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Friday, September 18, 2009

Apropos of Nothing Really... Some Songs I Can't Live Without

I began thinking about songs - particularly the ones that play over and over in my head and the ones that I can't bear to be without on a CD or on my iPod. Here are a few, in no particularly order:

"Marked" - Bad Religion

This was actually one of the first CDs I had to have and it was all thanks to another song entirely,"20th Century Boy." But this song just got me and gets to me still with its insistent final verse and the relentless speed of the whole thing. It was like a message delivered on the run and if you didn't get it, so what?

I've listened to other albums by Bad Religion since - my estimation of the band has diminished over time. Part of that is because I saw over time how simplistic (in the pejorative instead of "simple" as an observation)their music was and is. Of course part of it is growing a little older and not being able to maintain that level of intensity that you have when you're 13 or 14, but there it is.

"Beep Street" - Squarepusher

I actually discovered Squarepusher thanks to an Ken Ishii mix CD via the track "Squarepusher's Theme." I was completely enamored with the song - the way it didn't sound like the usual fiddling with knobs that I was used to in electronic music. I could hear real instrumentation in there even through Ishii's blending the track so that it could work as part of the overall playlist.

Being in South Florida at the time before the advent of internet music sales, it took a little while before I got hold of Feed Me Weird Things, the album where the track actually appears. So I "settled" for Hard Normal Daddy which in and of itself was a revelation.

I mentioned the instrumentation in "Squarepusher's Theme" but I learned that the musician was actually a virtuoso in multiple musical forms. At the time I had trouble characterizing what I was hearing. It sounded like drum and bass, but at fewer bpm's - gentler without any sort of affectation. It wasn't music you danced to but it was music that you heard. The tracks on Hard Normal Daddy demanded my attention because of the many layers of sound, with the variable rhythms and pacing making each track stand out.

I loved "Squarepusher's Theme" when I first heard it but i fell in love with "Beep Street" the first time I heard it.

"It's In Our Hands" - Bjork

More recent than the other entries and maybe more fitting with my temperament at this age. If you'd asked a few years ago I would have chosen her "Hyperballad" given the rawness of that track, the emotions laid bare. "Hyperballad" is actually still my favorite song by Bjork and one that I could never bring myself to ignore if it were playing. But "It's In Our Hands" is the one that I can't live without right now.

It's the imploring and jarringly sensual nature of this track that appeals to me. It feels like seduction out of desperation, this song without the track itself ever feeling desperate or like shallow vamping on the part of the artist.

I've always felt that she had one of the most beautiful voices in the world and this song reinforces that. It's like a well-honed tool, her voice, bouncing between wavering, almost youthful imprecation, and bedroom cooing between verses.

"La Cerca" - Sparta

It occurs to me that in spite of enjoying their music for years as At the Drive-in and when the band members broke apart to become Sparta and The Mars Volta, I know almost nothing about the roster in either groups.

For instance, I didn't know Sparta vocalist Jim Ward's name even after all these years of enjoying the texture of his voice. It's a voice that works perfectly with the material, which bounces from pop profundity to lyrical absurdity.

I don't have any deep reason or emotional connection to this song - I just like it quite a bit and feel like something's wrong if I don't have immediate access to it.

"Seed Of Memory" - Terry Reid

What the hell, right? Anyone who knows me knows I have a strong aversion to the hippy drippy sentiment of the late 60's and early 70's. I can't connect to any of it, only really vibing to southern rock and the more aggressive precursors to hard rock.

Well, maybe how I came to the track is part of why I enjoy it - via Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejectsof all things. Say what you will about Zombie as a filmmaker but the man knows how to put together a soundtrack.

In this case, the song actually plays during the end credits after the antiheroes of the piece have been peppered with bullets by the Texas State Police. The song was actually a great comedown to the often garish violence of the previous 2 hours and Zombie was right to use it for the credits which kept the image up high - an eagle's eye view of the world below, divorced from all the terrible things that had happened before.

I appreciate the song now on its own now because of how rich and textured the track is. Its melancholy melody can alternately soothe or subdue me depending on my mood and I come back to it frequently when I need it.

"Joga (Remix)" - Bjork remixed by Alec Empire

I mentioned before the quality of Bjork's voice. Here, noise and hardcore artist Alec Empire wields it like a weapon - sending a blast of her vocals in between assaultive bass attacks. It's actually really unexpected and was such a departure from what I was used to in her work. I think the only other analogue I'd heard up to that point was "Army of Me" but there was such a gap between that track and this one that history had a way of getting lost in between.

What I'm saying is, I love it precisely because it's NOT a song by my favorite artist or at least it's a dramatic reinvention that actually makes me appreciate her talent all the more for its malleability.

On top of that, I first heard this song around the time that I was really into the Atari Teenage Riot. At this age I may not get as much out of their music, but Alec Empire's solo work has continued to endure because it's usually so raw and powered at times by its digressions and divergences.

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