More updates from the Aught Music side project. The song updates for 2006 are being posted almost daily, with excellent writings on old favorites and overlooked gems. Here is another compilation of the songs and write-ups I submitted, this time for 2005. If you'd like to contribute, contact Jeremy via the link above. Just like last time, click the links below for a (free) listen.
1.) "Girl" by Beck (From the album Guero)
Even if Beck didn't reference "my summer girl," this would still be a great summer song. The production by the Dust Brothers is pitch-perfect, and Beck seems to be blending three very distinct genres—soul, electronica, and an atmosphere of 1960s beach songs—into one terrific track. It's also wonderfully evocative of late teens/early twenties love in any city on a sweltering summer day. However, just one thing might cause some confusion:
Walking crooked down the beach She spits on the sand...
In all honesty, he doesn't paint the picture of the most attractive girl in the world. However, this only adds some gritty realism to the song. Imperfect though she might be, she definitely doesn't give a fuck what anybody else thinks, and given the person and the situation, that can be pretty attractive.
2.) "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and "Chicago" by Sufjan Stevens (From the album Illinoise)
"John Wayne Gacy, Jr.":
No matter what year, I cannot think of any other song as beautiful and literally haunting. This brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. Stevens crafts a look at a serial killer with none of the obvious expectations. He hints at Gacy's childhood, the accident that may have been one of the factors in his later killing spree, some of the personality traits that people admired in him, and his deadly legacy. The part that gets me the most is the look at his victims:
Even more, they were boys
With their cars, summer jobs
Oh my god.
I'm getting chills listening to this right now. There's no overt sympathy and no overt judgement. It's a painting of a distinct personality, one who killed twenty-seven people. Stevens' "fifty states project" is only two albums deep, but there's a wealth of history and meticulous detail. He takes the bad with the good in Illinois history, as evident with this track.
This has an initial vote for one of my favorite songs of all time. This is a city anthem that doesn't mention any specifics of the area, and even mentions another state, New York. It's a reflection on youth, road trips, friendship, and coming to terms with past mishaps. These mishaps and mistakes are not mentioned specifically, but one can only imagine that they're the tyical blunders associated with being young. However, this the ultimate anthem to the city of Chicago, even though the emotions can be reflective of any major city. The vocal chorus towards the end of the song is achingly beautiful. Stevens is the ultimate musician, combining beautiful melodies and evocative lyrics, and this is one of the highlights of the decade. There is no hyberbole here; just listen.
3.) "The Sound of German Hip-Hop" by Clem Snide (From the album The End of Love)
I bought The End Of Love on a complete whim after hearing a co-worker talk enthusiastically about the merits of Clem Snide. After just one listen, I was in complete agreement, at least regarding this album. I love Eef Barzelay's voice, and the lyrics are almost begging for any kind of interpretation. They go all over the place, a sort of poetic stream of consciousness. There's really not much to add. It works perfectly, and it's just a beautiful song.
4.) "You're the Reason I'm Leaving" by Franz Ferdinand (From the album You Could Have It So Much Better)
Wow. The more I give hard listens to Franz Ferdinand, the more I realize how deceptive their music can be at times. At the start, this is a terrific, rocking kiss-off. The person from whose point of view the song is sung is letting someone go, but with no remorse or reasons. This is a definite power play, but the chinks in the armor show as the song progresses. It's almost unnerving (not to mention unstable) that someone is gleefully singing about the prospect of commiting suicide if the relationship keeps going another four years. But at the end, everything is flipped around:
I'm the reason you're leaving (Leaving alone)
If we're leaving we don't stop livin', you know
So what's going on here? Was our narrator putting up a facade when in fact he/she was the one being dumped? Did the love interest realize how horribly he/she was going to be let down and decided to do it first? Is this the entire situation being played out in someone's head as a sort of hypothetical situation? I'm almost going into Chuck Klosterman-esque analysis. You be the judge.
5.) "Anytime" and "Off the Record" by My Morning Jacket (From the album Z)
The opening strains of this song always excite me, no matter how many times I hear it, because I know what's coming. I cannot understand why Jim James isn't considered one of the best singers in music today. Is there any voice that could work better on this track? My favorite part is actually one that can be easily missed. Listen to the opening line—"Is this climbing up to the moon?" With both the studio recording and the live versions (the audio file is actually taken from the 2006 live disc Okonokos), James' voice always tends to crack and drag out the word 'to' for just a split second longer than normal, and for some reason, I always focus on that. His voice isn't perfect, it lilts a little, but he's obviously pouring himself into every word. That one little crack always makes me smile.
"Off the Record":
This song is phenomenal, because the focus is on the music and the emotion. As with "Anytime," James' voice isn't perfect, and at times, the lyrics are downright unintelligible. However, he doesn't dominate at all; the entire band is both in harmony yet distinct, from the bass to the drumming. I've also picked the live version for the audio file because it's a longer version than the studio one, and it combines the best of both worlds: it's definitely their song, but in the middle, it turns into what feels like a jam session or an improv experiment. However, this only adds to the beauty.
6.) "At the Bottom Of Everything" by Bright Eyes (From the album I'm Wide Awake It's Morning)
Conor Oberst is one of those artists whom, even though I love his music, I can totally appreciate and understand someone NOT liking him. The opening track off of I'm Wide Awake It's Morning represents Oberst at his best (or worst, if you share the opposing sentiment). First and foremost, he's a poet, and the lyrics following the spoken word introduction are beautiful and scary.
While my mother waters plants
My father loads his gun
Says "Death will give us back to God
Just like the setting sun"
The beauty of this song is that his lyrics cover such a vast scope of ideas and metaphor, everything from family to the "American Dream," yet everything fits comfortably under the same musical umbrella. As inventive as he is, nothing seems too far-fetched, and the music is so captivating that by the end, the idea of plunging into a metaphorical cavern feels entirely plausible.
7.) "I Turn My Camera On" by Spoon (From the album Gimme Fiction)
I turn my camera on
I cut my fingers on the way
Can any band claim to sound any sexier in a non-love song situation? Methinks not. The beat of the song makes for unavoidable strutting when listened to while walking, and while "I Turn My Camera On" was almost overplayed, it never loses its freshness.
This particular track comes off of an album that, from top to bottom, doesn't have a bad song available. However, it wins thanks to a special memory. A few years back, I was living with my best friend, and one evening after a rough day, he came into the apartment, wordless, and visibly tired and pissed off. He sat on the living room floor and began to re-string his guitar. On a whim, I put Gimme Fiction on, and by the time "I Turn My Camera On" played, he was bouncing his head to the music in much better spirits. Such is the power of a phenomenal track.
8.) "Tymps (The Sick In the Head Song)" by Fiona Apple (From the album Exraordinary Machine)
Given the complexities and intelligence in Fiona Apple's lyrics, I'm sure that a thousand different people have interpreted this song in many different ways. I like my own spin on the song. In interviews, Apple has explained her fierce independence in relationships as well as her creativity. I don't have an exact quote available, but she commented on even maintaining two seperate houses if she ever got married. Here's a sample lyric:
So why did I kiss him so hard
late last Friday night
Keep on letting him change all my plans
I'm either sick in the head
I need to be bled dry to quit
Or I just really used to love him
I sure hope that's it.
For some reason, I find it comforting that anyone, especially someone as honest and authentic as Apple, can completely relapse on his/her independence based on a strong attraction for the wrong person. We've all pined for someone whom we knew wasn't right deep down, and we all have (or would have) kissed said person with just as much fervor. It doesn't matter how intelligent we are...lust wins sometimes.