February 16, 2010


A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.


HOT CHIP -- "Hand Me Down Your Love"
I'd totally forgotten about thier new album until I saw this clip of them playing on Fallon with the Roots. They did two songs. (This is the other.... both were on YT for a while until NBC cocked blocked them. Sorry for the ads.). Both were tight as shit. And I mean that in the middle school sense of "Man, that's TIGHT!" as well as the sense of "Hot Chip and the Roots played very fundamentally sound music in this performance."

Anyway, neither of those songs is this song, but their Roots show reminded me to buy their album. Which I did on Saturday. And I like this song the best (so far) after a few listens.

TALKING HEADS -- "The Big Country"
I try to get "Big Country" stuck in my head, mostly by using it as the alarm wake-up song. Goo goo ga ga ga.

I'm still looking into this band's music, honestly. I can say I'm drawn to them, at the very least, because their sound is catchy and non-committal. Also, they use the xylophone a little in this song.

GUIDED BY VOICES -- "Motor Away"
Barring long trips, I drive with the window down. I like the wind on my face, even if it's bitter instead of balmy. I like the sensation of hacking through my surroundings and being exposed to the traffic and absorbing the sounds as well as the scenes of the road. The sensory rumble makes me less secure, more aware. "Motor Away" is one of my favorite driving songs and is one that I think about often during winter. The line "When you motor away down the icy streets" conveys the frightening vulnerability that accompanies an epic escape -- this vivid picture liberates and unsettles and makes you feel alive. For a song that contains some of the most cynical lines I've heard in pop music (When you free yourself from the chance of a lifetime / You can be anyone they told you to), it's mightily refreshing as a whole.

FRANK SINATRA -- "New York, New York"
An old man, still as good as ever.

MILES DAVIS -- "Pharaoh's Dance"
I don't have a song in particular that I've been listening to intently or focused on, so I sent this one because I have been listening to the album Bitches Brew compulsively for the past year and half and haven't really mentioned or discussed it with any depth. It simply sounds like no other music I've ever heard or will probably hear - and that's not an overly self-involved, bullshit, cliched dramatization. It is in all honesty some of the most bizarre, original, and visionary stuff I've encountered - dreamlike, exotic, flowing, chaotic, aggressive, primal, sexual and improvised music. No genre really wants to claim it: It's too freakish, audacious, and experimental for jazz, but too sophisticated, elaborate, and expansive for rock or pop. It's too "solid", making use of concrete grooves, melodies, and themes to be considered out and out ambient, but too wrapped in it's own distorted, reflective atmospheric haze to be considered any sort of traditional improvised music. It can be sort of daunting, strange, and awkward music to try and get inside of, or even close to.

It makes me think about Marc Ribot, the experimental post-punk noise guitarist, who talks about how the question of What is this music? is not actually intrinsic in the music you're inquiring about. Some music, like 18th century classical, big band jazz, 90s grunge, etc. seems obvious to pin down in terms of classification as well as approaching it aesthetically. We know how to listen to it and what to call it. But the music that plants itself in these fringe areas doesn't seem to be so immediately understandable or relatable - It's the stuff that, when people ask you what type of music it is, it's such a complex response that you have to simply say "Forget it. You have to hear it." And so we define what the music "is" by association and context. You tend to lump it in with a tradition in order to make sense of it. In this case, Bitches Brew is often considered an avant-garde jazz album. But, some also consider it a progressive rock record. Some might even be able to consider it a "world" music album (though that vague and shitty genre probably doesn't deserve Bitches Brew within its categorical borders).

Ultimately, when this happens, the music itself becomes a part of multiple traditions and leaves traces of itself in the pathways of varied places. You can hear elements of it contributing to free jazz. You can hear trace amounts in the following steps of avant garde rock. Thom Yorke is quoted as saying that he wanted some of Radiohead's late 90's work to capture the sonic environments that he heard in parts of Bitches Brew, particularly with the track "Subterranean Homesick Alien". Again, that seems like a weird spot for Miles Davis's influence to pop up, but, well, it actually fucking happened. What I'm trying to get at is that I've been liking music of this kind lately, stuff that re-envisions particular traditions with new fathers and grandfathers inserted. Ultimately, in making the record, Miles Davis went through this same process, using eastern music, modal jazz, psychedelic rock, atonal classical, etc. as viable influences in the jazz tradition. He then, in turn, created a record that does the same thing and works itself into places where it doesn't necessarily and maybe even shouldn't belong in other future musical traditions.

. . .Also, there's a track on the record called "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down." How goddamned sweet is that.

He's my Dad. Raised me on Jimi Hendrix, Kings X, a bit of T-Rex. Lately he's digging on Them Crooked Vultures and anything that gets the positive nod from Jim Derogatis with the Chicago Sun-Times. We'll forgive my father for putting Wolfmother on his Christmas list.
- Tony

JIMI HENDRIX -- "Hey Baby (The Land of the New Rising Sun)"
This song would have been on Hendrix's final album that was never completed. He played it many times on his final tour in 1970, often experimenting with the lyrics, according to my Pops, who enjoys what Hendrix puts forth instrumentally for this track. He calls it the "best indicator" of where Hendrix was headed in his career.



Blogger Tony said...

I too drive with windows down to hear everything out there. Especially in parking garages.

February 17, 2010 at 12:29 AM 
Blogger JHitts said...

It's really annoying that there isn't a better performance of The Big Country on YouTube.

Also, my favorite line of "Motor Away" is when he sings: "You can belittle every little voice that told you so/ And then the time will come when you add up the numbers" and then he tells you to drive away, And that's all you want to do. It's a very good "fuck you all" song.

February 17, 2010 at 12:53 AM 
Anonymous E said...

Once I was driving into Chicago on the Skyway and "the Big Country" started playing on a local radio station as I descended on the city. Then the DJ cut off the song and started saying that David Byrne is a "great American" and we shouldn't think he's unpatriotic for saying "I wouldn't live there if they paid me" or something.

February 19, 2010 at 10:50 AM 

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