January 22, 2009 (link)
The fabulous Eric B. has paid me the compliment of a track-by-track review of my mix 12:45, and has kindly agreed to my reproducing it here. So without further ado:
- Duf Davis - "Ego"
A nice start, and a suitable mission statement. I think the problem that people most commonly have with Duf - both on disc and in person - is the difficulty in figuring out "where is this guy coming from?" Is this funny? Is it earnest? I like to think that this is a song-setting, of sorts: unsolicited feedback from a fellow Record Ranch employee, set to the finest sounds that Midi has to offer. I also like to think that Duf is someone who has never, and possibly will never, spend time worrying about his ego, at least not in a Buddha-full and mystic-crystal-revelations sort of way. In a way, this establishes a perfect segue to...
- Yo La Tengo - "Sugarcube"
Painful was my first Yo La Tengo album, and this is still one of my favorite YLT songs. It has that signature mix of sweet, sweet sugar-pop melody and ultra-fuzzy feedbacky goodness. Where Duf is questionably tongue-in-cheek, "Sugarcube" is completely on the level. If I were still in the business of making mixtapes to make girls like me, this song would be in my arsenal, fer sure.
- Bedhead - "Parade"
This song is great. It might as well be a ballad on Painful - though with a dash of dissonance, and a slightly off-kilter vibe... is this song about drugs? - and it provides the perfect set-up for "Road to Nowhere." But nonetheless, I feel like we set the pace with "Sugarcube" and then slowed down a bit too soon. It's not enough to throw things off completely, but it's nice to have a few up-tempo tracks in a row to start things off.
- Carole King - "Road to Nowhere"
Yes, yes, and yes. Until now, I have never (knowingly) heard a Carole King song. This song will likely send me searching for more, and this segue is exactly what makes an awesome mix: it creates a context for a song that may not have been so obvious before. The percussion noises in the beginning of the song blend really nicely with "Parade" and the heavy strumming throughout the song make it feel like it belongs in the late '90s indie-verse of YLT and Bedhead, instead of the canon of 70s singer-songwriters (AllMusic tells me that this was a single King released in 1966, which makes the similarity a little more understandable). This would be a fantastic song for any break-up mix, but in the context of 12:45 I can only assume that it's a hint to the imminent left turn...
- Unknown Canadian Inuit - "Throat-game Song (Katajjaq) No. 1"
Another hallmark of a brilliant mix: genre be damned. Every second of these recordings is transfixing: like listening to a recording of music from another species, instead of another culture. It's the last few seconds of the third installment (track 18) that make them truly priceless, though. The few seconds of laughter at the end of that track belie what is, on the surface, a dead serious musical pursuit. I can easily see recordings like this being touted as evidence of complexity in "primitive" musics, but that "complexity" has no chance of being mistaken as academic in the face of such mirthful response. I think the natural reaction to sounds like these is adolescent glee - no doubt stifled by "propriety" - so it's nice to hear the performers reacting with their own unrestrained amusement.
- James Blood Ulmer - "Night Lover"
I can't help thinking of Ornette Coleman's Dancing In Your Head while listening to this, except for the fact that "Night Lover" doesn't get stuck in my head like mareseatoatsanddoeseatoatsandlittlelamnseativy. And it also doesn't make me want to blow my brains out with a flare gun, like only Dancing In Your Head can do. That being said, I think that what the two have in common is an entertainingly tribal feel - which, of course, connects "Night Lover" to the previous track and will also connect the later "Throat-game Song" to Herbie Hancock, and all of them to each other, but more on that later... - and where they diverge is that while Ulmer's song pushes the boundaries of instrumentality it is closer to a traditional jazz standard; even in his more "extended" moments, Ulmer never quite loses sight of the head. Again, genre be damned. But while I'd like to say that this is miles from Yo La Tengo, I couldn't make a very convincing case: these guys are really rocking out. Dude?
- Michael Tippett - "First Interlude" (from Triple Concerto)
Speaking of never quite losing sight of the head, these first few languid harp notes (or is that a marimba?) sound remarkably similar to the tune of "Night Lover." Close enough for jazz? This is an intriguing little intermission, but I have to admit that I hear it as little more than the sonic bridge between James Blood Ulmer and...
- Korean Children's Choir - "Up, Up and Away"
I mean, come on. That last track was just the orchestra warming up, right? They had the tape rolling in the studio for a bit while the kids were just getting ready. Must be. This is the sort of nonsense that makes a Phil mix. I can't help but think of the marching band rendition of "Roundabout" when I hear this. Completely different, but also exactly the same. I could get into some insightful political commentary here, delving into totalitarianism and free expression, but my real thoughts about this arrangement are far more directly expressed by just saying: "That feckin' piano part is the bee's knees!"
- The Study Group - "Our Town"
This, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why the four-track was invented, and it is, hands-down, my favorite track on the mix. Those poor Korean kids have to sing lock-step arrangements of Jimmy Webb tunes, but our kids R-O-C-K in the USA! Who cares that the backing vocals aren't yelped quite on key (not to mention the impressionistically tuned guitar), never mind that the lead singer just sounds like he has acne and braces, this is unmitigated pop brilliance. That syncopated "I know, I know" vocal hook might well be the envy of Rivers Cuomo. That chorus is down right anthemic. It has a bridge, for feck's sake! Oh, and the phrase "strip mall tease" is pure gold. I love you, Study Group! You wanna cut class, and go smoke a butt in the boiler room?
- "Throat Game Song No. 3"
And now for something completely different... A little sonic palate cleanser for our listening audience. Who knew hyper-ventilation could be so musical?
- Chris Lucey/Bobby Jameson - "That's the Way This World Has Got To Be (Part One)"
Part One? Really? Part one of two? Part one of six? It doesn't really matter. I'm just imagining a twelve-part opus chronicling the disparate emotional states of Chris Lucey, maybe because there's an emotional disconnect here. The blotto loungey soundscape doesn't seem to fit the lyrics, which share some thematic similarity with the earlier Carole King track. The again, maybe the lyrical content is more... existential. Either way, the music does not quite fit and is therefore oddly disconcerting.
- Genesis - "Turn It On Again"
Another hallmark of a Phil mix: take something nearly mainstream and recontextualize it so that it sounds fresh and interesting. Let's be fair though. This may be Phil Collins Genesis, but it is not quite mainstream. Where's the downbeat?! It is really freakin' catchy. I've skipped back to the beginning of this track for a replay more than a few times. It's not just the rhythmic intrigue, there's also something interesting going on with "orchestration," if you can call it that. Intriguing blend of piano, synth and horns(?) that makes my ears want more. Short story: I like it.
- Wendy & Bonnie - "By the Sea"
Speaking of liking things... (Sigh). This may sound odd, but the highest musical praise I can proffer is to say that something reminds me of music I vaguely remember having heard in filmstrips from my heady preschool days. This song is beautiful and spacey and all sorts of bewitching, and now that I think of it, bears more than a passing resemblance to the Brian Eno song "Julie with..." which is about being lost at sea with a beautiful woman and not being all that worried about the whole thing (I think). In fact, it's practically the same song, except that the Brian Eno never goes anywhere, musically or otherwise, which is in no way a point of criticism. Anyway, I digress. I love this song. Aside from its fantastic-ness, it also serves as a down-tempo slightly loungey counterpoint to the Chris Lucey song before "Turn It On Again." Bonus points for structural integrity.
- Tom Vuozzo (aka Tom Perry) - "Architecture"
This track sent me to the internets searching for the music that accompanied (accompanies?) a particular ride at Epcot Center. If I said "Figment" would it instantly conjure up images of a purple (and loveable) animatronic dragon? Fess up, Philip. Was this culled from an LP of intro music to corporate/institutional films of yore? Oh, and structural integrity? Aside from the fact that this track is called "Architecture," it is a harbinger, of sorts, for the Menuetto just down the pike.
[Actually, it's from Sesame Street - P.]
- The Spinners - "Games People Play"
Ow. My neck. How did we end up here? I think it might have something to do with Bobby Jameson, but I'm not sure. No matter, wherever we are, it's smooth. Is this Steely Dan? Just kidding, like all [of Phil's] tracks, this one's a gem, but I can't help but imagine the musical montage from some off-kilter romantic comedy. Possibly starring Will Ferrel (or Leslie Nielsen) and some nameless but attractive female lead. Definitely including suggestive, yet innocent, shots of the protagonists sharing ice cream cones.
- Noel Thompson with Jeremy Romagna - "Heist"
Whiplash again. This may sound louder and rougher, but the sing-songy back-up vocals kind of keep it in familiar territory. If it weren't for the Fugazi-esque middle section I could imagine this turning up in ads for Monday Night Football. In a quirky alternate universe, of course.
- Joseph Haydn - "Menuetto" (from Symphony No. 65)
And to complete our tour of musical destinations both near and far... I think we really needed something stately in 3/4. That's what you were thinking, right?
- "Throat-Game Song No. 2"
This is the best of the two (as mentioned previously). The laughing at the end totally makes the track. Structurally, this is a really nice way to break up the flow of the last few tracks, acting as a nice aural palette-cleanser before the ten-minute space-funk freak-out of...
- Herbie Hancock - "Hidden Shadows"
A fantastic track from a classic album. I love this era of Herbie Hancock. Even with the space ship on the cover Thrust was a little too awkwardly lock-step at times (though that's great in its own right). Sextant really creates its own sonic universe. I suppose there's more than a passing resemblance to Miles fusion stuff, but Herbie manages to make it his own. One of the few contexts where synth-strings sound perfect and you can never have too many types of reverb or echo in the same mix. I could listen to Buster Williams and Billy Hart play that groove for hours, which is of course one of the main reasons that the track works so well. The only negative thing here is that this selection is sending us homeward.
- Unity - "I Love You"
In retrospect, if fusion was the jungle-fever coupling of jazz and rock, their mulatto progeny shows up most frequently in electronic music. I mean, how can you tell me that Funky Porcini's Let's See What Carmen Can Do is not the distant grandchild of Charlie Parker, or that Squarepusher's Music Is Rotted One Note isn't Miles Davis' secret love child? What I'm trying to say, in a very roundabout way, is that this track is a perfectly logical follow-up to "Hidden Shadows."
- Growling Tiger (Neville Marcano) - "Money is King"
And another distant cousin/uncle shows his face. This is a nice little song. It takes the "ethnicity" and "chaos" from "Hidden Shadows" that was missing in the last track and bring it to the front of stage. That's no arbitrary choice of words, either. While "I Love You" sounds like it was recorded in some antiseptic digital universe where climate and ambient light are computer controlled, "Money is King" is one of those live studio performances. I can see the sweat dripping from the walls. The place probably has a dirt floor and a palm tree growing in the middle on the control room. In spite of the acerbic taste of the lyrics, all I feel is warmth. Nay, heat. The kind of sun that warms you from the inside out.
- William Shatner - "You'll Have Time"
Phil, I love you. (Like a brother, my man). But, I just can't abide. I'm not a fan of this track. It fills a useful structural purpose (the "encore"). I really like the lyrical content (aside from the fact that the lyrics are irritatingly repetitive), and it's a decent concept, but damn. Go away, Captain Kirk. The track is punchline enough, in and of itself, it doesn't need the walking iconic-hipster-ironic-kitsch that is William Shatner hamming it up. Just my two paise.
- Daniel Pinkham* - "Rondo a Go-Go"
Nice. I was a little disappointed that I don't have any personal history with this little nugget, but it sounds completely of its era (which I do have personal history with and emotional connection to). Perfect sign-off.
*[sic: it turns out that this is actually by one Andrew Arvin - P.]
- Yasunori Mitsuda - "Morning Sunlight"
A coda. Well done. Completely unnecessary, but it's a sweet track that totally fits the bill.
Thanks to Eric B. for this great and thoughtful review! I was especially pleased by his line about "tak[ing] something nearly mainstream and recontextualiz[ing] it so that it sounds fresh and interesting" -- that's definitely one of my main goals, or types-of-goals, when I put together a mix. (Other goals in that subtype include "taking something from a genre that's not my usual" and "taking something annoying-but-kinda-cool".)
Finally, in a wonderful surprise, I've recently learned that Rick Wright did indeed know something of my appreciation for his music. To make a long story short, I wrote an analysis of "Remember A Day" as part of a very cool project with which I was involved, and the person at whose request it was written passed it on to Rick over this past summer, a month or two before the latter's death. It was really terrific to hear of this, and I'm very grateful to my friend for his kind gesture.
Current music: nothing right now, but earlier today my iPod threw two different versions of Syd Barrett's "Terrapin" in a row at me.
Current reading: some book about the Manhattan Project
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