Track-by-track reviews of songs I like/(re)discover. This will be a regular feature. Most of the ones I post for the next week or so will be things I listened to last month.
So….yeah. Here goes.
Golden Mile - Daniel Rossen (2012)
It’s all in the percussion. Not that this track isn’t as lush and delicate sounding as you’d expect a Rossen piece to be; the guitar he plucks away at in the beginning and during the coda sounds like it’s been fitted with your very heartstrings. But the drumming here (done by Dr. Dog’s Eric Slick) is as driving and insistent as some of Veckatimest’s most spirited moments. As is Rossen’s guitar work for most of the track, actually - this is one of the secrets of his style. His rhythms don’t just mildly occupy space. They really move. Think back to the end of “While We Wait for the Others”. This is quieter, but the dynamics are the same. This is a song that sounds like it knows where it’s going even if the fingerpicked melodies and Rossen’s croon evoke the desire to linger somewhere - anywhere - for a little while. It is ostensibly about motion and the desire to cover distance (emotional? literal?) after all: It’s a lie, run free/Those lies, they’re precious to me/Come along, leave me be. And the title, of course. Golden Mile. Gorgeous.
Shapeless & Gone - Porcelain Raft (2012)
Porcelain Raft (Mauro Remiddi) makes exactly the kind of music you’d expect an act called Porcelain Raft to make. This is the dreamiest of dream pop. Or is it? And it’s hard to sleep tonight/In my head, buildings are collapsing. No sleep - no dreams then, either? Listening to “Shapeless and Gone” you can’t help but feel like a substitution’s been made to the whole formula - Remiddi’s traded bliss for real weight here. The whole thing kind of plods along, driven by a beat apparently tethered to a ball and chain. The song itself sounds wounded - there’s certainly lethargy to Remiddi’s vocals and the thoughts he’s sketching out are smothered with a palpable sense of loss, but it’s really the chords, of course, that make you realize that you (and Remiddi) aren’t really floating after all - you’re sinking. Gracefully. Prettily. Slowly. But surely.
In the Upper Room: Dance IX - Phillip Glass; Choreographed by Twyla Tharp (1986)
This is dance music. Ballet, actually. Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room is apparently something of a classic within the canon of modern ballet. There’s no story within the performance, just interaction between two distinct groups of dancers. One group, called the “stompers” wears sneakers and references social dance and martial arts with its loose but assertive movements. The other group, called the “bomb squad” wears traditional pointe shoes and sort of briskly glides around the stage twirling and such. The way the two play off of each other is a lot prettier than I can convey. What does all of this say about Glass’ score in and of itself? Everything, basically. If Glass’ compositions could be said to be about any one thing, it would probably be that exact kind of synergy between moving parts —a lot of moving parts. As in many Glass compositions, the “ground”, if you will, that this piece, the finale to Upper Room, is built on is ostensibly solid. But that’s only because, much like the movements of atoms in real physical solids, the parts that compose that surface vibrate, oscillate, and quaver constantly, precisely, and minutely. There’s a lot going on, but the spine of what’s happening is wound so tight that it can sustain the weight of…well, majesty in this case. Both onstage and in the accompaniment.
The Spark That Bled - The Flaming Lips (1999)
What was this, I thought, that struck me?/What kind of weapons have they got?/The softest bullet ever shot. I don’t really follow the Lips so I’m never really sure what presumably scary, metaphorical “They” exactly keeps popping up in their songs. Whoever “They” are, the Lips don’t really seem to be taking the threat all that seriously - although the lyrics to “The Spark that Bled” evoke struggle, upheaval (or at least a new wave of….something.), and, of course, bleeding, the two dominant moods on display here are basically the sleepiness of the track’s start and finish (twinkling - an adjective I never thought I’d use to describe guitar tones.) and the chipper repose of its unexpectedly jammy quasi-coda. Bright harmonies and a mildly hypnotic, shape-shifting refrain lie in between. It comes together nicely - not quite like clockwork though. That’d be less fun/interesting, anyways.
Treat Her Like A Lady - Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (1971)
Minimalist soul at its best. There’s honestly not that much going on here. An easy grove, call and response, and, of course, that melody - just try to get it out of your head, I dare you.
Machine Gun - Commodores (1974)
Funk. This song is coercive - you can’t not move. You could strip it down to the congas, the clavinet, and the bass and the effect would be exactly the same. The extras are just bonus. The synth that comes in near the beginning always makes me chuckle for some reason.
I Saw the Light - Todd Rundgren (1972)
It would actually make a lot of sense to come away from “I Saw the Light” feeling swindled. It’s a homage to singer-songwriters Carol King and Laura Nyro (favorites of mine) but, like many homages, it doesn’t really hold a candle to most of their work in terms of complexity. But that’s only because Rundgren’s not trying; the song’s actually one big joke. Tongue firmly in cheek, Rundgren rattles off an impressive string of cliches and clumsy platitudes (But I love you best/It’s not something that I say in jest/’cause you’re different, girl from all the rest/in my eyes) in what amounts to a send-up of 60s pop in general. It’s funny, but the hooks are the real story here. They’re simpler than anything you’ll find in Nyro, King, “Hello It’s Me” (easily one of the top 10 pop songs ever written, imo) and, in fact, the rest of Something/Anything?’s kaleidoscope pop, but they do keep you coming back. Promise.