Common Vs. Common

April 4, 2011

Today only!

Geographers’ Special: Cities, Decadence, et cetera …

Another day featuring bands with male vocalists. I kind of feel like I need to wedge The Go-Go’s in here somewhere just to balance it out. Or Portishead, maybe. And it’s another British and another American band. C’mon, other countries, catch up! (Actually, that’s ultimately the focus of this blog – more on that in future posts!)

Architectural Style: Brutalism. Exhibit A.

I’m really glad I had the month divvied up before I started blogging musical poetry for National Poetry Month because it sure keeps things flowing smoothly around here, but I’ve only stuck to the chosen song once (on the 2nd), and every other day, I’ve shuffled things around, made alternate arrangements. Today, I changed my mind, on a dime, as usual, this time due to a lovely line I came across in an interview with poet Catherine Theis on the semi-blog from Salt Publishing. She responded to a question, in part, with the remark, “The inside of a verse play or poem (or a painting or a song) is one of the last decadent places on earth.” I then went hunting for a decadent song tucked away in my little list of April’s flowers. (If you didn’t guess on the first day, yes, that’s a layered reference to all these gorgeously-written and mellifluously-echoed songs, as well as the fact that in spite of April’s showers, April has some of its own flowers.) And after paying more careful attention to the exact wording of one of my newer favorite compositions from Editors, “The Boxer,” off their most recent 2009 album, In This Light and On This Evening, I decided it would make an even better double-feature with my second-favorite creation from The National, “City Middle,” off of Alligator, from way back in 2005. The amateur geographer in me tries to look for inspiration even in diversions, like rock music obsessions, which really shouldn’t be considered diversions but appreciated for the high art they so often achieve (and critiqued when they don’t, of course!).  I think part of me feels guilty for lavishing more attention on this blog than on my more academically-oriented endeavors. Ah well. Music heals those wounds, too.

Architectural Style: Brutalism. Exhibit B.

As much as I want to wrap this up and get this syndicated to you guys, some points I shouldn’t put off:

1. If there’s a Simon & Garfunkel connection in Editors’ lyrics, it’s slight, but I don’t disavow its potential presence. That would, of course, only make the gravelly-smooth beauty of the song more delectable.

2. “City Middle” (and its counterpart, “Karen”) features some of The National’s most explicit, grimy lyrics, but the instrumentation and vocals are so beautiful that they would perfectly make up for the partially crude storyline if the storyline itself didn’t have its own redeeming qualities. For me, its in the vividness of the imagery and the way that hazy (or not so much hazy as uncertain) childhood memories are evoked for me by the line “pissing in a sink, I think.” I swear the woman that lived in the next room in the communal apartment of my childhood, who I wholeheartedly believed was my Great Aunt (also uncertain on that now, after all these years, though I still continue to believe it, for lack of an alternative explanation for pieces of my memories, some including threads of conversations structured explicitly around the referent, Great Aunt, though what if that’s an inaccurate memory, too? My toddler years were so very long ago, after all!), had some incident in the apartment which afterward involved a lot of screaming by all parties about pissing in sinks. Maybe a fabrication of my imagination? What an imagination that would be, though… Doesn’t seem right to me. TMI again? Oops. Sorry.

3. The thing about what remains, in our society, of archaic poetry — that is, sung verse — is that there seems much more repetition in song than in printed, never-attempted-sung verse. Aside from ballads, most of today’s songwriters, even the best ones, adhere fairly strictly to industry conventions involving choruses, bridges, echoing of verses, and all that jazz. It’s true — We the audience do very much like the tantalizing hooks, mostly to ensure we have some snatch of tune stuck in our heads all day. We hate silence above all else, it seems (which is quite disheartening!). Repetition works. Poets do use it, too. And there are songwriters who use it less than others. (I dare you to give me example of those who hardly use it at all!) But in our inexhaustible taste for easily-devour-able material, written lyrics can seem not at all smooth, a bit jumpy, a bit coarse, a bit bogged down, to drag their feet more than slightly. Yet when we listen, we are hardly aware of the echoing. It’s a strange phenomenon, and I’m not entirely sure that I have a preference one way or another in terms of the written versions, in spite of all that obstructiveness.

4. Okay, I’m getting antsy and impatient now. Tennessee Williams references! You can easily connect them back to Ms. Theis’s comment about “verse plays” ; I once dreamt that Common Vs. Common was a band that came to play at my school ; I’m having too much fun adding punctuation to lyrics to find the best ways to enunciate the poetic in these lyrical creations, which we might otherwise overlook as too mundane for poetry (shame!) ; … long red socks and red shoes! Are you overwhelmed yet? Great!

Now on to the poems of our bleak cities, occasionally beautiful in their dreariness!

When all the world is dripping poetry, how easily we forget our concrete prisons.

 

The Boxer

A bruised full moon
Play-fights with the stars.
This place is our prison,
its cells are the bars
So take me to town,
I wanna dance with the city.
Show me something ugly, and
Show me something pretty.

Damn this place
— makes a boy out of me.
The ring meets my face
by the count of three!

An unwanted sun
pulls rank in the sky.
The boxer isn’t finished,
He’s not ready to die.
I’m attracted to the light,
I’m attracted to the heat.
It’s a violent night;
There are boxers in the street.

Damn this place
— makes a boy out of me.
The ring meets my face
by the count of three!

And damn this place
— makes a boy out of me
The ring meets my face
before an oak tree!

Dazed in the final rounds,
Dazed in the final rounds,
Dazed in the final rounds,
Dazed in the final rounds.

"I wanna dance with the city..."

 

City Middle

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

I’ve got five-hundred in twenties,
And I got a ton of great ideas;
I’m really worked up.
I’m on a good mixture, I don’t want to waste it.
I’m on a good mixture, I do not want to waste it.
I wanna go gator around the warm beds of beginners;
I’m really worked up.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

I have weird memories of you,
Wearing long red socks and red shoes,
I have weird memories.
I have weird memories of you,
Pissing in a sink, I think;
I have weird memories of you.

I wanna go gator around the warm beds of beginners.
I’m really worked up.
I wanna go gator around the warm beds of beginners.
I’m really worked up.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

I have weird memories of you,
Wearing long red socks and red shoes,
I have weird memories.
I have weird memories of you,
Pissing in a sink, I think;
I have weird memories of you,
Parking your car — you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”
You were thinking out loud, you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”

You were parking your car, you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”
You were thinking out loud, you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”

You said, “I think I’m like Tennessee Williams.
I wait for the click,
I wait, but it doesn’t kick in.”

“I think I’m like Tennessee Williams.
I wait for the click,
I wait, but it doesn’t kick in.”

I have weird memories of you,
Wearing long red socks and red shoes,
I have weird memories.
I have weird memories of you,
Pissing in a sink, I think;
I have weird memories of you,
La da da da …

I have weird memories of you.

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I-I Follow

February 15, 2011

The Grammies (and the BRITs) have been passed out, and I’m paying more careful attention to The Black Keys, La Roux, Switchfoot’s Hello Hurricane, and Patty Griffin’s gospel album, while rediscovering Sade’s recent album, Soldier of Love. Obviously happy (ecstatic, really) for Arcade Fire and Danger Mouse (of Broken Bells, etc.), Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons, Pete Seeger, Big Star, Train, and Muse, as well as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. And planning on checking out Miranda Lambert (and may-be, but only maybe, Lady Antebellum) eventually, especially since Lori McKenna tweeted so excitedly about her win.

But really, I’m riding the crest of Valentine’s Day “weekend” (there needs to be an equivalent term for a combination of weekdays and weekend days falling at the beginning of a work week!) by falling madly in love with Lykke Li, day after day after day. Each day in the past week, I’ve delved into a whole ‘nother layer of my love for “I Follow Rivers,” and now I’m spreading out my affection to her entire ouevre, mostly the songs (and remixes of the songs) from her first album, Youth Novels. I am half-desperate for the next half-month to pass so that I can get my hands on Wounded Rhymes, which is being referred to, logically, as her sophomore album.

So, whether or not you’re feeling blue and lovesick or manic and love-crazed, I bet you’ll benefit from checking out what I’m calling, “Attack of the Swedes!” :

First there was Ane Brun, summoned from within some vague locale in the Internet itself to make my acquaintance. Her voice is mature, with a maternal quality reminiscent of some folk or country singers. She sounds self-sure, plaintive, and sweet, all at the same time.  After listening to some of her songs, you’ll be surprised that the voice you’re listening to isn’t a Brit’s but rather that of a Norwegian who has been living and working for a decade in Sweden. This fact is more evident in her cover of “True Colors” (which I had no idea was first recorded by Cyndi Lauper!). As for what I mean about her “maternal quality,” I sometimes notice something in her sound that, in my mind, makes a perfect match to moments in the recordings of Malvina Reynolds, who I’ve also been obsessing over in the past month. This most likely means one of two things: either our voices don’t change that much over time, or Brun is ahead of her time in multiple ways. Her voice just somehow doesn’t match with her gorgeous, youthful, movie starlet looks. And that’s a good thing! Nothing like the elements of surprise and incongruity to make us pay more attention to beautiful music. Even better, her voice in “Humming One of Your Songs” has some lovely parallels to that of Beth Gibbons of Portishead on “Glory Box.”

Then, through the amazing powers and magic of Last.fm, there was Anna Ternheim. Ternheim has an exquisite voice with a Laura Marling quality you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a native Swedish speaker (I’m referring both to her basic vocals and her British-ish accent here). Notice  a theme here? Anyway, Ternheim shares with Brun a knack for songwriting that mines insight, heartbreak, and everyday, hum-drum life experience and turns it into gold. They’ve both been recognized for this closer to home. It’s time the rest of the world learned to pay more attention!

“You’re my river running high  – run deep, run wild. I, I follow…I follow you, deep sea, baby. I, I follow…I follow you. Dark doom, honey.”

And somehow, somewhere in there, through some dazzling coincidence, Lykke Li appeared from on high and blasted her rays of discoteque-boosted glory through the wires of the Hype Machine. Youth Novels is packed with songs of the heart, as I suppose is understandable if we really concentrate on the meaning of the album’s title and the typical, iconic qualities of youth novels. Lykke had a tempestuous childhood molded by her parents’ jet-setting lifestyle, the effects of which weren’t entirely positive in crafting her world-wise persona. There’s this terrific article from SPIN (cover story, actually), highlighting the fact that she’s poised to become the next international pop superstar, which artfully details Lykke Li’s tempered take on her childhood, her young career, and her talent. I’m just waiting for the day when, several months from the official release of Wounded Rhymes, “I Follow Rivers” becomes a mega-hit, and I’m lounging around, feasting on the high of my “I told you so’s”! ;-)

(Then again, for some mysterious reason, North America has yet to wake up to Bat for Lashes. At least she’s getting recognized on her home turf! Third time’s a charm, Natasha Khan. Just get us that next album, stat!)

El Perro del Mar fits right in with this echelon of strong stars. I know I’m failing at painting these gorgeous, golden-voiced women in all their uniqueness, but, to my credit, it’s past midnight as I blather on and on. But really, El Perro del Mar in all her dreamy, jewel-studded dream-pop glow, has that crazy combination of strange British-influenced accent, tender voice, and model looks as Ane, Anna, and Lykke.  “Inner Island’ wields the timeless quality of its imagery with a calming force, making it reminiscent of Tori Amos’s “Cool on Your Island” from her Y Kant Tori Read days (which I only finally delved into this week — Reactions? “Oh, wow — the eighties!”).

In review, here’s a playlist of songs to check out, for starters (of the love-struck variety):

Little Bit – Lykke Li

Rubber & Soul – Ane Brun

Summer Rain – Anna Ternheim

Humming One of Your Songs – Ane Brun

Inner Island – El Perro del Mar

What Have I Done? (El Perro Del Mar Mix) – Anna Ternheim

I Follow Rivers – Lykke Li

On Fire

February 12, 2011

I want to get in the habit of posting at least every other day, even if I don’t have much to say or anything fancy prepared. After all, my life is music, everywhere you look, in each direction. So here’s a quick little playlist I pulled together on a whim. A special thanks goes to the crazy wiring in my brain, which went from free associating mellow to yellow and eventually somehow to Kings of Leon’s more-plaintive-than-expected crooning of the lyric, “This sex is on fire…”.

Do you have any idea how many songs there are out there that include some combination with “On Fire” in their titles?! Not to mention songs without “On Fire” in their titles but that nevertheless have it as a lyric? Or bands that are named for being on Fire? It’s cah-razy! Anyway, there were way more tunes than I realized even existed, by artists I already love (and therefore you should, too!)… so you won’t have to wish too hard to get a second installment.    :)

It will be quite a while before I get the hang of hosting tunes on my own (which will probably happen for real only when I secure my own domain), so we’ll be relying on the good graces of others for a little while. (Thanks for the bandwidth, guys! I hope you don’t mind too much. If you do, I’m very sorry about being annoying. But I’m probably not giving you that much additional traffic anyway, or if I am, y’all are set up to handle it, I think!) Actually, it’s very frustrating that I can’t upload anything music-wise while I still have space in WordPress (They’ll catch up with the times eventually, right? Space only gets cheaper with time, and attitudes toward music-sharing for the purpose of evangelizing artists only gets more liberal with time, right? …). I’ll have to get back in the swing of using Box for the interim. We’ll probably most often default to my m.o. on the first iteration of this blog — posting hilariously absurd music videos or artsy farsty, avante garde music videos to represent the songs in question as an entire package, with multiple registers of imagery. But today we’ll just send you elsewhere to check out the tunes, because, as mentioned, this is all so very frustrating and time consuming to the amateur music blogger. 

Sex on Fire (Live) – Kings of Leon

Your Head is On Fire – Broken Bells

Sophia – Nerina Pallot

It’s a Fire – Portishead

On Fire – Switchfoot