Tag Archives: Soundtrack

Personal Soundtrack

8 Oct

The Song

 

Mind Mischief by Tame Impala

One of the things that sets Tame Impala apart from most other bands today is their ability to get awesomely weird and loose while never losing focus on whatever tight rhythm they’ve locked into.  The bottom end is deep and prominent throughout the group’s new album Lonerism, but instead of overpowering the rest of the dynamic musical shifts going on everywhere else, the bass and drum sections stay tight to the beat and keep things grounded in a scuzzy, funked-up groove.

Sometimes the heavy rock rhythm comes to the forefront – like in the righteously woolly “Elephant” – and sometimes it sits back before emerging just in time to end a spacey tangent with a nasty bass line/drum run combo.  Despite the airy sound of the Beatles-invoking vocals, Tame Impala are always going to make sure that their electronic-sprinkled brand of psychedelia is heavy enough to get you moving.

The Activity

This is blowing your mind.  Not literally – although you’re pretty sure that if you were ever able to open the window you’re sitting next to, your mind would actually be blown.  Along with the rest of your body.  Into space.  That – space – would be part of what’s blowing your figurative mind right now.

It had all started pretty innocuously – you and Steve hopping in his VW and road tripping down to Florida so you wouldn’t miss the rocket launch that Mr. F. Kennedy had so epically spoken about several years before.  Things were going pretty groovy in the back of the VW on the way down – Steve had volunteered to drive as long as you kept the joints rolled, lit, and passed – and you had both managed to build up a nice little buzz.  And then when you finally got to the launch site and saw how fucking awesome that rocket looked in all it’s shiny, paid-for-by-the-Man glory?  Probably the best moment in your life.

That moment was so good in fact, that you and Steve had decided to take some of that new acid in honor of the event.  Into the red cups of Schliltz it went as you both toasted to America and to the babes parked two spots over in the viewing area.

The Schlitz was the last thing you can remember before just about five minutes ago, when you woke up in the the rocket you were toasting to earlier.  The rocket that is now orbiting the moon.  And that is currently emitting some strangely awesome sounds from what signs tell you is the cockpit.

As you stir in your brand-new space gear, flashes of the past couple hours come back into your head.  Something to do with using the newfound mental awareness the special Schlitz had given you to talk your way past several rounds of lax 60s-era security guards and into the final prep room for the lunar astronauts.  You’re not sure how at the moment, but at some point in the prep room, you switched places with one of the flight crew, and ambled your way into flight position number three.

Well, there’s no use worrying anymore about how you got out here – right?  That music is continuing to get louder as you release your restraints and float effortlessly towards the hatch leading to the cockpit.  As you open it up and float into the corridor, the music leads you straight into a large, cavernous room that is filled with four other floating astronauts, and one shaggy-haired band grooving away on the floor.

On the floor?  You think about the laws of gravity for a moment, and start to wonder if maybe you’re still in the back of Steve’s VW, listening to his new sound system in the Florida swamps.  That’s to be shaken off, though, for now.  When is the next time you’ll be able to listen to an awesomely groovy band in deep-space orbit?

Personal Soundtrack

20 Sep

 

 

The Song

Busman’s Holiday by The Allah-Las

The Allah-Las wrap their surf-rock twang in a such a haze of lo-fi vintage effects that if a listener were to stumble across “Busman’s Holiday” on the radio dial, they’d most likely think it was some long-lost transmission from a beachside garage in 1963 California.  There has been a slight retro trend with new music lately – the raw bluesy sound of The Black Keys, the retro-soul of someone like Mayer Hawthorne – but The Allah-Las stand out a bit in that they seem to go all-in for the vintage sound, without worrying about keeping some contemporary touches or sounding like any kind of popular music from the last 30 years.

Their self-titled debut album also stands out in that the vintage sound is not just some hollow gimmick – on tracks like “Busman’s” the band lays down a rollicking groove while a lead guitar jumps and twangs over the top in tight little runs.  The ‘Lhs are playing this music like they own it.  The group plays most of their debut album with a locked-in rhythm, and each sonic element seems to find its own place in the beat without losing any of the ragged, rocking edge that lends everything a free-wheeling, garage-band mentality and momentum.  The end result is like the soundtrack to a lost Tarantino movie – smoky, twangy, weird, catchy, mysterious, belonging to a time that no longer exists.

The Activity

The fog is starting to roll in off the water, appearing on the night’s edge like some portentous spirit.  You don’t mind it, at least as long as it stays on the outskirts.  It signifies some clear air for once, and you take a deep breath of the night sky as you cruise down Ocean Ave.  On a night like this, you don’t mind that the drop-top on your Malibu has just gone on the fritz again.

The clear night sky is not enough to keep your mind off the task at hand for too long, however.  It’s impossible to forget why you’re here right now, and where you’re headed.  Why you’re so nervous that you’re currently halfway through your second joint of the too-short car ride.  Impossible to forget the woman waiting at the end of said car ride.

She’s your boss’ current girlfriend and your former girlfriend, although the aforementioned boss does not know about the aforementioned ‘former’ status.  All he knows is that he has some business to attend to, and he wants his trusty employee (you) to keep his lady happy by taking her out for a night out on the town.  He (the boss) is the kind of guy who has several current girlfriends at one time, in addition to a few future ones, so he doesn’t think too much about letting one of his (seemingly) random employees take out one of his flames for a casual night out.  He (the boss) figures that it’s the best way to keep these aforementioned flames happy and occupied so that they remain available when he needs them to be.

You haven’t seen this former girlfriend for awhile, but it’s not that part of the whole situation that’s got you nervous.  No, it’s the fact that anything can happen when you run into an old romantic interest of yours, and in this instance, if anything happens tonight, your boss is not someone you want to make angry.  He (the boss) is someone who makes his living in the world of crime, and someone who employs people like you to carry out his dirty work.  You’ve seen first-hand what the boss will do if someone gets on his bad side.  And if anything not 100% on the up-and-up goes down tonight between you and the current/former girlfriend (which it very well might, she’s unpredictable) then you will be in some hot water.

As you take the turn on Ocean and start the last leg of the trip, you can see the moon sparkling off the ocean to your left.  You’re headed to the ritzy, waterfront part of town.  With two joints in your head, your automatic weapon in the glove box, and a veritable femme fatale about fifteen minutes away from hopping in the passenger seat.  Oh, well.  This is the life you lead.  You turn the dial to K-BILLY, crank the volume, and wonder if Jack Rabbit Slim’s is still open.

 

Personal Soundtrack

6 Sep

The Song

Chinatown by Destroyer

Seeped in atmosphere and packed with disparate yet vivid imagery, “Chinatown” provides one of those listening experiences in which you’re still trying to figure out what you just heard as you’re pressing ‘repeat’ for the third straight time.  And after a few days of first hearing it, snatches of chords or lyrics from the song will find their way into your head like a half-remembered moment from a long and hazy night out on the town.  There are all kinds of musical ideas and melodic runs bouncing around “Chinatown” – from the smoky brass section to the electric flourishes to the Bowie-esque vocals – and yet against all odds they coalesce into a catchy piece of pop/rock.

The unique flair of “Chinatown” is present all over Destroyer’s most recent album Kaputt and it often feels as if Dan Bejar, the man behind Destroyer, has found a way to record all of his music in exactly the same manner as which it sounds in his head.  No self-censoring, no drawing within the lines.  Just plug in the mic and go to some strange, noir-ish, lovesick cityscape.  It’s a totally different sound than anything you’ve heard in a long time.  It can take you places if you go with it.

The Activity

You should have known the dame was trouble from the moment she walked into your office, dragging on that cigarette and batting those lashes at you like she had no idea the damage they were causing.  You should have known that her whole story was fishy from the start.  That there was something going on, something underneath those smoky eyes and pouting lips that did not bode well for anyone who got involved.  Something that you, as the experienced Private Dick you are, should probably pay attention to.  And yet, you got involved.

You took the case – took it hook, line, and sinker.

There was the tailing of the husband, the skulking in shadows while you looked for evidence of the cheating habits she tearfully told you about.  There was the eavesdropping on the young girls in the bars – maybe in on it, maybe not – who she assured you were the Other Women.  One of which, she proclaimed breathlessly, would be the one that the husband would eventually bolt for.  And finally, there was the break-in of the husband’s so-called Love Pad.

He, the husband, was supposed to be out on the town when you slipped in.  As a result, you weren’t as cautious as you would have been.  You didn’t bother checking the area out before you used the key she gave you to open up the door and come waltzing right in.  Your fingerprints were – are – all over everything.  A fact that became much more important when you turned on the light in the living room of this so-called Love Pad and found the husband lying right where she left him.

The husband was just sitting there, shot through the chest with your gun – you missed that part too – and unable to do anything as she took all their cash and high-tailed it out of town.  You weren’t able to do anything either, at first, as you stood there and realized what had gone down.  That you were the mook set up to take the fall in this sordid tale, as the lady in black disappeared into the night.

That was at first though.  As you took your leave of that Love Pad and collected your thoughts, you got a little of that old flair back.  Those old smarts that have kept you alive in this city for so many years.  You took a moment to do some investigating, and found out where she was hiding.  Where you’re standing right now, smoking in the halo of the streelamp, as you wonder what to do next.  Where things always end up.

Chinatown.

 

Personal Soundtrack

21 Aug

The Song

My Step by Little Dragon

Some songs lock into such irresistible grooves that it is virtually impossible to listen to them without moving some part of your body.  Little Dragon brings that kind of groove with “My Step.”  The track starts out with some basic drum machine action to get an upbeat rhythm going, so that your foot is already tapping by the time an effervescent little electric pulse starts to flit around your head like some drunken dance firefly.  This pulse keeps things moving, and is the first thing about the song that burrows inside your head without leaving.  Throw in a thrumming electro-bass line shortly thereafter, and you’d have a tight, efficient little dance track right there.

Since this is Little Dragon though, they don’t just stop once they’ve got all the ingredients for a nice little beat.  The group is highly adept at bringing live-band dynamics to what often feels like an entirely electronic soundscape in their music.  With “My Step,” that means they have the creative wisdom to let the song’s momentum continue unabated as the throbbing bass line furiously takes over.  The vocals step to the side as the group shows how to do a breakdown the right way.  All you can do is just nod your head and dance away.

The only drawback of the song is that it ends way too early.  At three and a half minutes, it leaves you out of breath and wanting for more.  There’s enough dirty dancing energy in this “Step” to last for at least seven to eight minutes.

The Activity

You toe the scuffed hardwood floor and try to remain as anonymous as you can.  The striped sweater vest that your mom insisted would be a great idea is, in fact, a horrible one.  As all the kids in Lacoste polo shirts strut around happily on the dance floor, you’ve self-selected the odd one out and retreated to the corner by the punch bowl.  A few others seem to have had your same idea, and a motley crew is spread out around the dark edges of the dance floor, eyes downcast and hands in pockets or tightly clenching punch that went room temperature an hour ago.

Your eyes, though, can’t stay pointed downward for too many minutes at a time.  They keep coming up, pretty much on their own accord, and seeking out the same subject, over and over.  The girl who, by the good graces of the First Letter Last Name gods, happens to sit in front of you for first, third, and fourth periods.  The girl that interested you somewhat on that first day of school, and who had commanded your full attention by the morning of the second day.  She’s been out there, tearing the dance floor apart all night, and has been looking just as good as you hoped/feared.

This was supposed to be your big chance to do something about all those pesky feelings you’ve been having.  But so far, the twin forces of Peer Fear and Outright Awkwardness have conspired to root your feet firmly on the sidelines, forcing you to watch as the other, louder, bolder guys shared in dances and took their passes.

The glumness has just about reached an all-time high when you feel that familiar bass line start up.  It starts around your feet, vibrating the old gym floor slowly as the DJ transitions to the full volume of the new song.  You know this song.  Actually, this song knows you.  You look towards the dance floor and see that none of the other guys have shared your recognition of the beat, and have retreated back a bit.  She’s all alone, looking like she needs a dance partner.

And you know what?  Your feet are already moving before you’re even thinking about it.  The beat kicks into second gear as you walk/groove your way out towards the center of the floor.  Third gear as you make eye contact with your favorite lady and make your presence known on said floor.  You know what to do when it hits fourth gear, and when you do it, there’s an audible gasp of admiration.  As the beat bangs away, people start to notice what’s going on.  There’s magic happening, and it’s you.  By the time the song is pretty much over, you’re standing about three inches taller.  And accepting her offer to dance as K-Ci & JoJo are cued up for the slowdown.

Personal Soundtrack

11 Jul

The Song

 

Five Seconds by Twin Shadow

Drum machine- and synthesizer-fueled sounds from the 80s have been experiencing a revival in contemporary music over the past few years.  At some point, the sounds that dominated neon-drenched nightclubs and aerobics classes three decades ago were deemed to have lost their cheesiness and took on some indie credibility instead.  The motivation behind this neo-80s sound usually seems to swing back and forth between two different viewpoints.  There’s a detached irony in which the artist is almost mocking themselves and the listener for grooving to their vintage synths, while on the other end, there’s a full-fledged desire to re-create the music that the artist grew up loving.  Usually, the music that comes from a purely ironical standpoint will sound hollow, and overly stylized – if you can’t love the music you’re making, that comes through.  It’s when the neo-80s sound comes more from a true music lover standpoint that the songs become less like a nostalgic exercise, and more like a great piece of music.  Brooklyn-based Twin Shadow, aka George Lewis, Jr.,  has found this sweet spot.

Twin Shadow’s general sound is soaked in the 1980s New Wave influences – polished guitar licks, chiming synthesizers, surgically-timed drum beats.  The style is immediately evident, but as you listen further, it’s easy to see the quality substance beneath the shiny surface.  “Five Seconds”, off of the new album Confess, is a great example of Twin Shadow’s skillful pairing of nostalgic sounds with solid musicianship.  The song has the 80s elements straight from the beginning – a spare drum beat keeps the time while chilly synths pound away and a guitar line sounds out straight from the “I Ran” school of music.  It all sounds great, but below it all, there’s the core elements of a great song keeping everything together for repeat listening.  Shifting layers of sounds keep everything dynamic and moving forward, and Lewis, Jr.’s vocals are full of the strongly-felt emotions brought up in the lyrics.  Underneath all the manufactured pop touches, “Five Seconds” is a simple, yearning love song.  And you can feel all the emotions behind that song even as you nod your head furiously on the dance floor.

The Activity

The sun is slowly disappearing below the ocean horizon, casting the palm tree dotted landscape in a contemplative shade of burnt orange.  It’s a good match for your current state of mind, which is swinging slowly between ‘contemplative’ and ‘restless.’  You drove your motorcycle out to this peaceful stretch of coastline because you needed a place to think.  It didn’t matter that the Base had a policy about leaving in the middle of training periods – you’re a goddamned fighter pilot for the US of A.  You don’t need to check in when you need to do your reflective thinking.

The reason you had to leave, the reason you’re out here right now, pulled off the road and gazing at the sunset behind your deep-blue Aviators, is about five-three, blonde, and put together in a way you never thought possible.    In addition to all that, she’s got an attitude to match yours, which you also never thought possible.  At first, it was just some harmless flirting in the debriefing rooms – you playfully challenging her authority, her teasing you about time trials in front of the rest of the squadron.  After a week, though, feelings got in the way.  It wasn’t just another girl anymore.  She was actually getting to you.  And when you’re a self-designed rebel like yourself, that’s a problem.

The issue of changing up your badass image isn’t the only thing that’s got you out here, pondering the ocean.  To make things more difficult, you don’t know if she has the same feelings for you.  If you take the roses that are on the back of your bike right now and speed up to her house and put it all on the line, you don’t know how she’s going to respond.  She could say no.  She’s that kind of girl – tons of other options.  The rejection would be a crushing blow.  Even thinking about the possibility of that has you all rattled, getting sweaty palms and losing your focus when you’re on training runs.

What are you going to do?  A fighter jet streaks through the sky over the ocean, heading home after an end-of-the day run.  You wish you could just get in your jet and fly away, never coming back.  Just another lost maverick in the sky.  But you can’t.  What are you going to do?  You’re in the danger zone.  The danger zone of the heart.

 

Personal Soundtrack

26 Jun

 

The Song

Leap by The Cave Singers

The Cave Singers’ frontman Pete Quirk has a guttural, ragged voice that sounds like it was birthed in an unnamed swampy backwoods hollow.  There’s a timeless feel to his ragged vocals; it’s easy to imagine some bearded frontiersmen sounded the same way as they sat around the fire singing whiskey-fueled songs about grizzly bears and loose women in the 1800s.  The Cave Singers’ woodsy, raw sound comes through prominently with Quirk’s voice, and the band behind him utilizes  a mix of twangy guitar lines, propulsive drum stomps and the odd fiddle or harmonica to further this sonic theme.

“Leap” begins with the simple combination of Quick’s restrained vocals and a bubbling guitar line before building momentum behind some brisk drumming and harmonica flourishes.  Every part of the song picks up energy as it goes along, culminating with Quick alternating vocal and harmonica runs in one yearning ode to ‘flying free.’

The song’s title isn’t mentioned once in the lyrics, but all it takes is one listen to understand why it was named “Leap.”  The band creates the pure feeling of leaping into something – the slow build of momentum in the approach to the edge, and then the joyous, unhinged rush of finally jumping.  Whether that leap is a literal one or figurative one, it doesn’t matter.  The basic feeling is the same, and The Cave Singers would like you to feel it with them.

The Activity

This is it.  This is your last chance.  The ferry terminal is coming up on the left.  Why is your heart pounding like it’s fifth grade again?  Fuck.  Fuck.  Say something.  That you want to see them again.  That you may be in love.  No.  That’s weird.  Tone it down.  But something.  C’mon!

…..

Well that was just sad.  Capped off that amazing conversation with a simple Goodbye as the coolest person you’ve ever met just walked away and on to a ferry boat.  You only got a first name.  Will probably never see them again.  The universe gave you a gift – you both happened to be on the airport arrival curb at the exact same time, waiting for a cab at the exact same time.  Making small talk, finding out they were going to catch the ferry right by where you live.  You, on a whim, offering to share the cab that pulls up right then.  With a knee-weakening smile, they agreed.

The rest of the ride passed in a blur – connections like that are only supposed to happen in movies and trashy e-books.  And all you could muster at the end, as they looked like they were maybe, just maybe, waiting for something more, was a Goodbye.  And now they’re off to the ferry, ready to take off to another life while you head back to yours.

Now all you can do is listen to the ferry horn sound out, mockingly, as the cab sits in traffic.  This is going to bother you for a long time….No.  Not today.  The second ferry horn sounds out, and you look back – the boat hasn’t left yet.

What have you got to lose?  You either slink away or go down fighting, yeah?  The third ferry horn sounds.  It’s about to leave.  Fuck it.  You toss the driver some money, throw open the door.  Grab your bag – all you’ve got is a carry-on to worry about.  The universe knew.

Take off running.  Boat’s not moving yet, you’re still good.  What are you going to say when you get there?  No time to think now.  Through the Walk-On tunnel, heading to the boat.  Were you supposed to buy a ticket there?  No TIME TO STOP.

Someone’s yelling at you – probably the ticket-taker.  Hopefully you aren’t breaking any federal laws here.  Hop over the divider saying “BOAT FULL”.  The horn sounds for the final time.  You’re on the walkway, you can see the cars on the bottom deck of the ferry.  The walkway shudders as the boat detaches from the dock.  There’s now open air between the walkway and the boat, and it’s getting wider by the second.  You’re almost at the end of the walkway and haven’t slowed up.  Full speed.  There’s no one there to stop you – it’s just open air between the walkway and the ramp on the ferry.  They haven’t closed the gate yet.  Quick calculation – can you make the jump?  Too late to crunch numbers.  It’s just water if you don’t make it.  Time to leap.

Personal Soundtrack

16 Jun

The Song

Pyramids by Frank Ocean

 

With “Pyramids”Frank Ocean pushes beyond the sonic and temporal constraints of the standard R&B song and reaches for an epic scale.  Over the course of it’s nearly ten-minute running time, “Pyramids” journeys from the nightclub, to the night streets, to the bedroom, to Africa, to the pyramids, to a fantastical land populated by Cleopatra and cheetahs – all on the back of Frank’s silky smooth voice.

As the subject matter of the lyrics shifts, so too does the musical style and tone of the beat and vocals.  Early on in the song, a pulsing electronic hook takes over for a few moments, and it’s an early sign that this is not your typical down-tempo track.  This part of the beat wouldn’t sound out of place on a straightforward house track, but in “Pyramids” there’s something about it that’s mysterious, echoing, and expansive.  As if it were sounding out in the desert night.

The best part of the song comes near the halfway mark, when Frank shifts into a vocal style that’s very near to rapping.  Lyrical hooks come fast and furious, and the whole thing sounds as if the narrator of Usher’s “Nice & Slow” dropped E and went to the club instead of driving straight to pick up his lady.

It’s easy to make comparisons between the smooth voices of Usher and Frank Ocean, but the awesomely weird self-indulgence of “Pyramids” does a lot to set Mr. Ocean apart as a wholly unique artist.  With this song, Frank creates a track that doesn’t sound like anything else out there.  This is not a radio-ready track, even though there are sections of the song that could theoretically be cut and edited and released to popular acclaim on your local Hot 100 station.  No, this is a deep album cut, an artistic statement that showcases Frank’s beautiful croon, his ear for sneaky hooks, and his weird, freaky sensibilities.  “Pyramids” not only sets the stage for Frank’s full album, Channel Orange, dropping next month, but it also raises the appeal of catching him live.  Will he turn “Pyramids” into a 20-minute long showstopper?  Wouldn’t be surprised.

The Activity

“Mmmm.  B, where you going?”

“What?  Go back to sleep, baby.  I’m not going anywhere.”

“Fuck that.  I can see you in the mirror.  You just put your panties back on.  Those cheetah print ones I got you.”

“Oh, honey.  I’m sorry.  You caught me.  But I need to go.”

“What?  Where?  You can’t just leave like that.  Especially after what just went down in here.”

“Mmm.  Yeah.  But I really need to go.”

“Well, fuck.  Where are you going?  And what time is it?

“It’s almost midnight.  And don’t worry bout where I’m going.  I just gotta take care of something.  I’ll see you soon.”

“Whoa.  Slow up.  Are those six-inch heels you’re putting on?  Oh, fuck, babe, really?  The Pyramids?  I thought you were done there.”

“Frankie, baby, I’m sorry.  But you know how it is.  I have an obligation.  He’s the pharaoh.  As in The Pharaoh.  I thought you understood that.”

“Babe, there’s no reason you have to leave.  You’re with me now.  Fuck that Pharaoh title.  Listen to that jazz playing.  I got rubies in my damn chain.  My bills paid.  My whip ain’t go no gas tank, but so what?

“Frank, don’t do this.  I gotta go.”

“Fine.  I’m running a bath.  If you’re not back in an hour I’ll find someone else to share it with.”

“Frank!”

“I’m done with this conversation.”

“Don’t be like this.  I’ll see you later.  Okay?”

“Air guitar.”

[Door Slams]

“WhoaaOhhhhhhhhh…………”

Personal Soundtrack

10 Jun

 

The Song

How Do You Do? by Hot Chip

Like to be able to dance to your love songs?  Hot Chip can help with that.  With frontman Alexis Taylor’s silky falsetto adding a lightness to lyrics that often express a sensitive and passionate worldview, the group’s beat-driven brand of electronic songs offer plenty of emotion to go along with your dance moves.  And there are a lot of dance moves to be found among propulsive anthems like “How Do You Do.”  Starting off with a percolating synth line that brings an alluring edge to the rest of the tune, the song is a joyous celebration of love that bridges the gap between the dance floors of the 80’s and the future.

Clean bursts of synths beam around a spare backbeat like laser beams through the smoke machine of a long-lost night club.  As each new layer of sound is brought in, they come together to form a jam that finally crests in a furious instrumental breakdown that demands to be danced to.  Taylor’s lyrics offer a wide-eyed celebration of his feelings towards a lover, with the refrain “How do you do it? / You make me want to live again” repeating over and over again until the whole thing becomes an anthem.  The high-paced energy of the song slows down at points to let you catch your breath, but when everything starts up again, the dance party has only gotten more furious.

The Activity

You used to think that feelings like this only existed in movies and Hallmark cards, but this full-speed, no-apologies passion that you’re currently harboring is as real as it gets.  It started casually, simply.  Just a locking of eyes across the nightclub dance floor as you both grooved to the DJ’s beat.  But ever since then, as you went from casual texts to frozen yogurt dates to massage trains in the park, your feelings for this person have grown to the point that when you think about them, your breath catches in your throat and you forgot where you are.

You are pretty sure that these feelings go both ways.  But it hasn’t been spoken yet – by either of you.  Things, relationship0-wise, are at a turning point.  It’s still just a relationship, and not a Relationship.  It’s all fun and games.  But you want more, you need it.  If it’s possible.  And the only way you’ll know if it is, is if you put all your cards on the figurative table.  The only way you know how – music.

You spend several days racking your brain for the best, most powerful way to tell them how you feel.  You listen to records and watch romantic comedies, looking for inspiration.  And then finally, you stumble across Say Anything.  The image of John Cusack raising the boom box over his head and letting Peter Gabriel do the talking for him is one that resonates with you.  Your partner in romance has a bedroom window conveniently located in the perfect location for a serenade.  But your burning love is too hot for just a re-enactment of a decades-old movie scene.  You need to do your own thing.

So you spend several more days, writing the perfect lyrics and putting the music together, playing each instrument and recording most of the song.  Most of the song except for the vocals and the keyboard part.  So that when the fateful day comes, and you have your hopeful lover waiting in the window, you can play the synthesized notes yourself.  A live show, for an audience of one.  Just you, the mic, some speakers, and the ‘Board.  And your love.  Does it work?  Do they run down and jump into your arms and start a joyful dance party, followed by some physical lovin’?  Of course.  Music always works.

Personal Soundtrack

24 May

The Song

I’m Writing A Novel by Father John Misty

 

If you like your tales of surreal benders to come with a biting sense of humor and a soundtrack influenced by artists like Dylan and Creedence, then Father John Misty has a song for you.  “I’m Writing A Novel” is a literate, tongue-in-cheek account of one narrator’s drug- and drink-fueled experiences through a dreamlike version of Los Angeles.

Frontman J. Tillman is the former drummer for Fleet Foxes, and while Father John Misty has a bit of the same rootsy and mystical sound as Foxes, Misty’s self-titled debut album is a distinctly different musical beast.  When describing some of his mindset behind the band, Tillman has said “I like humor and sex and mischief.”  Living up to that billing, Father John Misty is filled with wildly diverse sonic touches and a sharp sense of humor that is totally unique.  Tillman is clearly having a great time getting out from the Hugely Popular Band dynamic of Fleet Foxes and is letting his own voice sound out.  And as songs like “I’m Writing A Novel” indicate, that voice is awesomely weird.

The song’s lyrical accounts of L.A. hop all over the city, stopping at landmarks like Laurel Canyon, Malibu, and West Hollywood, and offer up sarcastic, vivid images of a community of drinks, drugs, dreams, and art.  It could be 2012, or it could be 1969 – the free-wheeling spirit of L.A. in “Novel” is a timeless one.  Lyrics like “I don’t need any new friends, Mama / But I could really use something to do,” or “We could do ayahuasca / Baby if I wasn’t holding all these drinks” are slyly funny and brilliant ways to describe aspects of the unique and surreal land that Los Angeles can sometimes be.  If you’re looking for that kind of L.A., Father John Misty is an excellent host.

The Activity

It’s a little past midday, and the temperature sits comfortably above 80 degrees on another cloudless day in Los Angeles.  Your morning boredom had stirred you to venture out on a hike in the Laurel Canyon area – a decision you’re second-guessing as you find yourself deep within the canyon’s scruffy wilderness without a definite idea of where you’re going or how to get back to your car.  The air hangs heavily in the heat, and occasionally seems to shimmer in sync with the chirping and buzzing of unseen insects.

You didn’t think the heat would be a factor when you first started out, but now that you’re a couple of hours and one big water bottle down, a nagging feeling of wooziness has started to creep in.  You don’t want to pass out from heat stroke all the way out here, so you stop for a moment in a shady part of the gravelly path.  As you catch your breath, the faint sound of music starts up from somewhere farther up the trail.  Straining to listen, you make out a definite guitar tone, jangling along in a catchy melody that you’re instantly drawn to.  Not stopping to wonder if it’s all just in your heat-addled mind, you leave the safety of the shade and head towards the direction of this mysterious sound.  As you round a sharp turn in the path, you come upon a small clearing amid the low-hanging canyon trees, in which sit four long-haired and bearded fellows in varying combinations of jorts, tank-tops, or no shirts at all.  They are all smiling and plugging along on guitars, roughly matching each other as they play the same stomping guitar line.  The term ‘folkish rockish’ floats into your head, stays a bit, and then floats out.

The tallest of the group sees you standing there and stops playing.  He gets up and walks towards you, smiling the whole way.  The rest of the group continues their playing while he crosses the clearing and extends a welcoming hand.  “I’m Father J,” he says, giving you a firm handshake and offering what appears to be a bottle of water with his free hand.  “…but you can call me Misty.”

You take the water bottle thankfully and in your thirsty state, take a healthy drink without hesitation.  It tastes mostly like water, with a bit of a bitter aftertaste.  Whatever, it’s refreshing.  As you hand it back, Misty smiles even wider.  “You wanna take a ride out of here and go to a party?’

It’s probably the heat, but your head is starting to feel more and more  like it’s a bit disconnected from the rest of your body -you figure it would probably be a good idea to take a break from the great outdoors for a bit.  Before you can even finish nodding Yes, Father J has tossed you the water bottle again and shoots off into the brush, shouting “Be right back.”  A throaty roar sounds out from his direction after a few seconds, and shortly thereafter, a vehicle that looks like a beefed-up combination of an ATV and a golf cart comes shooting into the clearing.  Father J is at the wheel, and he nods at you to climb in on the passenger seat beside him.  You hop in, and he takes off through the brush, seemingly plowing through a no-man’s land, but with a distinct sense of purpose.  The blowing wind makes your mouth dry, so you polish off the rest of the water bottle without thinking.  “Great ayahuasca, huh?” Father J yells above the engine and the wind.  You’re confused.  “Aya What?”

Before you can clarify, Father J’s monster kart barrels out of the brush and on to an actual road, skidding into a breakneck left turn immediately upon impact with the pavement.  The road twists down the canyon, passing secluded driveways and discrete address markers indicating the presence of large homes or compounds set back among the brush.  Without warning and without losing speed, Father J pulls another breakneck turn, to the right this time, on to a dirt driveway that wasn’t visible until you were already on it.  The kart careens down this claustrophobic trail for several hundred feet before coming upon the front yard of an enormous canyon home.  Father J skids to a stop and hops out; you try to follow him but realize that your motor skills have been altered a bit.  Taking your time, you get down and stretch out, feeling like if you’re not careful, your feet could leave the ground at any second and you’d be hopelessly airborne.

The sounds of more music and the splashing laughter of a pool party can be heard from the house’s direction, and Father J puts a hand on your shoulder as you walk over.  “There’s a great new group playing tonight, got their first set of songs ready to go,” he says, handing over a neatly rolled J.  “Crosby, Nash, and Stills or something like that.  Here take this, it will calm you down in case things get touchy.”  You take it wordlessly, and as some vaguely familiar music twinkles from the house, you begin to get the distinct feeling that you are very, very far away from the L.A. that you call home.  Oh well, you think, as you continue concentrating on keeping your feet on the ground.  That will be something to deal with when you wake up.  And you trust Misty.

 

Bonus Father John Misty Track Covering Humor/Sex/Mischief in LA:

 

Personal Soundtrack

15 May

The Song

The Train Pt. 2 by Big Boi

When the legendary duo Outkast are discussed, the popular opinion is often that Big Boi provides the swaggering, gangsta steez to their sound, while Andre 3000 brings the eccentric flair and musical tastes that range far outside of hip-hop conventions.  There’s no denying that the oft-reclusive Three Stacks can be awesomely weird, but there was a reason the group’s second album was titled ATLiens – both of them have sounds inside their heads that are unlike anything else in this world.

Big Boi provides evidence of his otherworldly side at several points throughout his underrated 2010 solo release Sir Lucious Left Foot…The Son Of Chico Dusty.  The album has several swaggering tales of the the hustla’s life, but Big Boi also pairs his wordy drawl with sonic flourishes that bring in elements such as funk and psychedelia.  The latter element is displayed most strongly in “The Train Pt. 2” – a standout track that defies easy genre descriptions and exists in its own universe somehow both inside and out of the hip-hop and R&B worlds.

With it’s lonesome whistling and electronic beeps and tones, “Train” sounds like a transmission sent to Earth from some strange faraway corner of space.  The song has its own laid-back momentum, with Big Boi dropping some reflective lyrics over a propulsive strumming beat; a slinky synth line dances about the rest of the track before taking over completely and trading notes with a triumphant horn section in an instrumental climax.  “The Train Pt. 2” is an epic sonic journey through Big Boi’s strange and funky universe, and these sounds will stick on something deep inside your head.

The Activity

It is some time shortly after midnight and you’ve just been awoken.  You lie in bed, sheets askew, and sleepily try to determine what pulled you out of dreamland.  For a moment, you hear nothing but the gentle whirr of the oscillating fan at the foot of the bed and the intermittent flutter of curtains as the fan’s breeze swings its slow arc.  And then, a strange yet instantly recognizable sound echoes out in the streets beyond your window.  A long and high train whistle, at once both triumphant and mournful, and overwhelmingly eerie. You shudder a bit, involuntarily.

An extended silence follows this piercing whistle, and for a moment you wonder if it had only been a strangely lucid dream.  You roll over and try to fall back asleep, but all tiredness is jolted away as the myriad sounds of a puffing and steaming train suddenly fill the street outside of your house.  This is no dream.

You clamber down to the foot of your bed and peer out at this Industrial Age vision, holding the curtain just slightly open so that you won’t be seen.  There, right below your window, sits a gleaming train, about six cars long, smoke billowing out the front and steam hissing out through the wheels.  The words ‘Polar Express’ flit through your mind before you remember that it’s the middle of summer and still a humid 75 degrees out even in the dead of night.  But what else could this be?  Some kind of dry run for the December main event?  There’s got to be something magical going on here – another peek confirms that there are no train tracks in front or back of this particular Express, which has the words “DADDY FAT SAX” emblazoned upon the side.

As you puzzle out the train’s origins, a figure jumps out from the front car and looks straight at your window.  This figure is wearing an astronaut’s NASA-certified jump suit, but in place of a helmet is sporting a pair of shades and a fedora cocked slightly to the left.  Before you can hide, this space conductor points directly at you and says, What You Waitin’ For.  Let’s Ride.

This silky, baritone-heavy voice has some kind of strange effect on you, because you instantly get up, throw on some clothes, and glide down the stairs and out of your house before thinking twice.  You find yourself standing barefoot on the grass in front of the conductor, who grins and says Big Boi Welcomes You To The Train.  You look around for a second and seeing no one else, realize that your new host is speaking of himself in the third person.

Where Are We Going, you ask, even though you’re already starting to climb into the first car, still under the seductive power of that voice’s strange pull.  Big Boi clambers aboard as well as the train jumps forward.  We’re Just Gonna Go Cruise To Space, he says casually as the train leaves the ground and does, indeed, begin to take off towards the general direction of space.  Still strangely calm, you ask one more question over the sound of the horn section in the back of the train car – When Are We Coming Back?  Big just smiles and says, When My Song Is Over.