30 October 2006

Mix Musings: Fabuteck in the tete, part 1

You know that bit in the Bible about throwing bread in the water? I made a mix for the cast of the show and received three mixes in the space of 48 hours. Which gives me plenty to listen to and an excuse to write on this thing again. I'll go through them one by one over the next I don't know how long, starting with the one I got first (and, I suspect, the most carefully thought-out).

So S— made a mix for the show as well but didn't give me a track list with my copy, daring me to figure it out for myself. I love a good challenge, so here's my take on the first ten tracks; second half to follow later this week. The format of the headers is as follows:

[track#]. [artist], "[title]"
[songwriter]; p: [producer]
[album title], [label], [year]
Anything in bold is stuff I knew without having to look it up; if I guessed wrong, my original guess is in brackets following the correct information. I didn't bother looking up everything on every track, mind you, just checked my answers and threw in a few more relevant data. And yes, I am showing off. Or thought I was, until I got past the first few tracks and S— began schooling me.

Oh, and there are no tracks, excepts or links posted; I don't have the storage space for mp3s and besides, if anyone really wants to hear one of these I'm sure they'll be resourceful enough to find them.

And no, I have no idea what the title means. On with the show...

  1. Talking Heads, "Heaven"
    p: ? [Eno]
    ? [Fear of Music, Sire, 1979]
  2. When I was in high school I rented a copy of Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense from the local video store. After watching it, I hooked the VCR up to the stereo and taped the movie, so that I could walk around and listen to it on my Walkman. My favourite number was always the second one, a version of "Heaven" sung as a duet by David Byrne and Tina Weymouth. At the time, I didn't really appreciate the alarmingly bleak subtext of the lyrics, I just thought the voices sounded pretty on the chorus. I've always been a sucker for sappy ballads, I guess.

    This is not the version from Stop Making Sense. Nor is it the version from Fear of Music. I have no idea whence this comes. Based on the sound of the recording, the tone of Byrne's voice, the hurried tempo and the half-time arrangement in the chorus, my guess is that it's an early demo, a snapshot of what the song sounded like before Brian Eno got ahold of it. But as for the source, I'm stumped. It's not on the Heads' 2003 box set, it's not on Rhino's 2006 Bonus Rarities & Outtakes, and I don't know where else to look. There's an outside shot that this could be a cover version by a band that sounds a lot like the Heads, but I doubt it.

    Heard it? Not this version, but I know the song well enough.
    Own it? I have Fear of Music, if that counts.
    Like it? Not as much as the album and acoustic versions at first, but it's grown on me with a few listens, especially the coda. Bonus points to the compiler for the rare alternate version, always a winning mixtape move.

  3. Sam Cooke, "I'll Come Running Back to You"
    Specialty, 1958
  4. I've never heard this song in my life, but I knew after the first few lines it was Cooke. What a voice. Apparently something of a hit for Specialty in '58, but doesn't make the cut for the majority of Cooke's multitude of best-ofs. Can't see why; it's delightfully breezy, with just the right hint of melancholy to carry the down-but-not-out tone of the lyrics.

    Heard it? Never.
    Own it? Nope.
    Like it? Indeed.

  5. The Magnetic Fields, "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits"
    Merritt; p: Merritt
    69 Love Songs, Merge
  6. Hmmm, I don't know this song, but why is my hand instinctively balling up into a fist of its own accord? Why, it must be Stephen Merritt with yet another musical dare to punch him in the face. While I find much to admire in Merritt's work (prolificacy, individualism, omnivorous genre-sampling, literary pretention), and don't buy for a second the ridiculous charges of racism that have been leveled against him for his musical tastes, I have little interest in listening to his music. I can't explain why other than to say that he simply annoys the shit out of me. He seems to write songs about fucking exclusively for an audience of nerdy white people who don't fuck. Yuck. I mean really, can you picture anyone actually having sex to this music? Well, I dunno, people get into all kinds of nutty stuff, so whom am I to judge?

    Heard it? Probably not, though I have seen him live a couple times, so I may just not remember it.
    Own it? No thank you.
    Like it? While I admire the raunchy lyrics, I've never cared much for the cheap Casio aesthetic of this particular strain of indie rock.

  7. Art Brut, "My Little Brother"
    ? [Argos/Art Brut]; p: ?
    Bang Bang Rock &[n'] Roll, Fierce Panda, 2005
  8. Ah yes, the mighty Art Brut, and yes, I really did know their UK label without having to look it up.1

    I think most of my feelings about the Brut have been adequately covered, but this particular song brings to mind a rumour I heard recently that Brut frontman Eddie Argos is in fact the elder brother of noted rock n' roll trainwreck Pete Doherty, late of the notorious Libertines and arguably England's most famous crack addict, and that this song is about Doherty. I'd like to take this opportunity to go on record as saying that I'm not buying it, any more than I buy Drummond and Cauty's claim that they "created" Doherty.

    Heard it? Hell yeah.
    Own it? Actually, no; it's on Rhapsody, so no need.
    Like it? Love it. I might've gone with "Formed a Band" if it were my mix, but it's not, is it?

  9. Sondre Lerche, "Two Way Monologue"
  10. Never heard the song, no idea who this guy is. How did I figure it out, you ask? I have my ways.

    My first guess at the accent was Scottish, but lo and behold he's Norwegian; shows what I know. So he's this singer-songwriter guy, and quite a wordy little chap indeed. Five winding minutes of jumbled non sequiturs, some of them no doubt elaborate metaphors, others perhaps just an English-as-a-second-language thing. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt most of the time as he seems to know what he's doing, but he lost me well before the bit about Michael Landon. The overarching theme appears to be the difficulty of communicating effectively with one's parents which, combined with the arcane wordplay, makes it a natural for dorm-room dissection.

    Heard it? Never.
    Own it? Nope.
    Like it? Not bad. The production is strong enough to keep things interesting without getting in the way of the lyrics. Not something I'd go out of my way to listen to, but I can appreciate its strengths. Curious to see whether I find myself drawn back to this one in the coming weeks.

  11. "Balinese"
    Beard/Gibbons/Hill [Gibbons]
  12. Okay, I'm officially stumped. I know the song, of course, and love that there's a little vintage ZZTop in the mix, but can find no record of anyone having released a cover of it. It's got sort of a white-album-era Beatles sound to the production and to the singer's Lennon-esque voice, but I'm assuming it's of a far more recent vintage. I graciously concede.

    Heard it? Not this version.
    Own it? Ditto.
    Like it? Like it? It's a ZZTop tune! What's not to like?

  13. The Black Keys, "Midnight in Her Eyes"
    Thickfreakness, 2003
  14. I heard the Black Keys for the first time ever like two weeks ago and was surprised to find that I liked it. Based on what I'd read I expected a minstrel show along the lines of John Spencer, but instead found something far more... I hate to use the word "authentic" because (a) I find the notion of authenticity in music repellent2, and (b) that would imply that they sound like John Lee Hooker or something, and they don't, they sound rather like an actual American blues-based arena rock band from the 1970s.

    Ditto this track. When I first heard it I just assumed it was some long-forgotten 70s hairbags like Black Oak Arkansas or some such. Actually, that's not true. After the first few chords I thought it was Donovan's "Season of the Witch," a notion which was quickly dispelled as the rest of the song kicked in and I moved on to trying to figure out whether it was Grand Funk Railroad or Gentle Giant. But no, it's the Black Keys, sounding quite authentically like some inauthentic 70s blooze rawk. Bang on.

    Heard it? Nope.
    Own it? Nope.
    Like it? I rather do, as a matter of fact, backhanded though the comments above may seem. I mean, I kind of like Foghat. Tight groove, solid riff, low-key vibe; the vocalist overdoes the mumbly-mumbly routine a bit, but his voice is pleasantly warm and growly enough.

  15. The Walkmen [Bob Dylan], "Louisiana"
    Walkmen [Dylan]; p: ?
    A Hundred Miles Off [The Basement Tapes], Record Collection [Columbia], 2006 [1967]
  16. For the first time since starting to work my way through this thing, I am thoroughly embarrassed. I was completely fooled into thinking this was an old Dylan track, most likely from the Big Pink tapes with the Band. Maybe not on the official album (what can I say, it was an educated guess), but at least buried somewhere in the complete sessions. The real giveaway should have been the vocal reaches in the chorus, the only place the singer really diverges from sounding so much like Bob.

    These last three tracks seem to be pointing towards an interesting trend within the mix as a whole: newer bands going to great trouble to sound old. Or, if you must, to sound "authentic". Mind you, this is all curated by someone who slagged me off for putting the Pipettes on a mix.

    Heard it? Nada.
    Own it? Nolo.
    Like it? Cute, but ultimately disposable. A track like this can't help but raise the obvious question, why not just listen to Blonde on Blonde?

  17. Lions in the Street, "Mine Ain't Yours"
    2006 [2005]
  18. Not wishing to be fooled yet again, I heard the sound of 70s AOR, immediately assumed it to be yet another recent retro act, and guess what? It's still not as old as I thought it was.

    This sounds exactly like a lot of other bands from both yesterday and today. Which is not to say bad, mind you, just fairly undistinguished; nothing really sets this particular act apart from their hordes of sweaty, bellbottomed peers. Next.

    Heard it? No.
    Own it? Uh-uh.
    Like it? I wouldn't change the station if it came on the radio, but I doubt I'd notice if I never heard it again. Draw your own conclusions.

  19. The Unicorns, "Sea Ghost"
  20. I read about the Unicorns a while back and gave Who Will Cut Our Hair a listen but couldn't get into it. In hindsight I have no recollection why; too cute, perhaps. Anyway, I didn't recognise the track. After digging on the initial flute solo, I was immediately turned off when the band kicked in with yet another variation on that same old retro-garagey guitar rock sound, but was immediately drawn back in by a whole mess of left turns throughout the arrangement. It's always nice (and sadly rare) to hear a band that's figured out how to write songs that are simultaneously adventurous and compact. Like, say, the Futureheads. Or Swell Maps. The Unicorns are a bit more accessible than that, but their restless spirit still shines through.

    Heard it? Apparently.
    Own it? Nope.
    Like it? Quite a bit, actually, and I plan on going back and giving the album a few more listens.

    Tangents & Clarifications
  1. How did I know it? Because I sent them a demo. Seriously. [Return]
  2. In more ways than one, i.e., the idea that older automatically equals better, as well as the notion that ripping off old styles must be done with any degree of reverence. Sure there are times when I can do without the irony, but just as many if not many more when a snicker-at-your-idols sort of irreverence is both welcome and warranted. [Return]

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