Eclectic Playlist Vol. 9

We begin with an idiosyncratic ode to meditation from the outset of the so-called “Me Decade” and we finish with a beautifully bombastic, regret-saturated song that inadvertently celebrates the over-the-top violence that laces 21st-century entertainment without much second thought. Are we civilized or are we falling down or are we just plain crazy? And why does love got to be so sad? Full of hope and wretchedness we are, we humans, with our electric friends and persistent enemies, with pistols in our suitcases and our eyes forever on the TV. And yet as long as some of us can write these achingly gorgeous melodies—Jenny Lewis can sing “Late Bloomer” to me all day long and I will just about burst with pleasure—we are somehow okay. We sit. The sky falls. Life goes on.

As noted the last couple of times, Mixcloud no longer gives you a song list on its site, but as if by magic, here it is just below the widget:



Somewhere not too far from here (Eclectic Playlist Series, Vol. 9 by Fingertipsmusic on Mixcloud


“Sitting” – Cat Stevens (Catch Bull at Four, 1972)
“Come Monday Night” – God Help the Girl (God Help the Girl, 2009)
“Thieves in the Temple” – Prince (Graffiti Bridge, 1990)
“Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” – Derek and the Dominos (Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, 1970)
“Late Bloomer” – Jenny Lewis (The Voyager, 2014)
“Times Square” – Marianne Faithfull (A Child’s Adventure, 1983)
“Elouise” – Maps (We Can Create, 2007)
“You Showed Me” – The Turtles (The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, 1968)
“Are Friends Electric?” – Gary Numan and Tubeway Army (Replicas, 1979)
“Enemy” – Kacey Johnansing (Grand Ghosts, 2013)
“Falling Down” – Tears for Fears (Raoul and the Kings of Spain, 1995)
“You Didn’t Say a Word” – Yvonne Baker (single, 1966)
“Crazy” – Pylon (single, 1981; Chomp, 1983)
“Spin-O-Rama” – The Primitives (Spin-O-Rama, 2014)
“Cold Cold Ground” – Tom Waits (Frank’s Wild Years, 1987)
“By Your Side” – Sade (Lovers Rock, 2000)
“Living in the Past” – Jethro Tull (single, 1969; Living in the Past, 1972)
“Get Civilized” – Fingerprintz (Beat Noir, 1981)
“Freereggaehibop” – James Carter (Conversin’ With the Elders, 1996)
“Skyfall” – Adele (single, 2012)


Spotify version to follow, sometime soon.


U2


So U2, a band that has operated throughout its long career in an irony-free zone, has gone ahead and pulled what may be the single most ironic publicity stunt of the Digital Age.

I would love to think that they planned it this way. That Bono is craftier than you may realize.

By now you know the basics: how Apple recently inserted the new U2 album into the music libraries, on the cloud, of all iTunes users, and how this prompted a powerful chorus of outrage from those who were unhappy with the liberty taken thereby. An atomic bomb’s worth of pent-up U2 hate seemed to be built into the reaction, I should note, since the band has taken the brunt of the hive-mind assault here (example), even as it is clearly Apple who was behind the whole thing.

Boil the negative reaction down to its core and it seems to be about permission. “How dare they put this album into my personal slice of the iCloud without my permission!” armchair critics across the internet have ranted and raved since Songs of Innocence appeared via Tim Cook’s magic wand on September 10th. The fact that the album seemed, at first, impossible to delete inflamed the naysayers all the more.

And I get this, I do. You don’t want trespassers sullying up your corner of the iCloud. No one likes having things done to their stuff, even their iStuff, without their permission. I mean, what was Apple thinking, right? And Bono too. Especially Bono.

Only, wait a minute. Let’s backtrack a bit. Say, 15 years or so. And let’s think about what has been happening since music has been widely available in digital form. An entire generation of young people has grown up with the understanding that music is simply out there, for the taking. Whatever you want, it’s there, it’s easy to find, and you can take it. I mean, right? If it’s there, why wouldn’t you just take it? Especially since, like, you don’t really have enough money to buy all the music you want. And who buys music anymore anyway?

Okay, now, class, let’s reintroduce the magic word and see what happens. The magic word is “permission.” All those folks busy downloading all that music for all those years that just seemed to be out there for the taking: do you think they were getting anyone’s permission? All the music sitting there on all the torrent sites, waiting to be taken, 24 hours a day—how much of that is up there with anyone’s permission?

But oh my goodness, dare to insert 11 U2 songs into my iCloud storage area and suddenly I am Lord High Minister of Permission?

Ironic, ain’t it?

But wait, there’s more. Mixed in with the “Get off of my iCloud!” criticism have been those who, apparently without irony, now accuse Apple and U2 of making music “worthless” because of this one particular album giveaway (example). But this is indeed a very ironic stance. So we have 15-plus years of pirated music on the historical record, but now, via an album the band was paid handsomely for, it’s Apple and U2 who have somehow, abruptly, made music “worthless”?

The ironies pile on. How about the concurrent gripe that the album could not at first be deleted—is this not its own kind of wry statement on the permanence of digital trespassing? A pirated album, after all, is pretty much impossible to cleanse from the internet, is it not? I never heard the pirates complaining too much about that little factoid. And, as ironic icing on the cake, think about how this whole thing was prompted by a gesture of goodwill, a band saying, here’s our new album, you can have it for free.

All that may really going on here is textbook projection. U2 seems to be resented, massively, by a vocal cluster of people in the generation that’s just behind them (for their status as the last arena-sized rock band? for the fact that they have stayed together, harmoniously, for so long? for their lack of irony??), and here the band has gone and done the very thing that so many in this generation have been doing, without apparent self-awareness, for the entire length of their young adult lives: moving digital property around without permission. And so sure: let’s get disproportionately enraged by U2, so we still don’t have to face down the wrong we ourselves have been doing.

I can’t wait till some of these folks begin to work it all out in a therapist’s office. In the meantime, get some popcorn and enjoy the show.

Fossa

“Five Days” – Fossa

As gentle as it is insistent, “Five Days” feels intriguingly like a song with neither a beginning nor an ending. We are enveloped in a warm, tick-tock groove before we quite get our bearings, and when the words start they tumble out in an unflagging stream, leaving singer Louis Shadwick with few obvious places to breathe. The concept of a verse or a chorus is quickly irrelevant here, as the words pour into a circular, sing-songy pattern that manages to seem on the one hand almost spoken and amelodic and on the other hand a fully engaging melody. This is a really unusual and captivating song masquerading as no big deal.

And while there can be few young British rock bands, whichever still exist at this point, that aren’t (rightfully) influenced (and/or intimidated) by the large shadow cast ahead of them by Radiohead, Fossa strikes me as wearing the influence as lightly and creatively as just about any I’ve heard. The band’s blending of acoustic and electric is managed so that you barely notice they’ve plugged anything in at all—at least until an honest-to-goodness electric guitar shows up at the two-minute mark and just about steals the show with its lovely, meticulous line. Although the meandering but purposeful chord progression that precedes the guitar (starting at 1:32) is pretty great too, as is the guitar again, later, when it turns clangy and anarchic.

Fossa is a London-based quartet. “Five Days” is the lead track off their debut release, a four-song EP entitled Sea of Skies. You can listen to it and buy it at Bandcamp.

Southern Boutique

“Joanna” – Southern Boutique

As genuine and inviting a song as you are likely to hear in our prickly times, “Joanna” flows with a melody so effortless I have to wonder why melody has so often left the building here in the 21st century. Isn’t it just this easy?

Well, no, I suppose it isn’t. As a matter of fact, I would suggest that the overwhelming challenge presented by melody has a lot to do with why we don’t encounter that much of it anymore—an unheralded side-effect, perhaps, of the Age of Instant Gratification. It’s so simple to make and distribute songs so quickly, why sidetrack the effort worrying about a potent melody? But I am digressing, when all I intend to do is salute the Austin trio Southern Boutique, whose collective gift for timeless craftsmanship should be the envy of their peers. And yet here is a band that struggles to crack merely 100 Facebook likes, and can’t offer me even one band photo to use with this review, as they don’t have any at all. I recently by the way read an article published on a music industry web site that claimed that any band with fewer than 1,000 Likes is “not worth paying attention to.” Me, I think people who write articles like that are not worth paying attention to. Aren’t we talking about who makes the best music here? Does that really not count anymore because The Internet? Okay, I digress again.

“Joanna” is almost too good to bother to describe, but if you want a handhold into its lo-fi-ish, ’70s-style country-rock brilliance, consider a few attributes. First, we have a 12-measure verse melody, which is often the sign of a mightily constructed song. And listen to how the verse gets extended into the 12 measures via lines that feel casually added on, starting around 0:29. Only really smart songwriters know how to do this. Next, listen to the mysteriously satisfying chord progression that drives the chorus (specifically from 1:05 to 1:10 the first time around), and listen to how the melody resolves while remaining entirely off the beat. Probably only smart songwriters know how to do this as well. And then, to show their know-how extends into all aspects of presentation, check out how they manage to slide the catchy part of the instrumental break all the way down to the bottom of the mix, as the song’s bouncy bass line, now sounding tuba-like, is here augmented by what may or may not be some very good-natured wordless vocals (listen to 1:45-1:50 specifically).

Southern Boutique rose from the dissolution earlier this year of the band Tiger Waves. “Joanna” is a song from the trio’s self-titled debut album, digitally released last month and available to listen to and download, in .wav format, via SoundCloud. While you’re at it, you can give them a like on Facebook too, if that’s your thing.

Meenk

“Up” – Meenk

Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter May Rio, doing musical business as Meenk, wastes no time plunging you into her songs, eschewing introductions for cold starts. Rio in fact goes further here and pretty much eliminates instrumental breaks of all kinds, a move that subtly increases her song’s sense of purpose—it’s all swimming, no treading water. There is a four-second, beat-driven riff that recurs as an intrinsic part of the song (and acts as an exclamation point at the end), but other than that, all song moments here are singing moments. As both singer and songwriter, Rio is up to the task, moving us deftly forward with her frank, Liz-Phair-esque vocal style and the juxtaposition of “Up”‘s blunt, two-section verse with the lovely, flowing chorus.

An interesting side effect of the vocal dominance here is how minimal an impact the instruments consequently appear to have, offering accompaniment so unobtrusive you are hard-pressed even to notice the arrangement at all. And yet this is obviously not an a capella performance. I am tempted, in fact, to find something incredibly able and robust in this elusive a musical landscape. Listen around the edges and you’ll hear some very cool things, including a wavering keyboard that straddles the thin line between old school and new, and a jangly rhythm guitar that, Johnny Marr-like, ends up feeling more than a little like a lead.

“Up” is one of four concise songs on the debut Meenk release, entitled Scamu Scau, that was released digitally in June. You can listen to it and download it via Bandcamp.