“Selfless, Cold and Composed” is full of meaning for me; it’s one of the first times that Ben Folds Five sailed boldly towards the jazzy horizon in both a good (Those drums!) and bad (That piano solo at 3:17, before the strings come in to give it some structure, albeit one that we’ve already heard in an earlier break!) way, for one thing, and it’s a song where the chorus and verse play off each other in a way that doesn’t necessarily fit together well, which… may be intentional (“It’s easy to be” is so 1970s MOR in terms of melody that it sticks out like a sore thumb, but that’s possibly the point, considering that the line mocks the behavior of the person in question)?
Really, though, it’s a song that reminds me of the aftermath of the relationship I was in when Whatever And Ever Amen, the album this track comes from, was released. I remember listening to this with that early-20s sense of “Yeah, why aren’t you clearly upset about me like you should be?” that you get when you’re heartbroken and hurt and confused and don’t understand that whole dumping thing properly. That ridiculously strong emotional sense memory comes on every time I hear the song, and each time that happens, I fight the urge to track down the ex-girlfriend in question and apologize to her for being an idiot. Because, really; I was an idiot, in those days, and especially about her.
A man stands next to a charred trailer set on fire by dairy farmers in front of the European parliament at Place du Luxembourg, on the second day of a protest against falling milk prices in Europe, in Brussels. Photograph: Olivier Vin/AFP/Getty Images
I don’t know what’s more eye-catching; the destruction, or the nonchalant-ness of the man just standing there, watching.
It’s been a long time since I did this, so this is a list nowhere near complete. In fact, this is just the pile of recently-finished books on my bedside table right now (plus a couple that I Kindled; Why Romney Lost and 47 Percent are digital-only releases, I think); if I were to do a complete list, there’d be a couple more Star Trek books, at least, plus maybe some Jonathan Carroll and Alexander McCall Smith, perhaps? I can’t remember what I’ve been reading beyond these things, I admit it. As you can tell, post-election, I got into a mood for reading some politics, all of which were fun and instructive beyond telling me about their subject (I fancy writing some longform non-fiction at some point, if I can find an appropriate subject and a way to pay for it; reading longform political writing is like going to school for that kind of thing). The Gene Wilder and William Gibson books were both surprising, in their way; the Wilder one, surprising in how much I enjoyed it, and the Gibson in how much I didn’t.
Hopefully, I’ll have the time/brainspace to do these posts more often again. I like keeping track of things like this.
Continuing my accidental trend of updated 1960s sounds, Caribou’s “Sandy” takes the beginnings of psychedelia and drone rock and matches them to a better beat to create something that crosses genres and decades; a mix of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that manages to sound like all of them at once, in its own way. There’s a similarity to the Chemical Brothers’ dalliances with psych pop here (especially something like “Let Forever Be,” which may be the most pop thing they ever did), especially with the drum samples, but it’s even more lively and fanciful, especially with the flute and the ephemeral vocal (Especially when it gets to that “I can’t believe what we found” interlude, which sounds as if it’s been lifted entirely from some fop pop from the mid ’60s when frilly shirts and velvet jackets were all the rage). That some power pop band didn’t hear this and immediately beg Daniel Snaith (AKA Caribou) to produce their latest album confounds me. Just imagine what could have been…!
I have often referred to this as a Walt Disney song gone awry, because it has some instrumental touches that remind me of things from movies like Cinderella and similar classic Disney animated movies (especially the twinkling piano at the very end of the song); there’s also an epic sweep to the orchestral touches that go beyond the traditional pop use of full orchestras towards something more similar to movie soundtracks, these days. This is a melancholy song, a fragile song, that was the soundtrack to my life when I first heard it for reasons I can’t quite explain; I didn’t even really have anything in my life that it tracked to, at the time, but I found myself playing this on repeat over and over. I think it was desire more than true echo; I wanted my life to be filled with the passion and longing that’s present in “Tonite It Shows,” the possibility of magic peeking around the corner at every moment. Mercury Rev have never sounded better, to me.
There’s something very Vince Guaraldi about the piano in “The Generator,” something that reminds me of “Linus and Lucy” or another of his track from the Peanuts holiday specials – A playfulness, perhaps, but also a wonderful looseness in the way it swings despite the taught, tense guitar it’s set against. The vocals in this song are somewhere in the middle, with Beach Boys-esque harmonies that emphasize the 1960s appeal of this period of Lilys’ history. The album this came from, The 3 Way, and the album that preceded it, Better Can’t Make Your Life Better, are two wonderful attempts to channel 1960s Britpop and modrock into something more timeless and also a little more weird; you get a sense of that with this song, and the nonsense lyrics that are hidden in amongst the pitch-perfect aural atmospherics of the whole thing. For a short while, Lilys understood the spirit of 1960s pop in a way that few ever manage.
“Thank you, friends. Wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”
There was a point where I was convinced that Alex Chilton was singing this song sarcastically; after all, I reasoned, the rest of Third/Sister Lovers, the album it comes from, is a damaged and bitter and scared thing, and this is something else entirely; if it’s not sarcastic, then it felt out of step with everything and I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Years later – More than a decade after I first heard the album and was confused by this song as much as I loved it (It’s got a great melody, after all, and there’s something about the “Do Do“s of the backing vocals that makes you want to sing along; there’s also no denying that Chilton is rocking his preacher mode when he performs it here, with the “I said all!”s), I’ve come around to it. It’s not sarcasm, and it’s not out of place. It’s a survivor’s song, and one filled with surprised gratitude that he really has made it through all of the badness and the weirdness and everything in between. Sure, there’s some showmanship and insincerity in there, but that’s a result of everything else that’s gone on; the core of the song, though, is exactly what it says it is: Someone thanking those important to him for reasons he doesn’t necessarily understand, for all the things they did that matter in ways that he doesn’t necessarily understand. Years later, I can understand that feeling just a little bit more.
Happy Thanksgiving, world. And thank you, friends.
Another day of just outright exhaustion – I’m wrapping things up now, but I’ve been working for almost 12 hours on and off, thanks to insomnia brought on by stress about how much I had to do (Hello, irony) and I’ve reached the point where my fingers aren’t always typing the letters that I want them to, which isn’t helping matters at all – but I shouldn’t miss the traditional linking to my Time Entertainment essay; this week’s is here, and is all about the greatness that is the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movie line-up. As with last week’s, it was one that didn’t quite come together the way I’d hoped, in part because I couldn’t get my brain into the right gear to write it the way I wanted to (I wrote before about my exhaustion, right…?). Hopefully, after this almost entirely holiday weekend – I should be working a little on Friday, but that’s it – I’ll be recharged and more ready to handle the next one.
Ignore the video; I chose this basically because it’s how I feel today, at the end of a marathon of working. But it’s not a total loss; this was a song I was obsessed with back in… 1995, I think? Perhaps 1996, but it was around about the same time I was discovering Portishead and the whole Trip Hop thing, and this was somewhere close to that in my head. Justin Warfield’s pop-culture-laden rapping, I’ve covered before, and its appeal then is still the case here, but just listening to this again right now, it strikes me that this song is all about the bassline, which unfurls slowly and somewhat scuzzily. There’s something seductive about it, but also something dirty, somehow. Back when I was twenty-one, that kind of thing was fascinating to me, because I didn’t understand why that would be, and what would make that kind of thing attractive. Now, I just hear it and think, “Yeah, there’s that bass again…”
For those who are curious: Yes, I am relatively silent right now. It’s the traditional crush of the holidays, where the time available to work on things shortens, but the amount of stuff to work on doesn’t… Not helped by the fact that, thanks to terrible timing by the fates, it’s the week of the month that I have to write catalog copy for Comix Experience as well as Thanksgiving. Every spare moment is being spent creating content and trying not to go mad in the process… but, on the plus side, I’m hoping that I can just take Thursday off almost entirely if not completely so that I can actually have a holiday for once. We live in hope…