Archive for the ‘Post-Apocalyptic iPod’ Category

(Part 14 of an ongoing series)

I’ve never done the math, but by my rough estimates this is quite probably the hookiest jam in the history of hooks and jams. Sure, most of those hooks are samples, including that feloniously great Ron Carter bassline. But this track is a master class in bubblegum sampling….

Read the rest at 10Listens.com ….

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(Part 13 of an ongoing series)

From now on, many of the entries in the “Post-Apocalyptic iPod” series will appear on 10Listens.com as part of the “10Listens 500.”  Here’s my entry on the awesome Afro-Brazilian funk of Jorge Ben’s “Umbabarauma.”

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(Part 12 of an ongoing series)

To this day, and even long after the Apocalypse, I’ll stand up for my girl Jewel.  Or at least I’ll stand up for most of the music she made in her younger days.  Back in the ’90s, Jewel was great as long as she wasn’t straining to be the 22 year-old who’s so wise-beyond-her-years she can tell you what life is really all about.  For instance, her song “Who Will Save Your Soul” gets better the more you ignore what the lyrics are trying to preach.  And as for the embarrassingly clunky anti-prejudice title track of her debut album Pieces Of You, it’s better just to ignore that one altogether.

But when Jewel was younger and sang about love with very little pretense, she was phenomenal.  I could write a thousand words about all the great songs on Pieces Of You, and one day I certainly will, though for now I’ll just talk about my favorite Jewel song, “Sometimes It Be That Way.”  It’s a fan favorite that Jewel’s frequently played in concert, yet it’s only been commercially released as a live bonus track on 2001’s This Way.  Just another one of the many dubious career decisions my girl’s made since she hit it big, I guess.

Of course, there are many bootleg versions of “Sometimes It Be That Way” out there.  The best version- the one I’m bringing to the Post-Apocalypse- is one that was recorded sometime in 1997.  Most of the other versions I’ve heard tend to be too slow, too cutesy, and not nearly hungry enough.  Though maybe I prefer my Post-Apocalyptic version because it’s the first one I heard.  Well technically, it’s just the first recorded version I heard.  I first heard Jewel sing the song at Jones Beach in the summer of ’97, and loved it so much that a few weeks later, when I was clacking through the used CD racks in the West Village’s Generation Records, I made sure to find a Jewel bootleg with that very song.  (I wouldn’t say I was totally embarrassed to be a 16 year-old dude buying a Jewel bootleg at Generation Records, but I did buy a couple extra punk albums that day so the clerks wouldn’t think I was completely lame.)

Jewel says she wrote “Sometimes It Be That Way” while on tour opening for Bob Dylan, and it shows.  The song’s got a strong Blood On The Tracks vibe, but it’s still so very Jewel.  With just her happily restless acoustic guitar by her side, she runs down a list of apologies to a recent ex.  Some of those apologies are sad and sincere (“I’m sorry if it was my swerve/ that tempted you to sway“).  More than some of those apologies are bitter and sarcastic (“I’m sorry if my heart breaking ruined your day“).  Almost all of those apologies are delicately wrapped in private jokes and charming poetry (“And Aphrodite with her neon lamp/ kissed Neptune, they put her face on a stamp/ and I’m sorry I used it to mail a letter to you/ sorry I’m glue and the rest bounces off of you“).

Oh, yes: there’s also Jewel’s marvelous voice.  She sells every strand in this complex web of post-breakup emotions like a seasoned pro, sliding from each one faster than a speeding couplet and smoother than honey melting in chamomile tea.  All the while, she sings with a wide enough perspective to be playful about it.  Like at around the 30-second mark when she sings, “I’m sorry that Jesus died for my sins,” then adds with a wink, “and I swear to God it won’t be happening again.”  And when she finally starts belting her heart out to the nosebleed seats around 2:35, it’s well-earned, perfectly-timed, and skin-chilling.

Not all the songs on my Post-Apocalyptic iPod need to carry an extra layer of meaning.  For the most part, they just need to be good songs that I like.  “Sometimes It Be That Way” is a great song that I love, and as a bonus, it should also help keep me grounded out in the ruins of civilization.  Because shit happens.  Once in a great long while, there’s an apocalypse.  And when there’s an apocalypse, it’s not unlike a painful heartbreak.  You just gotta keep strumming your guitar and say oh well, sometimes it be that way.

Approx. 3 minutes, 47 seconds; 7,828 minutes, 16 seconds left on the iPod

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(Part 11 of an ongoing series)

For further details, see my review of this album on 10Listens.com:

The year’s 1997, and the future’s just starting to sip its second cup of coffee.  Rock’s still reverberating with the echoes of grunge, but its quantum mechanics are oscillating to a mind-blower called OK Computer.  Pop’s gone back to bubblegum in a big way, thanks to The Spice Girls and The Backstreet Boys.  Over in hip-hop, the zeitgeist has glided into a glammier style of gangsta.  Meanwhile, tucked away in an underground Bay Area scene, rappers Lateef The Truthspeaker and Lyrics Born, collectively known as Latyrx, drop an amazing debut LP simply titled The Album, which manages to sound old-school and avant-garde, very much of its time and yet very much against its time.

The Album wastes little time showing off its progressive ambitions as Latyrx introduce themselves, fittingly, with a track called “Latyrx.”  The smoky, sci-fi beat by album co-producer DJ Shadow is menacing and enticing, like a rabbit-hole that leads to an opium-fueled cyber-orgy.  Then Lateef & Lyrics Born barge in and buck your brain like it’s probably never been bucked before.

Approx. 47 minutes, 14 seconds; 7,832 minutes, 3 seconds left on the iPod

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(Part 10 of an ongoing series)

Everyone- especially everyone in the Post-Apocalypse- ought to have a special song handy for when shit’s about to get heavy.  In the Post-Apocalypse, shit’s gonna get heavy like at least twice a day.  We’re all gonna need to psych ourselves up (and psych our enemies out) with songs that shout, “This heavy shit can go right back up the ass it plopped out of, as long as I have anything to say about it!”

No doubt a number of unoriginal tools will survive into the Post-Apocalypse, and their Heavy Shit song will be “Eye Of The Tiger.”  Some slightly less toolish individuals will choose Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” a totally bad-ass song whose only crime in this case is Grand Obviousness.  Same goes for “Enter Sandman,” “Welcome To The Jungle,” or any other song that has already been the entrance theme for a famous boxer, pro wrestler or relief pitcher.  Cliche can be like kryptonite to intimidation.

I don’t think any athletes or sports entertainers have ever claimed “Roadbull” by The Melvins, so that shall be my Heavy Shit Song.

“Roadbull” starts out feeling like a number of other Heavy Shit Songs, but very quickly, the kinky rhythms and snaky riffs put you on your toes.  Beavis and Butt-head could get down to this tune, but they probably couldn’t memorize the riffs well enough to hum along.  It’s dangerous and spry.  It taps into deep, instinctual fears, and even better, it’s unpredictable.  And that’s exactly what I want my Post-Apocalyptic foes to think I am: fearsome and unpredictable.

“Roadbull” is a savage, brutish caveman, but it’s the craftiest savage, brutish caveman who ever lived.  A savage, brutish caveman so crafty that the other cavemen got jealous and felt threatened, and so they conspired to kill him.  (Eventually they did kill him, but it took about 15 tries, like with Rasputin.)

The lyrics briefly mention prophets and Lords, giving “Roadbull” a vaguely Biblical feel, and that’s also a plus.  Having “Roadbull” as my Heavy Shit Song will be kind of like I have God on my side.  I may be agnostic, even in the Post-Apocalypse, but I’ll still try to convince as many people as possible, myself included, that God is, in fact, on my side.

Best of all, there’s that long coda.  After all the head-banging and pile-driving and Polynesian war dancing, there’s those martial drum-rolls and those melodic, nonchalant whistles.  Like the battle’s over, and it was a bit rough here and there, but in the end we kicked so much ass and triumphed so hard that we’re whistling and marching on.  And this is the key to “Roadbull”‘s power as a Heavy Shit song: it forces the enemy to hear not just the heavy metal juggernaut that’s waiting to kick their ass, but it also treats them to the sound of us whistling victoriously and marching on to the next round of Heavy Shit.  That’s gotta add an extra thick layer of intimidation that most other Heavy Shit songs just don’t have.

Approx. 3 minutes, 26 seconds; 7,879 minutes, 17 seconds left on the iPod

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(Part 9 of an ongoing series)

Our five senses even interfere with sensible answers to stupid metaphysical questions like, ‘If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’  My best answer is, ‘How do you know it fell?’  But that just gets people angry.  So I offer a senseless analogy, ‘Q: If you can’t smell the carbon monoxide, how do you know it’s there?  A: You drop dead.’  In modern times, if the sole measure of what’s out there flows from your five senses then a precarious life awaits you.

Discovering new ways of knowing has always heralded new windows on the universe that tap into our growing list of nonbiological senses.  Whenever this happens, a new level of majesty and complexity in the universe reveals itself to us, as though we were technologically evolving into supersentient beings, always coming to our senses.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Coming To Our Senses”

All I know is that I don’t know nothin.

Operation Ivy, “Knowledge”

Underneath its ripped-sleeve T-shirt of nihilism, “Knowledge” is one of the most liberating rock n’ roll songs I know.  Deep down it’s fueled by furious optimism that only looks like anti-social slacker guff to schoolmarms and country club dads.  When you can admit you know nothing- well maybe not nothing, but practically nothing in the grand scheme- then you’re truly free to embrace the infinite, to own your awesomely sloppy guitar solo, to snarl as Jesse Michaels snarls, “that’s FINE,” full of anger and inner peace, like a Buddhist Johnny Rotten.  That kind of attitude should certainly serve us well in the Post-Apocalypse.

Approx. 1 minute, 42 seconds; 7,882 minutes, 43 seconds left on the iPod

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(Part 8 of an ongoing series)

It was October 1998, not long into my senior year of high school, and I was smack in the middle of another one of my Big Blue Funks.  Most of my closest friends had graduated high school the previous June and had since gone off to college hundreds of miles away from my suburban Long Island home.  One of those friends had also become my girlfriend over the summer, and because I was 17, I had already fallen deeply in love with her forever and ever and ever.

We tried to stay together after she went to college in Washington, D.C., but by October she had come to her senses.  She realized that keeping our long-distance relationship going was too painful and too impractical and not very fair to either of us, even though I foolishly begged to differ, again and again and again, to no avail.

Sure, I had other very cool friends who were still in high school with me.  And I had several other blessings I mostly took for granted- supportive parents, a nice house, a loyal Golden Retriever.  Yet the break-up of my 4-month romantic relationship still had me moping around everywhere like my name was Charlie Brown.

Then one late-afternoon I was watching MTV2, and something wonderful, magical, and life-altering happened: I saw the video for The Eels’ “Last Stop: This Town,” from their then-new album Electro-Shock Blues.  I immediately fell in love with it- the video, sure, with its funny little carrot-headed cyborg, but mostly I fell for the song.  Musically, it had an irresistible mix of sublime hooks and Dust Brothers hip-hop textures, and emotionally it hit me in a way that no other song had ever really hit me before.  Not that I necessarily realized immediately what part of me the song had hit- all I knew was I had to hear “Last Stop: This Town” at least a squillion more times.  After seeing the video for the first time, I kept watching MTV2 until they re-ran it (probably only like an hour later- back then they basically played a dozen different videos each month) and I videotaped it.  Then on my next weekly-or-so visit to Tower Records, I picked up Electro-Shock Blues.

I spent much of October and November 1998 driving around the suburbs, alone except for Electro-Shock Blues in the CD player.  It was the perfect soundtrack for my suicidal teenage autumn.  I listened to the entire album a bunch of times, but far more often I’d just listen to “Last Stop: This Town” on repeat, enjoying the delicious pop sounds but also trying to get to the bottom of what I thought the song was saying to me.  Before, I had heard songs that made me feel things, but those feelings were pretty simple and one-dimensional: Anger, joy, sadness, love (or rather, what I imagined love felt like for grown-ups).  “Last Stop: This Town,” however, made me feel something more complex, unfamiliar, and fascinating.

To this day, I can still think of songs that are happier than “Last Stop: This Town,” and I can think of songs that are sadder, but I can’t readily think of any songs that are so happy and so sad all at the same time.  This is evident from the very beginning of the song- after 3 measures of a jaunty, carnivalesque harpsichord-like music box riff, frontman Mark Oliver Everett says in his trademark mopey sing-speak: “You’re dead/ but the world keeps spinning.”  Like, shit happens, but life goes on, and you can always find a merry-go-round somewhere.  Then, “It’s getting dark/ a little too early,” as it tends to start to do in the fall, often before you’re fully accustomed to the sad fact that there’s gonna be a lot less sun for the next few months.

Throughout the track’s 3 minutes and 27 seconds, there’s a fierce tug-of-war between melancholy and glee.  Everett keeps singing that he’s “gonna fly on down for the last stop to this town,” and it’s not hard to think that maybe he’s talking about the last stop of death.  But he says it in a cartoonishly deep voice that’s even harder not to smile at.  He keeps trying to mourn (and in the context of the rest of Electro-Shock Blues, he’s been mourning for something like 25 minutes already), but those peppy riffs and all those ‘Yeah!s’ keep shoving him toward utter bliss until continuing to wallow in misery feels like little more than an exercise in futility.

After hundreds of spins, I think I finally got the invaluable lesson I thought “Last Stop: This Town” was trying to tell me.  (I haven’t always been the quickest to pick up on certain life lessons.)  There’s something immensely triumphant in surviving grief, whether your problems are just a minuscule mound of muffin crumbs, or a horrible heap of tragedy, like losing your sister to suicide and your mother to cancer within a span of about 2 years.  It took me until well after Thanksgiving of 1998 before I got over my little problems…and no doubt I’ve gotten myself into plenty more Big Blue Funks since then, and probably will again a few more times down the road.  But with a little help from this song- probably my most favorite song ever- I know I’ll always have at least one more triumph to look forward to.

Approx. 3 minutes, 27 seconds; 7,884 minutes, 25 seconds left on the iPod

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(Part 7 of an ongoing series)

One reason I’m doing this here Post-Apocalyptic iPod project is because I’m kind of a music hoarder.  The biggest problem with this is that I hoard a lot of music that I’m pretty sure I won’t listen to again, yet I hold on to it because I’m convinced I might finally “get it” if I hear it enough times, or that this music which I don’t really like all that much might somehow come in handy at some point in the future.   Lucky for me and my lady and my dog, the vast majority of my music hoarding is done digitally.  If there were no such thing as mp3s, though, there’s a very good chance you’d see me on an episode that A&E show snapping at my loved ones and a team of professional clutter-cleaners as they try to pare down the gargantuan piles of CDs, tapes and records that are now preventing me from opening the bathroom door.  “Don’t throw out that Animal Collective CD!” I’d yell.  “I know I didn’t like it much the first 3 times I listened to it but I might change my mind if I hear it a 4th time!  Or maybe one day I’ll make a mixtape for someone who’d dig ‘Lion In A Coma’ way more than I do!

So by deciding what music matters most to me through the Post-Apocalyptic iPod project, I’m trying to better identify the music that matters much less to me, in the hopes I can free up more room on the rapidly dwindling hard drives of my laptop and 2 iPods.  I’m not very optimistic that this will work, and if it does work, I doubt my hard drives will remain uncluttered for very long; after all, the hoarders on TV relapse so very, very often.  But I’m sure gonna try.

One part of my music library I desperately need to trim is all the damn Jandek I have.  I don’t think Jandek has as much Jandek as I have.  I often feel like all the Jandek mp3s on my hard drive might as well be the complete Berlin Alexanderplatz without subtitles, considering how likely I am to consume it all.  Overall I’m kind of intrigued by Jandek, and I’m very glad Jandek exists, but from what Jandek I’ve listened to so far, I think deep down I know I’ll never be anywhere near as fascinated by Jandek as I’d have to be to justify possessing as much Jandek as I currently do.  Ben Gibbard’s probably got the right idea.  I could probably live just fine and dandy the rest of my life if I owned only one Jandek album- regular life, that is, not Post-Apocalyptic life.  Post-Apocalypse is a whole different bucket of beans.  Some Jandek songs would make an ideal soundtrack for wandering around the smoky rubble and twisted metal and scorched earth of what was once a slightly less wretched world.  Yet they also might be a little too ideal, too depressing.  Post-Apocalypse, I think I’d just need one Jandek song.  But more on that in a moment.


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(Part 6 Of A Series)

Screw all you movie & TV soundtrackers of the past 10-plus years who’ve helped make Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” one of the most over-exposed amazing songs ever.  (Ditto for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”)  Actually, screw you all except whoever put “Sinnerman” in the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, since that’s where I first heard the song, so I’m grateful for that.

Still, I can’t stay too mad at those non-Thomas Crown soundtrackers.  After all, “Sinnerman” is such a blistering track that it never fails to bubble my mojo, no matter how many times I hear it.  First and foremost, it’s my favorite performance by my favorite singer of all-time.  She may not have had quite the same grace and polish in her voice as the other ladies in the soul/jazz pantheon, but to me she always sounded like she had the hottest fire in her belly.  She was about as rock n’ roll as you could get without technically being classifiable as a rock n’ roll singer.  She had such superhuman power and charisma that she’d crack and slip out of tune a bunch of times and she’d still sound superhuman.  Where, say, Aretha Franklin sounds like a human with divine talent, Nina Simone sounds like a god with human foibles.

There will be oodles more Nina Simone added to the Post-Apocalyptic iPod later on, and therefore much more opportunity for me to rhapsodize about why I love her music, so for now I’ll just return my focus to what I love about “Sinnerman.”  For much of the track’s 10 minutes, the rhythm’s just a relentless rappita-tappita on the hi-hat that sounds like a fast-burning fuse.  Along with the super-simple piano lick that sounds like desperation incarnate, the instruments nearly make the lyrics redundant.  They sound exactly like a sinner on the run with nowhere to hide.  Compared to this version, all previous recorded versions of “Sinnerman” seem about as menacing as “I’m A Little Teapot.”

Just when it sounds like the song might be getting too repetitive, one of the greatest mid-song interludes in the history of music arrives.  The drums and piano gradually crescendo beneath Ms. Simone’s hypnotic, androgynous vocal into a burst of gospel fury.  Tom toms rumble and cymbals crash, and then…a hush.  The bass keeps the blood flowing as the guitar plays peek-a-boo like a frisky jackrabbit.  The percussion transmogrifies into fevered claps, and the piano mutates into a brief solo both austere and bewitched.  And just when it feels like how can this possibly keep up?,  it goes back to the verses: once again we’re running to the boiling river and running to the boiling sea and running to the Lord until one last explosion, full of the insane piano pounding and singing in tongues that Nina Simone did better than anyone else, past, present and very probably future.

Aside from the fact that “Sinnerman” is a masterpiece of recorded music by my favorite singer ever, the main reason I’m uploading this 10-minute behemoth to the Post-Apocalyptic iPod is because, well, I can’t deny that it’s a great song to have ready for my soundtrack.  I don’t mean TV or movie soundtracks though, since I doubt I’ll have time to do much filmmaking in the Post-Apocalypse, and even if I did, I wouldn’t dare score my projects with such a now-cliched song.  I’m just talking about soundtracking my own life.  Like if I’m ever on the run from gangs of Post-Apocalyptic marauders, or a torrential river of fire, or my own guilty conscience, “Sinnerman” will be the first song on my RUN FOR YOUR FUCKING LIFE playlist.

Approx. 10 minutes, 9 seconds; 7,890 minutes, 42 seconds left on the iPod

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(Part 5 of an ongoing series)

The most polarizing music-related discussion I’ve ever had was about The Fiery Furnaces’ epic 2nd album Blueberry Boat.  It was the summer of 2004, not long after the album came out.  8 people from our circle of 15 or so 23-ish year-old friends were hanging out in my East Village apartment when Bobby, Kelly, Leslie* and I voted to play Blueberry Boat, which each of us had been really into lately, and we hoped the half of the group who hadn’t heard it yet would be similarly blown away.

*All names in this piece that do not belong to Fiery Furnaces have been changed.

By the middle of the second track, stark lines had been drawn.  The half of the group listening for the first time were not only not very impressed, they basically hated this album.  Less than 15 minutes in, they seemed to be spending more time expressing trivial and/or ill-informed criticisms than paying attention to the music- music that was, to half the ears in the room, whimsical, unprecedented and endlessly fascinating.  To my ears, it was like hearing a benign form of schizophrenia, fun as hell and just a little bit unnerving.  Or running through the various rooms of some M.C. Escher-designed building that’s part mad carnival and part haunted house, and your tour guides are a brother and sister who sound like precocious autistic savants.


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