happens – and this goes better with the correct care/curation of one’s saved library – Discover Weekly will give you songs you already have, but in a good way. To rephrase it, Spotify suggesting T. Rex’s “Mambo Sun” feels like an exhibit in the evidence that their algorithm, y'know, feels me.

It doesn’t always do so hot when digging up new stuff from the same era. This week, for instance, it fed me the song “Betty Blue” by The Chocolate Watchband (which is not to be confused with the UK’s The Chocolate Watch Band, who put out singles like this one). From what I gather, The Chocolate Watchband managed some regional (California) fame/plausible claim to pioneer status with their short-lived spin on stage, but that song, at least, sounds like knock-off Stones (or the guy’s vocals do), so I’m giving them a pass…

…which doesn’t need to mean a thing to you. They earned a reunion concert over 20 years after their splash (video of "Betty Blue" live from that li'l get-together), and that ain’t remotely shabby. (Also, here’s a poster from that hey day.)

Right. All for today.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

New to Me, Bins, Songs Y'All 10 14 2017: Bob Dylan Named Judas Priest

Inspiration ain't always linear.
Don’t know that I’ve ever mentioned this, but I do the bulk of the research/listening for these posts on the company’s time; outside work hours, then, I listen to whatever I want, stop feeding the beast, etc. At any rate, life will intervene in a way that will knock me off the routine for the week ahead. I dunno, maybe that’s a good thing.

Friday afternoon, I (finally) mapped out a path for (finally) scaling the edifice of Bob Dylan’s massive oeuvre during the week ahead. It relied on a finely-balanced schedule, one rendered unworkable by an abnormal week. As such, I’m punting on what the internal memoranda criss-crossing my head have already taken to calling “The Dylan Cycle.” Still, the research already put in (e.g., I listened to a shit-ton of Dylan last week; feel better for it too) detoured me through a couple points of interest and set up an alternate path for next week.

Again, Bob Dylan Wrote Everything
A big Bobby Darin compilation I picked up a few years ago includes one of my all-time favorite Darin songs, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” And, as indicated above, Bob Dylan wrote that one, too. That’s on top of writing three of The Byrds’ greatest hits (as noted here), and “All Along the Watchtower” (which I’m listening to as I type), which Jimi Hendrix later punched up.

He Did Not, However, Write This One
The band I saw most in my life was almost certainly The Treepeople, a quartet that floated around Seattle, Washington in the 1990s. One of their members went on to found the better-known Built To Spill (Doug Marsch), but The Treepeople were real damn good, and I’m going to slot them in as next week’s Bins Project band, so’s I can get the requisite momentum to tackle Dylan the week after. How does Dylan come into this? He wrote a song called, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” and that reminded me of a song by The Treepeople called “It’s Alright Now Ma,” and that, 1) isn’t even sort of the same musically/lyrically and, 2) made me think of The Treepeople (and a more manageable next week).

Thursday, October 12, 2017

New to Me, No. 15: Joan As Police Woman(?), Let It Be You

Huh. Still wanna hide from my parents. After all these years.
Sometimes, a little boy has to wander very far from home before he realizes he’s lost…

Joan As Police Woman, Let It Be You

The Gateway Drug
You Broke Me In Two,” the ecstasy of falling in love, snyth-pop style.

The Backstory
You don’t forget the almost clanging opening bars to “You Broke Me In Two” - probably because nothing about it suggests that it’ll lead to anything good. But when the cold computer sound effects give way a voice (Joan Wasser’s) so bright that it beams, the song opens into something warm, but more vibrant; the cooler notes keep playing underneath, creating the feel of alertness, hairs standing on end. I took a while to land on the word “ecstasy” above, but the vividness of this song made the motion therefor.

A year later and “You Broke Me In Two” keeps following me from one playlist to the next. There’s a specificity to the sound you (or at least I) don’t come across so often. And Wasser’s vocals are something, even if she sometimes tip-toes into the edges of “camp.” For all that, it was the arrangement that caught my ear, and I can keep descending into the details on that – especially now that I know more about Wasser’s background

great inspiration for a band name, by the way. Angie Dickinson was fa-infamous (no typo) in my youth.

The Album
To pick up that first sentence again – and, damn me for only hinting as this in the very first sentence above – I’m surprised by how much I love “You Broke Me In Two” every time I hear it. And that probably set one perplexing bar for Let It Be You…and album that, for the record, I come in and out of thinking properly lists as a Joan As Police Woman project (SPOTIFY?!). But that’s neither here nor there, because, overall, this one just didn’t do it for me.

Songs Y'All! 10 12 2017: Bob Dylan's "Judas!" Moment, More Revelation or Bullshit, Plus a Wee Hip Hop History

At long last placing a very famous story in time and context…

"It was like, as if, everything that we held dear had been betrayed," says one fan in C.P. Lee's Like the Night. "We made him and he betrayed the cause."
That’s a fascinating comment, not least because it captures the weird fan-world belief in their ownership of an artist’s (or artists’) work. I lifted that from Rolling Stones' thoroughly detailed reliving of the night that one solitary Bob Dylan fan - a 16-year-old English kid, at the time - gave voice to the rage many of Dylan’s fans felt about him “going electric.” That happened on the tour that followed after Blonde on Blonde came out in 1966, about four-five years into Dylan’s now-eternal career (just listened to that album all the way through today for the first time…and, just to note it, it’s full of what irks me about Dylan’s vocals), but it was far from the first time Dylan and his band, the Hawks (who, again, I just learned would later become The Band), put up with pissy fans on that tour. The abuse was enough that, according to Robbie Robertson, they recorded the shows to make sure they weren’t cocking up the songs. (They weren’t; Rolling Stones’ guy is downright effusive.)

As for that 16-year-old kid - still named Keith Butler, but now older (duh) – he relived his notorious moment 33 years later. He didn't exactly relish having his idol snarl at him. A bit sad...

I’ll have to look into the whole “folk music as movement” thing down the road…when KISS went disco, though, I hope they sent Dylan a thank you note for blocking…

Reverse Revelation or Bullshit?
Dylan put out a (great) song called “Motorpsycho Drama,” one with a tune that immediately grabs the ear as familiar. I picked up The Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” as a borrowing, but then had to figure out where else I’d heard the melody…only to land on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” which came out in 1953, and that feels closer to bullshit…

…if nothing else, I hope I’m entertaining people my musical ear’s power of imagination. And, finally…

A Handsome Boy History Lesson
Handsome Boy Modeling School was a hip hop project that bent around the time of the millennium (i.e., one album on either side of 2000). They slipped a song on 2004’s White People called “Rock and Roll (Could Never Have Hip Hop Like This) (Part 2)” that gives a brief musical history of the influence/interplay of rock on hip hop. Some of rap’s earliest adopters show up on there…anyway, I’ve always wondered about the accurate of the history lesson…

…not a huge fan on when it breaks into the “rock” segment.

All for today.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Songs Y'All! 10 11 2017: Bob Dylan Wrote Everything - Plus Pop Culture Echoes and Covers

Sorry. But I wasn't kidding about the cover.
Today, I dip into why I was so goddamn terrified of digging into Bob Dylan

He Wrote Everything for The Byrds, Yes, Everything
I won’t bore you with my process on Dylan (for now?), but while listening to…think it’s Another Side of Bob Dylan, I couldn’t miss the tune from The Byrds’, “All I Really Wanna Do.” And, sure enough, Dylan wrote the original. Then, later on the same album (I think), “My Back Pages,” comes on and, yep, The Byrds have a version of their own.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m no super-fan of The Byrds – strictly a greatest hits, guy; moreover, the last time I listened to them would probably have been late high school/early college – so this isn’t my world falling apart or anything (already happened with X on the same day I went deep on The Ventures). Still, that’s at least three of greatest hits by The Byrds (you know the other one...), penned by another hand. Add a little layering to the production and – voila!

And I know that’s hardly “everything” by The Byrds. #hyperbolesoup And I'm sure someone told me this in high school, but 85% of my life is blur already.

Also, anyone ever notice how much Dylan sounds like The Swedish Chef heading into the chorus on “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”?

Finally, just know there’s more pop culture through-lines to untangle, and that I’m sparing you…

Wee Pop Culture Echoes
I caught a lyrical snippet in “Masters of War,” not even a whole phrase, that goes “fast bullets fly.” And now I’m left wondering if that didn’t inspire Blitzen Trapper’s “Fire & Fast Bullets.”

I missed something similar during Elton John Week (memories), only to catch it last week. Elton John’s song, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” contains the phrase, “haunted social scene.” That tripped a wire that convinced me a band took that for a name…but, no, it’s Broken Social Scene…and I still wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a call-back. (And, while I’m on it, here’s their song, “Hug of Thunder.” Don’t know what that means either.)

Covers, Covers, COVERS!
As noted in one previous post (this one? yep!), this is Joan As Policewoman Week. As I always do with the New To Me stuff, I picked only one album…but then I saw she put one out with a butt on the cover, so of course I listened to it. And without knowing anything about it…

…but it’s covers, all covers. The opening track, “Fire,” unmistakably covers Jimi Hendrix’s original, but it took the lyrical tone of “Whatever You Like” for me to understand that it’s an album of covers. She/they also covered Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero,” and that’s pretty fascinating.

All for today.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Songs Y'All! 10 10 2017: Revelation or Bullshit, A Mumbling Irishman and a Journey Begins!

Late last night (very late), somewhere within coming in and out of The Orville (meh), I started wondering about 50 Cent, and the last time he released a song. Never a huge fan or anything, so it’s probable I would have missed anything he did put out. Not even sure how it came up…think I saw an ad for Empire or something. He’s on that show, right?

On to the stuff…

Revelation or Bullshit?
During the long process of dropping links into the Bins Project post on tres-Californie Best Coast last night, one of those “déjà vu revelations” hit that told me that Best Coast’s “Heaven Sent” at the very least rhymed with The Lemonheads’ “7 Powers.” I’ve been fixated on this since, naturally, hung up on the question of whether nothing but the opening couple bars that forced the comparison. Uh, help, I guess? (As in, listen to both, tell me I’m stupid and/or crazy, but I’m still very much stuck with my day job, thanks!)

Irishman Mumbling
Last week, I passed on Cian Nugent’s “First Run,” and mourned the possibility that I’d never give the rest of his music a shot. Curiosity got the better of me today, so I listened to all of his latest…EP(?), Night Fiction (he puts out short albums). And nearly fell asleep doing it. Nugent’s a very mellow dude – I think his song, “Shadows” gives enough of an impression – but it turns out “First Run” is the man’s “rocking number.” Because it takes all kinds, though, I wanted pass on some more stuff for anyone who listens to “Shadows” and thinks he/she has found his/her jam.

NPR has an entire profile page on the guy, and that’s where I found things like his “My War Blues,” Nugent’s take on a Black Flag classic (the original), and “Lost Your Way,” a song that’s my favorite after “First Run.”

Think I’m too simple to handle a guy just playing a guitar. Slowly.

A Dare
Elsewhere on NPR, last week’s edition of All Songs Considered promised me (PROMISED!) that I’d like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s “Deadly Valentine” a little more each time I listened to it…

…you won the first three rounds, NPR, but there’s plenty of fight left in me, motherfuckers!


A Journey Begins
After a full month’s worth of stalling, I’m finally diving into Bob Dylan’s oeuvre to see if I can figure out what all the fuss is about.

Preliminary notes: “Talkin’ New York,” from his very first album (way back in 1962*) pretty much nails my memory/texture associations with Bob Dylan: Guitar/nasally mumbling, then harmonica; guitar/nasally mumbling, then harmonica.

This is what I have to overcome.

(*Jesus, no, I’m not going to listen to every Bob Dylan album. Just getting a grip on the elephant before I start wrestling the brute.)