Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Aural Fixations

I'm twenty soon! Goodbye youth, hello mediocrity.

So, here's what's up for today. I'll take a little break from food to talk about something else: music for the casual listener. Now, if you're like me, your playlists could use a breath of fresh air. Here are some recommendations. Please keep in mind that I'm not a music critic. I write about music the way I listen to it, which is passionately, but with little proper education in it.

1. "Bee Thousand" ~Guided by Voices

I've listed this album first so that music snobs out there (you know who you are) will take me seriously, but also because it's the end of the summer, and this album is a great way to say "Goodbye, sunshine, hello slightly less sunshine!". Amazon hailed this album the "Greatest Indie Record of the 20th Century", which is just about the highest sell you can give anything, ever, especially considering. For the rest of us (myself included), it can be an underwhelming first listening. Those of us who want something more anthemic out of our "greatest of all time" will be surprised at how dressed down, how lo-fi this record proves. But after repeat listens (and this album demands repeat listens), its beauty starts to unfurl. Never mind the references you don't catch, and never mind the references that you do catch (but do pat yourself on the back each time), this album has a spirit to it. It's perfect for rolling the windows of your car down and driving somewhere, anywhere, over and over again.

Listen: "Awful Bliss"

2. "Dark Was the Night" ~ Various Artists

Something of a miracle, this compilation album represents the finest work of one particular present-day indie-scene. It's hard for me to think of an album that's closer to my heart than this two-disc set, whose first disc, the much stronger of the two, begins with an intoxicating collaboration between David Byrne and The Dirty Projectors and ends with a ten-minute long Sufjan Stevens cover of "You Are the Blood" that recalls his earlier, experimental electronic stuff. In between the two ends are some musical coups, including Feist working with both Ben Gibbard of 'Death Cab for Cutie' and 'The Postal Service' on a cover of Vashti Bunyan's haunting "Train Song", as well as lending her dulcet, phantasmagorical vocals to a Grizzly Bear collaboration called "Service Bell", which sounds, appropriately and soul-crushingly, like the wail of a lovelorn young woman. Remember when the whales were crying in Whale Rider? It's like that. But there are fun moments on this album, incredibly fun moments. Here's my favorite of all of them.

Listen: "So Far Around the Bend" ~ The National

3. "Alphabeat" ~ Alphabeat

I cannot, cannot, cannot think of a more fun album. Like, there's nothing you can say about this Scandinavian pop band except... ugh, it's like Abba but without that weird "taking themselves too seriously" thing they did at one point that gave us their saddest, dumbest moments. This band is something like an apology for all of those, as well as for the well-intentioned lackluster attempt by the A-Teens to revitalize this genre (sub-genre? movement?) for an American audience. Enter mothafuckin Alphabeat. If you aren't dancing with them... you're basically soulless.

Listen: "Fascination"

4. "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" ~ Phoenix

On some corner of Shoegaze Street and Pop Avenue sit Phoenix, instruments brandished and hat held out, playing whatever you like until you like them. If Alphabeat didn't get you out of your seat (or if getting out of your seat isn't your thing), then this album's bound to do something for you. In an earlier song from an earlier album, this band seemed to suggest that their emotional spectrum ran from "doing well, well, well" to "only doing just fine." In this album, they rise higher and sink lower than both those emotional altitudes. And hipsters have been dancing on rooftops ever since.

Listen: "Lisztomania"

5. "Books" ~ Belle and Sebastian

Three words: "Your Cover's Blown". They shattered all preconceptions about their music with just one track, and it ended up being, arguably, the best song of their entire career, and among the least well known. The other songs on this little number are fine, but that song. Worth the price of this, or any admission, and definitely the number that I want to end this list on. It'll get your blood pumping, which is an odd thing to say about a Belle and Sebastian song, what with all of their other music till this point existing somewhere between a sweet nothing and a lullaby. But here it is. "Your Cover's Blown," a song about stealing your boyfriend's money and using it to pay for a sex weekend with someone else until you get bored with that someone else and realize that the problem isn't with either man but with you. I'm sure that we've all been there, on Fire Island, that one time.

Listen: Your Cover's Blown

And listen well. And happy listening.


1 comment:

  1. five out of five!

    these songs were already on my ipod, but thank you for confirming that there is someone else out there with a simply delightful taste in music.