Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

"iTunes Random (Waldo Vol. III)"

And here we have iTunes Random, Spherey J.'s new Waldo disc. ("New" being a relative term here, since I got the disc about four months ago...) The cover art looks to be a pair of screenshots from the iTunes visual, paired with the poodle graphic that first appeared on How'd They Do That? (I wish I had a picture of the real Waldo -- I'll have to ask my folks, see if they've got one stashed around somewhere.)

Diving right in:

  1. "Baby Let Me" (1:35) - Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions

    I don't know anything about HS and her WI, but this track sounds sort of like a looser, abbreviated version of certain minimalist piano pieces (maybe one of the songs off Philip Glass's Glassworks). The whole thing is just a C major seventh chord, really, played in a simple, two-handed interlocking pattern (with a couple of inner voices) that slows down over the course of the track. The huge advantage this track has over stuff like Glass, however, is its brevity, which makes it a lot easier to enjoy: were this C major seventh chord stretched to ten minutes, it probably wouldn't wear, or fare, quite so well.

  2. "Female of the Species" (3:10) - Space

    After a dozen or more listens, I still don't know what to make of this track, but despite myself I like it. I guess it was a big hit in the U.K., has been covered by Tom Jones, and appears to be based on an old Rudyard Kipling poem. With lines like "she deals in witchcraft" and "Jekyll and Hyde join the back of the queue" it's not the kind of thing I normally am into, but the tune is strong enough, and the production interesting enough, that somehow it works for me. I think I hear some mild-to-moderate MP3 artifacting, which is a little bit distracting at times.

  3. "Pop No Style" (4:13) - Eyesburn

    Last night on Bravo, I saw about half of a documentary about reggae. From the description I expected it to focus on Bob Marley and his influence on American and European acts, and at first it did, but then it started covering dancehall -- Yellowman, Shabba Ranks, etc. -- and I was alarmed to realize how little I knew about any of that music. What I did hear made me want to hear more -- and even better, to see more, as the visual element added a lot (though most of that concert footage probably isn't too easy to come by).

    As for this song, it's definitely one of the better Eyesburn tracks -- not as good as "Warning Dub", but better than most of the other stuff on Fool Control for sure. There are a few things going on that I don't necessarily remember having paid much attention to before, in particular the brief, Arabic-sounding string part that's fairly low in the mix.

  4. "Frontier" (3:13) - Dead Can Dance

    Not my favorite DCD song ever, though I suppose it's decent enough. (I tend to like the floaty ones best -- I've heard a couple DCD songs with really great guitar tones, ones that I'd love to know how to duplicate.) What's she singing, exactly? Sounds like something about "stains on the floor", and then at 1:54, "I just wanna make him understand...teach him how to listen, make them go"? Or am I having a "And your silver hair save that/For you got to better not there" moment?

  5. "Regilding the Dome is Brilliant" (4:46) - Damn Near Red

    I can't say I really connect with this track, though I do like some of the guitar work near the beginning (the loud, distorted bits, where the guitar goes out of tune with itself). Part of the problem is the lyrical/vocal approach, though I think I might like the singer more in a slightly more chaotic context; here, she seems a bit rambling, probably in part because (to my tastes) she doesn't really have much in the way of a strong melody to work with.

  6. "I'm Waiting for the Man" (4:36) - The Velvet Underground

    You know, I'm not sure that I'd ever heard the original version of "I'm Waiting for the Man" before getting iTunes Random. The version I'd gotten to know is the slow, piano-driven version that Reed, Cale, and Nico performed at the Bataclan in January 1972. I first heard that show in Jasper's car in 1999, driving to or from New Hampshire (I don't remember which) for Thanksgiving at Morgan's place. Jasper's sister went to Marlboro College, I think, and around the time we stopped there -- to pick her up or drop her off, I don't remember which -- Jasper put on this tape, a bootleg he'd just gotten from some guy who'd set up shop in downstairs Commons. I don't remember whether we listened to "I'm Waiting for the Man", but I remember being impressed by Nico's rendition of "Janitor of Lunacy", which seemed terribly dark and cold and complemented the bleak wintertime landscape at Marlboro rather nicely. (I just read that the show has just been officially released, which was a nice surprise; both Jasper's tape, and the bootleg MP3s I have, seemed to be going a half-step slow, so I'm curious to hear the legit CD.)

    As for this version, I like it well enough; the longer the track goes on, the more I get into it. The volume on this one's a little lower than the tracks on either side, which robs it of a little bit of its power -- this is the kind of track you want to play LOUD: here, I'll demonstrate (turns stereo up). But otherwise I like the way it fits into the mix -- from here to track 11 is my favorite part of the disc.

  7. "What the World Needs Now Is Love" (3:57) - Burt Bacharach

    I sort of regret saying this, or at least I think it was a little unfair of me to tar Bacharach with a brush meant for O'Hagan -- Burt's never done me any wrong, and he writes some good songs. Case in point, this one: nothing wrong with it, as far as I'm concerned. I knew the main melody more or less, but I'd never heard the bridge before (that I remember, anyway). The production's nice, has some good sounds -- I assume this is an updated version, a duet between Burt and some young, contemporary singer? The 5/4 section in the middle is fun, but I think I'd gladly give it up to hear Burt sing the whole thing himself. Some MP3 artifacting on this track too.

  8. "Nujiang Wuyu" (5:17) - Liu Hongjun

    Not much to say about this (inasmuch as I've said plenty before), except that it's gorgeous: peaceful, lyrical, meditative, the real thing. The liner notes say that the title translates as "Mist and Rain over the Nujiang River", and that "This piece sings of the Yi people who live by the Nujiang River in southern China". (There are additional, much longer notes in Japanese that might give more detail on this track and my other favorite, "Hebian Xi Xinu"; perhaps I'll ask a Japanese friend of mine to translate them for me.) In the overall arc of the mix, it provides a really nice quiet space, a moment just to relax, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, "Why the hell hasn't this album been reissued?"

  9. "On the Run's Where I'm From" (6:14) - The American Analog Set

    Hearing this song out of the context of The Fun of Watching Fireworks took some getting used to (especially at the end when you expect "Dim Stars" to kick in), but it is interesting to listen to it on its own. I always did like Lisa's vocals -- her voice complemented Kenny's quite well, and anyone who's read these track-by-tracks knows how picky I can be about female vocals. That beautiful sound that comes to the fore at about 3:10, the one that sounds like a cross between a French horn and a bassoon -- is that the flute doubling the Farfisa? Or is it just the Farfisa? Maybe they're both going through the Space Echo. Those make everything sound gorgeous. I need a Space Echo.

  10. "Love is the Answer" (8:22) - The Bad Plus

    I've seen The Bad Plus (whom I'd never heard before) compared to Brad Mehldau, but while everything I've heard by Mehldau has been a letdown so far, I like this track a lot. It's a little on the simple side, but it works well on those terms. I like the way the main melody line is a nine-bar phrase -- keeps us on our toes -- and I like the huge, crashing re-entry of the drums at the 2:42 mark. Between these guys and the Necks, the piano trio format is taking some interesting turns these days.

  11. "Cleaning the Cab" (1:08) - Bernard Herrmann

    Chords, drums. Brief, cryptic. Works for me!

  12. "Baadima" (3:55) - Elie Karam

    It's tough for me to really give this song a fair shake, because it comes in so loud after the preceding track, disrupting the pleasant vibe created over the last 5-6 songs, that it immediately makes me want to skip to the next song. But even so, I don't really think it's up my alley -- a little too produced, a little too leaden. The drum machine, in particular, really weighs it down. With a different production, though, it's possible that I might enjoy it. Weird ending!

  13. "Pourquoy allez-vous seullette" (1:55) - Francesco da Milano, performed by Paul O'Dette

    Ah, quiet again. This is very nice -- just solo lute, well recorded. I can't say the tune sticks in my head so much, but I definitely enjoy it while it's on. When I read "O'Dette" I think of Jody, who adopted Odette as her name for our middle/high school French class. My own choice, "Bruno", was meant as a joke, but it turned out to be more of a joke on than by me, if you catch my drift. (I changed to "Philippe" in high school.)

  14. "Colossus" (6:44) - Afro Celt Sound System

    This isn't really the kind of thing I'm usually too keen on, but if I were able to fly, and I were flying over the lush green hills of Ireland, I'd probably be into having this song as the accompaniment. Or, to put it differently: using traditional Irish music and electro/dance stuff seems like kind of a suspect idea on paper, but truth be told, if I'm in the right mood for it, I enjoy this track well enough. Its main saving grace is that it doesn't seem to take itself too seriously (unlike so much Celtic/roots music -- that's usually the thing that puts me off it). The track has some dull spots, but overall the beats are pretty effective and the fast instrumental work I like the fast figure in 16ths that starts on C-sharp and goes up to G.

  15. "Underachiever" (5:29) - Rouxx

    Between "Colossus" and this one, there's a little drop in the levels that takes the edge off a little, but that's what the volume knob is for. "Objectively" I'm not sure if this song is really much better than a C-plus, but again, if I'm in the right mood for it, I can enjoy it. Oddly enough, I think this song could use a little more in the production department -- it sounds a little thin, a little lifeless. The vocalist sounds good on the verses, but the choruses are, though memorable (in the "getting-stuck-in-your-head" sense), less strong: another place, I suspect, where better production would've helped. On said choruses, by the way, I keep expecting him to start singing about Applebee's for some reason.

  16. "Lithuanian Lullaby" (1:18) - unknown

    Very sweet and playful, this is. The language itself is appealingly musical, and the woman singing has a natural, unaffected voice that I like a lot. Well-recorded, too -- I get a very vivid mental picture of the singer and (to a lesser extent) the laughing child. I actually sort of know someone from Lithuania, though I've only talked to her on the phone -- a woman in her sixties whom I've met through work. If I ever meet her in person, maybe I'll ask her to translate!

  17. "Wabel" (2:35) - Chupacabra

    Thud-dum-dum-thud-thud. Whoooom! Tinkle-tinkle. Kerrrrang! Pitter-pitter-snickle-snackle. Whump-ba-ba-bum-ba-bum-ba-bum-snack-ah. Saw-saw-aaaaaaw-awwwww-grawwwwww. Mawwwww. Slappy-dappy-dap. Diddle-iddle-iddle-iddle-eedle-eedle-dee!

  18. "Broken Vinyl" (4:38) - Seeds of Labor

    Hey, this is pretty good! Sparse beats, good sounds, laidback MCs with straightforward/unpretentious rhymes ("if the rhythms are there, the rhyme won't be wack/But then conversely, we don't want it to carry this track/It should be better than average"). It's not perfect in every detail, and it ain't slick, but that's part of why I like it. In terms of the arc of the mix as a whole, this is a nice way to start drawing things to a close.

  19. "An Angry Blade" (3:48) - Iron and Wine

    The real sleeper surprise of this mix. I love the sound of the recording -- it's pretty much an object lesson in how "lo-fi" techniques can translate to an acoustic that's pleasing in its own right, and just right for the music being made. Nice guitar and banjo playing, and lovely close vocal harmonies, with a little sidestep in the chord changes (E, F#/B, D#m/F#, C#m) that seals the deal. Great track.

  20. "I'm So Tired" (2:03) - The Beatles

    Even though I know why Lennon lashed out at Sir Walter Raleigh, I still like the seeming randomness of it -- as anyone who's ever heard "The L. K. of P." can probably guess. (I wonder if British listeners realize how few Americans are likely to understand the reference, at least at first listen; myself, I think I had a vague idea, but wasn't quite sure. The poor guy lost his head, does he really need a pop star's curse?) I've heard an alternate mix of this song that has a loud lead guitar solo all over the track, and totally ruins the sleepy vibe: leaving that one out was definitely the right choice on Lennon's part. This song is like a perfect little epigram -- I probably should have rated it higher in my Top 50 (and would have, if there weren't so many other good songs!).

Overall, a good disc! Of the tracks I hadn't heard before, the Bad Plus, Seeds of Labor, and Iron and Wine tracks are the definite standouts. I'm especially interested in hearing more Iron and Wine -- I hope the rest of their stuff is as good. By the way, J., how strictly did you keep to (what I assume is) the formal scheme of the disc?

(Comments for February 6, 2004) (1 comment so far)


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