Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bowie. Pt. 1

Okay, so I'm all about Bowie, yeah?

But push comes to shove, I'll make a top 5. It was pretty hard, but I've done it, and I think the results are pretty groovy.

I mean, as far as I'd use that word. They're all good, though. I mean, duh, it's Bowie.

And I'm pretty nutty about Bowie. I actually purchased the Tin Machine albums!

I didn't buy Never Let Me Down, though. I'm not that nutty.

Anyways, here's the list... in CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER:

1. Conversation Piece (from the Prettiest Star single from 1970, later released on the Rykodisc reissue of the Space Oddity album, and even later re-recorded for the unreleased Toy album. But this is the original.)

This is one of the Bowie songs I'm lucky to hear. The Rykodisc reissues are out of print now, and a lot of them had some killer choice bonus tracks, this one included. This song I like though for more than just being a deep cut. It doesn't ever force itself on you, it's quiet, but still intense in it's own way. But it doesn't need to be loud, if anything, that would contradict everything the song is about. As for that, it's a wonderful case of one of Bowie's "character" songs, songs he wrote while inhabiting a role. Of course his best known role is Ziggy, but as a character, Ziggy is pretty boring and undescribed. Bowie's earlier characters (pre Space Oddity) were pretty silly and too goofy to really take seriously for more than a laugh, which isn't to say they didn't show any creativity, they just weren't really gelling completely yet. Conversation Piece, I believe, is the first really great character song. The character is still quirky, but isn't from another planet. If anything, he's more human than almost any other character Bowie got into (until Hours, when the character became Bowie himself). This man's story is told so simply and directly that you can't help but be friends with him. Also, this song has the least-irritating key change in recent memory.

2. Candidate (Original Demo, released with the Diamond Dogs anniversary release)

While most of the bonus tracks on the Diamond Dogs reissue were pretty lame, Candidate makes the whole set worth buying (also, the phat picture of Bowie and Bourroughs). This demo sounds nothing at all like the Candidate that ended up on Diamond Dogs, but from the first deep drum hits, you know it's destined to be even more epic. It surely doesn't disappoint. What's really puzzling is how Bowie took two lines "i'll make you a deal" and "we'll pretend we're walking home," and made them into the album version of Candidate. Also, rather than ruining it, Bowie's semi off-key vocals make the song even more unnerving.

3. Can You Hear Me? (released on Young Americans, 1975)

This song has a number of nostalgic reasons for being on the list. For one, it was one of the first Bowie songs I heard, because it was on one of my Mom's killer cassette mixes she used to make (they had great titles, too, like "Olive View" and "Harry Woo's Bar Mitzvah" and "Isn't We.") The other reason it's important is because it's on Young Americans, which is the first Bowie album I consciously heard. Let me tell you the story:
It was 8th grade, and I was totally bored with everything I had to listen to. I would puke if I listened to anymore Peter Gabriel, I just wasn't in the mood for any more Pumpkins, and I was so bummed I couldn't even listen to the Beatles. So I went to my parent's CD shelf, which was pretty monstrous. After perusing it for a while, I saw Bowie, and I thought "Ohhh, that Bowie guy. I've heard his name, I think he did that Fill Your Heart song I like." At this point, I didn't even know Bowie wrote Space Oddity or China Girl (yeah, I know Iggy Pop wrote it, too. Wah, wah.) So I grabbed the three CDs they had: Hunky Dory, Station to Station, and Young Americans.

So I put them in my three-disc changer in random order and hit play. And with that first drum fill into Young Americans, I was never the same. Seriously.

Anyways, Can You Hear Me? is probably Bowie's best attempt at the Soul he was going for at the time. It's got the most feeling, and doesn't sound too coked out. It takes it's time, and by the end, you're hammered with feeling.

4. Teenage Wildlife (Released on Scary Monsters, 1980).

My biggest pet-peeve with Bowie releasing new albums is that every time it happens, people say "his best since Scary Monsters." That hasn't been true since Buddha of Suburbia, and it's unfair to every album. Shit, even Let's Dance is a good album, it's just been tainted by popularity. And, I must admit, I don't agree with all the hype Scary Monsters has. While it's got some of his best songs, it's also got some total yawnsville-throwaways.

Not so this. This song is a spiritual sequel to "Heroes," but takes the lyrics from mythical to more down-to-earth. It's pretty bleak on the lyric side, but the music is absolutely soaring and hopeful. Which makes the lyrics lifted out of just being a total bummer dirge. There's a great moment when Bowie riffs on the bands starting to copy his glam-phase, even including a great bit of dialogue with himself. The song is long, but uses it to the greatest. By the time it gets to the end, with Bowie screaming "Wiiiiiiiiild!," you're so fucking into the song you might as well cry. Or kill yourself. I mean, seriously, it's that good. If this list was made by order of how much i'm into it, this song might have been number one.

5. Untitled No. 1 (from Buddha of Suburbia, 1993).
This one comes from Bowie's most horrifically unknown album. It was released in 1993, when Bowie was still riding high from Black Tie, White Noise. But it was marketed as a soundtrack (which it isn't), and then got totally fucked by Bowie's label folding. This is really sad, because Buddha is seriously one of Bowie's best albums. It's a great precursor to Outside (even containing an early version of Strangers When We Meet), but mixes the wild experimentation of the later album with the beautifully tunesmithing of the earlier. And right in the middle of it, wedged between beautiful instrumentals and off-kilter but still gorgeous pop songs is Untitled No. 1, the best of the bunch. The song exists in such a different world than ours that I don't even feel qualified to discuss it fully, I'd really just rather have you hear it and travel wherever it takes you. I guarantee you'll enjoy yourself.

Okay, so there's the list. I promise that sometime, I'll return to Bowie again, and go in to other reasons he's awesome. Reasons that you don't already know. So stop making out with your photos of Ziggy and join the front lines in praying that he'll record just one. more. album...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Midsummer's Day In A Graveyard

When people talk about Radiohead, and In Rainbows especially, I feel like a lot of people really gloss over the fact that it's such a good album. It's a great album! But people are hung up on either A) distribution or B) it's not OK Computer. Well, I like Kid A better than OK Computer, and I still love In Rainbows. That wasn't really a proper argument, but it doesn't really need to be. Just like In Rainbows doesn't have to be about dystopic faults in humanity and technology. It can be about you & me, you know? Well it is, I guess. It's very hotly debated. I try to keep up with At Ease's message board, but I stopped because it got really really ugly talking about the 'themes' of In Rainbows. I feel like getting really really ugly defeats the whole mood of the album. Except Bodysnatchers, I guess.

Anyways, on New Year's Eve Radiohead had a webcast (pre-recorded segments, but put together, so it was more like a little film. With Radiohead in it). It was called Scotch_Mist, and it was really stellar.

(side note: i find it funny i take the time to explain things that are incredibly easy to find out anywhere else. please indulge me until i get over it)

Scotch_Mist was a really wonderful thing. It was great to watch the band play through the whole album, really intimate. All the songs held up great, and the variations made on them really got me riled up and excited for the tour coming up. Ooo-eee!

Here's the whole thing:

And here's some songs from it:

Jigsaw Falling Into Place

And here's one of the spoken Interludes:
Head & Shoulders

Not to mention a short bit of an Arpeggi Remix:

Fact is, I'm nuts for Radiohead, and while I'd love to gush and gush about them and talk about specific things, I do believe I should wait until all the commotion turns down. It shouldn't be too long, I think people are starting to get over "the end of the music industry." Silly lads. Tee hee!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I'm Not There (1956)

This is a song Bob Dylan recorded with The Band while he was 'recuperating' (conspiracy etc) from his motorcycle accident (more often referred to as the Basement sessions, tapes, etc). It didn't end up on The Basement Tapes or any Bootleg Series so far, which is nothing sort of ridiculous. It's release on the soundtrack to the film I'm Not There corrects this wrongitude.

Bob Dylan—I'm Not There (1956)

The song itself is among the best examples of Dylan Magic. If you really pay attention to the lyrics you'll find that they're nonsense, sounds Bob was singing, most likely to denote what sounds he wanted where, or just as a basic guide to a melody that he'd finish later. He never finished the song, and we're left with this ghost. But what a powerful Ghost!

It's a pretty simple song, but there's a subtle build with the instruments. Near the end, a little piano riff comes in, seemingly from someone entering the room, or waiting until they know the chords exact, and that waiting seals the deal. But the thing that really makes this song is the fact that even though the lyrics are mostly gibberish, the song still feels like it's about something. It feels like something is happening, feelings are being expressed, but they're being expressed without concrete images, which end up being more powerful than if they were specific. There are a few lines along the way that help it along ('well, I cried tonight, like I cried the night before', and the refrain of 'but i'm not there, i'm gone'), and Bob's delivery is also important, one of the more passioned of the time.

Interestingly enough, if you think of the film I'm Not There in similar terms, it makes a lot of sense. Check it out, and this song.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


In trying to think of a way to introduce this, I decided to be a bit of a sass and put together some songs that have "hello" in the title.  And have them varied, sort of as a nice way to say "hello, this is the kind of stuff that i listen to and think about."
I'm not going to write about up-n-coming things, unless that's what's on my mind.  I guess the real goal of this is to write about things that are on my mind, songs that I like and have something to say about.  They may be purposefully bad, or they may be songs that most people think are bad but that I think are really nice.  Maybe in doing this, I'll figure out what really are the things that define "good song" to me.  And maybe you too!

A little about me: I'm a student at (deep breath) Theschooloftheartinstituteofchicago (exhale, inhale) right now.  That's all well and good, but more well and good is music, which I make by the name Violet Mice.  Add a dot com to the band name and you can visit my keen site.  But now, the blogggggg:

I was fortunate enough (apparently) to get into Todd Rundgren without having any idea of who he was.  By that I mean, I had no connection to Todd as a 'classic rock schmooze rocker.'  To me, Todd was only one of the people that my Mom had on one of her amazing and well-titled Mixtapes.  Of course, in Todd's prime, he had many fans and wasn't a laughing stock.  But nowadays he's known for The New Cars and stupid sunglasses: 

Those glasses are so dumb.  But that's not the point.  The Point is that Todd Rundgren is (used to be?) a really freaky pop genius, one that I'm sure I'll revisit in the future.  In Todd's heyday, he could write a perfect, literally perfect popsong with the greatest ease.  Hello, It's Me is not his greatest, but it's still amazing.  It's got a groove, a hook, a lil' swagger.  It's got everything going for it, and it's got cute lyrics.  

I don't think John Cale gets nearly enough credit as he does.  Everyone goes on and on about Lou Reed and his solo albums, but here's the thing (and it's wildly controversial, so sue me): John Cale's were better.  Lou Reed has spunk and sass up every orifice imaginable, but John Cale's got the chops.  He knows how to put a song together, whereas I really get the feeling that Lou Reed just gets lucky with his composition.  Now, I'm not saying that makes Lou bad, I just really really feel like John Cale made the better albums, but wasn't enough of a weirdo to get the attention.  Now, I'm choosing this song because it has the word "hello" in it, so it's not the greatest example of what I'm talking about, but it's certainly not a bad song, and now I'll just have even greater reason to write more about him (and in particular, his album Paris 1919) later.

If you don't know who The Residents are, you probably haven't spent enough time around me. Just kidding, sort of.  But this band is, as the saying goes, "the most famous unknown band in history."  People who choose to be dismissive will spend most of the time talking about the fact that no one knows (sort of) who the real band members are, and that they wear eyeball masks (which they don't do all the time, it's just the most easily remembered image of them).  The fact is, The Residents have been around for over 40 years, and have churned out increasingly creative, interesting, psychotic, and occasionally beautiful music.  They've also put on incredibly performances and pioneered the music video artform (but who hasn't 'pioneered' it, right?).  I believe The Residents are the most wonderful example of how music can be an artform, and how music can meld with other mediums.  They're amazing, so there.

So that's number one!!! Not bad, eh? See you soon, I'm sure.  And I guess maybe sometime I'll figure out a better way to put up the songs.