Monday, November 10, 2014

The Annotated Beukemix, 2014

I want to try something new this year. Instead of writing up one great big post with notes on each of the songs that grabbed me anew this year, I'm going to serialize it, with one new chunk of the post each workday (and probably the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving). This way I can write in coffee-break-sized chunks instead of blocking off lunchtimes.

Liner notes!

1. Heart of Gold - Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band
I'm not a big Neil Young guy, but when I heard the opening riff of this great soul cover, I knew exactly what song it was going to be. I first put Charles Bradley on my radar a couple years ago, and I look forward to hearing more. His version feels much more "lived in" and painful than Neil Young's ever did to me (I should note that I don't actually dislike Neil Young). (HS)
'I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to "Heart of Gold." I think it was up at number one for a long time, and I'd say, "Shit, that's me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me."' - Bob Dylan
2. Step - Vampire Weekend
Melissa and I heard this one while waiting in a long line of cars at the MSP Humphrey Terminal last December. This was the first time Vampire Weekend had really grabbed me. I love how dense the lyrics are in this song, and now that I'm digging into it, I find that it's full of sideways references to other bands, songs, etc. For someone who geeks out on hyperlink songs like "American Pie," this is catnip. One theory, which I like, is that the "girls" referenced in the song are musical tastes. Every time I see you in the world, you always step to my [music]. That titular line, and the melody of the chorus, are taken from a Souls of Mischief song called "Step To My Girl," which is also good. Maybe that's why Melissa dug the song when we first heard it -- it's got underground Oakland hip-hop in its DNA.

3. Asleep at the Wheel - Band of Skulls
Heavy, riffy, hard blues rock from an English trio. Not a lot going on under the hood, but I don't really pay much attention to lyrics anyway. The reviews I've read like to compare it to later White Stripes or, as Allmusic puts it, Muse playing a Black Keys song (or vice versa). But I'm reminded more of Sabbath.

4. Savion Glover - P.O.S.
P.O.S. spits the anxieties of the late Bush era into a restless and efficient track from Doomtree's 2007 album. Great hook, great wordplay and lyrical pivots. I also love the metaphor of the last line and the title as regards the architects of the Global War On Terror (GWOT, TM) and the invasion of Iraq. (TC)

5. Chain My Name - POLIÇA
A track I really liked the sound of from local synthpop outfit POLIÇA. Looking at the lyrics just now, it reads like it's about a crumbling marriage. I just enjoyed that it sounded like 16-bit video game music. (TC)

6. Far From Any Road - The Handsome Family
I didn't think the finale really stuck the landing, but True Detective's deep sense of dread really stuck with me, and I found myself more affected after watching any given episode of the HBO miniseries than anything I'd seen in a long time. The opening credits music by the Handsome Family contributes greatly to the foreboding (helped further by the haunting visuals -- I don't know why, but I found the oil industry landscapes to be some of the visually creepiest things in the show). I know I'm not the only one who thought the opening verse referenced "the poisoned Creole soul," in reference to the story's Louisiana setting, but it's "the poison creosote," in keeping with the desert imagery of the rest of the lyrics. I wonder if the second season, set in California, will keep the song. (Bonus: check out the opening from this season of Key & Peele.) (HS)

7. Turn-of-the-Century Recycling Blues - And The Professors
I just found out yesterday that the singer & songwriter here is Adam Levy, formerly of the Honeydogs, who joined us for Show X back in January and with whom I had a good chat about his love of film composer John Barry. I've sent him some questions about this song, so I might have more to say soon, but for now: My first reaction to this song was just how pleasant and sunny the arrangement was. But then the competing undercurrents of good-old-days nostalgia and the ugliness that lurks throughout history shone through in the lyrics. Very Randy Newmanesque, in both music & lyrics. It's almost like a far more musically interesting, less on-the-nose We Didn't Start the Fire for the 60 years preceding that song's time span. It brought to mind things like Ragtime and Bioshock Infinite and the idea that the happy times that the winners of history remember fondly have some blood stains on them. (TC)

8. Hey, Girl - Sonny Knight & The Lakers
Just... damn. I want to learn the horn part. I love the overall sense of propulsion, and the way the downward horn figure continues for several more notes than expected going into the bridge, and the drum break that seems to be a hat tip to the Amen Brother break, and Sonny's enthusiastic talking bit, and the shout-outs to the soloists, and that the trumpet player bobbles the first couple notes coming out of the bridge, and all of it. (HS, TC)

9. GMF - John Grant
First heard this on The Current. The radio version's chorus refers to "The Greatest Living Person". Something about the syllabic scan of that line suggested to me the song was edited. When I heard the title was GMF, I knew I was right. I love songs where the protagonist is the jerk (the antihero trope is far less played out in music than it is in prestige TV dramas). Paired with lush production, I'm sold.

10. Busy Earnin' - Jungle
High-energy music that makes me happy. The dancing in the video is terrific, too. (HS, HC)

11. Water Fountain - Tune-Yards
One of the things I enjoy about Merrill Garbus' songs is that she generally seems like she's having a blast, even if, as in this case, the lyrics seem to be referencing world issues of starvation and water access. There's something wickedly subversive of couching issues that heavy in music that starts out sounding like a double dutch chant and ends up at one point with a freakout that would be at home on the Katamari Damacy soundtrack. (HC)

12. Pushin' Against A Stone - Valerie June
Joe Bozic alerted me to this song's existence last spring, and I really dug it. It's by far the most r&b/rock-oriented song on June's album with the same title, which displays pretty diverse musical interests and influences. When she came to town for Wits with Kumail Nanjiani in June, she played more country-oriented stuff, which is less my bag but better showcased her voice. She also helped Kumail and Mike and the rest of the crew explain how to buy a donkey (you can totally hear me laughing in this video).

13. Childhood's End - Pink Floyd
Imagine with me: you come to love an insanely popular band late, in early adulthood. Then, one day, you realize that within the range of their albums you consider your favorites, they released a half-instrumental soundtrack album you've never bothered to check out before. And, upon listening, it fits much of the character of the early end of that range of albums you love. That happened to me. My favorite Pink Floyd is that which includes Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Rick Wright all as significant creative contributors. You need Gilmour's spaciness and Waters' deep, bitter sense of the world to be in balance, and you need both Wright's consummate musicality and Gilmour's guitar solos. I do, anyway.

14. Mission Statement - Weird Al Yankovic
As a nerd who was a kid any time later than 1980, I am predisposed to have enjoyed Weird Al at some time in my life. I've always admired his attention to detail in parody, even if I think his lyrics lean more towards silly than incisive humor (incidentally, this is why I've usually found that his polka medleys of pop hits have tended to age best among his songs). But this track is a rare Weird Al song (in the style of Crosby, Stills & Nash, particularly "Carry On" and "Suite Judy Blue Eyes") that I'd actually call satirical.

15. Joke About Jamaica - The Hold Steady
I didn't love Craig Finn's voice when I first heard The Hold Steady, but his style forces attention on the lyrics (rare for me). Each HS song is an empathetic work of short fiction, a character study presented with the sounds of the world's best bar band. The protagonist here is a woman facing the fading of her youth, and looking back on the years that she was hot shit on the scene. The song is also full (including the title) of references to Zeppelin songs, which certainly got my attention. (TC, sort of)

16. Restless Leg - Har Mar Superstar
I've written before that the first time I heard this song I thought it was a Robinson Caruso Organization track that if somehow missed. I hope James Rone takes this as a compliment, but the songwriting and instrumentation sounds so much like that project. Even the keyboard sounds like Andy Crowley often did in the RCO. The song is bouncy and fun. No horns, but nobody's perfect. (TC, sort of)

17. Lazy Wonderland - Broken Bells
"Holding on for Life" was my favorite new song of 2013, so it was going to be hard for the rest of After the Disco to live up to that promise. It was hard, but this beautiful, dark song about love and — madness, I guess? — was another high point. Even though it's from a minor key to a major (instead of major-to-major*), the chord resolution at the end can't but remind me of the end of "With a Little Help From My Friends" (and Oasis' "She's Electric," which stole the same ending).

18. There Is - The Dells
I spent some time this year trying to fill in the gaps of the long-running Beukema Brothers Oldies Download Project. In the process of researching the old Time/Life "Rock & Roll Era" tapes our parents had, I came across this great track. I have no idea if I ever heard it back when KOOL 108 was an oldies station, but it's a terrific sound that reminds me of the things I love about the Four Tops. (HS)

19. Let Me Down Easy - Paolo Nutini
Here's another one Joe Bozic hipped me to, from Scottish R&B singer Nutini. Even though it's built around a sample of American Bettye LaVette, there's something unmistakable about the sound that marks it as being a UK production. Something about the particular way the organ is used, or the trip-hoppiness of the beat. I'm probably making this up. Anyway, it's a smooth little soul song. (HS)

20. New Dorp, New York - SBTRKT ft. Ezra Koenig
I was first struck by, and liked, the deep and somewhat dark weirdness of this track featuring lyrics and vocals by Vampire Weekend frontman Koenig. Turns out the title refers to a neighborhood in Staten Island. And of course the "Empire" and "Rock" in the chorus are buildings as well as metaphors. Though it now feels less inscrutable, I don't pretend to get the extent of the seeming socioeconomic implications of the song's lyrics. But it does remain pleasantly dark, and weird, and toe-tapping.

21. Bad Dream (The Theme) - Nick Thorburn
I'm pleased that this short tune happens to have timed out to be posted on a Thursday, which for the past 12 weeks has been the release days for each new episode of Serial. For that time, this music has been the bookends for Sarah Koenig's exploration of Hae Min Lee's murder and Adnan Syed's conviction. Appropriately, it suggests curiosity with a backdrop of menace, playing these tones against each other. And for the last couple of months, I've been walking around with the "dink dink dink dink" stuck in my head.

22. Hey Jude - Wilson Pickett
Every Thanksgiving, The Current programs a "time machine weekend," where each hour features music from a single year, with the years shuffled throughout the weekend. I wish they did this every weekend. Anyway, this year I heard this great cover of the Beatles, featuring Duane Allman on guitar. (HS)

And that's it! See you next year.

Key and final score:
HS - horn section - 7 - a rare year without a majority
TC - Twin Cities artists - 4 + 2 x 1/2 = 5
HC - hand claps - 1 - poor showing

*Major Major Major Major