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Monday, June 09, 2008 

Haven't done one of these in a while

From Dan:

"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they're not any good, but they must be songs you're really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they're listening to."

I'll take care of the last bit first; At first I thought others had nominated most of the people I wanted to see do this, but when I pulled up the old blog roll I had no problem finding seven that, as far as I know, are untagged. I'd love to see Erik, Andrew, Todd, John, Ben (when he gets back), and Will do this. Assuming they read this blog. I'd also especially love to see glenn give it a shot, but I can picture him maybe not wanting to, and in that case I can't really blame him. Anyway, onwards...

Kirsty MacColl - "Big Boy on a Saturday Night"
Now take the spotlight / And pause for your applause...
From her underrated and overlooked album Titanic Days, which I was exposed to when I reviewed it for Stylus. A truly great album, and one I've been spending a lot of time with recently. This is one of the most immediately striking songs from there, a raucous kiss-off to either an ex, or eventually maybe just ignorant British men in general (1993 was close enough to the days of the National Front for "a clapped out Nazi with a blunderbuss" to be a painfully apt description, yeah?). It's one of the few tracks on the album that outright rocks, albeit in a rollicking rather than brutal manner, and I've had it in my head a lot recently apropos of nothing. Great, character-filled performance from MacColl, a painfully underrated singer, as well.

New Order - "Regret"
I would not complain of my wounded heart
Whatever else you want to say about this song, the album it comes from, the band who made it or the people who make up that band, the bass tone in the intro of "Regret" registers to me as 'home' on a powerful, irrational level. I love Republic more than a lot of people (it came out the same year as Titanic Days, funnily enough) but even I'll admit that "Regret," much more of a throwback to their classic sound than the rest of the album, is easily the best track on it. Aside from that sound, which I've heard so often that it really is as comforting as Mom's cooking (or Dad's, for that matter), and which isn't reducible to Peter Hook (Stephen Morris gets plenty of credit, and Gillian Gilbert is at least noticed, but why isn't Bernard Sumner's guitar playing more lauded?), I love "Regret" for reasons both personal and not; I first got into Republic during second year, when I was living away from home but not in residence for the first time, and the eternally pure and hopeless wish of the chorus for rebirth and distance spoke pretty powerfully to me in my dingy townhouse with three housemates (not all of whom were working out); but what I've grown to appreciate is the tension between that part of the chorus ("I would like a place I can call my own / Have a conversation on the telephone / Wake up every day, it would be a start") and the not-going-anywhere realisation of the later part: "I was upset you see / Almost all the time / You used to be a stranger / Now you are mine." The chorus still resonates with me, strongly, but more and more the song seems to me to be about the tradeoffs we make that prevent that kind of running away, for better and for worse. (one of their last great videos, too - nothing really special, but in a mid-90s video aesthetic I still kind of love)

R.E.M. - "Hollow Man"
Believe in me, believe in nothing
So I saw R.E.M. last night, and while we were too far back for it to be as awesome as I kind of wished it was (next time, I am paying the $100), but finally seeing my childhood's favourite band live was very worth it. They played "Let Me In"! And "Orange Crush"! And "So Fast, So Numb"! And "Fall on Me" with Johnny Marr! And (of course) "Losing My Religion"! They also played a surprising percentage of the small group of R.E.M. songs I don't like ("Bad Day" and "Animal" and "Final Straw," guys?), but what the hell. And Michael Stipe and Mike Mills are both still very lovable. They played a good chunk of Accelerate, and I've been slowly coming around to that album recently anyway, but it was great. The full rave-ups like "Living Well Is the Best Revenge" (which really should be called "Sit and Spin") and "Horse to Water" went over well, and they did a lovely "Until the Day Is Done," but the highlight of the new stuff was definitely "Hollow Man." R.E.M. don't do the quiet/loud thing that often, and this was a nice change, and also whenever they launched into the chorus it was just this Moment, if you know what I mean. But I've loved R.E.M. fairly uncritically for as long as I've been old enough to generate coherent memories.

R.E.M. - "Imitation of Life"
Trying to look like you don't try
But they didn't play this one! Or "Daysleeper" (or anything else off of Up)! Those are the two songs I really wanted to hear that I figured I might have, since they were singles, and "Imitation of Life" especially I was hoping they'd dust off. One of my favourite R.E.M. songs ever, even if the album it was from was kind of a shit sandwich. Not only does it shoehorn in a line that reminds me how much I love Michael Stipe writing about adolescence, the sound of his voice during the middle eight as he sings "This lightning storm, this tidal wave / This avalanche, I'm not afraid / C'mon, c'mon no one can see me cry" kind of chokes me up. They're saying something important in "Imitation of Life," although I'm not sure I could write out what it is. The video is gorgeous too, one of my favourites by anyone, although I am a sucker for music videos that don't make sense until, suddenly, they do.

The National - "Driver, Surprise Me"
Put the pervert in a suit, take him out and light him up
As good as R.E.M. were, the National were easily my favourite live act of the night (Modest Mouse were okay). I think they won over a lot of fans in the half empty arena, too. Great, stripped down set with an eight piece band (the five guys, Padma and two horns), mostly from Boxer, plus "Baby, We'll Be Fine" and "Mr. November." I had worried how they'd do as far as projecting to a bigger room but they were more than fine. They're also at the point where their random spare tracks (this one from the special edition of Alligator) are so good you have to wonder how long they can keep going at this rate before the bubble bursts. In my heart of hearts I kind of craved maybe hearing this one (and "Lucky You" and "Murder Me Rachael" and a few others they're less likely to play - why have I never heard "Lit Up" live, for fuck's sake), but I didn't expect it. This is mostly, I admit, because those songs are newer to me than the well-trod ground of the last two albums, but I picked up their first two records and the Cherry Tree EP so I should have new obsessions soon. If I wanted to take enough time and space to do some close reading "Driver, Surprise" me is a pretty endlessly quotable (well, not quite, but what you do call songs where ten different lines wind up lodged in your head) account of some of the same stuff Matt Berninger usually sings about: drinking, regret, girls, adulthood, working. But this is getting long already.

The Wedding Present - "The Trouble With Men"
Instead of loving my wife and getting on with my life
David Gedge is married, he's happy, but he's also realistic: You are beautiful, if you're nice to him, he's going to wind up wishing he was dating you instead, even though right now while his brain is still around he knows that's stupid and pointless. If this was out ten years ago, it would have perfectly soundtracked John Cusack asking himself "what am I doing?" as he tries to think of a mix for the cute young reporter he met. And I may not be married, or even attached, but I've been there - we've all been there. What I especially love about Gedge's take on it is that, first of all, he's not being melodramatic: He doesn't want to avoid this because it'd ruin his marriage or cause his wife to cry or anything, because nothing is going to happen. It would, however, be a stressful but minor waste of time and energy, and he sounds just as much tired as distressed on the chorus. And also because it's nice to hear "Don't say hello, you're far too gorgeous for me" in any sensible context other than an emo one.

Emmylou Harris - "Wrecking Ball"
Though I can't take that chance, if you've got time for one dance...
I was talking to a friend about this after she mentioned Gillian Welch's song of the same name. The album this comes from is probably the best job Daniel Lanois has ever done. It's also what, say, Neil Young's Harvest Moon should have been, especially with Young writing this one and providing backing vocals.

You asked. I answered. Twice.

I noticed, and thanks! I guess I should eventually check out that M83 record at some point.

I'm too sheepish not to do what I'm told.

Weirdly enough, earlier the day I wrote this my father and I briefly discussed Alice Cooper, and he told me that "I'm Eighteen" was easily his best song.

I'm not sure if "I'm Eighteen" is his best song, but it is probably his most important. I've slowly come to agree with Bob Dylan; in 1978, he told Rolling Stone, "I think Alice Cooper is an overlooked songwriter."

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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