Skip to main content

5 X 10

I've recently found myself listening to albums that came out 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 years ago. Here are some thoughts...

The Broken West/I Can't Go On I'll Go On (2007) - "Down in the Valley" hooked me the first time I heard it streaming on KEXP. At the time, the band was still called The Brokedown, but that would soon change to due copyright issues; that's okay, I like The Broken West as a name better anyway. To get back to "Down in the Valley," what grabbed me were the ringing guitars, layered harmonies, and the organ that weaved in and out. And the lyrics, of course - "I had my feelings like the Dutchman has his gold/Deep in the canyon by the river that runs cold." Speaking of The Dutchman's Gold, that was the name of the EP that I learned had already been out and used my eMusic credits to grab it. "Down in the Valley" was the lead-off track, but there were six other great power pop songs and I was both in love and even more excited about the upcoming album. Reader, I made sure to save my eMusic credits to get it the day it came out. It was a great decision.

Opener "On the Bubble" is probably my least favorite song on the album, but I do enjoy the pounding piano and groovy synth sounds. The pounding piano returns on "So It Goes," which has a driving beat and bass combo that support the more airy vocals and harmonies. "Down in the Valley" bats third and fits into this album just as well as it did the EP; of course, a really good song can fit in almost anywhere. One of my favorites, "Shiftee," comes next and features acoustic guitar, keys, and and percussion before opening up into a grand melancholic (and sometimes psychedelic) cacophony that ebbs and flows, as well as the opening lines of "Your face/Launched a ship/You sunk it with your lips/Give your hair a twist/Fix your bayonets/It's all over now since our eyes met." Sigh. I also love the bouncy, melodic "Brass Ring" with its great guitar solo; the chiming, soaring "You Can Build An Island" (which I sometimes think is my favorite of them all); the pop perfection of "Abigail"; and album closer "Like a Light," which is moody and tender at first but builds to a big burst of pounding drums and stinging guitar. The rest of the songs are really good too and this album has been a joy to listen to these past 10 years.

Elliott Smith//Either/Or (1997) - I first came to know Elliott Smith like a lot of people, from Good Will Hunting and his appearance in that white suit on the Oscars. That impression wasn't enough to stick; it took a friend including "Bottle Up and Explode" on a CD mix in early 1999 to get me hooked and to pick up XO. It wasn't until after his death that I went back and used some eMusic credits (there they are again!) to pick up this album. In hindsight, I should have done it much much sooner...like when it originally came out, but that would require time travel and be a whole headache (Time Travel Fantasy Side Note: I would also travel back to 1991 and have myself get Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque and Superchunk's No Pocky For Kitty, both of which I would have loved but was too stupid to pick up). It's the third of his six solo albums (and last on the Kill Rock Stars label) and while it's not the full blown production that would happen with the aforementioned XO, I do like the overall atmosphere of guitar, drums, bass, and Smith's layered vocals. There is power in the music, but that's mostly a power of mood and intensity ("Cupid's Trick"is a big exception with its huge guitars).

Every song here is great, but the four standouts are "Ballad of Big Nothing," "Between the Bars," "2:45 A.M.," and "Say Yes." The first one scores with its chiming guitar lead, sarcastic lyrics about a drug addict, and the way he sings "big nothing" at the end. The second is dreamy and fragile and has that second guitar that comes in when he sings "I'll kiss you again/Between the bars" that just elevates it. The third one is a mostly acoustic track that could either be about a relationship or drugs and features great lines ("It's 2:45 in the morning/And I'm putting myself on warning"), but really shines at the 2:30 mark when the bass and drums kick in and ride through the rest of the song. Seriously, that simple bass line kills. Finally, the fourth is such a pretty song, again with just guitar and his layered vocals. The yearning and acceptance in the song are both lovely and heartbreaking. I say yes every time, Elliott. All of that said, I still haven't talked about the greatness of "Angeles" or "Rose Parade" or or or. It's a landmark album.

One final note: There was just a six episode podcast focusing on Either/Or and Smith's music called Say Yes: An Elliott Smith Podcast. You can find it on iTunes or anywhere you get your podcasts from. I've really enjoyed it and have been saving the last episode until I wrote this entry. You should check it out.

The Cure/Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987) - I don't recall exactly what led me to listen to this album; I'm sure it was some passing mention in an online article. I'd maybe heard the whole album once or twice before this recent run, but outside of the familiar singles ("Just Like Heaven" and "Why Can't I Be You?") I can't say any of it had made an impact. I think a main reason for that is there's just so much music here - 18 songs over 72 minutes - and it's a lot to take in. The more spins I've given it, though, the more I've come to appreciate the different modes and songs it traffics in.

The opener, "The Kiss," is The Cure in sprawling mode: over six minutes long, with lots of squalling guitar and no vocals for almost 4 minutes; I'll be honest, I didn't much care for it the first couple times, but it eventually worms its way into your head. A double album has room for a couple sprawlers. For example, "The Snakepit" is almost 7 minutes long and while it isn't as abrasive as "The Kiss," it certainly lets the guitars wander around for a while (though the vocals pop up at 2:30 in this one).

The second song, "Catch," has the band in pop mode, with its "do do do"s and bouncy beat supplemented by the strings and nimble guitar. It's a much more accessible sound, of course, but the contrast between it and the previous song make it shine that much more. Again, this album doesn't skimp on pop tunes. I mentioned "Why Can't I Be You?" earlier and what a pop tune it is. It comes on with those horns and the propulsive bass and talks about how "you're so gorgeous" and all of that, but the message isn't that he wants to be with her (or him); instead, he wants to be them. Catchy and creepy. Speaking of catchy, I present "Just Like Heaven." The prominent bass, the driving guitar, the wash of keys, and the fantastic melody add up to one of my all-time favorites (and all-time favorite covers - check out Dinosaur Jr. doing this song!). Show me how you do that trick, indeed. Oh! I like "The Perfect Girl" too - poppy and cracked all at the same time.

The third song, "Torture," is in yet another mode, one I think of as gloom mode. It's probably reductive to call it that, because the music doesn't quite follow through. In fact, there are some poppy horns here. Overall, though, the music has clanging guitars and an air of despair, which makes sense for a song where Robert Smith sings about how love (or relationships in general?) is torture. It's they're most Cure-like sound when you think about the band but ignore all the pop hits. I don't know, am I making sense? Whether I am or not, I would place "All I Want" in this category as well; it has moody, angular, almost-angry guitar and Smith singing about how he wants to be with you again...just to hold you like a dog.

Some songs split the difference, such as "How Beautiful You Are," which is a gloom and pop mix (and a song I quite like), and "One More Time," which is a smaller version of a sprawler, but also prettier and poppier. As I mentioned before, there is a lot of music to digest.

I never expected to write so many words about The Cure in my life; I've only ever owned one of their albums, Wish (thanks to "Friday I'm In Love"). My recent dive into this album means I will definitely go wandering through their catalog as the year continues.

Fleetwood Mac/Rumours (1977) - I'd only heard this a handful of times before this year. Sure, you can't really escape this album - its history, its mythology, and, probably most importantly, many of its songs that have been staples of classic rock radio (or even presidential campaigns). Then again, I was not quite 6 when it came out, so it's not like it ever meant anything to me. So, when the album's 40th anniversary happened over a month ago, I took it out for a spin...and then kept going back for more. If I had to boil it down to one reason...that reason would be Lindsey Buckingham.

Take one of the non-singles from the album, "I Don't Want To Know." It's a 3 minute 17 second pop gem, with a great melody, a bouncy bass line, hand claps, Buckingham's always-welcome guitar lines, and vocals by both he and Stevie Nicks (I wrote this first part a couple weeks ago and have just now realized the Nicks wrote this tune. Doesn't matter, still great). I love it. He is also responsible for opener "Second Hand News," which is a sunny pop song about the misery of being left for someone else, and "Never Going Back Again," which is mostly his acoustic guitar and vocals. Most notably, "Go Your Own Way" is his baby. That song shows of the strengths of the group, the slow starts that builds to a gallop by the end, the stellar drumming by Mick Fleetwood and great bass work by John McVie (and man, are those two ever great throughout the whole album), vocals by Buckingham and Christine McVie, and the great guitar solo that finishes the song. Another great group effort is "The Chain," which is probably my favorite Fleetwood Mac song and not just for the amazing coda led by the bass (but man, is it good). Plus, we get Stevie Nicks doing "Gold Dust Woman" and "Dreams," which are two stellar songs (the version I listen to also adds her "Silver Springs," which by all accounts should have been on the album from the start). I'm completely surprised to find myself getting into Fleetwood Mac in my mid-40s, but you never know when music will speak to you. That's why I always come back to songs and albums, because sometimes you need that magic of right time for the right song. Right now, the Mac is bringing me the magic.

The Kinks/Something Else By The Kinks (1967) - It started with Face To Face, the Kinks album from 1966, which I feel is a classic album that no one ever talks about. From there, it made sense to move on to this album, which is a much-more discussed classic. "David Watts," the lead track, shows off the charms of the band - a galloping beat, lots of "fa fa fa fa"s, lyrics about wishing to be much cooler than you are...as cool as David Watts. It's a Ray Davies song, who writes the bulk of the music, but we can't forget about Dave Davies, who contributes "Death of a Clown" and sings lead to boot. It's still poppy, but more stately and melancholy. There are so many great tunes on this album. One I really dig is "Situation Vacant," which just sounds Kinksy in the best way and is about a mother interfering in a marriage. Speaking of being Kinksy, how much more British could a song like "Afternoon Tea," where the narrator pines after Donna and wishes he would see her for the titular afternoon tea, be? I also dig the woozy charm (and chirping birds) of "End of the Season." Of course, album closer "Waterloo Sunset" is a masterpiece of melody and mood. The version of the album I've been listening to also includes singles and other songs from the time period, which yields such pleasures as "Act Nice and Gentle,"which was covered by The Black Keys on Rubber Factory, "Autumn Almanac," and "Wonderboy." I've never delved farther into the Kinks' catalogue, but I think the deep dive into this album will finally spur my on. Stay tuned.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Sunday Shuffle #413

Summer is here and I'm happy that it is. Jill finished school this week, but Grant and I have to go through Friday. I have the week off from my TTT course, so I'm going to catch up on some reading and TV. There was baseball I could watch yesterday and I can watch some again today, so you can bet I'll be doing that. Few things bring me joy more than baseball and a book in my lap for between innings.

Here's today's ten...

1. I 4 U & U 4 Me (Home Demo)/The Decemberists (15) - last played on 8/19/15
2. Part One/Band of Horses (6) - last played on 5/7/16
3. Shame Chamber/Kurt Vile (5) - last played on 7/23/15
4. In the Eyes of My Friends/Sugar (2) - last played on 10/5/14
5. I Could Have Done This Myself/Lightspeed Champion (4) - last played on 9/1/14
6. Nonstop Disco Powerpack/The Beastie Boys (10) - 5/15/16
7. Mountain/Lucero (7) - last played on 4/29/12
8. Evergreen/Matthew Sweet (1) - played countless times on CD
9. The Sleeping Beauty/American Music Club (4) - …

Sunday Shuffle #448

I'm going to do a bit of a "spring forward" edition this morning, which means I'm going to skip over the first song that pops up and start with the second. I think I'll keep doing that throughout, so you get all the even numbered songs, #2 - #20. Why not?

2. Bechamel/Pernice Brothers (16) - last played on 5/15/15
4. Red Hill Mining Town/U2 (5) - last played on 3/13/16
6. Late-Century Dream/Superchunk (18) - last played on 11/18/15
8. Your Weather/Dinosaur Jr. (19) - last played on 8/3/16
10. Centre For Holy Wars/The New Pornographers (2) - last played on 1/27/15
12. Girls and Boys (Pet Shop Boys 12" Remix)/Blur (3) - last played on 2/28/16
14. Hard To Find/The National (25) - last played on 2/12/17
16. Metal School/Spoon (17) - last played on 1/20/17
18. I'm in Love (With Arthur Dove)/Portastatic (8) - last played on 7/29/16
20. Simple X/Andrew Bird (4) - last played on 5/1/16