Song of the Day: Our Lady Peace — Clumsy

I got an email from SRC this morning that Our Lady Peace’s Clumsy was being released on vinyl, and I have fond memories of programming my shower CD player to play a few specific singles in high school, so I thought I’d give the whole album a spin on Spotify to see if it was worth picking up.

The short answer to that question is “not really,” but I just listened to the title track for the first time in many years, and it remains the highlight of an otherwise workmanlike album. During the last bridge to the chorus, I even timed the little syncopated pause before the last chorus kicks in perfectly, speaking to the sheer number of times I’ve listened to the song.

As I’ve written about before, I mostly consume music in the context of albums, so it’s with great shame that I admit that this wasn’t really the case until midway through high school when I started seriously buying music (nearly all of my disposable income was poured into buying albums, some of which I’d never even heard before) and listening to albums front-to-back. It began to bug me when friends would throw on an album, skip to a couple of singles, and then move on to the next, and before I knew it, I was the anachronistic full-album-listener I am today.

In any case, it was not my intention to have my first SotD in many months coincide with Throwback Thursday, but here we are. I think part of why I like “Clumsy” so much has to do with the way it builds. It starts off with little bits of piano before transitioning into the first verse, which is still stripped down until the first bridge into the chorus, at which point everything comes together. From there, it keeps charging forward until after the interlude, at which point everything backs off to create the aforementioned pause before the last chorus. It’s not particularly fancy, but it does a good job of building some drama to tell its story of trying to shrug off hang-ups and past mistakes.

Song of the Day: Death From Above 1979–The Physical World

I only recently discovered DFA 1979, despite having heard a lot about them back when You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine came out in 2004. I’m not sure what exactly possessed me to listen to them, but I’m glad I did, because The Physical World was one of my favorite albums of 2014.

The title track that closes the album is just about perfect, right up until the outro (which is fine, but goes on a little too long for my taste). The weird little chiptune-like intro kind of throws you off-kilter with its asynchronous bleeps and blips. It sounds like the aural version of macroblocking; there’s structure, but it’s a little corrupted.

Once the drums and guitar kick in and we get formal structure, the chiptune elements remain as a transitional tail after each line of the first verse. Then, we get a bridge, which offers an increased tempo and a wild bass hook, and the chorus, a kind of psychedelic freakout of vocal distortion and syncopation. After that, everything slows down and it all happens again, before transitioning to the aforementioned outro.

This is where I’d usually talk about the lyrics, but uh… I can’t really make heads or tails of them. I generally gravitate toward music first when listening to an album, and then start picking up lyrics via repetition of the album. I will notice when they’re really bad and/or trying too hard to rhyme arbitrarily, but a song with bad lyrics but great music is always preferable to one with amazing lyrics and mediocre music.

In any case, if you like this song, I recommend checking out the rest of the album. I don’t consume enough music anymore to do a yearly best-of, but this album has received a lot of spins since I discovered it.

On Bonus Tracks

Most of the time, I consume music in the context of albums. After I wrote that sentence, I got up and put a record on, which has become my preferred way of listening to music when I’m at home. I’m constantly scouring eBay to find some of my favorite albums on vinyl at prices that aren’t extortionate.

Because of my affinity for listening to an album front to back, I’ve come to generally loathe bonus tracks.

The problem is that the artists I listen to (and, I think, most artists in general that aren’t produced and managed into homogenous oblivion) take the time to curate the songs they record into a single, cohesive whole. This is generally ruined by bolting a song onto the end, even if it’s a really great track by itself.

Take, for example, Saves the Day’s Stay What You Are. In high school, I was a huge fan of this album, in part because I had friends who loved the band and we voraciously consumed everything they released. While my friend Peter was in Japan, he bought the Japanese version of the album for my best friend Sun, which had a bonus track at the end of it. Sun insisted that this extra track, “Sell My Old Clothes, I’m Off to Heaven” was a natural part of the album, even though it was a B-side recorded during the Through Being Cool sessions and released much earlier on Vagrant Records’  Another Year on the Streets compilation. None of this mattered to Sun; the song was pressed onto her copy of the album, and the song was awesome, therefore it was always meant to be there.

Listen for yourself to the way “Firefly” ends and how “Sell My Old Clothes…” comes out of nowhere:

Firefly
Sell My Old Clothes, I'm Off To Heaven

“Firefly” has the kind of finality you generally find in album closers. It opens with a fast beat and a sense of urgency before calming down halfway through, giving way to a sense of resignation. The lyrics deal with a significant other that is obviously not good for the narrator, but who provides enough fun to be worth the self-destruction, at least in the first half. The slightly downbeat second half implies that maybe the whole thing isn’t really a good idea, even as lead singer Chris Conley insists the whole thing is worth it: “to me you are the light/from a light bulb that breaks sometimes/and the tender warmth inside/is released into my life” gives way to “know I’ll burn for you tonight”.

“Sell My Old Clothes…,” on the other hand, deals with a relationship that’s already ended, and Conley’s jealousy of his former partner’s new relationship. He wonders what this new person has that he doesn’t, and then describes the amount of time he wasted trying to make it work, before deciding that it’s not worth thinking about anymore in the song’s final moments.

I suppose you could sort of make a case for the two songs being connected in terms of Conley’s fear of self-destruction leading to dissolution and then regret about the way things turned out. But even if there’s a tenuous thematic link, when you listen to the songs, it’s clear that they are from completely different recording sessions.

Compare this to Strung Out’s “Cemetery” and “Don’t Look Back” from their album An American Paradox:

Cemetery
Don't Look Back

Strung Out included “Don’t Look Back” on the first 10,000 copies of their album, which is kind of fun from a collector’s standpoint, but was very annoying when I had all of my CDs stolen about 10 years ago and tried to track down another copy with the bonus track. I hit up many used CD stores and asked to hear many different copies before successfully stumbling on one of those first 10,000 copies. I still listened to CDs daily in the car at the time, and never trusted the process of burning lossy MP3s to CDs, even though I don’t have anything remotely resembling  golden ears.

Note the way that “Cemetery” ostensibly has the same kind of finality that “Firefly” does, except that it has that teaser at the end, implying that maybe the band isn’t done with their set just yet. The song’s lyrics deal with feeling like the city of LA is holding the narrator in place, doomed to watch society decay around him.

“Don’t Look Back” also deals with stagnation, but is more about growing up and realizing that change is necessary. The thematic link is once again a little tenuous, but I think that the songs can be taken together to create one overarching theme: change can feel impossible, but in the end life demands it.

The music of the two songs reinforce this theme. “Cemetery” is mid-tempo, fairly downbeat for the band, and has an ethereal feeling to it. The transitional instrumental is downright haunting, complete with difficult-to-decipher spoken word. Then “Don’t Look Back” kicks in with a slightly faster transitional tempo before kicking into high gear right before the lyrics start. Unlike the jarring shift from “Firefly” to “Sell My Old Clothes…,” everything about the juxtaposition of the two songs feels intentional.

To end with “Cemetery” creates a much more pessimistic view of life than Strung Out generally employ. I feel like “Don’t Look Back” should have been a standard part of every pressing of the album, but I guess it’s kind of a nice bonus to early adopters. When Strung Out recorded Live in a Dive shortly after the release of Paradox, they included “Don’t Look Back,” making a joke about how most of the audience had no idea that the song existed, and that the band itself was confused about what exactly it was about to play.

For me, “Don’t Look Back” is the exception that proves the rule. I’ve occasionally picked up “deluxe” versions of albums that include an extra track or two, and I’m almost always disappointed by them, because bonus tracks tend to be unnecessary at best, terrible filler at worst. After all, if these bonuses were going to be great, why not include them in the album in the first place?

Song of the Day: The Decemberists – The Crane Wife 1, 2, and 3

When The Decemberists put out The Crane Wife in 2006, they edged just slightly from story-song-pseudo-folkrock into progressive rock territory, most notably with the 12-minute The Island: Come & See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel The Drowning, which is every bit as pretentious and meandering as its name suggests.

But while I eventually came to like that track a lot (along with the rest of the album), what really struck me as interesting even on first listen was the way the album’s title track was split into two, telling the end of the story as the album’s opener and then circling back to tell the beginning near the end. This sounds kind of pointless and cumbersome, but The Crane Wife 3 is a great album opener and although there’s a clear narrative thread between parts 2 and 3, part 2 ends on an emotional note that’s dulled a little by transitioning right into 3.

That said, when I saw that the band had recorded the song in narrative sequence for their live album We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, I was excited to hear it that way for the first time. I’m sure they’ve been playing it that way live for a while, but I’ve never seen them do so. It takes more than 16 minutes to listen to the whole thing, but I promise it’s worth it.

Listen: The Decemberists - The Crane Wife 1, 2, and 3

Song of the Day: Rx Bandits – Decrescendo

I meant to post this last July around the last time I went to see them live, but I never got around to it. This used to be their show closer, and was an amazing way to go out on a high note. For a few years they even added a drumming-duel-as-intro to the song between drummer cgak (née Chris Tsagakis) and either a drummer from one of the opening bands or another member of RXB. It was a great way to build energy for the pounding, staccato intro.

Decrescendo itself represents everything that is/was awesome about the band (it’s unclear whether their current split is permanent or not–though I’d guess it’s not). It’s the closing track from 2003‘s The Resignation.Though I think they got a little too proggy and technical in their last full-length effort, the mix of complicated riffs and beats, emotional lyrics and just a hint of bombast here make for a potent combination. I’m sad that they no longer close with it, but I got to see them do so a bunch of times and it’s immortalized on their 2007 Live at Bonnaroo set (iTunes link because it’s not available on Spotify or at Amazon), and in a few other places, including Rx Bandits Live: Vol. 1.

Rx Bandits - Decrescendo

Song of the Day: We Were Promised Jetpacks – Circles and Squares

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these, but I’ll try to get back into the habit of it, because I love inflicting music I listen to on other people and also writing about it.

Anyway, today’s song is the opener on WWPJ’s latest album, In the Pit of the Stomach. It’s a propulsive album opener, setting the stage for slightly mathy post-punk to come. It should be noted here that I know that it’s post-punk because I’ve been told it is. I generally don’t have much concept of music genres, especially post- anything. Regardless, the whole album is a good time, though it rarely fires on all cylinders quite the way it does here.

We Were Promised Jetpacks - Circles and Squares

Notes from The Great iPod Experiment: The End

6 months, 27 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes. This is how long it took me to listen to the 11.5 days of music on my iPod exclusively while driving in my car (side note: Wolfram Alpha can do some pretty cool things). The fact that I spent more than a third of a month in my car in just under 7 months is a little frightening, but that’s a different can of worms.

I still plan to write about the minutia of listening to M-Z, but I really wanted to write something about finishing the whole thing, and it’s already been a month and a half since I did that.

Overall, it was a pretty satisfying experience. Like any project, beginning felt almost foolish, like something I was never going to want to finish, but even as I finished A (easily the longest letter of the entire endeavor) I felt like I had accomplished something. Eventually, inertia started carrying me and I became militant about finishing.

The last time I did something like this I listened to (fewer albums of) physical CDs and I was in my car a lot, driving back and forth from Federal Way to Bellingham to hang out with college friends while I took a year off. This time around the time in my car was mostly spent commuting from Issaquah to Seattle for work, although there was one camping trip that provided a nice 10-hours-in-three-days boost.

When I was finished, I culled a few albums from my iPod playlist, but not a wh. 30 gigabytes seems like a capacious amount of space, but I like a lot of music, and I tend to be loyal to the bands I listen to, so I have a lot of albums by a lot of artists. As it is, I deleted a few albums, added a few I’d either failed to sync or had acquired after the whole experiment started (I refused to make any changes to my iPod midway through) and ended up with no space once again. I could keep making cuts to make room for more new music, but as it is I was surprised at some of the stuff I’d already deleted, so I’m loathe to continue cutting out music that I know I enjoy listening to occasionally.

And yes, this is as #firstworldproblems as it gets, but it’s still vaguely upsetting.

Over the course of listening to about 400 albums by 138 artists (exact numbers elude me since, again, I’ve already changed the playlist) I missed a few things. While this arguably takes away from the purity of the experience of listening to “everything” on my iPod, I’m not really worried about it because I didn’t cheat on purpose, it just kind of happens. And it was only about an hour of music that I missed, so they’re extremely minor omissions.

While I’m glad to be free from the tyranny of the alphabet, I was kind of at a loss as to what to choose once the last track was over. I think I chose something fairly close to the beginning of the alphabet, since I hadn’t heard any of that music for the better part of 7 months, but the moment was unimportant enough that I don’t remember anymore.

Chances are good I’ll do this again at some point, but while I proved that every song on my iPod is worth listening to in its own way, I generally like to have a certain amount of control over what I listen to. I still throw the whole thing on random as described here on a regular basis, but whenever the whim strikes me, I can switch over to a full album.

Song of the Day: 6.28.11

Today’s song of the day is from Modest Mouse’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, which not-at-all coincidentally is where I’m at in my iPod listening. Overall I think that the album overstays its welcome a little bit, but it has its high points, and “The Parting of the Sensory” is definitely one of them. I’ve said before that I like a song with a sense of build to it, and here is a song that slowly builds from a mopey tale of drudgery into an existential dance party.

Enjoy!

Listen: Modest Mouse - The Parting of the Sensory

Notes from The Great iPod Experiment H-L

At this point, I’ve listened to more than half of the music on my iPod. I should finish this stupid experiment and go back to listening to what I want in the car in October. I’ve had a hard time getting into new music for the past few months because I do so much of my music-listening in the car, so it’ll be nice to be unshackled from my own craziness. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Once again, I’m going to talk about a few specific bands:

The Hold Steady: Compared to a lot of the bands on my iPod, I haven’t been listening to these guys for all that long. Around the time that Boys and Girls in America came out, I downloaded (and shortly thereafter bought) the album because it was getting really amazing reviews, and although Craig Finn’s “singing” style takes some acclimating, I soon came to appreciate the interesting (if wholly unrelatable) stories, the anthemic choruses (especially when gang vocals are involved, like on “Chips Ahoy”) and the booze-soaked mayhem that serves as the glue holding it all together. By the time live album A Positive Rage dropped a couple of years later, it made perfect sense that Finn was ridiculously drunk throughout their set at the Metro in Chicago. I regret having not seen them live yet, but they’re on my short list of bands to make it a priority to see one of these days.

Almost Killed Me tends to be a fan-favorite album, a debut so good that it seems like the best the band could ever have to offer. I have a certain amount of perspective having arrived to the party a few years late, but I think that it’s also impossible for me to realize what the album was at the time, and can only see it in context of the band’s later (stellar) work.  Regardless, it’s interesting when a band opens their debut album with something like “A Positive Jam,” a simultaneously cynical and hopeful (no, really) song about starting a band. Actually, it’s a lot like Art Brut’s “Formed A Band,” right down to the semi-spoken singing. I really, really regret not seeing those two bands together a few years ago.

Listen: The Hold Steady - The Swish

Separation Sunday refines the storytelling, eschewing the wide-angle pastiche for a more focused narrative. Whereas Almost Killed Me drew some of its connections by simply repeating lyrics, here Finn threads his stories together in more subtle, thematic kinds of ways. Characters established in Almost Killed Me show up for more boozy/druggy nights which occasionally go sideways and up in hospitalization or even death. This is what I meant before by urelatable–these characters have experiences that I can empathize with only on the most basic level; I think the fact that it’s a glimpse inside a world I’ll never know is part of the appeal.

Listen: The Hold Steady - Stevie Nix

By the time we get to Boys and Girls in America, everyone is firing on all cylinders. The songs are catchier, the lyrics are more poignant than ever and the production is significantly better. Granted, sometimes having more money for production results in an album that’s all flash and sheen and no substance, but in this case I think it simply allows Finn and the rest of the band to take their time to record everything in a way that allows the music to interplay and intertwine the same way the lyrics and the songs as a whole do.

Listen: The Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy

Stay Positive is even better. My friend Peter once told me that The Bouncing Souls’ The Gold Record sounds like summer pressed on a disc, and while I basically agree with that sentiment, I think Stay Positive is an even better sonic embodiment of that season. There are a few ups and downs, but overall the message of the album is evident from its title, and it spends 11 tracks convincing you why you should. By the time the album closes with “Slapped Actress,” you feel inspired to go out and do something interesting with your life, knowing that even if things don’t go as planned, the end result is going to be totally awesome.

Listen: The Hold Steady - Slapped Actress

A Positive Rage was released next, but was actually recorded at the end of the band’s touring in support of Boys and Girls. It’s not the best live album ever, but it’s commendable that the band simply recorded one night and released the result, rather than recording for a few nights and taking the best takes of their songs.

Listen: The Hold Steady - Ask Her For Adderall

Heaven is Whenever has the unfortunate distinction of being the band’s first album without longtime keyboardist Franz Nicolay. His loss kind of flattened the band’s sound a bit, and the result is less dynamic and therefore less appealing to me. It doesn’t help that Finn also decided that this would be a good album to stop singing about the characters that had come to define the band’s progression. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just a letdown after two truly incredible albums and a generally stellar discography.

Listen: The Hold Steady - The Sweet Part of the City

The Killers: I bought into the hype of Hot Fuss in 2004 thanks to my friend Ben. In retrospect, I’m not sure what about it appealed to me exactly, but somehow the mix of bombastic production and the swagger of Brandon Flowers and his cohort knowingly sticking the landing of their debut grabbed me and refused to let go. It remains by far their best album.

Listen: The Killers - All These Things That I've Done

I was really excited for Sam’s Town, and at first, I liked it a lot. Lead single “When You Were Young” seemed to have all of the same elements that made Hot Fuss so great, but it turned out to be an aberration on that album rather than the harbinger of another stellar collection of songs. When I listened to it recently, I could tell why I ultimately took it out of rotation prematurely–it was just kind of boring for the most part.

Listen: The Killers - When You Were Young

Day & Age remedied the monotony of Sam’s Town somewhat, returning more often to bombast in songs like Spaceman and Neon Tiger, but by this time it came out in 2008, I just didn’t really care that much anymore. I had already outgrown whatever irrational impulse had made me like Hot Fuss so much, so while I listened to it a few times out of curiosity, I was never all that stoked for it in the first place, so it quickly faded out of regular rotation just like Sam’s Town before it.

Listen: The Killers - Neon Tiger

The Loved Ones: I first heard of The Loved Ones when Peter told me to listen to Build and Burn. It was good advice, even if I didn’t realize it at first. The album failed to grab me initially, making a mediocre first impression, but it grew on me quite a bit, to the point where I ended up picking up their earlier album Keep Your Heart and eventually their follow-up EP, Distractions.

Keep Your Heart is melodic punk through-and-through. Kind of like Craig Finn, lead singer Dave Hause evokes the idea of the heart and how to keep it over and over again, going so far as to close the album with a short reprise of the first song’s chorus as the last track fades out. Hause has the kind of gravelly voice that’s perfect for fast music with an earnest, emotional core. It sounds a bit like an overcaffeinated Hot Water Music album, but in the best possible way.

Listen: The Loved Ones - Suture Self

In context, Build and Burn is kind of odd. After the album described above, the band mellowed out a bit for the follow-up, which is part of why I didn’t like it at first. A lot of Build and Burn is pretty mid-tempo, which initially bored me, but the more I listened, the more I found that I really liked the lyrics, and the music was more dynamic than I initially gave it credit for. The emotionality comes out more strongly as a result of slowing things down and kind of cleaning them up, especially in the we-must-rebuild-it Katrina-themed “Louisiana” and album closer “I Swear”.

Listen: The Loved Ones - I Swear

Distractions tries to mix the more punkish sound of Keep Your Heart with the more emotionally-driven Build and Burn and mostly fails to capture what made either album so good. Then again, it’s a six-songed EP that is exactly what its title implies–a few light diversions to keep the band’s audience sated while they work on something meatier. Granted, Distractions came out more than two years ago, but despite being fairly mediocre in comparison to the work that came before it, I’m still pretty stoked for new material.

Listen: The Loved Ones - Distracted

In the next couple of days, I’m planning to write about Less Than Jake’s discography in its own post. Being my favorite band throughout high school and beyond, it only seems right that I put a little more time and effort into dissecting their lengthy oeuvre and why their music holds a special place in my heart.

Song of the Day 4.30.11

I’m knee-deep in a 6-day-long stretch at work (which will be followed by a 4 day weekend, so it’s totally worth it) so today’s song choice is something to get me (and hopefully you) moving. Hot Water Music’s A Flight and a Crash took a long time to truly grow on me, but the title track is so awesome that I’d put the album on just to listen to it, and then slog my way through the rest.

What I appreciate in particular about HWM’s last few albums is the fact that they’ve clearly played together for a long time and have a great rapport that comes through in every song.

Enjoy!

Hot Water Music - A Flight and a Crash