After a week off, Aught Music will resume tomorrow with the best tracks of 2007. This has been an amazing project to contribute to, and I'm sure that 2007-2009 will fly by as we approach the end of this year. Here are my contributions from 2006. Just like with my previous updates, click on the links below for free listens/downloads.
1.) "(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?" by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan (from the album Ballad Of the Broken Seas)
With quite a few of my selections for this project, I've written about how some female singers can sound strong and fragile at the same time. Mark Lanegan does that perfectly on this track. He and Campbell sound amazing together on this disc, but I almost wish that this particular song was a solo for him.
I'm not saying I love you, I won't say I'll be true,
There's a crimson bird flying when I go down on you
I'm so weary and lonesome and it's cold in the night,
When the path to your doorway is a pathway of light.
There are very few songs that can be evocations of both masculinity, insecurity, and sensitivity. Lanegan sounds tough, but there's much more being painfully pushed down below the surface. Jeremy wrote about The National expressing masculinity in the twenty-first century on the track "All the Wine." While these are two vastly different songs, I think that "Come Walk With Me" is another chapter in intelligent musical looks at what it means to be a man, fraught with complexities and a myriad of emotions.
2.) "Sons & Daughters" and "O! Valencia" by The Decemberists (from the album The Crane Wife)
"Sons & Daughters":
With this track, three simple adjectives sum it up quite well: moving, simple, and beautiful. Given the winding story arcs and characters featured on the rest of the album, it's amazing that it ends on such a small treasure.
When we arrive, sons & daughters
We'll make our homes on the water
We'll build our walls with aluminum
We'll fill our mouths with cinnamon.
Personally, I'll always hold this song very close. When The Crane Wife was released, my eldest brother was serving his second tour in the Iraq War. For varying reasons, I was much more scared and despondent during that second year, as if the reality of it all had truly hit me. Many a night, I was moved to tears by the closing lines:
Here all the bombs fade away,
Here all the bombs fade away.
He returned home safely, and that Christmas, I put "Sons & Daughters" as the final song on a mix CD that I made for him. I've never explained this significance to anyone until now.
Yes, this story line has been done a million and one times, spanning every medium, and most well known from "Romeo and Juliet" and "West Side Story." So on, so forth, etc. Two lovers find themselves carrying on a secret tryst under the noses of their warring families. However, as familiar as this is, it's hard to listen to it and not root for the lovers to live happily every after, even if it's an obvious lost cause.
All I heard was the shout
Of your brother calling me out
And you ran like a fool to my side.
Both in this song and the official music video, the Decemberists do their usual job of taking a subject steeped in history and nostalgia and giving it a modern spin. It's not nearly as inventive as what they're capable of, but it's a great listen.
(Note: This post was part of a roundtable with Rich Thomas, who writes about his take on "O! Valencia.")
3.) "Star Witness" and "Maybe Sparrow" by Neko Case (from the album The Fox Confessor Brings the Flood)
This has one of my votes for the best song of the decade, not just for 2006. As stunning as her voice is, Case earns major credit for her songwriting talent. This is a loose "homage" to the rough Chicago neighborhood of Humboldt Park, and it's staggering how she can take such haunting moments and turn a complex poem into a beautiful song.
Hey pretty baby, get high with me
We can go to my sister's if we say we'll watch the baby,
The look on your face yanks my neck on the chain.
The first time I heard this, I played that last line at least ten times in a row, rewinding my CD a few seconds back. Forgive my hyperbole, but it's a punch in the stomach everytime I hear it. Songs, poems, and books are full of metaphors, but that one is literally perfect, both in the delivery and the context of the track.
I'll be honest: I still don't really know what this song means, or even if it's supposed to mean anything. The album is laced with mythogical animal imagery, so this is appropriate. I love how Case's voice rises, along with the music, to create a stunning chorus:
Oh, my sparrow, it's too late
Your body limp beneath my feet.
I always get very reflective whenever I hear this track. It's so short, yet packs some dizzying arrangements and atmospheres. As I type this, I realize that this description could fit quite a few of Case's songs. It's very difficult to explain, but this track is the one I would use to explain to anyone why Case is my favorite female vocalist. I guess that's the beauty of great music: it moves me in definite ways that, as a writer, I'm at a loss to express.
(Note: This post is part of another roundtable with Rich Thomas, who writes about the album as a whole.)
4.) "It Wasn't Me" by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins (from the album Rabbit Fur Coat)
It's amazing how confident and sultry Jenny Lewis can sound, even when a given track is intended to sound lonely and depressing. Her voice barely rises above a forced whisper, and it creates a moody, echoing atmosphere, a sort of modern spin on the torch songs of the classic female vocalists of the early to mid 20th century. As depressed as she sounds, there's a hint of defiance in the lyrics, which are open to varying interpretations.
It wasn't me, I wasn't there
I was stone drunk, it isn't clear
And it doesn't count because I don't care.
The point of view can be interpreted as an intentional distance from any negative situation. Insert the situation of your choosing, and the song will more than likely fit perfectly.