I haven't done one of these in a while, in part because I'd sort of painted myself into a corner with the length of my writeups and didn't have the time for that. So I expect these to be shorter, but, hey, maybe that means they'll happen more often. The self-imposed rules: note the first fifteen songs that come up when I listen to my iPod on shuffle at work in the morning; write about them. I've settled on Thursdays as the day of the week to do this.
1. Mr. Lif - "Collapse": So-called underground, "indie" rapper (or, groan, "undie"). Def Jux. Given my former tendency to assume that the mainstream--in any genre--was not worth paying any attention to at all, I had had high hopes for the Def Jux crew, but I've been generally disappointed. Mr. Lif is no exception. Some of his songs are pretty cool, but I tend to be put off by the timbre of his voice. This one gets better as it goes along.
2. DJ Spooky - "Variation Cybernetique: Rhythmic Pataphysic": How's that for a song title? I first heard of Spooky around the time DJ Shadow was getting big. I bought a random cd of his expecting it to be something like the noisy, hip-hop-ish Riddim Warfare, but it ended up being more of a musique concrète urban soundscape sort of thing. It wasn't what I was looking for at the time, and I eventually got rid of it (I don't remember the title). Later, he did Optometry as part of the Matthew Shipp-curated Blue Series on Thirsty Ear, with contributions from Shipp, William Parker, Daniel Carter, Joe McPhee, and numerous others. I've been up and down about this album (it was on the chopping block last year), but it has enough on it of interest for me to keep. This short track features Daniel Bernard Roumain on violin and is nice and shimmery.
3. The Unicorns - "Ghost Mountain": I loved Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? Loved the ramshackle, half-formed pop songs, the crunchy guitar sound and largely non-sensical lyrics, the sense the songs gave that they were barely holding together. Listened to it incessantly for about a year, not much in the last couple. They seem to be obsessed with ghosts.
4. Scott Walker - "Cockfighter": Very dramatic. I still need to spend some quality time with the two Walker cds I have, and work is oddly not the best place for that kind of thing. This song is interesting--begins with some metallic percussion before settling into its groove--but drifts by without my really being able to get a handle on it. From Tilt.
5. The Flatlanders - "The Stars in my life": More a Legend Than a Band is one of my favorite albums of all time. Great country music.
6. Liz Phair - "Help Me Mary": Exile in Guyville is really the only Liz Phair album I like, and even it I don't like that much. I've always thought it was good, not great, but with a few fantastic songs (like "Divorce Song"). This one's ok. I've always thought it was sort of creepy how obsessed certain male listeners were with Phair, given the sexually explicit lyrics, and I'd tended to think that her popularity was mainly with that crowd (boy wannabe critics). But that was before I met Aimée and saw how much she and her girlfriends (who are all six or seven years younger than I am) love Phair and especially Exile in Guyville. (Incidentally, I have no opinion on the controversial self-titled cd; since I'd already lost interest by the time it came out, I never bothered to listen to it, though I was a little curious when I became aware that it had serious defenders in the "poptimist" crowd.)
7. Mandy Barnett - "Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings": I bought Barnett's I've Got a Right to Cry cd several years ago, partly because she has a pretty voice and sounds like Patsy Cline. The album is not bad, but not thrilling. Not really in line with mainstream country, which is usually fine by me. Never got a lot of play. I've given it to my father as part of the purge.
8. The Mountain Goats - "You or Your Memory": The first track on The Sunset Tree. I love the Mountain Goats, of course, but I did not immediately like this song. It's grown on me.
9. Pixies - "Rock Music": I never feel like listening to a Pixies album anymore, but damn their songs sound good when they come up like this, like the great pop songs they are. From Bossanova.
10. Neutral Milk Hotel - "Untitled": This is an instrumental version of one of the main themes, I think, from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I've never been able to hear what it is that makes everyone go apeshit over them. Can anyone explain to me why I should care?
11. Wayne Shorter - "Chief Crazy Horse": I've been enjoying listening to a lot of Shorter's music lately--I have a clutch of the Blue Notes. This is from Adam's Apple; I think my favorites are Etc. and The All Seeing Eye.
12. Sly & the Family Stone - "Dance to the Music": There's no doubting the historical importance of this group, but I've never been able to love them. All I have is the single-disc Anthology. It's interesting: when it comes to rock or pop from the 1960s or 1970s, I tend to have full albums and discographies from white artists, and compilations from black artists. I should probably explore the reasons for that. It makes me more than a little uncomfortable. No doubt there are several complex socio-cultural underlying reasons.
13. Basehead - "Hoes on Tour Deal Drie": Not in Kansas Anymore. One of those super-short (36 seconds) between song bridges. I inherited this rap album from a friend who was getting rid of a lot of stuff before leaving the country. It's pretty good; has a loping, drugged out feel.
14. David Thomas & Two Pale Boys - "Planet of Fools": I think David Thomas' albums with Two Pale Boys have been a lot more interesting than the recent Pere Ubu releases. This is from Erehwon and features the group's standard accordian/guitar/trumpet instrumentation.
15. Pet Shop Boys - "It's Alright": There are, what?, eighteen songs on Discography, and I have more than 11,000 songs on my iPod, and yet the Pet Shop Boys keep coming up on these things. Typically chilly disco, not bad, not great.
Bonus rundown from last week (so much for shorter, eh?):
1. Jackie-O Motherfucker - "777 (Tombstone Massive)": I'd like to be able to describe this song, probably the best track on Change, but I don't think I can, not without spending a lot of time listening to it over and over (which I'm not against, but it won't happen just for this post). JOMF seem to be able to organically combine most of my musical interests in one place: blues, Appalachian folk, skronky free jazz, electronics, drone, and post-rock come together in a glorious clamor. Change is not as good as Fig. 5 or Liberation, but it's still pretty damn good. Slightly more conventional, heavier on the blues.
2. Mission of Burma - "That's When I Reach for my Revolver": Perhaps the best known Mission of Burma song. I love the group, but this song does not excite me. Is it wrong that I heard the Moby version first?
3. James Brown - "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag": What, I'm supposed to have something original to say about this song? It's always been one of my favorites of Brown's singles from the 1960s.
4. Jack Rose - "Black Pearls": Rose is in the group Pelt, which draws heavily from folk and raga, often in the service of the drone. This is virtuosic solo acoustic guitar from Two Originals...
5. Nick Drake - "From the Morning": Pleasant. Pink Moon.
6. Pixies - "All over the World": Another one from Bossanova.
7. Michaela Melian "Brautlied ": A song from one of those Wire magazine comps. Bells, chugging strings; don't know much about it, but I like it.
8. Gastr del Sol - "Thos. Dudley Ah! Old Must Dye": Crookt, Crackt, or Fly. Prickly acoustic guitar fragment with David Grubb's customary crisp, clear, if not mannered vocals, and sound effects. One of my favorite groups.
9. Chris Bell - "You and Your Sister": Bell was in Big Star. I have this song from one of those Oxford American samplers. A nice enough pop ballad.
10. David Thomas & Two Pale Boys - "Numbers Man": More Thomas and Two Pale Boys, this time from 18 Monkeys on a Dead Man's Chest; harder rocking than most of this group's music.
11. Pixies - "Where is my Mind?": Again with the Pixies. Surfer Rosa.
12. Supersilent - "5.2": Glacial. Lovely.
13. Smog - "Everything You Touch Becomes a Crutch": From the great, early album, The Doctor Came at Dawn. The song is short, with acoustic guitar and piano backing. That can be said about many Smog songs, so it basically tells you nothing; sorry about that.
14. Dntel - "Last Songs": Electronic pop. I bought Life is Full of Possibilities because I'd been listening to Death Cab For Cutie a lot and front-band Ben Gibbard's appearance on the album was hyped. By now, a few years on, I have very little interest in the increasingly boring Death Cab (I've discarded most of what I had), didn't even really like that Postal Service record that everyone loved (I've grown to hate Gibbard's voice), but this album gets better and better.
15. Spontaneous Music Ensemble - "Oliv 1": I bought the classic Karyobin while on a trip in London (actually at a Derek Bailey gig in Stoke Newington). I like this (1969) incarnation of the group better. This track is long (19 minutes), with a folky vibe that I find appealing. I downloaded the song from Destination: OUT. Of all the records they've showcased on their site, this is among the handful of albums I'd most like to track down.