*Not actually definitive at all.
This started with my recognition that BuzzFeed has decided to carve up every phenomenon in the world into ‘definitive rankings‘ and ‘which x are you?‘. Not to be outdone, here, then, is my contribution to this growing corpus. I hope Mr. Matthew Perpetua is paying attention. Continue reading The definitive* ranking of DFA remixes
In 2007, as an angst-ridden teenager, I would lie in bed on Saturday mornings and put on the title-track of Deerhunter‘s second album, Cryptograms.
This was the era when Bradford Cox’s pop sensibility could still only be described as nascent. The song would hit me like a migraine or a nervous breakdown; Cox’s distorted bark emerging through a tapestry of pulsing one-note bass, coruscating electric guitar, and all manner of weird tape loops. It’s a primal, urgent and terrifying song that’s lost none of its potency even as the gentleman behind it has matured into a compelling ‘popular’ songwriter.
If Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is a sound contender for the title of “Great American Novel”, then we probably ought to have a debate about the fight to be the “Great American Song”. My submission? Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)“, a song which James Verini says “explains Talking Heads”, but which I would suggest goes far further.
Verini’s essay is essential reading. He calls the song “uncharacteristic”, with a spare arrangement; he says it is a “an ode to the palliative effects of companionship”. Yes, this makes it an unexpectedly direct and involved song for David Byrne to sing, but, as Freedom demonstrates, such a personal subject can also stand for something larger. Brotherhood and strong friendships are bedrocks of America, informing its buddy movies and history alike, and also filling in for what the country’s rugged individualism cannot. But companionship is not a straightforward road. There is a healthy component of anxiety to it, which is fleshed out in “This Must Be The Place…” by dint of the disappointment and resignation in Byrne’s voice, and the occasional glimpses of uneasy imagery (“Eyes that light up / Eyes look through you”, “You’ve got a face with a view”).
America is also about a disparate collection of souls finding a home—or is it just a house? So does Talking Heads’ song speak to us of this unknowing, which probably also explains its repurposing in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. This song is about reaching a promised land, or person, and then just feeling a niggling emptiness, or an overreaching.
I said it on Twitter but I’ll say it again: Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Remember“, taken from last year’s Replica album, reminds me of an untethered and even-more-beatless take on Animal Collective’s “#1”. No bad thing: both tracks share hazy, lazy and gorgeous chord sequences and befuddled sonics. In the case of the AC track, the cyclical synthesizer-work spirals inexorably heavenwards; on “Remember”, its place is taken by massed choral chanting, like a demonic version of 10CC’s “I’m Not In Love”.
Some songs unknowingly link to numerous trends in music. From “Pull Up The Roots” we get James Murphy’s cowbell frenzy, the slinky bass of Quincy Jones’s productions for Michael Jackson, and the strangled, hothouse sax* that marks early TV On The Radio. There is a punkish energy to the song that also looks back to Talking Heads’ CBGB days, as well as prophetically forward to the rise of evangelical churches, with their rousing call-and-response chants. And, if you listen closely, the subtly finger-picked guitar-work around the three-minute mark became a mantra for The Durutti Column and, later, “The French Open” by Foals.
I wrote a bit about this album here; this song is an under-appreciated gem near its end, which ushers in the simple masterpiece “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)”.
* The saxophone is actually a treated guitar part. I guess they learnt more than a few production tricks from Brian Eno.
Taken from Speaking In Tongues (Sire Records, 1983).
I have invested many hours’ typing into Antony Hegarty, the man with the golden voice. Even if you liked the wandering-vocal-over-haunting-drone pairing of “Dust And Water“, you may still be surprised and baffled by “Swanlights“, which is taken from the 2010 album of the same name. Backmasked vocals compete with a tightly-knotted bass-line, atop a creeping organ drone. Near the end, a connection is forged between the avant-garde and the sacramental, as a chorus of swooping Antonies bring the song to a teetering conclusion. There is no genre that captures music this impassioned and oblique; its nearest antecedent is the enigma of Alice Coltrane’s post-jazz, with its extraterrestrial and spiritual leanings.
The most perfect four-minute pop song, distended to include an anticipatory intro which leaves you begging for that minor-to-major chord change.
Isn’t it great how closely the opening track of Toro Y Moi’s second album mimics the opener of an album that’s just turned twelve-years old?
A lingering drone unfurls to reveal cooing vocals and a blissed-out beat that’s beamed straight from the Moon, at 2AM. Fuzzy analog chords which detune fuzzily like the mother of all hangovers. Chaz Bundick certainly knows his way round Air’s “La Femme d’Argent”.
Speaking of which, here is a wonderfully noodly, nerdy live performance of the Ur-Chillwave anthem:
Steve Albini’s Shellac exists as an economical vehicle for his misanthropic persona. And their compositions don’t get more transparent than “Watch Song”, which appeared on the album 1000 Hurts, released in 2000.
“From the way that you behave,
It is clear, to me,
You would like to have one too!”
The song’s narrator has bought a digital watch and, such is his aggravation at its persistent beeping, he wishes to extract vengeance on either the device itself, or the man who sold it to him. Sounds like a good reason for a fight, especially against the backdrop of Shellac’s caustic, ricocheting post-hardcore. The snare cracks during the verses sound almost combustible, and the unresolved, atonal chords which pierce through the gaps between Albini’s phrasing either signal the impending fireworks, or serve as a sonic nod to the “POW!” and “ZOK!” of the Batman television series in the 1960s.
I guess my being rooted to this side of the Atlantic meant that Junior Boys never “happened” for me. The English equivalent of their sleek, refined electro-soul was Hot Chip, and then Hot Chip went ADHD, and then they matured into something (whisper it) superior to the Canadian twosome.
But “Parallel Lines”, which is the opener to their 2009 album Begone Dull Care, is just too porcelain-perfect to ignore.