Tuesday, March 29, 2011

90's Hit Parade #76

Sonic Youth - Drunken Butterfly

Generally, I don't like the sound of Kim Gordon when she sings in this full throated moan style, but in this ode to drunken, anonymous sex, it sounds perfectly appropriate, especially with that rhythm humping your ears like a horny drunk. But of course, the star of the song is that recurring break, with the crackling guitars that any metal band would be proud of.

Friday, March 25, 2011

90's Hit Parade #77

Beastie Boys - Pass the Mic

The Beastie Boys were at their most adventurous on Check Your Head, doing a little bit of everything (from reviving their old punk rock sound to trying to play funk instrumentals, while still delivering some great rap tunes) and somehow making it all fit together. "Pass the Mic" is like Check Your Head in microcosm. Loops created out of an instrumental jam session, a sample from an old Bad Brains cassette, old school rapping, all tweaked and rearranged until it somehow not only makes sense, but makes enough sense to be the lead single. Which is odd, considering it doesn't really have a chorus hook. Every time I mention the song to Bobbie, I have to remind her how it goes by reciting the closest thing to a hook in the song: "M-I-K-E to the D." For that matter, the other single, "So Watcha Want," doesn't seem to have had a hook either, until they looped the most catchy phrase in the rap to create an artificial chorus at the end.

I don't usually care much about bonus tracks and b-sides, but for Check Your Head, the deluxe version is absolutely necessary, as some of the most experimental tracks are taken from the 12" single released at the time, and they really build the case for the album as an exploration of sound. My favorite is "Dub the Mic," which is, as the title implies, the dub version of "Pass the Mic."

This post is a bit of a milestone: it's maybe the first truly GREAT song on the countdown (probably artificially low on the list because, well, I'm doing a lot of Beastie Boys songs, because fuck you it's my list).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Have a Rational Discussion

The Thought Catalog way:

...and the Psychedelicatessen way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

90's Hit Parade #78

Jonathan Richman - Velvet Underground

I saw Jonathan perform a few times in the early 90's, when he was minting a new set of should-be-classic rock n roll songs like "She Doesn't Laugh at my Jokes," "I Eat With Gusto, Damn You Bet!," "I Was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar" and my favorite, this tribute to his favorite rock n roll band. I always love songs people write about their favorite bands, but this one is a little different. Most such songs, like The Replacements' "Alex Chilton" for instance, are written like mash notes from fans. "Velvet Underground" sounds more like it was written by a rock critic. When he describes "Sounds as bold as black and white stripes" or how they "played less notes and left more space," you realize this guy could have had a career as a rock crit if he wanted (although, since all rock crits want to be rock stars, there's no reason why he would have wanted). Listen closely and you'll hear a nice echo on Jonathan's voice.

Bonus Beat: Jonathan Richman - A Higher Power

From the same album (I, Jonathan). I hate to make grand, hyperbolic statements like "this is the best rock n roll love song ever recorded," but can you think of a better one? (Embedded audio--is it showing up in your browser?)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Quick Thoughts on Big Love

Big Love spent its first season convincing the audience that polygamy could actually be a viable lifestyle, then spent the following four seasons convincing the audience that maybe this particular family wasn't a very good example of that idea. Spoilers for the series finale lurk below, so be warned.

I don't think I've ever been so glad to see a character get shot as I was when Bill got it in the end of the season. What an annoying character. There's a lot about this show that I love, but I had to actually quit a few episodes into Season 4 because I just couldn't stand that guy. It's not that he consistently made bad, idiotic decisions, like believing he could run for office while keeping his polygamy a secret in 2010 (seriously!), but the way he blamed all his stupid ideas on God. When his wives question him, he's just like "Hey, I don't like it any more than you do, but I have to do what God tells me to."* Seriously, own your stupid ideas, you dolt.

And this final episode was proof of that. I mean, yeah, it's nice that, in the end, he conferred priesthood on Barb, if you ignore the fact that this was a ridiculously obvious thing for him to have done a long time ago. He says it's against the teachings of his church, but he founded his own church. The teachings of his church are whatever he says they are! I mean, if you're going to live your life by some made up bullshit, why not just live by the made up bullshit that will work for your family? Considering that this issue was literally tearing his relationship with his wife apart, his stubborn refusal to take responsibility is just head smackingly dumb.

So yeah, I wasn't exactly upset to see him shot. The show has always been mostly about the relationship between the sister wives, and Bill always seemed to me to be getting in the way (I was never quite sure why these women put up with him). I'd probably be happier if the series were starting from his death. But they even fucked up this ending, making Bill's assassination the result of a completely random nervous breakdown instead of a consequence of any of the many stupid things he did.

I'm focusing on the negative here. Big Love is, overall, a good show, with plenty of high soap opera drama, three excellent female leads, and provided some great roles for older actors Bruce Dern, Mary Kay Place, Harry Dean Stanton and Grace Zabriskie, all of whom do great, great work. It's also thematically interesting in that the central characters are both religious fundamentalists and sexual revolutionaries, which sometimes makes it a little hard to read (not a negative!). In fact, the acceptance of a lot of things that probably shouldn't be accepted (patriarchy and fundamentalism are kind of like organized crime in The Sopranos--you just have to accept that it's a part of these characters' lives) makes it a more interesting show.

*When I was writing about Ricky Bobby, and talking about characters that seemed to be stand ins for G.W. Bush, I felt like there was one I was forgetting. Of course, it was Bill Henrickson.

Friday, March 18, 2011

90's Hit Parade #79

Jungle Brothers - Troopin on the Down Low

I wish there were more adventurous, challenging hip hop out there. In my dreams, there are dozens of rap records that sound like this. Not a profitable venture, exactly. When the Jungle Bros. turned in their album Crazy Wisdom Masters to their label, the suits said "needs improvement," which basically meant "needs some normalin' up." "Troopin on the DL" was reworked into the more traditional "40 Below Trooper," a pretty great rap track itself, but not terribly different from what everyone else was turning out in '93. Or maybe both versions had already existed. Information on Crazy Wisdom Masters, or for that matter on Jay Beez Wit tha Remedy, as the final album was called, seems pretty scant, although you can find a good write up here and here. Even in its tamed down form, it's one of my favorite albums of that era.

"Troopin" shifts constantly through different beats and tempos, with overlapping raps in varied styles, possibly culled from different outtakes throughout the recording session, some of which might be parodies of other rappers of the time (there's definitely a B Real-style verse near the end). There's nothing else like it. Unfortunately.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The City of Tomorrow

A couple pieces of video that I coincidentally found on the subject of urban planning. This first one is a 45 minute documentary that was shown on TCM yesterday as part of a program of film from the MOMA archives. The film is an argument for designing livable urban (or suburban) spaces, but more remarkable for its beautiful shots of 1930's New York City life (not unlike Man With a Movie Camera):

The City

The second is an animated look at the city of the future that was included in this Cartoon Brew post. I used to love stuff like this when I was a kid. Maybe I love it even more now, seeing how far it missed the mark (aside from the prediction that cities of the future would be vast, sprawling masses). We don't have self-driving cars, but the things we do have are maybe even cooler than self-driving cars. Amazing artwork on this, anyway.

Magic Highway, USA (1958)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

90's Hit Parade #80

Bongwater - Obscene and Pornographic Art

The National Endowment for the Arts is a tiny drop of water in the flow of government spending, but as Republicans set about trying to cut spending, it's once again among the first on the chopping block, along with the Center for Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood, and other hobgoblins of the right wing. There's a good chance it could be eliminated this year, which I think is a shame, but maybe not as big a deal as some of its supporters believe.

When Bongwater released The Power of Pussy near the end of the first Bush administration, the NEA had been under fire for a while, not so much because people opposed the idea of public funding for the arts, but because certain people opposed public funding of certain artists. Artists like Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and, in 1990, a cluster of performance artists labeled "the NEA Four," had all attracted the ire of evangelical and Catholic reactionaries. But of course, most of the funding the NEA provides goes to entirely uncontroversial artists and art education programs. Thus, this wicked little satire, wherein Anne Magnuson adapts a sultry Southern belle voice to describe, in erotic detail, a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What makes this bit work so well is the backing track, a bit of porn funk with Kramer playing a slow, seductive bass line, with a sexy little slide up the string.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Top 50 Films of the 00's, Part 5 (30-26) (With Special Guest Andrew Clarke!)

30. Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007)/The Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, 2008)

The Judd Apatow machine pretty much defined mainstream comedy throughout the decade, but it may be helpful to narrow down exactly what we mean by "a Judd Apatow movie," and to seperate the wild, wacky comedies he produced, like Anchorman and Walk Hard, and forgettable duds like Year One (and to remind oneself that stuff like Old School and The Wedding Crashers didn't really involve Apatow at all), from the movies that I think of as more specifically Apatowian in style. To me, this means some combination of the off-the-wall comedy found in movies like Anchorman with the more grounded, character-based sense of humor Apatow developed on his TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. The core, of course, would be the three features that Apatow directed, of which Knocked Up is my favorite (the characters in The 30 Year Old Virgin feel a little too cartoonish to me, and Funny People feels as though Apatow got lost somewhere in the middle of it and never found his way home). Knocked Up is rather shaggy, but I feel like that's as much a strength as a weakness, a quality it shares with real life. But to me, the movies that really nail this style are the two that were written by Seth Rogen and his writing partner, Evan Goldberg. These have all the hallmarks of great Apatow movies: they're hilarious, yet there's something real going on there, and they find a true emotional core in their focus on male bonding. But neither film meanders around like Apatow's own films. They both follow a tight structure (based on the Dazed and Confused model of everything happening in one roughly 24-hour period).

Superbad feels like the movie that the American Pie crew had set out to make: an update of the pre-John Hughes teen comedy (think Porky's or Fast Times at Ridgemont High) that succeeds in building its raunchy, adolescent gags around a true emotional core. Another way to look at it is that it takes all the best elements of the three "real" Apatow movies and streamlines them, focusing on a tight storyline. The script is sharp, the direction yields brilliant comedy timing, but it really succeeds because the two lead actors are so damn funny. Michael Cera had not yet become overexposed, and his deadpan delivery of lines like "Yeah, they said that would happen in health class" kills me, while Jonah Hill complements Cera's style by taking his character to the opposite extreme, presenting himself as a ball of obnoxious neuroses. I also like Bill Hader and Seth Rogen in what I imagine is one of the more accurate portrayals of cops in the history of cinema.

As for Pineapple Express, this is just a goddamn funny movie. Freaks and Geeks vets Seth Rogen and James Franco reunited, with an assist from the amazing Danny McBride, in a stoner comedy that turns into a Tarantino gangster movie and eventually a Michael Bay action extravaganza. I love the black and white prelude with Bill Hader, even though it seems like part of a completely different movie, because it so accurately represents the self-flattering mythology all stoners believe: that pot is illegal because stoned people are harder for the government/corporate pigs/illuminati/whatever to control. Yeah, sure they are.

29. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000)

After several failed attempts, I decided that I'm just not up to the task of writing about this movie. Everything I tried to write came out as a series of cliches like "achingly beautiful" and "longingly gorgeous." So I asked Andrew Clarke to write about it instead, because he's British, and they're good at this repressed beauty stuff. Follow that link and buy his music!

Be it from the faux verite feel of low budget indies, the jittery camera-work of the Bourne thrillers and all that copied them, or the meaningless hyper-detail that CGI and ballooning budgets gave to the blockbusters, American movies seemed to lose something aesthetically during the 00's. That something was a care for the image and the edit, which are the enduring strengths of 2000's In The Mood For Love.

Kar Wai Wong's film tells a fairly simple tale of repressed love in 1960's Hong Kong, but it is the exquisite detail of the shots, the richness of the colours, and the flow of the scenes that constantly remind the audience of the passion burning away beneath the surfaces of awkward silences, polite exchanges and longing, melancholy looks. It is useful to compare the richness of the atmosphere of this movie to the increasingly dry English dramas that nominally explored the same subject matter.

Watched in a cinema, or at least in a dark quiet room, the mood is intoxicating. His sort-of sequel, 2046, unfortunately turned the mood narcotic in ditching most of the narrative, and indeed longing, for longeurs and rumination, leaving the even richer visual palatte little to speak to other than itself.

In The Mood For Love, however, remains one of the most evocative love stories of the modern era.

28. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)

You could spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is actually going on in Mulholland Dr. on a narrative level. I think this interpretation is probably pretty accurate, especially if you think of it in the context of Lost Highway, which has a similar structure. But that might all be beside the point, since Mulholland (like most Lynch movies) is based on a sort of dream logic, direct from the subconscious. Think about what you dreamed last night. Chances are, it doesn't really make logical sense as a story, especially if you think about it when you first wake up (sometimes you later fill in details and adjust things so that you have a logical story, your conscious brain trying to make sense of the images your unconscious brain has left it with), but you remember exactly how you felt in each scene. For instance, I woke up in the middle of the night last night having had a dream where I suddenly became aware that the people I was talking to were a clan of serial killers, and that they knew I was on to them and were going to kill me. When I thought back (like that trick in Inception of trying to remember how you got somewhere) I realized that nothing in the dream led me to believe that. It was just something my brain suddenly decided. Yet I can vividly feel the terror that was going through me at that moment. And I think this is true of practically every scene in Mulholland. I can't make too much sense out of that dinner party near the end, but boy, you can feel the feelings of rejection, betrayal and self-hatred that Diane Selwyn is feeling at that moment, right? I mean, you can FEEL it with a capital F, L and a couple E's. Just like you can feel the terror in the guy at the Denny's, who suddenly finds himself in his own recurring nightmare, or the intense emotion of Rita and Betty at Club Silencio. I'm not saying that trying to understand the logic of the story is the wrong way to look at the film, just that it's only one aspect of it. Maybe it's the difference between seeing a film in the theater and watching it on DVD. This movie seems designed equally for both. On DVD, you can watch it over and over, trying to figure out what exactly happened (not that Lynch makes it easy on you, insisting on not breaking the program into chapters like any other DVD). But this film should also be seen in a theater, projected onto a big screen with a good sound system, so that it can be absorbed into one's subconscious, and the beauty of its images and sounds can be fully appreciated.

27. The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)/Ratatouille (Brad Bird, Jan Pinevka, 2007)

Following his great 1999 animated film The Iron Giant, Brad Bird managed to oversee two fantastic films for Pixar in the 00's. As reliable as the Pixar brand was for that decade, Bird's films stand out, almost their own sub-sub-genre, a little darker and more thematically dense than their compatriots.

If we can count The Incredibles among the superhero films of the 00's, it surely ranks at the very top of the list. A mashup of bits taken from X-Men, Fantastic Four, Watchmen and Superman, Incredibles is notable for how many things it excels at: fantastic superhero actions sequences (especially when the whole family starts working as a unit), wholly satisfying family drama, some great comedy (especially with the Edith Head-inspired costume designer), masterful use of Samuel L. Jackson (an important factor!), and a coherent theme about individuality and achievement. Now, I don't 100% follow all of Brad Bird's philosophy here. I find one line particularly irking, where Mrs. Fantastic tells her son that "everyone is special," and he replies "That's the same thing as saying no one is." No, it's not. Or, to put it more specifically, saying that everyone is unique and has value as a human being isn't the same thing as saying that everyone is the fastest runner. But hey, it's Brad Bird's movie, not mine.

Then there's the foody comedy Ratatouille, with Patton Oswalt providing the voice of a food-obsessed rat. The same effort and ingenuity that went into the action set pieces in The Incredibles is here put toward slapstick comedy routines with equally satisfying results. And has food love ever been better represented on film than in the scenes where a hunk of cheese transforms the rat's world into a psychedelic splash of colours? Again, there are some philosophical ideas that don't quite jibe with me, particularly in the handling of the "evil" food critic character Anton Ego, but when a character is drawn and voiced this deliciously, I don't really care what the fucker says.

26. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)/Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)

The stories of Christopher McCandless and Timothy Treadwell are remarkably similar, two people who turned their back on civilization to live in the Alaskan wilderness, where they met their ends. For most people, these are stories worthy of the Darwin Awards, but while there is some difference in how these two filmmakers approach their subjects (Sean Penn, ever sympathetic to wide-eyed nonconformists, perhaps finds more romance in the story than Werner Herzog's acidic cynicism will allow), both films display ambiguous feelings toward their respective subjects. Delusional though they may be, there is more to these characters than stupidity.

It makes sense that Sean Penn would have some interest in the story of McCandless. Penn's reputation for following his own drummer, his rejection of Hollywood lifestyle (for years, he lived in a trailer--maybe he still does?), would seem to attract him to the story, and he films it with the wandering eye of a romantic, focusing the camera on whatever bits of nature catch his eye, scoring it to mellow acoustic guitar plunking from Eddie Vedder. The story frightens me. McCandless was the same age I was, graduated college about the same time (a mere hour's drive away, at Atlanta's Emory University), and within two years was lying dead in the Alaskan woods. That his story so elegantly mixes the romanticism of the American frontier, the restless quest to find oneself in the wilderness that haunts our historical narrative, with a the respect for the deadly power of nature over human lives, makes him feel more like a character out of literature than a real person. But he was very real, and is very dead.

There is perhaps less sympathy to be found in Treadwell's story. The man seems to have been delusional from an early age, making up fictional origin myths about himself, and eventually lapsing into drug addiction, before trading it in for bear addiction. In the woods, he has constructed a new mythical identity, a wild man who communes with and protects the bears, although his protection never seems necessary or desirable. Treadwell survived 13 years in the woods, in contrast to McCandless' 4 months, but he was also old enough to know better. The fact that he got not only himself, but his girlfriend Amie Huguenard killed doesn't engender much sympathy either. But Treadwell seemed happy with the life he had chosen, and perhaps even was happy with his ironic death. Herzog, for his part, seems genuinely fascinated by the story, and impressed by the video footage Treadwell left behind, from which Herzog's film is largely constructed.

I Took This Guy's Advice

Hmmm...good advice. Here's what I found out:

The death toll from the earthquake/tsunami currently stands at around 1,000 and climbing.

The death toll for the Pearl Harbor attack was "2,350, including 68 civilians, and 1,178 injured."

The death toll for the Hiroshima atomic bomb is estimated at 90,000 to 166,000.

The death toll for the Nagasaki atomic bomb is estimated at 60,000 to 80,000.

In the seven months leading up to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, the U.S. firebombed 67 Japanese cities, resulting in "as many as 500,000 Japanese deaths and some 5 million more made homeless."

Somehow, this has not made me "feel better about this."

Friday, March 11, 2011

90's Hit Parade #81

Mike Watt - Max and Wells

It seems a regular topic of discussion these days is whether the rise of the mp3 is contributing to the death of the album. I don't really worry about it, for a couple of reasons. The first is that changes to the market always look apocalyptic when viewed from the past, and unremarkable when viewed from the future. I mean, you look at the birth of recorded music. That was a HUGE change. Before that, families used to gather around the piano or on the front porch after dinner to sing songs and play instruments. That's an entire way of life that's gone forever. Would you trade your favorite albums to have that back?

The other reason is that, as much as I love albums, I really think of the song as the basic unit of rock and roll. I love when an album adds up to more than the sum of it's songs, as all my favorite albums do, and this is kind of a silly false dichotomy, but...I guess what I'm saying is, if you set out to write 10 great songs (or write 20 great songs, and pick out the 10 that fit together), you'll be more likely to end up with a coherent album than you would be to end up with 10 great songs if you set out to write a great album. Man, that's a tortured sentence.

So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm a little luke-warm on the idea of "concept albums," or at least "rock operas," but there are times when the songs on an album just fit so well that it almost seems like one long song. Mike Watt's all-star jam, Ball Hog or Tug Boat?, fits that bill. There are sections of this album where three or four songs almost sound like a prog-rock suite. "Max and Wells," for instance, coming off of the intensity of the Henry Rollins-fronted "Sexual Military Dynamics," sounds more like the slow section of the previous song than a song unto itself. It feels, at first, more like a platform for an epic J. Mascis guitar solo than a song.

Back when Ball Hog came out, this wouldn't have been my choice for a song from this album (which is just STUFFED with great songs). But over the years, it has worked its way into my brain. "Max and Wells" has some of my favorite inspirational lyrics (sung by Mark Lannigan--I'm not sure who's playing drums here, but they're doing a hell of a job):

Max and Wells decided to come alive
Walked out the store and stared Today right in the eye
Said "What you want from us, cuz we came to deal with you
Came to work with our hands, came to think things through."

I like how low-key this song is, a strange tone for a pep talk, but the lyrics don't really sound like they'd work in an "Eye of the Tiger" type song. It's just very matter-of-fact: you gotta deal with life, bro.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

90's Hit Parade #82

Killdozer - Peach Pie

I would like to take this opportunity to suggest an adjustment to the canon of 80's/90's noise rock: Killdozer over the Melvins. I understand the attention The Melvins get due to their geographic significance, but hear me out. The two bands have similar sounds (loud, slow, sludgey, Black Sabbath as filtered through Flipper), and came about around the same time. Like The Melvins, Killdozer don't really have much to offer in the way of songwriting, just the unbelievable power of their sound. But I'll give a slight advantage to Killdozer, because they're funny.* They called it quits, or at least went into hibernation, sometime around 1990, then emerged a few years later with a new communist schtick, releasing this album, Uncompromising War on Art Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (with faux soviet propaganda cover art and liner notes explaining how each song relates to the struggle of the working class). Their sound was stronger than ever, and contrary to what I just wrote a few sentences ago, they had some actual songs (see the example in the video posted above: "The Pig was Cool").

"Peach Pie" (embedded audio above) is a beautiful distillation of early heavy metal through a skronk-punk filter. Massive guitar chords ring out over a brontosaur plod of a drum beat, Blue Cheer heavy leads come in to fill the empty spaces, they speed up a bit for a jam when the guitar solo comes around. One wishes they'd gone a little heavier on the feedback (oh, to have seen this performed live!), but other than that, this hits the sweet spot.

Bonus beat: from 1988, their funniest song:

*And I'm not trying to knock The Melvins here. I saw them open for GWAR (a perfect bill, huh?), and they were fucking amazing. Maybe being constricted by the opening slot worked to their advantage. I heard plenty of horror stories about the monotony of their headlining sets, including the infamous 1991 40 Watt show where they played one chord for 30 minutes.

Friday, March 04, 2011

90's Hit Parade #83

Nas - New York State of Mind

The first time around, in the mid-90's, I was unimpressed by a lot of the...let's call it the "late golden age" of rap. Nas, Biggie, Tupac, The Chronic...none of that stuff really did much for me. I guess I was still hung up on the sound of hip hop c. 1987-1992 (roughly), when the beats were fast and hard and the rappers were all trying to cram as many syllables into as small a space as possible. When the hardcore punk sound died out around 1985, I was ready for it to go, it being such a limited genre, but in 1994, I just hadn't had enough of this particular hip hop sound yet. I'll have a few opportunities to talk about this phenomenon as our countdown continues, but basically, I didn't develop an appreciation for a lot of late 90's hip hop until the following decade. I was, as they say, a "backpacker."

In the case of Nas, part of it might be tha the raps so fast and effortlessly that it doesn't even register. With the golden age rappers, they push themselves so hard you can hear them sweat. Nas was one of the first in a new line of MC's for whom casual confidence was the currency. But he was also ridiculously skilled. On "New York State of Mind," he fits so many words into each line that you have to listen to it several times to even begin to hear the words.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Improv Show, Ice House Annex, 3/9/11

Another exciting night of improv! Come out and support us, we have a very funny show lined up.

Psychedelicatessen Radio Episode 10: Viva la Pschedelicatessen!

At long last, we get back to the podcast. Download or stream it here! This is our Latino show...sort of. Our guests this week are Richard Chang and Sherms. I filled it out with some nice Latin grooves. Enjoy!


Richard Chang doing his act:

Richard Chang, milkin' it:

Richard and Sherms with a live band:

If you're interested in the bumper tunes I used, you can find some of it here, here and here, mostly courtesy of Give the Drummer Some.

Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots

You can tell you've reached dangerous levels of fandom when you try to play little parlor games with yourself on the release of a new album. In this case, I correctly guessed, based on the titles, that "Pulaski" and "Cartoon Gold" would be Mike Cooley songs, but I picked the title track to be the third instead of "The Weakest Man."

I have to say, I don't feel like Cooley has really been bringing it on the last couple albums (by the admittedly high standards he established over the last decade), but this song is just beautiful:

There's a subtlety here that's rare in his earlier songs (so maybe I need to get to know these songs a little better before judging). He's working in an established genre of country songs. To give you some idea of what I'm talking about, listen to Elvis' "Long Black Limousine" (this song was previously recorded by Merle Haggard, and from what I can tell the original version is by Wynn Stewart, not on YouTube. Those versions are probably closer to what Cooley's going for, I'm just more familiar with the Elvis version).

I'm sure there are other songs in this genre, but "Long Black Limousine" is a pretty obvious point of comparison. But Cooley's song is different. While "Limousine" dwells on the lurid details, "Pulaski" leaves out what seems like the most important information. The song is clearly meant to be a cautionary tale, as emphasized by lines about how she "turned her back on her Baptist ways" and took to wearing "clothes that barely covered," but what are we supposed to learn from it? The message remains cryptic.

Meanwhile, this is one of Patterson Hood's best songs ever. It's the kind of song that you don't even realize on first listen how great it is, how unusual the sentiment is. It's a song about Patterson (or the narrator of his song) missing his departed mother, but it's not a sad song. It's almost deliriously happy. And really, it's not about him missing her, because he says she's always with him. This isn't something he tells himself for comfort, he believes it with all his heart, and his love for her produces nothing but joy.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

90's Hit Parade #84

Pavement - Stop Breathin'

I'm a pretty casual fan of Pavement. One consequence of this low-level fandom is that, while I like their sound generally, I don't really have a favorite Pavement song. In preparation for this, I listened to their first two albums (the ones I have on my iPod...I know there's a dubbed cassette of Wowie Zowie floating around here somewhere, and I've still never listened to Brighten the Corners) trying to find one to represent the band, but each song seems to highlight a different aspect of their sound. I finally settled on this song, because you can kinda hear the arena rock anthem it would be in the hands of another band. Can't you just see the sea of lighters waving back and forth? But Pavement deliver it as an offhand aside, in Malkmus' lazy drawl, which is the very essence of Pavementness.

Alternate choice: Pavement - Texas Never Whispers

The lead track off the Watery, Domestic EP is sort of a better representation of the "early Pavement" sound, with lots of run-on lines that just seem to flow out, stream of consciousness. But what really fascinates me is that intro. As a connoisseur of weird guitar sounds, I would love to know what combination of feedback and harmonics they're using to produce that shimmering cloud of sound. Also, has the character of a state ever been so well represented as by the three words in this title?