Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Annotated Beukemix, 2013

Liner notes!

1. While You Wait for the Others - Grizzly Bear ft. Michael McDonald
Already put the original version on my 2009 mix, but one morning the Current's morning show played this one as an example of something the band should do more of to garner Grammy voter goodwill. It took me most of the song to believe it wasn't a prank. It's not. It is, however, amazing.

2. Nobody Can - Deltron 3030 ft. Aaron Bruno
I feel lucky in a dumb way that I got into Deltron so late; I only had to wait 8 years for another album, instead of 13. The songs on the new album are great (unlike on the debut, the skits are terrible), and this is a great example. I want to dive into the extensive making-of material on YouTube to see if it's got some info about Del's particular sci-fi background. Thanks to Lacey, I got to see them live in October, which was a lot of fun. Dan the Automator definitely strikes me as the extrovert of the collaboration.

3. Pelican - The Maccabees
The video seems pretty dumb. Recommend listening in a background browser tab.

4. I Got You (At the End of the Century) - Wilco
This is a new re-recording (seemingly unavailable for linking) of the song for the "This is Forty" soundtrack. I will tolerate bluegrass in my rock if it's Wilco.

5. Little Numbers - BOY
There's something quaint about a song that uses knowledge of a telephone number to symbolize the excitement of a new relationship. I mean, the last time I was in one, I memorized Melissa's number pronto, even though I did already have a cell phone and it was somewhat unnecessary. Who knows what the kids are doing today with their hula hoops and fax machines. Get off my lawn. Anyway, it's a nice song that I thought was Feist the first time I heard it.

6. Animals - Muse
I really haven't made the effort with Muse, though I love Knights of Cydonia. This track suggests I really should. It's got a 5/4 time signature, a guitar in David Gilmour mode, and even shares its name with Pink Floyd's underrated masterpiece album. Pure Fredbait.

7. Thrift Shop - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis ft. Wanz Look, the hook is terrific and the song is a lot of fun. Based on their SNL performance, I'm pretty convinced that Ryan Lewis is actually Ryan Howard from The Office. [I don't buy the argument that Macklemore is somehow making fun of dressing in thrift store clothes. Based on the rest of the album, if there's one thing he's not lacking, it's sincerity; I think he's genuinely celebrating thrifty cultivation of a unique personal style. The idea that the song is somehow at the expense of those who cannot afford not to shop at thift shops suggests that thrift shops are only intended to be for poor people.]

8. She Cries Your Name - Beth Orton
Missed this one back in its day, and when I heard it this summer the song's half-decade of origin was apparent: only the mid-90s produced alt-rock singer songwriters with acoustic guitar, upright bass, a hip-hoppish drumbeat and electronic piano flourishes. If she were male and ended every sentence with a superfluous "-ah," I'd think it was a lost Soul Coughing cut.

9. Spectrum - Florence + The Machine
Downloaded this song back to back with the Beth Orton, and when I listened to them on a drive one evening, the transition between sort of faded into nothingness, like they were two adjacent movements of a larger work. Apart, I like both songs. Together, I love them. Also: I like to think Orton was referring to Florence crying your name, and now Florence is suggesting you return the favor.

10. Shuggie - Foxygen
A somewhat silly little suite of a pop song, with an odd keyboard break in the middle that somehow reminds me of Toe Jam and Earl.

11. The Bear and the Maiden Fair - The Hold Steady
Watching Game of Thrones, it feels like there are only two songs in all of Westeros. The show introduced "The Rains of Castamere" in the second season, and explained it in detail midway through the third, so that once it became important to the plot, you'd know to be alarmed that you were hearing it. "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" carries less baggage; it's the "Piano Man" or "Sweet Caroline" of the fictional world, the song everybody sings together when they get drunk. The Hold Steady were a great choice to flesh it out, and they make it sound like a Hold Steady song, especially with the talking bit in the bridge. On the show this recording is introduced at one of the more hilariously brutal cut-to-blacks I've seen on TV.

12. Oh! You Pretty Things - David Bowie
Max got super into Bowie's "Changes" this year (other song obsessions: "C is for Cookie," Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us," "Folsom Prison Blues"), so I spent a lot of time listening to Hunky Dory. Always liked this song, but it hooked me anew under increased scrutiny. The video link is a nice live version from the BBC in '72 that I'm pretty sure is Bowie doing karaoke to the instrumental track from the album.

13. Singers and the Endless Song - Iron & Wine
If I'd known Iron & Wine sometimes got beyond the folky songwriter business and messed around with obscure metaphor, deep bass lines, organ, and horn sections, I'd have been paying attention way sooner.

14. Prisoner - Har Mar Superstar ft. Fabrizio Moretti
Damn. I want the Robinson Caruso Organization to still exist so we can play this song. First time I heard it, I wondered if James Rone had secretly taken the project to the big time without the rest of us. Incidentally, apparently Fabrizio Moretti is the drummer from The Strokes.

15. Crazy - Petula Clark
This one comes from my brother, who I thank for bringing it to my attention. Yes, this is 80-year-old Petula Clark, of "Downtown" and "Don't Sleep in the Subway" fame, kicking ass on Gnarls Barkley's 2006 summer jam. Between that version, the Spaghetti Western score it samples, and this cover, the song has now been on my mix three times.

16. Black - Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi ft. Norah Jones
I liked the song when it closed out the 4th season of Breaking Bad, and finally got the album it came from for my birthday. As much as the orchestration is part of my appreciation of the song and the Spaghetti Western style, this simple version with just Luppi, Jones and Danger Mouse in a room is very cool as well.

17. Royals - Lorde
Seems like more and more the tastes of the Top 40 are overlapping with those of The Current's programmers. I jotted this song down during a morning commute a couple months before it was suddenly ubiquitous on the web and hit #1 (bookended by Miley Cyrus, a strong counterexample to the trend). Having now seen some live recordings of Lorde, I find her mannerisms while she sings really distracting. But that doesn't detract from how catchy and atmospheric this song is.

18. Givin' 'Em What They Love - Janelle Monáe ft. Prince
Had "Q.U.E.E.N." in the mix until I finally got "Electric Lady" this fall, and this song kicked my butt. I love Monáe's sci-fi world building, and the new album made me want to dig more into The Archandroid, which I liked well enough, and her first EP, which I haven't heard. Here are a couple of good pieces about her: one two. That second, from Alyssa Rosenberg, highlights one of my favorite things about Monáe - her sci-fi world building. I really, really want an RPG from Todd Howard's Bethesda team (Fallout 3, Skyrim) set in Janelle Monáe's Metropolis.

19. Bus Passes and Happy Meals - Lizzo
Lizzo is based in Minneapolis though she hails from Detroit via Houston. She cites Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot as major inspirations, and this track (no link available) shows that latter influence plainly. This sounds in some ways like a lost Elliot track, with Cliff Rhymes doing his best Timbaland impression early on (though adding more vocally than I think Timbaland ever did). Anyway, it's great, and I look forward to hearing more.

20. Holding On for Life - Broken Bells
My favorite song of the year. Between Deltron, Janelle Monáe and this video, it's a great year for sci-fi in music. But even before I saw this video, I was imagining the establishing shots of 2019 Los Angeles from Blade Runner when I heard the smooth instrumental bridge. The chorus sounds like a Bee Gees song -- I mean that here as a compliment. [For those keeping score at home, this makes three songs with Danger Mouse writing credits this year.]

21. Shelter Song - Temples
Sounds like a good late period British Invasion song, until the last two notes of the guitar hook. Those last two notes! This song is all about those last two notes.

I had an unusual number of songs that just missed the cut this year. They include:
Mama Told Me - Kelly Rowland ft. Big Boi;
Pay the Price - Deltron 3030;
1x1x1 - Cloud Cult; Congratulation - MGMT;
Clint Eastwood - Trey Anastasio;
(You Will) Set the World on Fire - David Bowie;
Tusk - Fleetwood Mac;
Sacrilege - The Yeah Yeah Yeahs;
Sad Nile - The Whitefield Brothers;
Skeletons - Stevie Wonder;
The Rains of Castamere - The National;
Q.U.E.E.N. - Janelle Monáe ft. Erykah Badu (one of my favorite videos of the year);
Genius - Inara George;
Sleeping Ute - Grizzly Bear;
Line of Fire - Junip;
That's It! - The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (thanks, Joe Bozic, for this one); and
Antiphon - Midlake, which was bumped off by Temples at the last minute.

This was the tenth Beukemix I've done in this year-retrospective format, and I always enjoy sharing songs that caught my ear. If you have any songs you think I might like based on all these self-indulgent posts, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Annotated Beukemix 2012, belatedly

Here are liner notes for this last year's mix! Better late than never, I suppose, and I gotta get this out of the way as I finish up the 2013 mix.

1. Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day - Stevie Wonder
A Wonder song I was unfamiliar with, instantly liked. This song fits into a genre that was new in 2012: songs I'd love to have been able to play as part of the Robinson Caruso Organization. The RCO played its last gig at our trobonist's wedding in March, but every now and then I hear a song that would be right in our wheelhouse in terms of style and instrumentation.

2. Heartaches And Pain - Charles Bradley
Another song I want to play the trumpet part for. Like Sharon Jones, Bradley is one of the throwback R&B singers who's still knocking out amazing late 60s/early 70s style songs decades later.

3. Nightcall - Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx
Ridiculous and fantastic 80s soundtrack throwback from the opening credits of "Drive," following by far the best scene in that film, the tense robbery getaway drive through a downtown LA evening.

4. Somebody That I Used To Know – Gotye ft. Kimbra
I know, ok. But despite being run into the ground by top 40 radio, this is a really-well crafted pop song, and a rare example of an unreliable narrator in current pop music: listen to Kimbra's response in the back half, and it becomes apparent that Gotye's protagonist is full of shit. Also, xylophone.

5. DoYaThing - Gorillaz ft. Andre3000 & James Murphy
You got Outkast in my Gorillaz. Something about the wordless lines in James Murphy's choruses reminds me of the song Jabba the Hutt's band plays (Lapti Nek) in the original version of Return of the Jedi.

6. Truth - Alexander The only pop song I know of with a bass clarinet solo. FYI, Alexander [Ebert] is the lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This was featured at the end of "Box Cutter," the 4th season premiere of Breaking Bad.

7. To Love Somebody - Nina Simone
Heard this in "I Love You, Philip Morris," the decent Jim Carrey / Ewan McGregor vehicle. Much better than the original.

8. The Police & The Private - Metric
I'd heard a bit of Metric before Ta-Nehisi Coates' enthusiasm really spurred me to pay more attention when he linked to an interesting live version of this one on his blog. The restless cymbal and noodling keyboard lick throughout sold me on the band.

9. The Killing Moon - Echo & The Bunnymen
First heard it in the opening scene of "Donnie Darko" years ago. Noticed it with more enthusiasm during my seemingly annual Rock Band 3 kick. The opening guitar line and echoing piano figures creep me out in a good way.

10. Surgeon - St. Vincent
Liked this song on the radio, though my first impression was that it was another song swiping the melody of "You Only Live Twice." St. Vincent's AV Club interview about the song was interesting: the titular line comes from Marilyn Monroe's diary, which referred to acting teacher (/Hyman Roth) Lee Strasberg as the "best, finest surgeon to come cut me open."

11. Night & Day - Hot Chip
A goofily menacing dance pop tune with a goofily menacing dance pop video, the style of which reminds me somehow of The Handmaid's Tale. You know, without all the forced birth.

12. Stop the Press - Brother Ali
I had the privilege of improvising scenes to go with Brother Ali's stories in Show X last year. Around the same time, I heard this on the radio during one of Max's lunch times (Max enjoyed dancing to it). It's an autobiographical rhyme about the previous few years of Ali's life, and the crap that's gone down while his career blew up.

13. Till the End of the Day - The Kinks
I read someone recently saying that although they love every Kinks song they know, they wouldn't consider the Kinks a favorite band. Let's let the Kinks into our hearts, people. Wes Anderson's been doing too much of the Kinks-loving heavy lifting.

14. For Tomorrow - Blur
Damon Albarn makes another appearance with a song brought to my attention by an AV Club piece about "Songs we want to live inside." Claire Zulkey picked this one for its romantic optimism in a cold, gray world.

15. Crystal Blue Persuasion - Tommy James & The Shondells
That Vince Gilligan and his Breaking Bad crew managed to hold off on using this on-the-nose musical cue until their last mid-season-finale is a pretty impressive show of restraint. The montage they used it in was great, but also made me notice the song's greatness. I tend to lump the Shondells with The Association and The Turtles as popular 60s bands who I don't think get enough credit for their musical excellence.

16. Michael Praytor, Five Years Later - Ben Folds Five
Having been mixed on the last few Ben Folds solo albums, I was happy that the band's return sounded like it could have come out 2 years after 1999's "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner," instead of 13.

17. The Horror - RJD2
Someone (Huge Theater tech Josh Kuehn, I think) included this in the pre-show music for "Creature Feature," the improved monster movie, which was in its 9th year in 2012. Apt. Lot of creepy songs on this year's mix. In my mind the guys in the white masks at the end of the video are a bunch of off-season Edgar Allen Poe toasters.

18. Weep Themselves to Sleep - Jack White
My favorite song off of White's first solo album.

19. Tell Me A Tale - Michael Kiwanuka
I love it when songs play with time signature, and this one keeps a steady 4/4 beat throughout, but the emphasis in the verses sounds like a compound 3/8-5/8 signature. So I'll call this the Brahms' 4th Symphony of 2010s soul songs.

20. Americanarama - Hollerado
Kid in the Hall Dave Foley did a "Theft of the Dial" segment on the Current in November, with lots of interesting tidbits: Foley realized he needed to get divorced when he heard the Barenaked Ladies' song "Break Your Heart," and Aimee Mann's Oscar-nominated "Save Me" was written about him. But this song, the video of which stars Foley as a take on American Apparel's sleazebag founder Dov Charney, is way more fun.

Coming soon to this space: 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Before the decade is out

It's a bad workman blames his tools, but I want to go on record: the commonly-available contemporary pumpkin carving tools are worthless pieces of crap.

Go to Walgreens or Target or some such, and you'll find kits like these from Pumpkin Masters (right). They typically come with a pulp scraper, a plastic "drill", and one or two serrated carving knives. These have slightly more cutting power than a sheet of tin foil.

I may not be a structural engineer,* but common sense suggests a 1/4" x 1/16" x 2 1/2" steel blade will buckle under the compressive load required to puncture the shell of a pumpkin. This theory is borne out by lab tests:

Ah, you say, that's why they give you the "drill"! You push that in, and make that hole the starting point for the knife to saw from. If that is true, the drill needs work, too. Mine bent and yielded at the handle the first time I stabbed the shell. And even just sawing without poking, the knife continued to deform unless I held it by the blade to shorten its unbraced length.

My pet theory is that Pumpkin Masters know that if people are able to reuse their pumpkin knives year after year, they're out of business. So they sell $4 kits that, other than the scoop (I have three now), cannot possibly survive more than a couple of pumpkins. Somehow they've cornered the retail market, and have a captive clientele.

Ridiculously, they also offer a power saw. When you load the batteries into the handle, it really emphasizes the flimsiness of the blade. When you flip the switch, the metal feebly flutters at the end of the grip. I believe mine crumpled like tinsel under atmospheric pressure as soon as I took it out of the package.

Dammit, it's the year 2013, and this is America. How have we not nailed this? We had a terrific pumpkin cutter in the late 80s. Why have we regressed?

(I miss these things. These were great. My family had two, but they went missing years back.)

These are extraordinary times, and we face an extraordinary challenge. Now it is time to take longer strides--time for a great new American enterprise--time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in pumpkin carving achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on Earth!

* I am.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Toddler Video Clearinghouse

I've finally uploaded a bunch of videos of Max from my phone to YouTube. Here they all are, for those among you who are interested in videos of Max being funny. Be forewarned that a couple of these are for serious Max fans only, as not a lot happens. I don't know why I'm apologizing. Enjoy.

1. Max and the Ho-Di-Ho Hat (previously posted on Facebook)

2. Max plays in the snow

3. Maisy makes a goal

4. Swinging with Nana Debbie

5. Advice for 9-month-old cousin Lily

6. Here's an old one I found on my computer, from the Summer of '11, when Max was about 7 months old.