Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Annotated Beukemix, 2017

Liner notes!

If I know you and you'd like a copy of the mix, hit me up however you might normally do so.

1. Soothing - Laura Marling
A sultry, string-rich song in which Marling wrestles with the choice of letting an ex-lover (apparently Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons) back into her life, or not.

2. Heaven - Talking Heads
Appeared in the season two finale of "Halt & Catch Fire," a criminally-underseen cable drama that finished its run with its fourth season this year. It's an amazing show and uses music really well: songs chosen never pull you out of the moment by either being too obvious a choice or too out-of-place.

3. Come - Jain
Jain is a French singer who spent musically formative years of her childhood in the Middle East & Africa. I went back & forth on whether to go with the airy bounce of "Come" or the bass-heavy "Makeba." Both are fun.

4. Many Moons - Janelle Monáe
This is from Monáe's debut EP "Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase)," though I didn't stumble upon it until hearing it on The Current this year. It's terrific, which is no surprise considering how much I loved her two full-length albums. The vocal hook at the beginning felt very familiar -- it's the Pointer Sisters' "Number Pinball" melody ("1-2-3 4! 5! 6-7-8 9! 10! 11-12.") from Sesame Street.

(Incidentally, I still really want a sci-fi RPG set in Monáe's Metropolis -- her world building on her albums and in her videos is amazing.)

5. Demon in Profile - The Afghan Whigs
There are moments where I feel like I'm settling into the dad rock stereotype. But when there's a straight-ahead rock tune with some horns and a few strings and lots of ride cymbal and a sweet little guitar solo backing up the chorus, and that great major-key shift near the end, how can one resist?

I don't know what I expected from the video, but it wasn't a starring role for Har Mar Superstar.

6. Rain in Soho - The Mountain Goats
Doom. And. Gloom. And sideways references to Smiths lyrics. I love it. The referenced "Batcave" is a seminal London goth club (so that answers the question of which Soho we're talking about).

7. Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards - Billy Bragg
And now the clouds part for a very sunny anthem about socialism, capitalism, and Bragg considering his own politics and music career. I saw Bragg perform at my college my junior (?) year, and it was a great show (I probably saw him perform this song), but I haven't really dug into his music. I should.

8. Track Suit - Minor Mishap Marching Band
The third season of Fargo was not as immediately pleasurable as the second. It seemed to be dealing with stickier themes that happened to resonate with our present political moment: corporate rule, extreme inequality, Russia... And where the second featured about a dozen covers of songs used in Coen Brothers movies, this one used styles and moods connected to each major character, even winking at this by using the music from Peter and the Wolf in an episode. Nikki Swango, the good-hearted grifter played by Elizabeth Winstead, generally gets music with a lot of swagger, like this.

9. Let The Mystery Be - Iris DeMent
This was the opening credits music to most of Season Two and one episode of Season Three of "The Leftovers," which ended its phenomenal run this year. After the emotional wringer of the first season, the song feels at first like a joke, and then like a lifeline. And it fits better as the series goes on and gets more comfortable being weird and funny in addition to heartbreaking.

10. Junk Bond Trader - Elliott Smith
I didn't listen to Smith's last album released in his lifetime until a couple years later, during the semester of grad school that remains the most stressful time in my life. I would listen to it when I would stay up until 2 in the morning correcting 60 Linear Structural Analysis problem sets or working on my own heavy load of homework. Around the same time that I discovered the record, we went to Washington DC for my grandmother's 80th birthday. My grandfather was not himself: his chronic pain had sapped his outgoing nature. I don't know if I expected it would be the last time I saw him, but the lush arrangements of Smith's songs paired well with the emotional melange of that time. (We lost my grandfather four months later, and I miss him a lot. Coincidentally, the world lost Smith another eight months after that.)

Anyway, one day in 2017 I was riding the bus home after work and this song in particular struck me as beautiful, so here it is.

11. The Morning Papers - Prince & The New Power Generation
Had one of those SIRE (Sudden Instantaneous Recall Effect) moments hearing this on the radio during the Current's top 89 Prince songs marathon, and realized that I'd heard it as a single on KDWB back in junior high. The song is apparently about when Prince fell in love with Mayte Garcia, who he would eventually marry. The Revolution remain my favorite Prince backing band, but they didn't have the NPG's horn section, so nobody's perfect.

12. Snake Eyes - Trouble
13. No Stars - Rebekah Del Rio
With a David Lynch project, you know you're going to get some combination of the following in the soundtrack:
a. 1950s throwbacks (bonus points for guitar arpeggios)
b. Spaced-out singing
c. Emotional ballads, potentially involving Roy Orbison
d. Heavy, aggressive, and/or sleazy instrumentals
e. Saxophone freakouts
So, here are two songs that were performed in the 2017 revival of Twin Peaks. The first, by David Lynch's son Riley's band, Trouble, is (d) & (e). The second, a beautiful song by Rebekah Del Rio touches on (a) and (c), but unlike her jaw-dropping Spanish performance of "Crying" in Mulholland Drive, this one does not involve Roy Orbison, though it does feature Moby on the guitar arpeggios.

14. Riding (Night) - Manaka Kataoka & Yasuaki Iwata
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild contains a lot of references to the previous games in the Zelda series, including in its music, but the score is very stripped-down, stepping away from orchestral bombast in favor of small, pointilist arrangements led by a piano. This piece, which plays if you're riding a horse at night in the game, includes one of the few statements of the original musical theme of the series. Given the scarcity of the melody, it gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it.

15. Fatal Gift - Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
Great multi-part rumination on success and its trappings by Emily Haines of Metric in her solo side project The Soft Skeleton. I already liked the simple piano-driven opening, but smiled broadly when the electronics kicked in halfway through.

16. Can I Sit Next To You - Spoon
If this had just been another fine Spoon song in the same vein as some of my earlier favorites, like "I Turn My Camera On," it would have been lovely. But! Then we get these amazing string bits in the bridge and the outro, with these fantastic, long, sustained notes that *slowly* bend into a resolution.

17. Bellbottoms - Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Before I'd seen Baby Driver, I was listening to Matthew Perpetua's Fluxblog 1990s Survey Mixes. This Jon Spencer cut appeared 1994 mix, and was a standout among the songs I didn't already know. Then, it was the basis for the fun-as-hell opening robbery and chase scene of Edgar Wright's movie. Wright has said in interviews that he fully conceived of the scene the first time he heard the song, shortly after its original release.

18. Dear Life - Beck
Perpetua also hipped me to this great new song from Beck. I'm glad he did, because I've otherwise been having a hard time with how, as Perpetua put it, "the surface of Beck’s Colors is glossy and upbeat, as though Beck and his collaborator Greg Kurstin went out of their way to make a record that would sound mainstream and contemporary." The vibe of songs like "Wow," and "Up All Night" just don't compute in my brain with the idea of listening to a Beck song. My problem, not Beck's, I suppose.

Perpetua also said something on Twitter (I'm having a hard time finding it to link to now) to the effect of how this song's piano and guitar make it sound like Beck stole it from the Scissor Sisters. Works for me.

19. Anyone Who Had A Heart - Tim Curry
My brother let me steal this from his 2017 mix CD, having selected a different song from his 1978 debut album, Read My Lips. We all knew Curry could sing -- we're all familiar with Rocky Horror and The Worst Witch, after all -- but this Bacharach and David interpretation kind of knocked me on my ass. (I was unsurprised to learn that Pink Floyd's The Wall collaborators Bob Ezrin and Michael Kamen produced Curry's album, given his turn as the Crown prosecutor in the 1990 performance of the album in Berlin.)